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Sunday Stats: Breaking Down the Big Ten Individual Stat Leaders

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A look at the best players in the conference

NCAA Basketball: Indiana at Maryland Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Is Iowa back on track? Are Ohio State’s tournament chances slipping away? Can Pat Chambers save his job? Is it becoming clear that Michigan State is actually the best team in the conference, rather than Michigan?

This week, we take a break from all such questions and instead look at the Big Ten’s leaders in individual statistical categories. Some of the results are obvious, and some are surprising. As usual, all numbers come from KenPom unless otherwise stated.

Big Ten Player of the Year

  1. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
  2. Carsen Edwards, Purdue
  3. Nick Ward, Michigan State
  4. Cassius Winston, Michigan State
  5. James Palmer, Nebraska

KenPom’s player of the year category is a little bit of a black box, but it consists of three components: a player must be efficient, high usage, and play for a good team. Given those criteria, it’s no surprise to see Ethan Happ atop this list. The Wisconsin senior does a little bit of everything for the Badgers, and so long as Wisconsin finishes in the top four of the conference, I think he’s a shoo-in for the official Player of the Year award, too. Carsen Edwards misses too many shots, and the Michigan schools share the load among players so well that it’s difficult for one of them to stand out. I’m happy to see Cassius Winston on the list above, as I felt he was the most underrated player in the Big Ten at the start of the year.

Offensive Efficiency

  1. Grady Eifert, Purdue (135.8)
  2. Kyle Young, Ohio State (133.6)
  3. Cassius Winston, Michigan State (130.0)
  4. Brevin Pritzl, Wisconsin (128.2)
  5. Isaiah Livers, Michigan (126.4)

There’s Winston again, plus four guys who aren’t the top dogs on their team, but who fill their role while minimizing mistakes. Purdue fans are frustrated that Matt Painter continues to start Grady Eifert; the senior sitting atop this list shows why he does. It’s a little surprising to me that Isaiah Livers is the Wolverine on this list instead of Jordan Poole, who shoots better from deep and from the line. But Poole turns the ball over about 50% more often than Livers. This is not a list of flashy guys, but of coaches’ favorites.

Usage

  1. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin (36.0%)
  2. Carsen Edwards, Purdue (35.5%)
  3. Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State (32.4%)
  4. James Palmer, Nebraska (30.5%)
  5. Lamar Stevens, Penn State (29.6%)

The way to interpret this stat is that 36.0% of Wisconsin possessions end with Ethan Happ having done something, whether it’s scoring, assisting, turning the ball over, or fouling. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s not higher than that, but Happ spends more time on the bench than Edwards, Palmer, or Stevens, which makes his usage rate even more impressive. It’s worth noting that four of the five players above also have very good efficiency numbers. The exception is Stevens, whose offensive efficiency rating is below 100. That might explain why Penn State is currently winless in the Big Ten.

Minutes Played

  1. Lamar Stevens, Penn State (89.2%)
  2. Anthony Cowan, Maryland (84.7%)
  3. Geo Baker, Rutgers (84.1%)
  4. Carsen Edwards, Purdue (83.1%)
  5. Romeo Langford, Indiana (82.8%)

There’s Stevens again and Edwards again. Geo Baker is another guy who’s playing big minutes with an offensive efficiency below 100. His team is also having a bad season. Cowan and Langford are a couple of other guys everyone in the conference knows are good, though they each have a glaring weakness in their numbers—three-point shooting for Langford and turnovers for Cowan. Speaking of which...

(Lack of) Turnovers

  1. Jon Teske, Michigan (6.3%)
  2. Brevin Pritzl, Wisconsin (8.0%)
  3. Ryan Taylor, Northwestern (9.1%)
  4. Kobe King, Wisconsin (9.3%)
  5. Aaron Jordan, Illinois (9.7%)

It’s insane that a guy who’s over seven feet tall tops this list. While centers may or may not have bad hands, they are typically the worst passers on the floor and they are prone to collect charges and over-the-back calls. Michigan fans appreciate Jon Teske, but I don’t think the rest of the league does. Teske’s steady presence in the paint goes a long way towards describing why Michigan—a team without any nationally elite players—hasn’t lost a game yet this season. It’s also good to see Illinois and Northwestern represented on one of these lists. That leaves just Iowa and Minnesota without an appearance yet. I can fix the latter right now.

Defensive Rebounding

  1. Jordan Murphy, Minnesota (32.6%)
  2. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin (28.6%)
  3. Bruno Fernando, Maryland (27.3%)
  4. Kenny Goins, Michigan State (24.8%)
  5. Xavier Tillman, Michigan State (23.7%)

This is a group of guys I wouldn’t want to see coming at me in a dark alley. Every one of these guys is a total hoss, but in terms of hard work on the boards, Murphy takes the cake. Grabbing 32.6% of available rebounds at the defensive end is the second-best mark in the Big Ten in the KenPom era, with only Caleb Swannigan’s 2017 mark of 32.7% eclipsing him. The average best rate is well below 30%. In other words, for a lot of students attending Big Ten games this season, Jordan Murphy might be the best defensive rebounder they’ll ever see.

Offensive Rebounding

  1. Daniel Oturu, Minnesota (14.7%)
  2. Shaquille Doorson, Rutgers (13.9%)
  3. Jalen Smith, Maryland (13.8%)
  4. Bruno Fernando, Maryland (13.5%)
  5. Xavier Tillman, Michigan State (13.2%)

With Bruno Fernando appearing on both lists (and ahead of Tillman in both), he’s clearly the King of the Glass in the 2019 Big Ten. What’s even more impressive is that he’s doing it alongside another elite rebounder in Jalen Smith. And speaking of good rebounding duos, who knew that Oturu and not Murphy was the Gophers’ best guy on the offensive boards?

