Big Ten

Big Ten’s top 25 players for 2020-21: 1-5

With the official start of practice just a few weeks away, UM Hoops and Inside the Hall have partnered to bring you our annual preseason breakdown of the top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2020-2021 season.

The series will be broken into five parts over the course of a week and our final installment of players 1-5 is available below (Previously: 6-10, 11-15, 16-20, 21-25):

5. Franz Wagner, Michigan (6-foot-9, sophomore, wing)

Wagner had an up-and-down freshman year at Michigan. He missed the preseason with a broken shooting wrist that cost him four games of the regular season. The 6-foot-9 wing was billed as a shooter but made just 31 percent of his triples on the year.

He was a useful player in December and January, but he discovered a new level over Michigan’s final seven games. Wagner averaged 15.9 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 75 percent on twos and 38 percent on threes down the stretch.

He won’t have Zavier Simpson to find him for open looks on the wings, but if his perimeter shooting clicks up a few points he could easily be the breakout star of the Big Ten in 2020-21.

4. Kofi Cockburn, Illinois (7-foot, sophomore, center)

The Big Ten freshman of the year last season, Cockburn tested the NBA waters before opting to return to Champaign for his sophomore season. His decision to stay in school – along with Ayo Dosunmu’s – has expectations high for Brad Underwood’s fourth season at Illinois.

Cockburn, who weighs in at close to 290 pounds, is a matchup problem in the post for most Big Ten foes. He averaged 13.3 points and 8.8 rebounds as a freshman and was 13th in the conference in block percentage. He’s an elite offensive rebounder – he ranked 27th nationally in offensive rebound percentage a season ago – and is effective at drawing fouls and getting to the line.

With plenty of help on the perimeter in Dosunmu, Trent Frazier, Adam Miller and Andre Curbelo, Cockburn should have plenty of room to operate in the paint without double teams and should improve upon his successful freshman campaign.

3. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana (6-foot-9, sophomore, forward)

After finishing a close second to Cockburn in the Big Ten freshman of the year race, Jackson-Davis didn’t even consider a leap to the NBA last spring. Despite having little help to space the floor on the perimeter, Jackson-Davis averaged 13.5 points on 56.6 percent shooting as a freshman in Bloomington. He ranked ninth in the conference in offensive rebounding percentage, 14th in defensive rebounding percentage, seventh in block percentage and third in free throw rate.

As a sophomore, he’ll be the focal point for Archie Miller, who is seeking his first NCAA tournament appearance at Indiana. The addition of five-star point guard Khristian Lander – who is effective at attacking the basket off the dribble – should help generate plenty of easy looks at the rim for Jackson-Davis. To fully maximize his potential, Indiana needs to get the usage rate for Jackson-Davis up significantly. As a freshman, he used just 21.8 percent of the team’s possessions in league play, which was behind almost every other notable big man in the conference.

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

Players of Ayo Dosunmu’s caliber rarely come back to school for a second season but Dosunmu opted to stay in school and skip the NBA Draft for a second consecutive offseason.

His statistical improvements as a sophomore don’t jump off the page but they are steady. He improved his 2-point efficiency (53.7 percent up from 48.5) and averaged 3 more points per game, but most importantly the stats weren’t as hollow. Dosunmu’s 14 points per game as a freshman were for a 12-21 team that was going nowhere. As a sophomore, he hit big shots and won big games and helped Illinois to a 21-10 record.

Dosunmu is an elite transition finisher and an effective ball screen guard who clearly has a knack for the clutch. With his combination of size and athleticism, the only thing keeping him from the NBA is his 3-point shooting stroke. He shot 29 percent from deep last year and 32.8 percent for his career.

1. Luka Garza, Iowa (6-foot-11, senior, center)

Garza is the easy pick for preseason Big Ten and national player of the year. A tepid NBA market for his services drove Garza back to Iowa City for his senior season and it’ll be hard to top the numbers he produced last season.

The 6-foot-11 center averaged 23.9 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks last season on his way to Big Ten player of the year and All-America honors. He shot 58.2 percent on 2s in league play last year and had the highest usage rate of any player in the league.

He also ranked in the top 15 in the league in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, effective field goal percentage, block percentage and free throw rate. He also made 39 3-pointers, a career-best, on 35.8 percent shooting from distance. As a senior, Garza will once again be the go-to go for Iowa, which should once again have the league’s best offense.

Notable Replies

  1. AC1997

    Illinois fans are going to have to dust off their Flyin’ Illini gear from the looks of it. Living and working in the Chicago suburbs I can say that they are good fans who have had nothing to cheer about in a long time. They have the chance to be exciting and dominant. While Wisconsin could churn their way to a league title, they will be typical Wisconsin with boring and frustrating style of play to watch.

    What’s so interesting is that two years ago we weren’t sure if Underwood was going to last. He was running a weird and highly ineffective defense and his offense, while uptempo, was inefficient. Fast forward two years and they have two NBA players coming back, a couple of savvy veterans, a 5-star recruit, and some good transfers. They also won a lot of close games on their way.

  2. Toblav

    Giving Garza 25 points, Ayo 24 etc. = Illnois 48, Iowa 45, Wisc. 43, Mich. St. 42, Mich. 39, Indiana and Purdue 26, Rutgers 19, Minn. 16, Ohio St. 11, Penn St. 10. Will be interesting to see how close this is to the finish order at the end of the year.

  3. AC1997

    Good way to look at it …and feels mostly right depending on Iowa learning what defense is.

    On the other end, not shocking that Northwestern and Nebraska miss the list. Shocked at how far Maryland fell. They’ve had a good run the last few years and it wasn’t like they had unexpected attrition. Where are the recruits?

  4. dreem

    Is there going to be a draft on the pod again? How similar do you think the top 25 would be?

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