Wednesday November 2nd, 2016

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7, 2016, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here. Find the rest of our college basketball preview package here.

Thomas Bryant would likely have been a first-round pick had he entered the NBA draft following his freshman year, but the 19-year-old center decided he would return to Bloomington before the regular season ended. “I knew I was having a good year, but I also knew that I needed to get better at so many things,” he says. “I wasn’t ready to take that step.”

Bryant is now primed to take a giant leap forward, thanks to an off-season conditioning program that focused on adding muscle to his 255-pound frame, trimming fat and broadening his skill set. Bryant led the Big Ten last season in field goal percentage (68.3), but that was largely because his limited range meant that most of his attempts came from near the hoop. A major reason the Rochester, N.Y., native chose Indiana over Syracuse and Kentucky was coach Tom Crean’s track record developing well-rounded big men such as Cody Zeller and Noah Vonleh. Crean now expects Bryant to create plays on the perimeter using ball screens and to use his improved footwork to become a more effective perimeter defender. “We’ve got a saying around here: Slow feet don’t eat,” Bryant says. “And I want to eat.”

Too often as a freshman, Bryant let his emotions get the best of him. “I still want him to play hard, but he can’t let things like a bad call distract him,” Crean says. With the team’s lone senior, 6' 7" forward Collin Hartman, out indefinitely because of a left-knee injury, it will be crucial for Bryant and his fellow sophomores OG Anunoby and Juwan Morgan to be more effective and more mature.

College Basketball
Big Ten preview: Wisconsin's stable of returners makes it a favorite

X-Factor: Junior guard Josh Newkirk

Coach Tom Crean says he will play point guard by committee, but if junior transfer Josh Newkirk can emerge as the leading man, it will free up the team’s more athletic finishers to score on the fast break.

Coach’s take: Tom Crean

“We were already going to be young with one one senior, but then Collin Hartman got hurt, so that makes a huge difference. Yogi made so many plays for us the last four years, but now that he’s gone, we will need to have all five positions moving without the ball. This is not going to be about giving it to one or two guys and letting them operate. I know our shooting is going to get better because in a typical two-hour practice we spend 40 minutes on it. This team is going to shoot a lot. You have to worry a little bit because we’re playing Kansas and North Carolina early. We’re going to have to get through that. We want to run after made baskets, which means deep outlets. Depth will really be a key for us. We’re going to have about eight or nine guys who can bring it up after a missed shot. We don’t care who’s running the break. We just want to bust it out and go.”

Projected Top Seven Scorers

Name Class Pos. PPG RPG APG ORtg Volume Mins
James Blackmon Jr. Jr SG 17.6 4.3 1.9 124.6 26% 70%
Thomas Bryant So PF/C 13.0 6.5 1.0 126.4 22% 64%
OG Anunoby So SF 10.2 5.5 1.2 118.4 18% 68%
Robert Johnson Jr SG/PG 9.8 3.6 3.3 122.6 18% 69%
Josh Newkirk Jr PG 9.3 2.2 2.7 104.8 21% 63%
De'Ron Davis Fr PF 8.0 5.0 0.7 109.2 19% 53%
Curtis Jones Fr SG 6.0 0.7 0.8 107.6 19% 42%

Projected Big Ten Standings

Conference Rank Team Proj. Conf. Record ’15-16 Conf. Record
1 Wisconsin 14–4 12–6
2 Purdue 12–6 12–6
3 Indiana 12–6 15–3
4 Michigan 10–8 10–8
5 Michigan State 10–8 13–5
6 Maryland 10–8 12–6
7 Ohio State 10–8 11–7
8 Northwestern 9–9 8–10
9 Illinois 8–10 5–13
10 Iowa 8–10 12–6
11 Penn State 7–11 7–11
12 Nebraska 7–11 6–12
13 Minnesota 6–12 2–16
14 Rutgers 3–15 1–17

More scouting reports: 1. Duke | 2. Kansas | 3. Kentucky | 4. Oregon | 5. Villanova | 6. North Carolina | 7. Virginia | 8. Wisconsin | 9. Gonzaga | 10. Arizona | 11. Purdue | 12. Xavier | 13. Louisville | 14. Syracuse | 16. UCLA | 17. California | 18. NC State | 19. West Virginia | 20. UConn

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