Meyers Leonard

Big Ten Preview: Wisconsin and Iowa are better than you think

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

The Big Ten is absolutely loaded this year.

They have the best team in the country in Indiana who has the best player in the country in Cody Zeller. Three more top 15 teams reside in the conference, and that’s not including Wisconsin, who, as usual, is underrated heading into the season.

Even Minnesota and Iowa are good enough that they should be in contention for the NCAA tournament this season. The basketball may not be played incredibly fast, but rest assured it will be played at a very high level all season long.

Five Things to Know

1. Everyone’s back: Well, almost everyone that was allowed to be is. Jared Sullinger (correctly) left for the NBA after posting a second straight all-american season. Meyers Leonard joined him and got scooped up in the lottery. But that’s it. Only two players from the conference left for the NBA with eligibility remaining. The rest — Trey Burke, Cody Zeller, Deshaun Thomas, Trevor Mbakwe, etc. — are back for another season at the collegiate level.

2. Trevor Mbakwe’s troubles: While we’re on the topic of Mbakwe, his continued to pile up the legal issues over the summer. After being granted a sixth-year of eligibility by the NCAA, Mbakwe managed to get a DUI this summer, which violated his probation in Florida from an assault back in 2009. The story is convoluted, but the bottom-line is this: Mbawke only got probation in the case, and according to Minnesota, he won’t miss anymore time with the team.

3. Iowa’s actually good this year: The Hawkeyes are a group that you need to keep an eye on this season. They lose scorer Matt Gatens, but with a young, talented core returning — headlined by juniors Roy Devyn Marble and Melsahn Besabe and sophomore Aaron White — and a loaded freshmen class that includes top 100 recruits Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury, Fran McCaffery has a team that could legitimately make a run at the NCAA tournament.

4. The Big Ten’s slow: It’s a running joke in college hoops that Big Ten basketball games are ugly, grind-it-out slugfests that are won with elbow grease, physicality and sheer determination. Ok, that’s a bit of a stretch, but the conference really does play some plodding basketball. Only three Big Ten teams — Ohio State, Indiana and Iowa — were ranked in the top 200 in tempo last season. Four teams — Northwestern, Michigan, Nebraska and Wisconsin (who was dead last) — were ranked below 290.

5a. JerShon Cobb won’t be playing this year: According to Northwestern head coach Bill Carmody, the issue is academics. It’s a big blow for the Wildcats, who are looking to replace John Shurna’s scoring. Cobb was one of the guys that was going to be counted on to fill that void.

5b. But Mike Bruesewitz will: And given how nasty the gash he suffered on his leg sounds, that’s impressive.

Impact Newcomers

1. Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary and Nik Stauskas, Michigan: Michigan’s three high-profile recruits are going to be the guys that are the difference-makers for the Wolverines this season. We all already know how good Trey Burke is, and Tim Hardaway Jr. should be improved as he slides over to his more natural shooting guard spot. But if John Beilein can find a way to make this talented trio fit into his offensive system, the Wolverines go from really good to elite.

2. Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury, Iowa: What Iowa has returning this season are wings, shooters and power forwards. Some of them are pretty good, too. What are they missing? A point guard and a center, and that’s precisely what Fran McCaffery landed with Gesell, the point guard, and Woodbury, the center. If these guys live up to the hype as freshmen, the Hawkeyes could be looking at a trip to the NCAA tournament.

3. Gary Harris, Michigan State: The Spartans are going to look a little bit like the Michigan State teams of old this season. They’ll be big and strong and physical, thriving on their defense and ability to hit the glass. But what those Michigan State teams of old all had was a scorer on the wing that could get a bucket if things got bogged down offensively. Harris has a chance to be that guy.

4. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin: Dekker is the kind of talent that rarely makes his way to Madison, WI. A versatile, 6-foot-7 small forward, Dekker will see major minutes as a freshman for the Badgers, something that rarely happens in Bo Ryan’s program. His size, shooting ability, all-around skill-set and ability to be a matchup nightmare will make Dekker a perfect fit for the swing offense.

5. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: I put Yogi on this list because I think that he’ll end up getting some big minutes for Indiana this season because of his ability to defend. I love Jordy Hulls, but I think I might be able to beat him off the dribble. Not so with Ferrell. Indiana’s biggest concern this season will be their ability to get stops. A back court of Ferrell and Victor Oladipo is a good place to start improving at that end.

