Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Michigan Basketball Roster: Part III - Star Players

Photo Credit: CourierPress
Over the past few weeks I have been breaking down Michigan's basketball roster for next season and comparing it to other Big Ten teams.  In Part I, it analyzed the Big Ten's returning rosters and I concluded that Indiana probably has the best returners primarily because of their impressive depth.  In Part II, I analyzed the incoming recruiting classes and their potential impact.  I concluded that Michigan's class is probably going to have the biggest impact next season.  In this section, I'm going to be breaking down what defines most basketball teams, their star players.

There's probably no other sport that cements itself more around star players than basketball.  I'll give you a quick example.  Look at last season's national championship team, Kentucky.  They had some great players, but for the most part, Anthony Davis carried that team.  Compare that to Alabama's national championship football team.  There's no way anybody can say one player carried that team.  Whether star players are so important in basketball because of the team's size (5 vs. 11) is up for debate, but there is definitely a deep focus on star players in the entire sport of basketball, not just in college.

Having said this, let's look at the Big Ten.  Which star players are coming back, and which new recruits are most likely to become star players next season?  Well, as I've used in the last two posts, the best measure of returning stars is probably the All-Big Ten rankings.  Right now, there are 8 All-Big Ten players that will be returning next season.  However, for the purposes of this evaluation, a few of those should be removed because they only made one of the All-Big Ten lists.  For instance, Brandon Paul only made the coaches' list and Aaron Craft only made the media list.  Under most situations, I would count them, but when we're comparing star player status and role, you can't really make a case that they're better than people that made both lists.  This leaves us with 6 returning All-Big Ten players that we can breakdown.

Cody Zeller (IN)
Trey Burke (MI)
Tim Hardaway (MI)
Deshaun Thomas (OSU)
Keith Appling (MSU)
Drew Crawford (NU)

Among this mess of stats, there are some divisions that should strike the eye.  The first thing is that Cody Zeller and Trey Burke are a step above everybody else.  Next, that Deshaun Thomas is a step above the bottom three.  Obviously, stats should not be the only measure of a star player's role on their team, but I think most would agree that Zeller and Burke are probably the best returning players in the Big Ten.  In fact, they were the only players on the list above that made 2nd team All-Big Ten on both the coaches and media lists.  Thomas made it on the coaches' list, but fell to 3rd team All-Big Ten on the media list.  The other three only qualified as 3rd team All-Big Ten.

By now, I'm assuming most Michigan fans have spotted the other important element of this chart.  Michigan is the only team in the Big Ten returning more than one player that received all conference honors.  I spoke about this in great depth in Part I of my analysis, but it's the major reason that I believe there should be a debate about Michigan and Indiana's returning players.  Indiana certainly has a better cast coming back since they return 5 starters, but Michigan's 3 returning starters are probably more talented and have contributed more than Indiana's returners on average.

So Michigan has one of the top two returning players and is the only team returning more than one All-Big Ten player.  Does this mean Michigan will have the best star players next season?  One can't guarantee that, especially with the way college basketball now works.  A true freshman could end up being the best player around (cough cough Anthony Davis).  I'd like to take a short look at the incoming recruits and their chances to become star players next season.

As I spoke about in Part II, there are some great incoming recruits to the Big Ten.  However, because of the layout of certain teams and differing levels of college readiness, I highlighted only a handful that I thought would be able to make a significant impact next season and become a star player.  The most likely candidates are Gary Harris (MSU), Sam Dekker (WIS), Glenn Robinson III (MI), Mitch McGary (MI), and Adam Woodbury (IOWA).  All of these players were some of the Big Ten's highest rated recruits according to the ESPN 100 and have a great opportunity to get early playing time.

Indiana has some fantastic incoming recruits as well, but as I said in Part II, I think because of Indiana's immense depth, they are going to limited in their contributions.  Yes, they will probably be fantastic stars by time they graduate, but for next season, I think their contributions will probably be a bit limited.  Along with that, just about all of these highlighted recruits should play early and will likely make an immediate impact to their respective teams.

Once again, I'm sure Michigan fans have spotted the interesting note about these recruits.  Michigan is the only team with more than one player in the five incoming recruits I've highlighted.  I highly doubt both Robinson and McGary will be amazing right away, but I think there's a great chance at least one, most likely Robinson, will be great next year and earn that star player status.  Other recruits like Gary Harris from MSU will also have an amazing opportunity to contribute early and often.  He's a big-time player and I would be pretty surprised if he didn't earn a starting role very early.

Altogether, I think it's pretty clear that Michigan will probably have the best star players next season.  Does that mean they will be the best team?  Not at all.  It certainly helps to have some big time contributors, but look at the NBA.  Miami probably has the best star players in the league, but they didn't win the championship last season.  Michigan should have the best star players, since it has some amazing recruits with a chance to start early and is the only Big Ten team to return two players with all conference honors.

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