A year after being the nation’s most competitive conference at the top, the Big Ten is counting on a handful of new faces to remain so in 2013-14.
Michigan State returns nearly intact, but most of the Big Ten wasn’t so lucky. Indiana is counting on freshmen and a transfer making his third Division I stop to replace NBA Draft lottery picks Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. Michigan also will look to a pair of rookies to take spots vacated by the National Player of the Year and another first-round draft pick.
Wisconsin lost players in its frontcourt, but the Badgers’ biggest new face for 2013-14 is an old one in guard Josh Gasser, who will return from a torn ACL. And Illinois, who was one of the surprise teams of last season, will try to replace its Big Ten veterans with imports from the Missouri Valley Conference.
Turnover — or lack thereof for teams like Michigan State and Ohio State — could play a major role in the Big Ten title chance in 2013-14.
Our look at the transfers, freshmen and players returning from injury last season continues with the Big Ten. Earlier, we’ve profiled the new faces in the ACC, American, Big 12 and Big East.
Noah Vonleh, Indiana
Indiana lost Cody Zeller, Victor Oladipo and the bulk of a team that spent a good portion of last season ranked No. 1. The freshman Vonleh, though, means Indiana isn’t going to sink back to the bottom of the Big Ten. At 6-foot-9, he’s a natural power forward with impressive length — he has a 7-4 wingspan. Vonleh recently participated in the LeBron James Skills Academy and held his own despite being one of the youngest players there at age 17.
Josh Gasser, Wisconsin
Returning from injury
Wisconsin’s season looked like it would go south when Gasser, the projected starting point guard, sustained a season-ending knee injury in October. But this is Wisconsin, and consistency is the Badgers’ forte. Recovery from the ligament tears has been slow, but Gasser still expects to be ready for the start of the season. As a shooting guard for his first two seasons, Gasser still had a 1.95 assist-to-turnover ratio. He also picked up the first triple-double in Wisconsin history with 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against Northwestern in 2010-11.
Derrick Walton, Michigan
Walton may be the captain of the All-Shoes-to-Fill team as he takes over at point guard for National Player of the Year Trey Burke. Walton was committed to Michigan for two years, so he had plenty of time to study Burke’s style of play. He has a few similarities with Burke — he and his predecessor both stand at 6-feet and have excellent court vision, but Walton comes to the program with higher expectations after reaching last season’s national title game.
Zak Irvin, Michigan
Irvin can play both shooting guard and small forward, but Michigan coach John Beilein may have to find ways to get him in the lineup. Glenn Robinson III plays the 3 and stretch 4, and Michigan has options at the two guard with Nik Staustaks, who was a sharpshooter last season, plus sophomore Caris LeVert.
Drew Crawford, Northwestern
Returning from injury
Crawford considered a transfer, and he would have been eligible immediately as a graduate student. Instead, he’ll return to Northwestern, where he missed all but 10 games last season with a shoulder injury. A season earlier in 2011-12, Crawford was a third-team All-Big Ten selection who averaged 16.1 points per game.
Rayvonte Rice, Illinois
Transfer from Drake
Illinois coach John Groce won’t shy away from putting a ton of responsibility on his backcourt. With Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson gone, that puts some of the onus on Rice, who transferred back home to Champaign from Drake. Former Illinois coach Bruce Weber overlooked Rice even though the guard was the state’s Mr. Basketball, but Rice returned when John Groce was hired. At Drake, Rice used the sleight to fuel him on the way to 15.4 points per game and 5.3 rebounds in two seasons at Drake. The 6-4, 240-pound junior could lead Illinois in scoring.
Tim Frazier, Penn State
Returning from injury
Frazier was a first-team All-Big Ten selection two seasons ago when he averaged 18.8 points and 6.2 assists, but he missed all of last season with a left Achilles injury. His return moves D.J. Newbill (16.3 ppg) to his more comfortable position at the two guard. That’s the good news. The bad news is Jermaine Marshall elected to transfer to Arizona State, leaving Penn State with one fewer Big Ten-caliber player in the starting lineup.
Evan Gordon, Indiana
Transfer from Arizona State
The brother of former Hoosiers one-and-done Eric Gordon, Evan Gordon has landed at Indiana after playing for Liberty and Arizona State. Gordon is looking to grab the starting off guard spot along rising sophomore point guard Yogi Ferrell. What Gordon lacks in size (6-1, 187), he’ll make up for it in experience on a young Hoosiers team. Gordon has averaged 12.1 points per game in his three-season career.
Jon Ekey, Illinois
Transfer from Illinois State
Ekey, who started 75 games in three seasons at Illinois State, will be one of the top newcomers on an Illinois team full of them. Ekey led the Missouri Valley in blocks as a freshman (52), but the 6-7, 220-pound forward can also step out to knock down the 3-point shot. He hit 90 of 234 (38.5 percent) shots from 3-point range in his final two seasons in the Valley before becoming immediately eligible at Illinois as a graduate student.
Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
Transfer from Wisconsin
Uthoff hasn’t played in a game since his senior season at Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Jefferson in 2011 after redshirting his first season at Wisconsin and then sitting out a year at Iowa. Uthoff also became a lightning rod in the debate over NCAA transfer rules when he elected to pay his own way to play for Iowa after the Badgers restricted his transfer to play for the Hawkeyes. Finally able to play, Uthoff is a 6-9 versatile forward who can play inside and out.
Malik Smith, Minnesota
Transfer from FIU
Smith followed his coach, Richard Pitino, from FIU to Minnesota. The guard averaged 14.1 points per game at FIU, but he’ll have to fight his way through a crowded backcourt that includes Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins (no relation).
Terran Petteway, Nebraska
Transfer from Texas Tech
Petteway gives Nebraska versatility and a secondary scoring option the Cornhuskers lacked last season. A 6-6 wing, Petteway can rebound and play point guard, if needed, but Nebraska also signed New Zealand freshman Tai Webster to help at the point.
Other new faces to watch in 2013-14:
Marc Loving and Kameron Williams, Ohio State
Ohio State doesn’t struggle to bring in top recruits, but the Buckeyes are a veteran team with only two newcomers. The power forward Loving needs to develop a physical game while Williams may be a role player as an outside shooter.
Walter Pitchford and Lelee Smith, Nebraska
The Cornhuskers had trouble re-stocking a frontcourt that lost its top two players. At least Pitchford, an athletic forward who sat out last season after his transfer from Florida, will be eligible this season. Smith is a strong 6-8 forward who started his career at SMU before transferring to junior college. This pair will have make up a new-look Nebraska frontcourt.
Luke Fischer, Indiana
He won’t replace Zeller’s ability to run the floor, but Fischer could give the Hoosiers a true center to allow Vonleh to play power forward.
Bryson Scott, Purdue
Scott is a standout combo guard from Fort Wayne who should play his way into the rotation immediately.
Allen Roberts, Penn State
Transfer from Miami (Ohio)
Roberts averaged 12.3 points last season for the RedHawks and will be eligible in December.