Breakout Players

1. Terone Johnson, Jr., Purdue: Over the last eight games in 2012, Johnson averaged 15.1 points, 4.3 boards and 2.9 assists. That included a 22 point performance in a win at Michigan and 21 points, five assists and four boards in a win over St. Mary’s in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. With Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson gone, Purdue is going to need someone to step up.

2. Lenzelle Smith, Jr., and LaQuinton Ross, So., Ohio State: You know about Aaron Craft. You know about Deshaun Thomas. You know that the Buckeye’s post players aren’t going to be much more than tall. What Ohio State doesn’t have yet is a proven scoring threat on the wing. Smith showed flashes last season, but was very inconsistent. Ross, at one point in his early high school career, was the No. 1 recruit in the country.

3. Andre Hollins, So., Minnesota: Hollins is not a natural point guard, but he was forced into the role as a freshman last season. It took him a while to adjust to the position, but he managed to average 16.8 points and 2.8 assists in the final nine games, leading the Gophers to the NIT title game.

4. Brandon Paul, Sr., Illinois: Paul’s got plenty of talent. (Remember this?) New head coach John Groce needs someone to build an offense around. Paul needs a fresh start. Could this be a match made in heaven?

5. Aaron White, So., Iowa: It’s tough to call White a breakout candidate given the fact that Iowa’s front court will be a bit crowded next year. I don’t expect his numbers to be much improved from the 11.1 points and 5.7 boards he averaged last season. I do, however, expect that he’ll end up being a much more well-known name, especially in Big Ten college towns.

Player of the Year: Cody Zeller, So., Indiana

Zeller is going to end up being the National Preseason Player of the Year by the majority of the publications that make such declarations, including us, so it only makes sense that he’s the Big Ten’s Preseason Player of the Year. Zeller is a pleasure to watch on the offensive end of the floor. He’s got great hands, he’s got a variety of low-post moves and he’s a true back-to-the-basket player. My favorite part of his game? How hard he runs the floor in transition. He’ll get a couple of easy buckets every game simply by beating every down the court. As his defense improves, he’ll only get better.

All-Conference Team

G: Trey Burke, So., Michigan
G: Aaron Craft, Jr., Ohio State
F: Deshaun Thomas, Jr., Ohio State
F: Trevor Mbakwe, Sr., Minnesota
C: Cody Zeller, So., Indiana*

Coach under pressure: Tubby Smith, Minnesota

Smith has put together some promising rosters in his time in Minnesota, but it’s been a while since he’s had a team live up to those expectations. For example, remember 2010-2011? The Gophers jumped out to an 11-1 record and a top 15 rankings before ending with losses in 10 of their last 11 games and spending March without any postseason. He’s had players with legal issues and he’s had players transfer mid-season, which can be tolerated when the wins come. But when you’ve made two NCAA tournaments — and lost in the first round both times — it’s a different story. This month, Minnesota has had all kinds of negative publicity, from the issues involving Trevor Mbakwe to the DUI that Tubby’s son Saul, an assistant on the Minnesota staff, got. Smith has a team that can make some noise in the NCAA tournament this season. If they don’t, will those legal issues and losses have piled too high?

Predicted Finish

1. Indiana: They’re the No. 1 team in the country. Defensive issues aside, this team returns basically everyone and adds another loaded recruiting class. Easy pick.

2. Ohio State: The Buckeyes and the Wolverines are a coin-flip, but I’m taking the Buckeyes. I love Aaron Craft’s experience, I think Deshaun Thomas is ready to be a star, and this appears to be the season where Thad Matta’s obsessive stockpiling of talent pays off.

3. Michigan: I think the Wolverines have the second-most talent in the conference, but I have concerns about the roster makeup. I go in-depth about them here.

4. Wisconsin: I’m starting to think that I underrated Wisconsin when I did my top 25. The Badgers get four starters back, and a junior that’s started 66 games to replace Jordan Taylor and adds a stud in Sam Dekker.

5. Michigan State: I had Michigan State ranked 12th nationally, which should give you an idea of how strong this league is. I think their lack of offensive power will be an issue.

6. Iowa: I’m taking a risk putting Iowa this high, but, as I’ve said numerous times already, I’m riding with the Hawkeyes.

7. Minnesota: There always seems to be a Gopher in legal turmoil, but with basically everyone returning from last season and a healthy Trevor Mbakwe, the Gophers are very good. That said, I need to see proof they can handle distraction and succeed on the court.

