Basketball season is just around the corner and as part of our all-encompassing look at the Big Ten we’re sorting through the stats to find the best of the best returning players in the Big Ten.
We’ve already ranked the Big Ten’s top 25 players (25-21, 20-16, 15-11, 10-6, 5-1) and looked at some impact newcomers but now we’ll hand out superlative honors among the returning talent. Our superlatives range from the more traditional categories like rebounding and shooting to some more unique such as the league’s best glue guys and athletes.
- Tim Frazier, Penn State (Assist Rate: 45.3%, 42.1% B10)
Frazier was the Penn State offense last season. He assisted 198, 41%, of his teammates’ 487 made baskets, while scoring another 208 on his own.
- Trey Burke, Michigan (Assist Rate: 28.7%, 28.0% B10)
Burke is a second team preseason All-American by many and for good reason. The 6-foot lead guard can not just score the ball, he’s also a more than competent distributor in his own right.
- Julian Welch, Minnesota (Assist Rate: 25.6%, 30.4% B10)
Guard play was far from a strength for the Golden Gophers but the senior and former UC-Davis player had a strong first year for Tubby Smith.
Three Point Shooters
- Jordan Hulls, Indiana (3P: 49.2%)
Hulls made 49% of his threes last season and while his overall role may decrease, that might leave more opportunities for Tom Crean to draw up plays specifically designed to get him open looks.
- DJ Byrd, Purdue (3P: 43.0%)
Byrd’s 46.4% three point shooting in Big Ten games speaks for itself and is the best in the league among returnees. Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson are gone and now Byrd will have to carry the load.
- Drew Crawford, Northwestern (3P: 41.0%)
Crawford hit 42 percent of his threes in league games last year and is a 38% long range shooter in Big Ten games.
- Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota (N/A)
Mbakwe missed almost all of last season with a knee injury but when healthy is an elite rebounder. There’s no reason to expect anything else this year.
- Branden Dawson, Michigan State (Off: 13.3%, Def: 12.5%)
Dawson is on this list because he was the best offensive rebounder in the Big Ten last season. His defensive rebounding lagged behind but should see a significant uptick now that Draymond Green won’t be grabbing what seems like every rebound opportunity.
- Jordan Morgan, Michigan (Off: 11.9% Def: 17.8)
In Big Ten games last season Morgan ranked third in offensive reboudning and seventh in defensive rebounding. Remove players that graduated or entered the NBA and Morgan ranks second in both categories.
- Rodney Williams, Minnesota
Big Ten fans know about Williams’s athleticism but the Minnesota guard has yet to put it all together to be a consistent and complete player.
- Sam Thompson, Ohio State
Thompson was one of the few players that Thad Matta called on off of his bench a season ago and his athleticism is clear by the photograph above.
- Victor Oladipo, Indiana
Williams and Thompson are wiry athletes that can play above the rim while Oladipo has plenty of quickness and athleticism he’s also a physical presence. At Indiana’s Media Day he told Inside the Hall that his max bench was 325 pounds.
- Jared Berggren, Wisconsin (Block%: 6.3%)
Berggren led the Big Ten in total blocks last season, swatting 33 shots in 18 games. That figure is even more impressive considering that the Badgers’ slow pace creates fewer opportunities for blocks.
- Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
When healthy, Mbakwe is a monster on the low block. He’s back this season and should be one of the league’s elite low post defenders once again.
- Adreian Payne, Michigan State (Block%: 6.92%)
Payne has perhaps the best combination of size and athleticism on this list, another year in Izzo’s system could lead to a breakout season.
- Aaron Craft, Ohio State (Steal%: 4.65)
If you’ve watched Ohio State play but a single game, you’ve heard someone tell you that Aaron Craft is a phenomenal defender – several times. The numbers back it up as his 4.65% steal percentage was tops in the league last season.
- Tim Frazier, Penn State (Steal%: 4.00)
Craft might have edged Frazier in the season long numbers, but Frazier had five more thefts in Big Ten games and tied Craft in Big Ten steal percentage.
- Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa (Steal% 3.01)
Marble has more length than the other two names on this list and uses it to his advantage and he elevated his entire game as the season progressed.
Heat Up Quickly
This group is not always the most efficient but Clark Kellogg would be impressed with their spurtability in key moments.
- Brandon Paul, Illinois
43 points in a game pretty much stands on its own. Paul isn’t the most efficient player in the Big Ten but when he gets going he’s easily one of the most dangerous.
- Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan
Michigan’s primary wing scorer had a down sophomore year but he’s single handedly taken over enough Big Ten games in his career that his spurtability can’t be underrated.
- Christian Watford, Indiana
Indiana’s senior forward scored 17 points or more in five conference games last season, he was also held to single figures five times. When he’s hot, he’s nearly impossible to guard with his combination of size, shooting and skill.
This group provides a little bit of everything to their teams and might not be the greatest in any one category, but it’s tough to imagine their teams without them.
- Victor Oladipo, Indiana
Strength, athleticism, versatility and energy. Oladipo is the complete package for a jack-of-all trades wing player.
- Aaron White, Iowa
White rebounds on both ends, blocks shots, gets to the free throw line and does a little bit of everything for the Hawkeyes.
- Dave Sobolewski, Northwestern
Eight points, four assists and three rebounds per game are nothing to write home about but Sobolewski is on this list because he was on the floor more often than all but two other returning players in the league: Tim Frazier and Trey Burke.
There are always some shooters that have ridiculous offensive ratings but these are the most efficient players that play key roles in their respective offenses.
- Cody Zeller, Indiana (ORtg/Usage: 126.8/24.3%)
Zeller is the preseason player of the year in most national outlets and the numbers back him up. His 126.8 offensive rating wasn’t just good for players that play pivotal roles on their team, its the 2nd best in the Big Ten even among shooters and role players.
- Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State (ORtg/Usage: 122.1/22.1%)
There are plenty that criticize his shot volume and his defense but how can you fault Thomas from shooting when he has red-hot 122.1 offensive rating.
- Drew Crawford, Northwestern (ORtg/Usage: 111.0/23.9%)
A consistent three point shot, ability to get to the hole and a large role in the Wildcat offense, the question is whether Crawford can maintain his efficiency without John Shurna on the other wing.
When these three players are on the court, they’ll be shooting the ball more often than not.
- Tim Frazier, Penn State (Shot %: 30.3%)
It should come as no surprise to see Frazier on this list. He accounted for the majority of Penn State’s production in just about every category. Hopefully with some help this year, he’ll be able to become more efficient with less astronomical usage rates.
- Drew Crawford, Northwestern (Shot %: 26.9%)
Crawford accounted for over a quarter of Northwestern’s shots last year, without John Shurna this number could be even higher in Crawford’s junior season. Luckily, the Wildcat wing scorer is fairly efficiency with an offensive rating of 111, making over 52% of his twos and 41% of his threes.
- Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State (Shot %: 26.8%)
Despite his reputation, Thomas actually doesn’t shoot as much as Frazier or Crawford, but there’s little doubt that he’s going to take a higher percentage of Ohio State’s field goals this year as the Buckeyes lose Jared Sullinger and William Buford, who accounted for over 50% of their shot attempts last season.
This group boasts lofty free throw rates (FTA/FGA) and knows how to attack the basket and draw contact.
- Cody Zeller, Indiana (Free Throw Rate: 67.3)
The player of the year in many circles, Cody Zeller is able to achieve ridiculous level efficiency in large part because he gets to the foul line so oftne.
- Keith Appling, Michigan State (Free Throw Rate: 55.4)
Appling struggled to shoot the ball as a sophomore, especially from the perimeter, but he was able to get to the free throw line consistently. The Michigan State junior could bounce back by focusing on his strength of attacking the hoop this season.
- Aaron White, Iowa (Free Throw Rate: 53.0)
White’s seasonal numbers look a bit pedestrian compared to Zeller’s but in Big Ten games, White made his way to the line more often than any other Big Ten player. The Iowa freshman shot 67 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts in league play.