Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Brandon Wood To MSU, Wally Judge To Rutgers, Erik Copes To George Mason

Brandon Wood leaves Valparaiso for Michigan State: This is one of those under-the-radar moves that could have huge implications for next season. Wood was an explosive player for Valparaiso this past season, taking 30.2% of shots while on the floor with a 53.1 eFG%, and led the team with 2.1 steals per 40 minutes played. And because he graduated and will be heading to Michigan State as a graduate student, he will not have to sit out and will be able to play immediately. Don't expect Wood to be First Team All-Big Ten, but he'll play big minutes for a Michigan State team starved for backcourt depth. As I talked about in my 2011-12 Big Ten preview, MSU's core will be a very good frontcourt. But in the backcourt, the only returner who played big minutes in 2010-11 is Keith Appling, and their second best backcourt returner (Russell Byrd) redshirt the 2010-11 season and hasn't played a minute yet for MSU. Tom Izzo's 2011 recruiting class has three backcourt players (Dwaun Anderson, Brandan Kearney and Travis Trice) but none is a superstar. And unless the recruiting services are really under-selling one or more of those players, I'd expect Wood to play more than any of them.

Ohio State is clearly by far the best Big Ten team heading into the 2011-12 season (I think they'll be the #2 overall team in the nation, behind only North Carolina). I had picked Wisconsin to finish second and Michigan to finish third, though just about everybody else I read had those teams flipped. With Darius Morris defecting to the NBA Draft I think that firms up Wisconsin's spot as the #2 team in the Big Ten. But after that? I could see Purdue or Michigan State sliding up to that #3 spot ahead of the Wolverines. If the Spartans do finish third, Brandon Wood will likely be a big reason why.

Wally Judge to Rutgers: Wally Judge only played 17 games for Kansas State this past season before transferring, but his last game wasn't played until January 29th, which means he's ineligible to play this coming season. But he will have two full years of eligibility remaining, so he will be expected to play in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. An extra year of seasoning will do him some good, too, because he struck me as a very raw player at Kansas State. He has tremendous size and athleticism, but he still needs to learn how to play basketball efficiently. Of course, a lot of players have that problem at Kansas State, where Frank Martin's intense screaming tends to overshadow the fact (in my opinion) that he doesn't do a lot of actual coaching.

Wally Judge will join a Rutgers program that Mike Rice is really starting to stock with talent. Power forward Kadeem Jack is a big time recruit in Rice's 2011 recruiting class, as is point guard Myles Mack. With several other relatively big time recruits (at least by recent Rutgers standards) showing up in 2011 and 2012, and now with Wally Judge, there's no question that the talent level at Rutgers is getting a major upgrade. But talent alone won't win in the Big East. It remains to be seen how good of an in-game coach Mike Rice is, and whether he can develop the talent he has. I had picked Rutgers to finish tenth in the Big East in 2011-12, and obviously Wally Judge won't impact that since he won't play in a game. But there's no question that Mike Rice is off to a good start in his first full year as Rutgers head coach.

George Mason Gains Erik Copes, Potentially Loses Luke Hancock: I already talked about Erik Copes here when talking about George Washington. Copes, rated by as the #5 center in the 2011 recruiting class, originally signed with George Washington, where his uncle was associate head coach. After Karl Hobbs, the GW head coach, was removed, Copes moved on to George Mason and his uncle came with. These sorts of package deals tend to give me bad vibes, though they're not always in bad faith. Either way, George Mason's weakness this past season was in the frontcourt, and Copes will certainly be expected to help out a lot. Last month I picked George Mason to win the Colonial and to earn a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament in 2011-12. I don't think that new coach Paul Hewitt is as good as Jim Larranaga, and the team is particularly concerned about Luke Hancock leaving. Hancock hasn't officially left yet, but he has been granted permission to talk to other schools about a transfer. If the team can somehow keep Hancock and every other player that Larranaga kept in place while also adding Copes then they remain my pick to win the CAA. If Hancock leaves then the door opens for Drexel, VCU and even Old Dominion to make a run at the CAA title, even with Copes coming on board.

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