8. Purdue: The Boilermakers will be without Robbie Hummel this season, but they’ll have a chance to be competitive if Terone Johnson and the rest of that perimeter attack can have a big year.

9. Illinois: The Illini have a lot of talent on their roster and start a bunch of upperclassmen. Will this group buy-in to what new head coach John Groce is selling? If everything comes together, this is a team that could sneak into the tournament. Who’s the point guard?

10. Northwestern: Drew Crawford is as good as anyone in the league, but losing JerShon Cobb is really going to hurt, especially if Jared Swopshire isn’t back to his old form.

11. Penn State: Tim Frazier is awesome. It’s a shame that he’ll spend his career toiling away in Happy Valley.

12. Nebraska: I love Tim Miles, but it is going to be a couple of years, at least, before he’s having fun in Lincoln.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Missouri, Illinois extend Braggin’ Rights series through 2017

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One of the great rivalry games that fell by the wayside in conference realignment was Missouri’s two annual battles with Kansas.

While we don’t know when those two will meet again, the Tigers will continue to play another of their rivals as it was announced that Missouri and Illinois have extended their annual series through 2017.

Illinois leads the all-time series 20-11 but Missouri has won the last three meetings after losing nine straight to the Fighting Illini.

The Bud Light Braggin’ Rights game will continue to be played at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis, with this season’s meeting being played on December 22.

“There is nothing like this game in all of college basketball,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said in a statement released by the school.

“The fan bases are split down the middle and the enthusiasm is second to none. You add in a national television audience and the excitement of the holiday season and you get the best rivalry game of the non-league season.”

Haith won his first Braggin’ Rights game last season as the Tigers held off Illinois by the final score of 78-74.

And while Missouri did lose some key pieces they welcome back point guard Phil Pressey and are a deeper squad than last season’s Big 12 tournament champion squad.

Transfers Keion Bell (Pepperdine), Alex Oriakhi (UConn) and Jabari Brown (Oregon; eligible in December) are just three of the newcomers who will assist Pressey, Michael Dixon Jr. and the healthy Laurence Bowers in the Tigers’ first season in the SEC.

As for Illinois this will be the first year of the John Groce era, with seniors D.J. Richardson and Brandon Paul leading the way.

“I’ve heard about the importance of the Illinois-Missouri game since the day I took the job here at the University of Illinois,” Fighting Illini Head Coach John Groce said in a statement. “This is one of college basketball’s best non-conference rivalry games.

“When you factor in the longevity of the series, holding it at a neutral site in St. Louis with the crowd split 50-50, and playing it right before the holidays; you are talking about a big-time environment for our players, alumni and fans.

“I’m excited about experiencing this rivalry for the first time, and that we are extending the contract so the Braggin’ Rights game will continue for many years.”

Illinois will have to account for the departure of Meyers Leonard, who was drafted by Portland in the first round of the NBA Draft.

But regardless of what the two teams have coming back it’s good to see that the game will continue to be played annually.

Photo credit: Laurie Skrivan/St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

Meyers Leonard had a tougher life than we thought

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Meyers Leonard had a bit of a breakout season as a sophomore.

He increased his production to averages of 13.6 points and 8.2 rebounds from 2.1 points and 1.2 boards as a freshman. While it would be difficult to consider Leonard’s season disappointing at face value, the bottom line is that the year was far from ideal. Illinois lost 12 of their last 14 games, a slide Leonard was unable to turnaround, and the enduring image of the Illini seven-footer was him in tears on the bench during a 23 point loss to Nebraska.

The enduring image you should have of Leonard is a different picture of him in tears:

source:

This picture was taken when Bailey Leonard, Meyers’ brother, surprised him at a practice. Bailey has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, and Meyers had no idea that he was home.

The fact that the Leonards did not have an easy life growing up is not a secret. It has been widely reported that they were poor, that their father died when they were eight and six, respectively, and that their mother had a back injury that made it impossible for her to work.

But I’m not sure we knew the extent of their struggles until John Canzano, who covers Meyers’ new team, the Trailblazers, wrote this column on the new draft pick:

“There were times we really didn’t have anything,” Bailey said. “I remember Meyers frequently going to eat at other people’s houses because we may not have had enough food. I remember kids saying things like, ‘You can’t play with us because you’re poor.’ And I remember mixing and matching the few clothes we had because we were trying to make it look like we didn’t wear the same stuff to school every day.”

