clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Big Ten's Top 10 Sleepers for 2014-15 Season

These 10 players might not be headline-grabbing names for your team just yet, but by season's end, they may play major roles.

Iowa's Peter Jok works against Tennessee's Josh Richardson in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Iowa's Peter Jok works against Tennessee's Josh Richardson in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Raise your hand if you saw Frank Kaminsky coming. Not literally, of course, because at nearly 7 feet tall, Kaminsky the man is hard to miss. His junior season, however, smacked us all in the face and screamed, "PAY ATTENTION!"

This is what BTP contributor Michael Smith wrote about Kaminsky last November:

"The Badgers would like him to contribute around 30 minutes per game, as the only true big man on the roster, besides Evan Anderson. He will need to eat up rebounds, to replace the rebounding contributions of last year's seniors. He certainly will need to improve his rebounding efficiency, especially on the defensive glass."

Nothing there suggests All-Big Ten capability, NBA draft potential or that Kaminsky would enter this season on everyone's All-American teams. We knew he'd get the chance to contribute, but the potential for a 43-point night against North Dakotalet alone 28 in the Elite Eight against Arizonaescaped most of us.

It's hard to expect huge scoring nights from most of these potential sleepers, since most of them aren't walking into the season with a starting spot sewn up the way Kaminsky did last season. They are players that need to be monitored early on, though. If they get up to big things, you want to be able to say you saw it coming.

10. Alvin Ellis, Michigan State

Even with all of Michigan State's departures, Tom Izzo isn't hurting for shooters. Sophomore Alvin Ellis may have missed out on a starting spot when Cleveland State transfer Bryn Forbes was declared immediately eligible...or did he? Izzo has mentioned Ellis by name as one of the most improved Spartans during this offseason, while taking pains to point out things Forbes needs to work on. The starting shooting guard role may not be firmly decided until conference play startsEllis, Forbes, Denzel Valentine or even presumptive point guard Travis Trice are all possible candidatesbut Ellis isn't giving ground yet.

9. Peter Jok, Iowa

Early last season, Jok was lighting up weak opposition like Abilene Christian and Fairleigh Dickinson for double-digit scoring games. Once Big Ten play started, though, Jok disappeared, going 46 days (!) between points. That made him scoring 10 against Tennessee in an NCAA play-in game all the more surprising. Now, coach Fran McCaffery is seeking a few good men in a still-crowded backcourt. The sophomore Jok and senior Josh Oglesby currently appear the leaders for the shooting guard position, but McCaffery won't even rule out starting one of his three point guards off the ball. Oglesby may be the best pure shooter of the bunch, but Jok provides more of the slashing potential that Iowa lost with Roy Devyn Marble's graduation.

8. Jaylon Tate, Illinois

The season-ending injury to Illinois point guard Tracy Abrams opened up a lot of minutes in the Illinois backcourt. Oregon State transfer Ahmad Starks was never an assist machine in Corvallis, with nearly two-and-a-half times as many three-point attempts as assists during his three years there. Sophomore Tate isn't the shooter Starks is, but he has a five-inch height advantage, a quick set of hands on the defensive end and a pass-first mentality. If the offense looks stagnant early, coach John Groce could go young and send Starks to a bench sniper role.

7. Nate Mason, Minnesota

The Golden Gophers have four seniors leading the way, but newcomers will need to play major roles as well. Much of the offseason hype has centered around junior college wing Carlos Morris, but freshman Nate Mason introduced himself with some authority during the team's open scrimmage on Sunday. The 6'1" Georgia native drilled five three-pointers and played solid defense on starting point guard DeAndre Mathieu, helping to harass the senior into seven turnovers. Scrimmages only tell us so much, and Mathieu will probably only concede so many minutes. Still, if Mason keeps the shooting stroke pure and the defensive effort high, coach Richard Pitino will find him some playing time.

