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Five Emerging Freshmen To Be Watching In Big Ten Play

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The Big Ten is loaded with talented young players.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

The Big Ten conference is seeing a young talent boom not seen in years. In the 247Sports era, no collective Big Ten class of freshmen was bigger than the 2018 class. Many teams around the Big Ten are introducing new faces and getting acclimated to life in the new Big Ten. Quality of play has risen with the injection of new young talent into the league, and the fruits of this could be 10 teams in the NCAA Tournament.

The focus has been (for good reason) on the talents of awesome Big Ten freshmen like Indiana’s Romeo Langford, Illinois’ Ayo Dosunmu, and Michigan’s Ignas Brazdeikis. What I wanted to do was highlight some of the other emerging freshmen talents around the Big Ten. These are players who have started to make an impact on their respective teams, or have excelled most of the season in a role their coach has asked them to take on.

Look for these guys the next time you’ve flipped on Big Ten basketball. They are probably going to be around for a while.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Trevion Williams - Purdue

Conference stats: 7.0 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 52.6 fg%

The conference numbers are even underselling the impact Williams has had on the Boilermakers. Take a look at his last three games.

12.6 ppg, 12 rbg, 52 fg%, 23 mpg.

Williams has been a revelation for the Boilermakers, as Purdue’s offense has badly needed effective post-ups for scoring chances and three-point opportunities off double-teams. Williams, who has lost nearly 50 pounds since coming on campus, wasn’t expected to compete for big-time minutes this season. However, Purdue big man struggles against Notre Dame allowed for some time for Williams off the bench. He scored 10 points and grabbed four rebounds in nine minutes of play.

Fatigue could be an issue for Williams as the season goes on, but expect Purdue to roll with Williams at 20-25 minutes a game the remainder of the season unless the wheels fall completely off. I don’t think that will be likely, so be sure to check out the development of Purdue’s next great big man.

NCAA Basketball: Michigan at Illinois Mike Granse-USA TODAY Sports

Giorgi Bezhanishvili - Illinois

Conference stats: 13.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 62.3 fg%

The Georgian big man has been quietly one of the best freshmen scorers in the Big Ten this season. The Ilini Twitter account has Bezhaniskvili as the fourth leading freshmen scorer in Big Ten play.

Bezhanishvili does this by being one of the most efficient players offensively in conference play. According to KenPom, Bezhanishvili is sixth in conference play at 62.3 eFG% and eighth in conference play at true shooting percentage (field goal attempts, three-point attempts, and free throws combined). He does most of his damage around the basket, especially off offensive rebounds. He was brilliant in the Illini’s first Big Ten victory over Minnesota earlier this week with 20 points (8-12 shooting) and eight rebounds.

Illinois, in all likelihood, will continue to be bad this season, but Bezhanishvili has been excellent, and definitely somebody worth watching develop as the season continues.

NCAA Basketball: Purdue at Michigan State Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Aaron Henry - Michigan State

Conference stats: 5.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 64 fg%.

This one might be more for the basketball junkies, but Aaron Henry should be on your list for timely contributions and solid role playing.

Take their win over Nebraska on Thursday night. Michigan State, dealing with injuries, thrusted Henry into an increased role and the freshman responded. Henry scored a career-high nine points in 19 minutes, and hit a big three to kickstart an important Michigan State second half run. There was also tough defense against Carsen Edwards in a home victory over Purdue. Henry also had a nice eight point, six rebound performance in a non-conference victory over Texas in November.

Henry isn’t asked to try and carry Michigan State to any victories this season. Just come in, carry out a role and help the team win. Henry has settled into this role as well as one can expect. He’s making plays and contributing minutes that are leading to victories. There’s always something interesting about watching a player come in, know their role, and work to excel at it.

The kid can throw it down too.

NCAA Basketball: Seton Hall at Maryland Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Eric Ayala - Maryland

Conference stats: 8.4 ppg, 43.5 3PT%

Speaking of players filling roles, Ayala’s has been as a deadly three-point shooter. The 6-foot-5 sharpshooter leads the team in conference play by making 43.5 percent of his three-point attempts. That’s also good for ninth-best overall in conference play.

Maryland’s emergence as a top-4 Big Ten team has been around its imposing frontcourt and the play of Anthony Cowan, but Ayala has fulfilled a meaningful role. He’s scored in double figures six out of his last eight games, and helps spread the floor for Cowan’s ability to get in the lane, or for Bruno Fernando and Jalen Smith to operate in the paint. The last two games were the first time this season that he’s played more than 30 minutes back-to-back, so expect to see more of Ayala’s floor spacing ability as he learns to be more comfortable with other parts of his game this season.

NCAA Basketball: Minnesota at Wisconsin Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Daniel Oturu - Minnesota

Conference stats: 9.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg.

The glut of solid big man play in the Big Ten is impressive. Daniel Oturu continues in that vein with a solid freshman season.

Oturu’s strengths comes with blocks and boards. According to KenPom, Oturu is fourth in conference play in offensive rebounding percentage and eighth in defensive rebounding percentage. He is fourth in the conference in block percentage, and far and away leads the team with 10 blocks in six Big Ten games. Pretty impressive for a player that entered the season rehabbing from reconstructive shoulder surgery for an injury suffered in high school.

Any path for Minnesota to get to the NCAA Tournament this season involves Oturu and his rebounding and defense. He’s started to be more consistent on the offensive end with seven double figure games out of his last nine, but the key will be tough defense and rebounding without fouling. It’ll be interesting to see what he can continue to do.