Side note—it should be no surprise given the above that Maryland is the best offensive rebounding team in the Big Ten. But you know who the best defensive rebounding team is? Michigan! The Wolverines do not have a single guy in the top 10 in that category, and yet they lead the league. Talk about a team effort.

We’re still looking for a Hawkeye. Let’s see if we can’t find one.

Steals (Actually, Steal Percentage)

  1. Josh Reaves, Penn State (4.50%)
  2. Nicholas Baer, Iowa (3.97%)
  3. Trent Frazier, Illinois (3.29%)
  4. Thomas Allen, Nebraska (3.28%)
  5. Jamari Wheeler, Penn State (3.25%)

There’s an Iowa guy! And there are more to come, Hawkeye fans, fear not. I like Baer, but of the guys that have appeared on these lists so far, either he or Thomas Allen have to be the ones with the smallest chance of making an all-Big-Ten team.

Blocks (Actually, Block Percentage)

  1. Matt Haarms, Purdue (10.95%)
  2. Nate Reuvers, Wisconsin (9.22%)
  3. Bruno Fernando, Maryland (8.52%)
  4. Daniel Oturu, Minnesota (8.38%)
  5. Jon Teske, Michigan (8.37%)

One of the biggest gaps in college basketball stats/analytics has to be the ability to quantify individual defensive performance. We can track steals and blocks and charges, but we can’t track the fact that a shutdown defender can get assigned to a team’s best guy and hold him to 6 points when he averages 20. I don’t know how you address that without feeding game film into the computers, which means exponentially more processing power will be required. This is an area where I still trust the “eye test” over what the computers tell me. Because there’s no way Matt Haarms is one of the best defenders in the league.

Fouls Committed

KenPom lists this one as lack-of-fouls-committed, which of course makes sense. In all other categories, being at the top means being good. But I think it’ll be more fun to look at who fouls most often. So here’s that list.

  1. Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Illinois (6.32 fouls per 40 minutes)
  2. Jamari Wheeler, Penn State (5.84)
  3. Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State (5.42)
  4. John Harrar, Penn State (5.31)
  5. Daniel Oturu, Minnesota (5.31)

No surprise that all five guys listed are underclassmen. It is a surprise that 6’1” Jamari Wheeler is on this list, as you typically expect to see big guys dominate this category. Wesson, Wheeler, and Oturu are too good of players to be on this list. Come on guys, stop reaching so much; you teams need you. (By the way, in case you aren’t convinced yet Michigan is a team that does all of the little things right, you have to go down to No. 33 on this list before you see a Wolverine.)

Fouls Drawn

  1. Nick Ward, Michigan State (9.3 fouls drawn per 40 minutes)
  2. Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State (8.7)
  3. Jordan Murphy, Minnesota (7.5)
  4. James Palmer, Nebraska (6.9)
  5. Tyler Cook, Iowa (6.9)

Wesson on this list, too. What can I say, the dude likes to bang around down low. Palmer being on this list as a non-post player shows why he is probably the best point guard in the Big Ten not named Cassius Winston. Speaking of point guards...

Assist Rate

  1. Cassius Winston, Michigan State (42.2%)
  2. Isaiah Washington, Minnesota (42.0%)
  3. Ethan Happ, Wisconsin (35.5%)
  4. Zavier Simpson, Michigan (33.2%)
  5. Geo Baker, Rutgers (27.4%)

A bunch of point guards and Ethan Happ. Ethan Happ is good, y’all.

Another sidetone, apropos of Badgers and assists. Did you know that going back to 2002, which includes the glory days of the Bo Ryan era, Wisconsin has finished in the top 100 in team assist rate precisely once? They were No. 88 in 2013. When you think of Wisconsin, you think of unselfish basketball, and yet the Badgers are No. 254 in assist rate this season. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. The year they made the national championship game, Frank Kaminsky and Company were No. 248.

Two-Point Percentage

  1. Kyle Young, Ohio State (76.2%)
  2. Kyle Ahrens, Michigan State (73.5%)
  3. Xavier Tillman, Michigan State (71.2%)
  4. Juwan Morgan, Indiana (69.7%)
  5. Bruno Fernando, Maryland (69.6%)

Juwan Morgan had to show up on one of these lists before all was said and done. The Indiana senior is a lock for all-Big-Ten honors, though first team might be a stretch. Based on all the numbers we’ve looked at, Bruno Fernando has to be the choice at center. And the results from Friday night bore that out. In action against each other, Fernando had 25-8-3 against Morgan’s 14-8-1.

Three-Point Percentage

  1. D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin (47.3%)
  2. Cassius Winston, Michigan State (45.7%)
  3. Eric Ayala, Maryland (45.6%)
  4. Jordan Poole, Michigan (45.2%)
  5. Matt McQuaid, Michigan State (45.1%)

Trice is great from deep, and don’t think it’s because of a small sample size; he’s only shot one fewer three-pointer this season than Winston has. (And he’s made one more than Winston has.)

Free Throw Percentage

  1. Rasir Bolton, Penn State (88.7%)
  2. Isaiah Moss, Iowa (85.7%)
  3. Carsen Edwards, Purdue (85.6%)
  4. Luka Garza, Iowa (85.5%)
  5. Jordan Bohannon, Iowa (85.2%)

It’s the end of the article, and just like the end of a close game, we want guys on the floor that can knock down free throws. Apparently, that means Iowa Hawkeyes. It doesn’t mean Ethan Happ. We opened with Happ as the No. 1 player in the POTY rankings, so it only seems fitting to close with him. Yes, of the players that qualify, Ethan Happ is the worst free throw shooter in the Big Ten at 49.3%.