6. Kameron Williams, Ohio State

Now that Williams has had a full offseason of traininghe missed last season's preparations due to monohe should be prepared to help the Buckeyes turn the corner from last season's miserable shooting woes. The redshirt freshman is a grizzled veteran compared to true rookies D'Angelo Russell and Keita Bates-Diop, both of whom are projected to be primary shooting options. Williams' versatility can earn him plenty of playing time at either guard spot, and with time remotely comparable to Russell's and starting point guard Shannon Scott's, Williams should amass some very respectable numbers.

5. D.J. Foreman, Rutgers

Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan told Gannett New Jersey that Foreman is "every bit of 6-foot-8 but he moves like a 6-6 guy," praising the freshman's ability to get to the rack at will. Veterans like Kadeem Jack and defensive ace Junior Etou stand between Foreman and a starting spot, but the 230-pounder's length and agility will be key to coach Eddie Jordan's preferred up-tempo offense. Expect him to be one of the first two guys off Jordan's bench, and keep an eye on his first few plays of each game. His worst enemy may be himself if he tries too hard to generate a highlight.

4. Dakota Mathias, Purdue

Chalk Purdue up as another Big Ten team in desperate need of shooters. Sophomore Kendall Stephens is the only returning Boilermaker who sank more than nine triples last season. Freshman Mathias is the team's next best option from the arc before he even plays a game, but his physical condition will be of tremendous importance. Like Kam Williams, he struggled with mono during the offseason, among other ailments. His early scrimmages put the lie to his shooter's rephe missed all five three-point attempts in Purdue's scrimmage last weekbut he compensated with strong passing and timely rebounding. He shot 4-7 from deep in another round of scrimmages this weekend. Coach Matt Painter gushes over his passing ability and teammates praise his basketball IQ. Add that to a consistent shot, and Mathias has everything he needs to be a successful contributor in his first season.

3. Ethan Happ/Vitto Brown, Wisconsin

The Badgers' frontcourt is deep, with potential All-Americans Kaminsky and Sam Dekker leading ahead of sophomore Nigel Hayes and fifth-year senior Duje Dukan. So the fifth spot doesn't seem to be a terribly important one, but don't tell that to Happ, a 6'9", 230-pound freshman, and Brown, a 6'8", 237-pound sophomore. The two roommates have battled each other almost to the pain in practice and each ripped eight rebounds in Sunday's Red-White scrimmage. Whichever man loses the battle could be a redshirt candidate. Either winner could eventually take minutes from the more experienced Dukan, whose PT cratered in midseason last year.

2. Max Hoetzel, Indiana

Remember when I mentioned Ohio State's shooting woes last season? Aside from Yogi Ferrell's persistent heroics, Indiana was just as pitiful. That makes newcomers like James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson tremendously important, but they can't add any length up front like the 6'8" Hoetzel can. Hoetzel's reportedly no great shakes as a defender yet, but his victory in Hoosier Hysteria's three-point shooting contestremember, he also won one at the Derby Festival Classicoffers hope that he can at least fill a Matt Roth sniper role, if not the Christian Watford role as the trailing shooter on the break. If you're charitable, Indiana's frontcourt is unproven. If you're uncharitable, it's only slightly north of hot garbage. Any player capable of providing scoring punch has a chance to earn minutes, and Hoetzel offers that possibility.

1. Jared Nickens, Maryland

Some early missed time for forward Evan Smotrycz gives Maryland coach Mark Turgeon a lineup dilemma. Does he go big to replace the 6'9" senior or experiment with a smaller lineup laden with shooters? He's certainly got the horses for the latter, with knockdown shooters like Jake Layman, Melo Trimble and the skinny 6'6" freshman Nickens on hand. The wing positions are crowded indeed, as seniors Dez Wells and Richaud Pack will also figure in the mix, but Nickens can earn his time as a spot-up specialist, capable of sinking jumpers immediately after entering a game. Even with Smotrycz healthy, the Terps don't have a great deal of size, so Turgeon will trot out a great many wing options during the weaker non-conference schedule.