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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Keeping Tabs on Big Ten Transfers and Indiana's Rebuilding Project

Big Ten experiencing more costly defections
You know the offseason is in full swing when the transfer announcements are flowing freely. Last year, four Big Ten programs (Indiana, Purdue, Michigan St. and Minnesota) each had one player defect to a different school. Chris Lutz (PU) and Maurice Joseph (MSU) were the only ones you may have even heard about.

While Michigan and Illinois will welcome in two highly-regarded players at the start of 2009, and Penn St. a third, this latest offseason has been particularly unkind to the Big Ten's talent level so far. A total of nine players are expected to transfer out of the conference and continue their collegiate careers elsewhere. That total gives the Big Ten the highest average transfer rate of any major conference (per member - Big East has 12 so far out of 16 schools). If last year is any indication, there are more announcements to come. After the 2006-07 season, the BCS conferences lost many more players, yet the Big Ten easily had the fewest departures.

More alarming is that many of the names this year were significant contributors to their teams previously. Scott Martin averaged almost 22 minutes and 8.5 points per game as one of the heralded Boilermaker freshmen. Tony Freeman led Iowa in scoring and assists as a shoot-first point guard, and Michigan's Epke Udoh easily topped the league in blocks (2.9/g) while playing 26 min/g. And I have not even mentioned Indiana yet ...

Revamping the Indiana roster
The most obvious victim of this flurry of transers is Indiana, which only has itself to blame. Tom Crean inherited a tough situation from Kelvin Scampson. Crean is no stranger to seeing players bolt from his program for different pastures, but losing the following would be difficult for any team to overcome:

- best player graduates to the NBA (D.J. White)
- as expected, freshman phenom jumps to the NBA (Gordon)
- top returning scorer and second in assists dismissed (Bassett)
- top returning rebounder and leader in assists dismissed (Ellis)
- two frontcourt rotation players graduate (Stemler & Mike White)
- a senior-to-be post player was asked not to return (Thomas)
- freshman post transfers (Holman)

That leaves four returning players, and only two previous 2008 recruits who decided to stick with the Hoosiers. In reality, Crean had nothing to lose by keeping Bassett and Ellis off the team. The community's expectations are now at rock bottom and Crean gets to trumpet a perceived "cleaning up" of the program in academics and attitude.

So now Crean is doing what he does best: selling his program. Three new players have bought in so far, with undoubtedly more on the way. He even stole a recruit from Tubby Smith's grasp when Verdell Jones verbally committed on Monday. Not only was Minnesota shocked about the choice, but Hoosier Nation seemed a little confused too.

I would expect Indiana to be in the market for one or two of this year's transfers, depending on how it wants to spend its plethora of open scholarships. Otherwise, there are many different routes the Hoosiers could go with its roster. I think walk-on Kyle Taber should probably get rewarded with a senior-year scholarship for what he's put up with in the last year (ed: apparently Taber was awarded a scholarship last fall). Expect Crean to sign a star JUCO big man that can help immediately and maybe even a third JUCO if another 2008 recruit is not signed. If all that happens, IU would have 1-2 more scholarships left for the 2009 class and then use the 2-3 expiring JUCO/transfer scholarships for its 2010 class.

Luckily, Indiana got a free pass on its low Academic Progress Report score and will not suffer an additional loss of scholarships in light of "significant improvement." Wisconsin scored a passing grade in the 50th-to-60th percentile; Purdue apparently already dealt with its impending APR penalty during the past season, while Ohio State already knew it was in line to lose a schollie. Retaining a full arsenal--for the moment--should allow Crean to go after players like Jamil Wilson with renewed fervor until the NCAA sanctions, if any, drop.

One player Crean doesn't seem to be going after is Jeronne Maymon, who has finally seen his production translate into a cache of offers from high-majors. But when you see how demanding his father appears to be, it easy hard to understand why some schools, like Wisconsin, kept their distance. But I'm still pleased for the kid's sake that he has apparently hit the big time. He has played for several AAU clubs already and most recently was dominant for the Illinois Bobcats at the Speice Run N' Slam tournament, where said Maymon "punished opponents all weekend long." I hope Jeronne's dad let's him take enough time off this summer to attend those summer classes we've heard so much about. Or maybe Tennessee, USC, Marquette, Baylor and Iowa State told them not to worry about that ...

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