Big Ten

Big Ten’s top 25 players for 2019-20: 1-5

With the official start of practice quickly approaching, UM Hoops and Inside the Hall have again partnered to bring you a preseason breakdown of the top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2019-2020 season.

Our selection process involved much deliberation to arrive at a list we hope will provide plenty of reaction and debate. The series will be broken into five parts and our final installment of players 1-5 is available below. Previously: 6-1011-1516-20, 21-25

5. Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois (6-foot-5, guard, sophomore)

Dosunmu was a relatively inefficient player on a team that went 12-21 last season which means his ranking is clearly based on his potential. The 6-foot-5 guard is one of the quickest players in the conference with the ball in his hands and he’s the primary reason that many are expecting the Illini to contend for an NCAA tournament berth.

We know that Brad Underwood’s offense can work at the highest level — Oklahoma State had the best offense in the country in 2017 — and we know that Dosunmu has NBA-caliber talent. If those two things click, Dosunmu has the highest ceiling in the conference among players not named Cassius Winston.

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4. Lamar Stevens, Penn State (6-foot-8, forward, senior)

Statistically speaking, Stevens is one of the Big Ten’s most productive players. As a junior, he averaged 19.9 points, which was second in the conference to Purdue’s Carsen Edwards. He was also top ten in the league in rebounding.

In addition to carrying the offensive load for Pat Chambers, Stevens also played more minutes than any other Big Ten player in conference games and had the sixth-highest usage rate. While he’s not always efficient, he is one of the league’s toughest matchups because of his physicality and versatility.

If Stevens is going to live up to expectations as a senior, he’ll need to improve his 3-point shot (22 percent last season) and take fewer 2-point jump shots. As a junior, he shot just 35.6 percent on 2-point jump shots, per

3. Zavier Simpson, Michigan (6-foot, guard, senior)

Simpson is the best defensive point guard in the Big Ten and was the focal point of a Michigan team that won 33 games last season. His leadership should be a tremendous asset for the Wolverines as they transition under Juwan Howard.

Simpson has a unique game with distinct limitations. He almost always drives to his right and his 3-point shot is a liability. He only made 31 percent of his triples last season but he has mastered the right-handed running hook shot.

Most of the attention that Simpson receives is for his defense, and rightfully so, but his offensive game is overlooked. Per Synergy Sports, Simpson led all high-major players with 152 ball screen assists last season. Simpson will need to improve his 3-point shot to elevate his game as a senior, but he’s made at least one improvement in every offseason.

2. Anthony Cowan Jr., Maryland (6-foot, guard, senior)

Maryland is being touted by many as the Big Ten’s second-best team entering the season and Cowan is a major reason for those expectations. As a junior, he averaged an impressive 16.6 points, 4.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds as Maryland advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

After leading the Big Ten in minutes as a sophomore, he was fifth in minutes logged as a junior and finished fourth in the league in assist rate. His 3-point shooting is inconsistent, but Cowan is a tough cover off the dribble and does a nice job of drawing fouls. He ranked in the top 20 of the conference last season in free throw rate and shot over 80 percent from the line. If he can find the 3-point stroke that he showed in Big Ten play as a sophomore (39.8 percent), Cowan should be a lock for All-Big Ten honors.

The Terps have underperformed to their talent under Mark Turgeon almost every season since joining the Big Ten, but having a battle-tested senior point guard provides a major opportunity to flip that narrative.

1. Cassius Winston, Michigan State (6-foot-1, guard, senior)

Winston is the frontrunner for National Player of the Year after a dominant junior season. The 6-foot point guard averaged 19 points and eight assists per game last year while shooting an impressive 50 percent on 2s and 40 percent on 3s.

The scary part for the rest of the Big Ten is that Winston wasn’t even the bonafide number one option in Michigan State’s offense at the start of the 2018-19 season, that adjustment came when Joshua Langford’s season ended prematurely due to injury. In 2019-20, the Spartans will enter the year prepared to build around Winston, who has had time to rest and recover from knee tendinitis that plagued him late last season.

As a junior, Winston posted a 120.0 offensive rating on 29.4 percent usage. Since 2004, only three other players — Denzel Valentine (125.7), Frank Kaminsky (126.2), Trey Burke (121.2) — have used more than 28 percent of their team’s possessions and matched that level of efficiency. Those three players exhausted their eligibility or moved onto the NBA draft, Winston is back for his senior year to try to build on a historic season.

Notable Replies

  1. umhoops

    I was curious how our list stacked up to some others, so I pulled up 3 Man Weave’s (great podcast, smart guys) list of the top 100 players nationally and pulled out the Big Ten guys.

    Here’s their order: Winston (1), Cowan (18), Stevens (22), Wesson (23), Simpson (25), Tillman (30), Teske (34), Jalen Smith (35), Ayo Dosunmu (42), Nojel Eastern (46), Joshua Langford (51) ,Trent Frazier (61), Trevion Williams (89), D’Mitrik Trice (94),

    Thought that was an interesting counterpoint. Speaks to the gap between 1 and everyone else, and also how condensed that 2-8 range is.

  2. mgl

    I know Cowan was picked apart significantly in the last post, but man I have a hard time taking him over Simpson. I realize his limits are less defined and he gets the ball in the basket more effectively (even if his three-point shooting was down, due to his volume and rep he’ll always garner more respect from the defense, and he got to the line well (and makes them)), and I also acknowledge my obvious bias, but I’d take X at the point over him any day of the week.

    I realize the list is a balance of established production vs. future potential, but I almost have an easier time making a case for Ayo, based on potential, than Cowan - who I see “is who he is” as much as X is, and is just worse.

    I will grant - due to his shooting, I think X is probably “harder to build around” than Cowan is, but I’m not sure Cowan is a guy you’d really want off-ball anyway (though he’d succeed at that better than X would).

    I get Stevens being where he is given what he’s done, but I think if I were picking a team to start this year, I’d go with Ayo or Jalen Smith over him as well - they seem like guys with star potential, Stevens just screams “ok player grinding out massive stats for a bad team” with me.

  3. umhoops

    Case for Cowan: Higher offensive ceiling, team should be better, still a good defender, 3-point shooting should regress upward

    Case for Simpson: Better year last year, better defender, great passer

  4. umhoops

    Stevens is one of the hardest guys to rank IMO. I don’t really like anything about his game, but he kind of has to be in the top 5 just because of production.

    Ayo is a fascinating one. I’ll release the pod I did with Brendan to talk about the list soon, but one of the things I said was that if you had to bet on one player other than Winston being POTY, it is probably Ayo.

  5. pabozich

    Overall, this was a difficult year to do the list. In hindsight, I’m sure there will be several misses for us. I believe this is our eighth season working together on it and after Cassius, I think there are legitimate arguments to move guys around from two through seven. I’ve enjoyed reading all of the comments here. Good stuff.

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