College hoops are the sport that never fails to deliver. It's crucial to keep in mind that this is a subtractive sport. The game is full of special moments, unforgettable experiences, and tales—some of which will never be shared and others of which are treasured in every family. The exhilaration of a game-winning shot is the ultimate give and take in sports, and the NCAA Tournament is where the most memorable moments are created. Memories are created in any case.
Today's discussion will center more on current athletes than buzzer-beaters. This work is an extension of our most recent offseason series, which focuses on the top players in each conference during the last ten years. The recent stars from every league will be broken down in this comprehensive series, so even the mid-major leagues will have an opportunity to be acknowledged.
We're not focused on it today because we're watching Big Ten basketball. Aside from the addition of Maryland and Rutgers in 2014, the roster has remained the same for the entire ten years. For the most part of that time, programs like Michigan State and Purdue have been among the best, but teams like Ohio State, Wisconsin, and a few others have undoubtedly had their moments during the decade. It's safe to say that this league boasts some of the top programs in the nation, and some amazing talent will be honoured tonight.
Let me just remind everyone about this series before we go over those names. Only the previous ten years or so are included in the rankings; play from before 2013 will not be formally taken into account. It is acceptable for someone to play in more than one league, but those seasons will not be taken into account. It's crucial to keep in mind how the series operates even though it's not as much of a program for the Big Ten as it is for some of the mid-major conferences. Now let's discuss our NBA Expert Picks regarding the talent.
1. Luka Garza
Garza, a 6'11 forward from Washington, DC, moved to the Midwest in 2017 after being a marginal Top 100 talent. Garza decided to play collegiately for Fran McCaffery at Iowa, where he would stand for the Hawkeyes all four years. By the end of his career, he would rank among the top players in the country, and both he and the Hawkeyes seemed to become better every year.
Garza was a reliable frontcourt player throughout his freshman seasons, averaging about 12 points per game. In his second season, Iowa advanced to the Big Dance after defeating Cincinnati with 20 points. In the season that the pandemic would abbreviate, he made a significant step forward as a junior, averaging 23.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game for the Hawkeyes. As a senior, Garza returned with a vengeance, scoring over 24 points per game and guiding Iowa to a 23-win campaign. He put up a few 30-point games, one of which was a 36-point outburst in his final Tourney game against Oregon.
Having led the conference in scoring in both of those seasons, Garza accomplished the unusual distinction of being named Big Ten Player of the Year twice in a row. Along with becoming a First Team All-American in both seasons, he was also awarded the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award as the best center in the country. Despite the Hawkeyes' lacklustre performance in the NCAA Tournament, he had a stellar career and was awarded the AP Player of the Year in his final year. One of the sport's most dynamic players in recent memory, Garza was a formidable weapon.
2. Frank Kaminsky
Kaminsky, who stands at 7'0 center from Lisle, Illinois, wasn't considered a top prospect. He arrived in 2011 and put in a lot of work throughout his four seasons at Wisconsin, eventually becoming a legend in Bo Ryan's program. Though he was coming off the bench each of those seasons and eventually taking on a more significant role as an upperclassman, he won't dwell on his time before to 2013.
During his junior year, Kaminsky scored 13.9 points and pulled down 6.3 rebounds per game, including a season-opening 43-point performance against North Dakota. More significantly, he scored 28 points in the Badgers' Elite Eight victory over Arizona, helping them advance to the Final Four. With 18.8 points and 8.2 rebounds in his final season, he made history by leading the Badgers to the national championship game. With 20 points from Kaminsky in that unexpected victory, Wisconsin defeated undefeated Kentucky in the Final Four, taking home the Big Ten Tournament title.
During those two seasons, Kaminsky was not only one of the best rebounders but also led the Big Ten in field goal %. Most significantly, he won all the major accolades, was voted the AP Player of the Year as a senior, and was selected to the All-NCAA Tournament squad. In addition to carrying the Badgers to two consecutive Final Fours and sealing his place in history, Kaminsky was a big factor on an amazing team.
3. Denzel Valentine
All-around Top 100 prospect Valentine, a 6'5 guard hailing from Lansing, Michigan, stayed very close to home, while not playing like it. When he returned to Michigan State in 2012, he quickly established himself as one of Tom Izzo's top players throughout his tenure as the Spartan, contributing to the program's numerous achievements.
He didn't really contribute much at first, but as a junior, he took on more responsibility. In his final season as a junior, he averaged around 15 points per game and led Michigan State to the Final Four. In their 2015 Final Four loss to eventual winner Duke, he scored 22 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. Valentine made even more progress as a senior, averaging 19.2 points, 7.8 assists, and 7.5 rebounds to establish himself as the Spartans' undisputed leader. Though their dreams of making the Tourney were swiftly dashed, he led the team to another Big Ten Tournament title and had two triple-doubles during the regular season.
