On this, a rare off day in the Big Ten, I figured it might be a good time to notice the unsung heroes. The players who are going unnoticed in this conference season. While some of these names may seem familiar, they are certainly not household ones. However, all of these players can be found on the Big Ten statistical leader boards. Yet, they get overlooked and are underappreciated by the casual fan.
Therefore, I feel it is my duty to shed light on these fine athletes. So today we will look the the most undervalued performers in the Big Ten at both the backcourt and frontcourt positions.
James Palmer Jr. - Nebraska
As Nebraska’s season progresses it becomes more and more evident that the Huskers can be a real threat in March. This is due in large part thanks to the dynamic performances of James Palmer Jr. The Miami transfer has been incredibly impressive in his first year being eligible for Nebraska. Palmer Jr. has seen his statistics increase by an astronomical amount compared to his two seasons with the Hurricanes.
The Huskers have won five of their last six games, their only loss coming to Ohio State. Palmer Jr. has averaged 25 points per game in that stretch which is far better than his already magnificent 17 points per game mark. It is clear that the 6-foot-6 guard has hit a nice stride recently, but he had been consistent throughout this year already. His points per game mark is top five in the Big Ten.
Despite all of this success, Palmer Jr. and Nebraska have not gotten the proper attention they deserve. Perhaps if they make the NCAA Tournament, people will perk their eyes up to Palmer Jr.
Anthony Cowan - Maryland
Given the trials and tribulations Maryland has gone through this year, it was obvious that someone needed to step up. Clearly, it has been Cowan who has taken the lead for the Terrapins. Though Maryland has lost their last three games, putting their postseason hopes in jeopardy, Cowan has continued to shine. He has nearly compiled a double-double in two of those three losses.
His 16 points and 5 assists per game have been vital for a Terrapin team marred by detrimental injuries. Cowan’s shooting has improved too, albeit slightly, but his 38 percent clip from long range is nearly six percentage points up from his freshman season. Considering the dire nature of Maryland’s season, it is easy to forget about the team, especially since they have dropped three straight. However, Cowan has continued to grow as a player in his sophomore campaign.
Dakota Mathias - Purdue
It is so easy to overlook a player like Mathias considering how good Purdue is. This has been a longstanding opinion that the senior is the unsung hero of this Boilermakers team. Not only this year, but in previous years as well. However, this is arguably the best team Mathias has played on, and they have a real chance to make it to the Final Four. Mathias’ consistency may play an integral part in their impending success.
Though he does not average copious amounts of points, he makes them count. His 12 points per game come on 47 percent shooting from the field and 46 percent from three-point range. It goes without saying how incredible that is for a player that takes a majority of his shots further away from the basket. The backbone of Purdue is Dakota Mathias, and he is just fine with being underappreciated too.
Trent Frazier - Illinois
It has been a shame to see the fall of the Fighting Illini since starting Big Ten play. Their first win in conference play came last week and they are currently riding a two game win streak. Though the team has been relatively lousy in December and January, freshman guard Trent Frazier has shown promise. In their last two games, both victories, Frazier dropped in 19 and 17 points respectively. However, his most impressive individual performance came against Iowa on January 11th, where he scored 27 points.
The 6-foot-1 guard also shoots the ball well, at 43 percent from the field. It is also worth noting that Frazier’s near 2 steals per game is third best in the Big Ten. Sure, Illinois may not be in the conversation this season, but Frazier should be stirring up talks with his current play.
Kaleb Wesson - Ohio State
This fabulous freshman has been one of the more vital assets in Ohio State’s great run this season. Wesson only put in about 11 points per game, but he does at one of the most efficient rates in the country. His 58 percent shooting mark would be top five in the Big Ten if not for a lack of attempts. Never the less, Wesson’s 64 percent true shooting clip is seventh best in the league. Not to mention he has the ninth highest player efficiency rating, one spot ahead of Miles Bridges.
Lastly, the 6-foot-9 forward has a bawdy 131 offensive rating, which is best in the conference. One thing is for sure, and that is that Wesson is easily one of the most reliable players in the Big Ten. Did I mention he was a freshman yet too?
DeShawn Freeman - Rutgers
Most of the attention has been drawn to Corey Sanders and Geo Baker for Rutgers this season. Meanwhile, Freeman has become one of the best rebounders the conference has to offer. His seven rebounds per game is top ten in the Big Ten. You will also see Freeman in the top ten in defensive and total rebounding percentage. Freeman does this while being undersized for a post player. At only 6-foot-7, Freeman relies solely on his physicality to win rebounding battles.
Though the Scarlet Knights have lost their last four Big Ten games, Freeman has racked up double-doubles in half of those contests. Rutgers may continue to struggle in the win-loss column, but DeShawn Freeman will stuff the box score in the process.
Mike Watkins - Penn State
If DeShawn Freeman is one of the best rebounders in the Big Ten, Mike Watkins may be the one of the best rebounders in the nation. The sophomore is first in the conference in defensive rebounding percentage and second in total rebounding percentage. He is also second in rebounds and blocks per game. Needless to say, Watkins is one of the more legitimate post presences in the league. The 6-foot-9 Watkins is also efficient when scoring the basketball. While he averages nearly 13 points per game, he shoots the second highest field goal percentage in the Big Ten at 68 percent.
Watkins is also second in the league in effective and true shooting percentage. This only affirms his status as one of the more reliable offensive weapons in the entire nation. In their win over Rutgers on Saturday, Watkins scored 15 points and snared 19 rebounds. If he can continue to turn in performances like that, he will not go unnoticed for much longer.
There are far more underrated players that could have gone on this list, and I apologize if I snubbed your favorite. However, this is only my list, maybe you can give your lists in the comments below. Either way, enjoy your Big Ten day off everyone!