clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Best Players In The Big Ten (Who Aren’t Getting Any National Love)

The guys most likely to make the CBS experts look stupid

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Second Round-Iowa vs Tennessee Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Basketball season is nearly upon us, and as one of the hundreds of preseason articles that kill time until the real games begin, CBS released its list of the 101 best players in college basketball this season.

Here are the Big Ten players on that list:

  • 1. Cassius Winston, Michigan State
  • 11. Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
  • 21. Jalen Smith, Maryland
  • 24. Lamar Stevens, Penn State
  • 25. Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State
  • 26. Xavier Tillman, Michigan State
  • 28. Anthony Cowan, Maryland
  • 60. Zavier Simpson, Michigan
  • 61. Matt Haarms, Purdue
  • 64. Joe Wieskamp, Iowa
  • 66. Jon Teske, Michigan
  • 73. Josh Langford, Michigan State
  • 82. Nojel Eastern, Purdue
  • 83. Trevion Williams, Purdue
  • 90. Aaron Henry, Michigan State
  • 99. Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Illinois

With one understandable exception that we’ll get to shortly, that list is pretty darn reasonable. There are sixteen Big Ten players on the CBS list. If I was putting together a list of the sixteen best guys in the league this coming season, I’d probably have 13 or 14 of the guys above.

Sixteen is really close to fifteen, and fifteen is the number of guys who make either the first team, second team, or third team all-Big Ten. So who do we think is a threat to receive all-conference honors that hasn’t already been named? Here are some guys who I think will be in that conversation.

(Note: you never know if freshmen will live up to their recruiting rankings until you see them play. So I’m not including guys like DJ Carton or Trayce Jackson-Davis. The players below are all somewhat proven commodities in the Big Ten.)

Jordan Bohannon, Iowa

The only reason CBS didn’t include Bohannon in their list is because everybody thought he would miss the season as a medical redshirt after having offseason hip surgery. But now it sounds like Bohannon may be good to go. A healthy Bohannon is enough to get most people to bump the Hawkeyes from a bottom-half team to a top-half team and one that’s most likely going to end up on the right side of the bubble. With his leadership, poise, and the knack for knocking down big shots, Iowa’s point guard is unquestionably one of the most important players in the Big Ten.

Isaiah Livers, Michigan

Everybody agrees that there’s going to be some drop-off after the Wolverines lost one of the ten best coaches in college basketball to the Cleveland Cavaliers. But nobody knows whether that drop-off will be large or small. Juwan Howard is a Michigan legend and well-respected long-time NBA veteran and assistant coach, and if his X’s and O’s are even, say, 60% of what Beilein’s were, he can recruit well enough that Michigan will remain near the top of the league. Simpson and Teske are the obvious choices for the two most important players on the roster in Ann Arbor, but it takes at least three really good players to contend at the top of the conference, and if Michigan overachieves this season, it’ll be because Livers stepped up and became that third star.

Eric Ayala, Maryland

Don’t tell anybody this, but Anthony Cowan might not be the best guard on Mark Turgeon’s roster. Much like Melo Trimble before him, Cowan didn’t put up better numbers as an upperclassman than he did as an underclassman. Maryland is the only program in the Big Ten, and one of the few in the country, who thinks less of one of their best players than the national media guys do. They’ve seen this movie before. My prediction is that Cowan continues to turn the ball over too much, that he continues to shoot less than 35% from three, and that the last person to realize that Cowan is playing too many minutes at the point and Ayala is playing too few is Mark Turgeon.

Aaron Wheeler, Purdue

I agree with the three Boilermakers that CBS put on the list. Eastern, Haarms, and Williams are three—for lack of a better term—weird players that make Purdue a matchup nightmare. Eastern is a 6’6” point guard who is one of the best rebounders in the league. Haarms is a 7’3” who can handle the pick-and-roll with aplomb and knock down the occasional three. Williams is a fat guy with tremendous fast-twitch muscles and the best passing instincts on the team. But given that Eastern isn’t a shooter and that Haarms and Williams will split time at the five, I’d lay better-than-even odds that Aaron Wheeler ends up being the leading scorer for the Boilermakers this season.

Nate Reuvers, Wisconsin

Reuvers is not the second coming of Ethan Happ. Happ’s understudy last season isn’t nearly as good a rebounder, as good a defender, or as good a passer as the man he’s going to be asked to replace. But in one major way he’s a noticeable upgrade—Reuvers can actually shoot the ball. There were flashes last year when Reuvers looked unstoppable, and there were flashes where he looked unwatchable. With major minutes available at the five this season, I expect Reuvers to get plenty of time to polish up his game. He should average double figures for a Wisconsin team that’s going to be better than most people predict.

Mike Watkins, Penn State

I’ve written at length about Watkins over the past two seasons. Suffice to say, his floor is a shrinking violet who is disinterested in basketball and comes off the bench to play lackadaisically and block a few shots. His ceiling is the most dominant big man in the Big Ten. Based on past experience, we’re likely going to get a Watkins who’s hot-and-cold, who falls somewhere in the middle of that wide spectrum. But if Pat Chambers can get him to lock in and play up to his potential most nights... Penn State is going to be more than just the Lamar Stevens show.

Luka Garza, Iowa

Speaking of big men who are being overlooked, there’s also Iowa’s Luka Garza. Whereas the national guys can be forgiven for overlooking Watkins since he didn’t put up great numbers, of the returning players in the Big Ten, only five used more possessions than Garza did for the Hawkeyes last season. The big fella was seventh in the league in two-point percentage, and even more impressively for a guy who stands at nearly seven feet tall, he was eighth in the league in free throw percentage. Not eighth among big guys. Eighth overall. Garza shot over 80% from the line. And when you’re drawing five fouls per forty minutes, that’s a recipe for high efficiency.

Gabe Kalscheur, Minnesota

If you’re going to put Lamar Stevens at No. 24, then I think you have to put Kalscheur somewhere on the list, too. They both fall into that category of “best player on a team that needs to contend for an NCAA berth or its coach’s seat will be on fire at the end of the year”. I think it’s entirely possible that Kalscheur, whose 43% from behind the arc last season was good enough to give him the fourth-highest true shooting percentage in the Big Ten last season, could end up being the leading scorer in the conference. All the other plausible contenders have better pieces around them. The Gophers may need Kalscheur to fairly consistently get thirty points, and he might be capable of doing that.

Honorable Mention

D’Mitrik Trice and Brad Davison, Wisconsin. Rob Phinisee and De’Ron Davis, Indiana. Darryl Morsell, Maryland. Luther Muhammad, Ohio State. Geo Baker, Rutgers. Trent Frazier, Illinois.