His senior season's sheer numbers were really astounding, especially considering that he had assisted in their junior season's Final Four run. Valentine was the national small forward leader and the recipient of the Julius Erving Award for his senior year. He was also voted the AP Player of the Year. In addition to being the Big Ten's leading scorer and assist leader, he was a terrific rebounder and shot 44% from beyond the arc. In other words, Valentine accomplished everything while residing in East Lansing.
4. Zach Edey
Edey, a 7'4 center from Toronto, made a name for himself before he even got to Purdue in 2020. He was a bit of a project early in his career while he got used to the college game, but the Boilermakers greatly benefited from that adjustment.
As a rookie, Edey was a bench warmer who had a lot of promise but suffered from foul trouble. While he made significant progress as a starter in his sophomore year, his rise to this high in the rankings may be attributed to his junior year. For the Boilermakers, Edey averaged 22.3 points and 12.9 rebounds per game, helping them win both the Big Ten regular season and the tournament. Even though Purdue's season would end in bitterness, he was consistently the top rebounder on the floor and recorded a 38-point, 13-rebound performance against Michigan State.
In recognition of his incredible effort with the Boilermakers during the season, Edey was voted AP Player of the Year prior to Fairleigh Dickinson ruining Purdue's season. He won other honours, like as the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award and Big Ten Player of the Year, but Edey and the Boilermakers are undoubtedly saddened by their loss in the Tournament. Thankfully, he'll return for his junior year with the intention of improving on his record-breaking season as the top rebounder in the country.
5. Cassius Winston
The 6'1 point guard from Detroit, Winston fulfilled all the expectations of the Michigan State program. He was a four-year starter in Tom Izzo's offense and a Top 30 prospect in the Class of 2016. Winston established himself as a powerful player in almost every capacity, particularly for the Spartans as a long-range shooter and ball distributor.
Although he didn't start as the starting point guard until his sophomore year, he had a strong rookie year, shooting about 50% from outside the arc. He led the Spartans to their second of three consecutive Big Ten regular season titles, a Big Ten conference championship, and a trip to the Final Four as a junior, averaging 18.8 points and 7.5 assists per game. The pandemic ended Winston's senior year, but his stats were still outstanding.
Winston stood out as a team leader and excellent shooter, making him one of the top point guards in recent Big Ten history. In his final two seasons, he was a Second Team All-American, and in that incredible junior year, he won both the Big Ten Player of the Year and the Tournament MVP award. Winston was a truly amazing backcourt player for Izzo's team; he frequently led the Big Ten in assists and fulfilled every role required for the team to succeed.
6. Caleb Swanigan
A 6'9 forward from Fort Wayne, Indiana, Swanigan was a 5-star prospect and an absolute talent. He developed into a critical member of Matt Painter's starting lineup and a valuable asset to Purdue. He would only play two seasons before leaving for the NBA, but during those few years, he made a significant impression.
Swanigan was already having an effect as a freshman for the Boilermakers, averaging 10.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, but the real fun started in year two. He shot well from all over the court and averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds as a sophomore. Against Norfolk State, he scored 32 points and recorded four 20-rebound games during the season. Swanigan, whose career ended in the NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen in 2017, also assisted Purdue in winning the Big Ten regular-season championship.
It should come as no surprise that Swanigan won Big Ten Player of the Year because he led the Big Ten in scoring and rebounds in his sophomore season. In addition, he was regarded as the best big man in the country and a First-Team All-American. He was one of many big men to flourish in Painter's system and made significant contributions for the Boilermakers in the frontcourt. Swanigan passed away tragically in June of last year, but his legacy at Purdue endures.
7. Johnny Davis
Not too far from his hometown, Davis, a 6'5 wing from La Crosse, Wisconsin, achieved significant success. He moved to Madison in 2020, where he played at Wisconsin for two seasons under Greg Gard. Davis didn't exactly shine as a freshman, but in his second year, he made a huge improvement and rose to the top of the country's player rankings.
Coming off the bench, Davis scored an average of just 7.0 points per game for the 18-13 Badgers that season. With that significant improvement in his sophomore year, Davis became one of the most useful players in the game, leading the Badgers in scoring and grabbing 8.2 rebounds per contest. He led Wisconsin to the Big Ten regular season championship and turned up a number of outstanding games, including a 37-point, 14-rebound game against Purdue.
That sophomore year was obviously particular. In addition to becoming a First Team All-American, Davis won the Big Ten Player of the Year award. As the best shooting guard in the country, he also won the Jerry West Award. In addition to being among the conference's top scorers and rebounds, Davis was an absolute beast on the floor and played a crucial role in Wisconsin's conference championship. After making such a huge leap as a sophomore, he was heading to the NBA and was selected in the lottery for 2022.