They lost their father. They lost their home to foreclosure. Their mother struggled with a back injury that was so debilitating she couldn’t sit through a basketball game. “I attended every one of Meyers’ games when I was a junior and senior,” Bailey said. “I knew that’s what he wanted. He needed someone there and our mom couldn’t do it. Her medicine kept her down a lot. After our dad passed away, people looked at us as different.”

The Leonard family found a place to live, but they had no furniture, limited running water and no electricity. They had a small battery-powered television that got three channels, they had blankets, and they had each other.

Said Bailey: “The three of us just slept on the living-room floor together.”

Leonard is an easy kid to root for.

Knowing where he comes from, the struggles his mother was having and the fact that he played last season while his brother was in Afghanistan should give you a different view of Leonard’s sophomore season.

Imagine what he’ll be able to do when he no longer has to worry about his family.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

New Orleans, Kentucky headline draft night winners

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On draft night there are winners and there are losers. While no championship title is given away based on who a team picks, the draft goes a long way towards determining whether or not a ring is possible.

Below are some franchises, college programs and draftees who did well for themselves on Thursday night.

Three NBA franchises

1. New Orleans
The Hornets knew who the face of their franchise would be on the night they won the lottery (Davis), but landing Rivers at 10 is a nice addition on the perimeter. He can learn under Jarrett Jack with the goal being to pair Rivers up with Eric Gordon down the line. And in Darius Miller at 46 the Hornets get a guy who is well-versed when it comes to doing the little things it takes to help a team win.

2. Sacramento
Thomas Robinson being on the board when the Kings came up at five was a definite win for Sacramento. DeMarcus Cousins is on the verge of making an all-star team (he’ll be taking part in Team USA’s Olympic training camp next month), and the Kings will make every effort to bring back restricted free agent Jason Thompson as well. Robinson will be able to compete immediately from a physical standpoint, and that tandem would allow him to progress at a reasonable rate.

3. Portland
Lillard definitely helps at the point, but the reason for Portland here is the fact that they were able to get Meyers Leonard at 11. With LaMarcus Aldridge returning to the floor there won’t be much pressure on Leonard to be a premier offensive threat. He can defend and rebound, and Leonard’s done a good job of improving his body since the college basketball season ended. And Will Barton, if under control, could prove to be a steal at 40.

Three college programs

1. Kentucky
John Calipari’s program had six players drafted, which is a record, as is the fact that two Kentucky players were taken with the top two picks. That makes 15 draftees (11 in the first round) in three seasons in Lexington. Think those numbers will come up in conversations with some of the nation’s top recruits?

2. North Carolina
If measuring programs based on the number of players selected in the top 20 picks of the draft then Roy Williams’ program has some bragging rights of its own. Four Tar Heels were taken in the first 17 picks of the draft, and while that was the end of their night that’s a nice haul for any program.

3. Weber State
Vanderbilt has an argument as the Commodores saw two players drafted in the first round for the first time in school history. But Randy Rahe saw the face of his program, Damian Lillard, go with the sixth pick in the draft to Portland. And for a program from a one-bid league like Weber State, that’s a nice line to add to the resume.

Three players

1. Dion Waiters (Cleveland)
Whether or not Waiters pans out in Cleveland isn’t the point here. Many who discussed the lottery guarantee that Waiters supposedly held in the weeks leading up to the draft thought it was coming on the back end (Phoenix). But fourth overall? That’s quite a jump financially for the Syracuse product, who was one of the best players in the Big East last season despite not starting a game.

2. Austin Rivers (New Orleans)
Anthony Davis will be the face of the franchise since he’s the top overall pick, but why can’t Rivers join him on the marquee? Rivers’ game seems to be better suited for the pro level, and when you’re the son of a successful NBA head coach it isn’t as if you’re walking into the league “blind” either. There will be an adjustment period (watching veteran Jarrett Jack should help some) for Rivers, but he’s more than capable of being a factor for the Hornets.

3. Perry Jones III (Oklahoma City)
Sure Jones III took a loss financially by returning to Baylor for his sophomore season, but from a basketball standpoint that decision paid off in a big way. He’ll join the reigning Western Conference champs under little (if any) pressure to produce right away, and his athleticism will fit in well on a team that needs some offensive help inside.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.

