With the nonconference season almost behind us and the conference season just a week away, it’s a good time to consider the Big Ten’s most improved players. There’s plenty of players to choose from, that’s for sure.
See who made the cut for my all-improved team in this post.
Editor’s note: This list only considers players who played in the Big Ten last year, meaning the Rayvonte Rices and Terran Petteways of the world aren’t eligible.
G: Yogi Ferrell, Indiana. A season ago, Ferrell was a true freshman distributor who took a back seat to Indiana’s four 1,000-point scorers. He didn’t shoot often, and when he did, he struggled (40 percent). Take away his star weapons, including two of the top four picks in the NBA draft, and, somehow, Ferrell has increased his efficiency. We knew he’d score more points (16.8 compared to 7.6), but we didn’t know he would become an elite scorer and relaible shooter (44%; 42% from 3).
G: Austin Hollins, Minnesota. Previously a guard who could do a little bit of everything but nothing very well, Hollins has turned into an all-around player who is an elite rebounding guard. Take a look at his averages this season under Richard Pitino: 13.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1.6 spg, 0.9 blocks. Each one of those figures, save for steals, represents a career-high. In other words, Hollins, while still an inconsistent shooter, is a true two-way threat.
F: Lenzelle Smith Jr., Ohio State. In each of Smith Jr.’s first three seasons, he was the epitome of a “glue guy.” He wouldn’t do much that jumped out at opponents, but he was a guy who played strong defense, hit big shots and always made the Buckeyes better. While Smith Jr.’s still doing all of what we expect from him this season, now he’s also the team’s leading scorer (13.1) and most efficient shooter (52%). Who predicted that first one with LaQuinton Ross in the fold? No one.
F: Ross Travis, Penn State. An extremely undersized “big,” at 6-6, Travis was one of the biggest players impacted by star point guard Tim Frazier’s early season-ending injury last season. He would shoot only 35 percent on the year, but still managed to average 7 points and 7.4 rebounds. This year, with Frazier back at the controls and with another year of experience, Travis is tearing it up. His numbers: 48%, 11.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.2 apg. He’s also extended his shooting range (7-of-22 from 3).
C: Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin. Forty-three points. What more is there to say about Bo Ryan’s latest big man revelation? No, even without Kaminsky’s Wisconsin single-game record 43-point effort, he is probably the Big Ten’s most improved player. Did you know he leads the Badgers, the team with standout Sam Dekker on it, in field goal percentage (56%), scoring (14.6), blocks (1.9) and steals (1)? Impressive. And like all of Ryan’s big men, he can step out and drain triples, which makes his shooting percentage all the more staggering.
Sixth man: Caris LeVert, Michigan. It’s hard to get consistent looks and scoring opportunities as a true freshman on a team with guys such as Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas and Mitch McGary, and LeVert learned that last season. Now with a more featured role in John Beilein’s offense, the sophomore surpassed his 2012-13 scoring total (76 points) in the season’s first six games. Along the way, he scored 17, 20 and 24 points. Sometimes, it’s feast or famine with LeVert, but his six games of at least 15 points show he’s a reliable scorer who can beat an opponent on a given night.
|About Brent Yarina||BTN.com senior editor Brent Yarina covers football and men’s basketball for BTN.com. He writes the popular uniform feature “Clothes Call,” which also focuses on the latest cosmetic changes across Big Ten arenas and stadiums. Read all of his work here. You can subscribe to Yarina’s RSS feed and follow him on Twitter @BTNBrentYarina.|