In what is an annual tradition, each year it seems as if several athletes make a quantum leap from how they performed in the prior year. In the realm of college basketball, that truth remains evident as well. This past season, it could be argued that Michigan Wolverine Nik Stauskas was perhaps the most improved player in the Big Ten, leading to his eventual obtainment of the conference's Player of the Year Award.
This season, another Wolverine could be on his way to earning that distinction. But he won't be without competition. So, here are my guesses at some of the Big Ten's most improved players for this coming season. It should be noted that this is merely five choices from a host of players that could make a huge jump from how they performed in the 2013-14 season.
5. Travis Trice, Michigan State Spartans - With Keith Appling and Adreian Payne leaving East Lansing, the pressure for the Spartans now lies in the hands of the likes of Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice. Trice is an optimal choice to play the 1- or 2-guard position for Tom Izzo this coming season and thus could take the reigns for a bevy of possessions. With only 16.9 percent of possessions accounted for by Trice last year, expect that number to shoot up in 2014 and expect his production to increase as well.
4. Mike Gesell, Iowa Hawkeyes - Soon-to-be junior point guard Mike Gesell has a shot to see his improve play this coming year. As a freshman, Gesell's efficiency numbers were more than average, but in his sophomore season he saw those numbers dip quite a bit. Now, with Roy Devyn Marble gone and the Hawkeyes going over a makeover, Gesell has a chance to take the reigns and take a dramatic leap into arguably becoming the best Hawkeye on the floor.
3. Leslee Smith, Nebraska Cornhuskers - A former SMU Mustang who transferred to Lincoln's proud university, Leslee Smith possesses an ability to make a big time hop into the spectrum next season. While the junior forward averaged just 5.4 points per game in 2013, he did so with great efficiency. That efficiency should carry into next season and with any luck, Smith will net more playing time and a bigger stage to prove himself on.
2. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin Badgers - Should this once fabulous freshman net himself a place in the starting lineup, it's hard to imagine Nigel Hayes not improving steadily from the groundwork he laid last year. Hayes did play spectacularly with a Min% of 43.5 percent a year ago, but all signs are pointing to even more playing time for him. If he does get that, watch out.
1. Caris LeVert, Michigan Wolverines - First there was Trey Burke. Then there was Nik Stauskas. And now Caris LeVert has all the makings of a player who could improve tremendously upon what he did a season ago. Much like Stauskas during Michigan's run to the National Championship Game in the 2013 NCAA Tournament, LeVert was a prime three-point shooter and a big reason why the Wolverines made the 2014 Elite Eight. Now with a summer to refine his game even more, LeVert could very well make a case for most improved and a run at the Big Ten Player of the Year Award, too.