The Morning Mix

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– Hawaii senior Hauns Brereton merges an unorthodox training regimen with an underground Memphis rap video. In short, it’s the video of the day

– Pete Thamel provides a riveting-but-not-exactly-earth-shattering expose on the middle school recruiting scene in the Washington, D.C. area (Sadly, my rise to elite middle school athletic dominance in the D.M.V was a decade an a half too early)

– The draft is still two days away, yet it seems like it’s a forgone conclusion that Jared Sullinger made a huge mistake by staying at Ohio State for his sophomore year. Need more evidence?  his name being left off the NBA Draft green room invite list. Seriously, look who got drafted last year. Sully would have been a lock for the lottery. But again, it’s not always about the money, and sometimes it’s refreshing to see college freshman make that decision

– Glenn Logan makes an interesting argument about Sullinger’s future if he had played for John Calipari

– Here’s an interesting question: Who is going to have a better pro career, Sullinger or Illinois center Meyers Leonard?

– Here’s another interesting question: what is a better way to build a NBA Finals team, through the draft (Thunder) or through free agency (Heat)?

– If Sullinger doesn’t end up being the biggest bust, there’s a good chance Andre Drummond steps up to take the award

– If you’re not rooting for Bernard James during the second round of Thursday’s draft, you’re not a real college hoops fan

– A bunch of GMs would have killed to have this list before the ’01 and ’06 drafts. But then again, it also shows you how much of a crap-shoot the whole ordeal is

– Sam Amick profiles five of the more underrated draft prospects to look out for, including two Commonwealth State big-men. Amick also provides a list of important draft questions  to brush up on before draft night

– Is West Virginia’s Kevin Jones a top-10 pick? Probably not, but neither was WVU linebacker Bruce Irvin, who ended up getting drafted seventh overall by the Seattle Seahawks. Will somebody reach for Jones? I hope so, he’s the type of player every GM would love to have on his roster

– Anthony Davis is a smart guy. He knows how important his unibrow is. He wants to harness its power in order to make millions, and it’s exactly what anybody with freakish athleticism and bizarre facial hair would do.  But that being said, I’m confused as to why he’s trademarking “Fear The Brow”? I thought “Brow Down” was his slogan? (In any event, I am now in the process of filing a trademark for “Brow Down”)

– John Calipari thinks the SEC can get seven teams into the NCAA Tournament now that Texas A&M and Missouri have arrived

– A former walk-on at Baylor was arrested for trying to extort Robert Griffin III

– I’m still not very happy that I was left off the office email chain about “NBA Draft categories”. Real cool guys, real cool…..

– It looks like Pittsburgh and Penn State might be  open to playing each other in hoops. +100 for me. Why? Because I wrote about this idea months ago

– After a fair amount of debate, discussion, and flip-flopping, Markus Kennedy has decided to leave Villanova

– Providence was looking like they could be on the up and up next season thanks to a stacked recruiting class. Well, things look shaky now that highly touted recruit Kris Dunn injured his shoulder and may miss the season due to surgery

– In case you missed it over the weekend, Illinois senior Brandon Paul, the guy who went all “LeBron game-6 versus the Celtics” against Ohio State in January, broke his jaw during an open gym session

– You also might have missed that UConn-transfer Michael Bradley, the guy who gave up his scholarship for Andre Drummond, was denied a hardship waiver by the NCAA and will have to sit out a year at Western Kentucky

 

Troy Machir is the managing editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @TroyMachir.

Illinois guard Brandon Paul suffers fractured lower jaw

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According to the Illinois basketball program rising senior guard Brandon Paul suffered a fractured lower jaw in a game at open gym on Thursday.

According to Shannon Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, Paul will undergo surgery today and should be able to take part in non-contact work in two weeks.

Obviously no injury is good, but if there’s a time for a player to have to deal with one during the summer would probably be it.

Paul averaged 14.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game for the Fighting Illini, with his season-high being the 43-point explosion in Illinois’ 79-74 victory over Ohio State on January 10.

Paul and classmate D.J. Richardson will be key cogs in the Illini attack as John Groce enters his first season at the school after leading Ohio to the Sweet 16.

Illinois dropped nine of their final ten games in 2011-12, ultimately leading to the dismissal of Bruce Weber who is now the head coach at Kansas State.

Joseph Bertrand also returns to Champaign, but the Fighting Illini will need their returning big men to step up in light of Meyers Leonard entering the NBA Draft.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.