Ranking the Top 10 Basketball Players in the Big Ten
The 10 Best in the Big Ten
College basketball season is almost here! While their football counterparts have fallen short of expectations, basketball is expected to be a strength for the Big Ten this year. Up to eight teams could dance in March and five are in the top 25 in the preseason. It will be a battle to the wire, with the ACC and Big East, to see which conference reigns supreme at the end of the season. What it all comes down to is players. Big Ten recruiting has picked up of late, especially for Michigan and Indiana, and several key players are returning off injuries. Basketball in the Midwest this winter should be quite a blast to watch.
To be honest, this list was difficult to compile. First, I had to keep it to just 10 players! The conference probably could claim 20+ spots on the national top 100 list. Secondly, a few of the better teams like Wisconsin don't have players on the list despite the fact they'll almost certainly be in the "big dance" come March. The Badgers play a very team oriented "swing" offense that doesn't put too much pressure on one player which also spreads statistics around. Thirdly, how do you factor in the freshman? Without having any data to go on at the college level I'm not a fan of just "projecting" their impact. Therefore, you won't see Mitch McGary, Gary Harris or Yogi Ferrell on my list. Putting them in a top 10 is unfair to the players that have already established themselves at this level. Let's get at it!
#10 Aaron White- Forward, Iowa Hawkeyes
Aaron White will be a household name by the end of this season. With Iowa looking like they'll be headed for the "big dance", White will lead the way as the back court works in two new starters. He's an excellent athlete who has the ability to put the ball on the floor when needed. His rebounding has an impact especially on the offensive end. Defensively he's a work in progress. He needs to be tougher and work on his footwork. Nevertheless, his impact offensively isn't a secret any longer.
#9 Drew Crawford- Guard/Forward, Northwestern Wildcats
Drew Crawford is ready to take the Wildcats to the NCAA for the 1st time ever. He's a good athlete with a pure midrange jumper. His ability to finish at the rim is also impressive although he is right hand dominate and that allows defenders to force him left. If the 'Cats are able to take the next step, Drew will have to become a better 3 point shooter. Defensively, he needs to work on stay out of foul trouble and use his feet, not his hands.
#8 Tim Frazier- Guard, Penn State Nittany Lions
Penn State was terrible on the hardwood last season but don't blame Tim. The scoring point guard took nearly all the big shots for the Nittany Lions and made fans of Penn State quickly forget about Talor Battle. Frazier is an outstanding finisher with an explosive first step. Defensively, he has quick hands although he probably needs to stay in front of his man more often.
#7 Keith Appling- Guard, Michigan State Spartans
Keith Appling is going to be the "de facto" leader of Michigan State this season. The former McDonald's All-American took a step up last year as he was able to get to the free throw line at a more consistent rate. He's great in transition thanks to his killer handles but he struggled in the half court. They won't have Draymond Green to bail him out this year. Defensively, he's outstanding. He never quits on a play.
#6 Christian Watford- Forward, Indiana Hoosiers
Watford is probably my favorite player overall in the Big Ten. His ability to effect the game from 3 point range, with his midrange jumper and finally his length is matched by few. If you even think about double teaming Cody Zeller, Watford will stand in the corner and make you pay. Defensively, he needs to get stronger and let his large wingspan suffocate the ball handler.
#5 Trey Burke- Guard, Michigan Wolverines
Burke is be the key to Michigan taking the next step and getting to a Final Four. In John Beilein's system, the point guard must have a high basketball IQ. Trey has that and his explosive first step and sweet perimeter jumper don't hurt either. Defensively, he can get pushed around due to his small size but in the Beilein zone he is able to mask that quite a bit.
#4 Aaron Craft- Guard, Ohio State Buckeyes
Aaron Craft is the epitome of college basketball. He's a true student athlete that is incredibly tough. He manages the Buckeyes offense to a tee. Craft has a nice midrange jumper and finds open shooters. Defensively, he is a bulldog that racks up steals at an insane pace while not exposing himself to foul trouble. If he can continue to improve on his 3 point shooting, the sky's the limit.
#3 Deshaun Thomas- Forward, Ohio State Buckeyes
I love watching Deshaun Thomas play basketball. Even when he was the 3rd or 4th option for the Buckeyes, his tremendous scoring ability was memorizing. He can shooting the mid range jumper and put the ball on the floor to finish with his patented left hand. I want to see him hit the 3 ball more consistently this year and not disappear from games at times. Defensively, he has decent footwork but needs to hold his ground and not get intimidated.
#2 Trevor Mbakwe- Forward, Minnesota Golden Gophers
If Trevor can stay out of the slammer, his long term future in basketball is very bright. He's a great athlete who is explosive on the offensive end. Mbakwe is also a great rebounder and a solid "help side" defender. The only question I have with him is how his knee injury will effect him. Assuming he is back to 100%, he'll probably but up the best overall stats in the conference.
#1 Cody Zeller- Forward, Indiana Hoosiers
What can Cody Zeller not do? Maybe get a little stronger to help with his low post defense? That's even a stretch considering his athletic frame. He has an excellent offensive game with a variety of post moves. Defensively, he has good footwork and anticipates where the ball handler is going to go. His rebounding could use a little work but it should get better as he puts on weight. Listen, I'm stretching here...