One X-factor player for each Big Ten Sweet 16 team
We all know the stars for three Big Ten teams remaining in the NCAA tourney. Wisconsin has Ethan Happ, Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes. Michigan features Derrick Walton Jr., Moe Wagner and D.J. Wilson. Purdue is led by Caleb Swanigan, Vincent Edwards and Isaac Haas. But who are the X-factors for each team as we head toward the Sweet 16?
Purdue: Carsen Edwards. He is the most explosive athlete on the Boilermakers’ roster, a true difference maker who is jet fast off the dribble. The 6-0 Texan also has 3-point range. And maybe best of all: Edwards is fearless. The problem is Edwards has defensive lapses, which is why he now comes off the bench. And he also is prone to take a bad shot. Still, Purdue needs his driving ability and go-go mentality if it wants to push by elite teams and reach its first Elite Eight since 2000 and first Final Four since 1980. He is fourth on the team in scoring with a 10.4 average, which is better than three starters. Edwards is good now as a work-in-progress. As he grows, he could become a very special player.
Michigan: Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman. The 6-4 junior guard does whatever is asked of him. He had four rebounds and two assists vs. Louisville last weekend. In the opening NCAA game vs. Oklahoma State, Abdur-Rahkman tallied 16 points with four assists. For the season, he averages 9.2 points and 2.8 rebounds. He also dishes 1.9 assists per game all while playing 30.4 minutes. The son of a coach, Abdur-Rahkman excels off the dribble-drive and has improved his shot. He can impact a game on many levels.
Wisconsin: Vitto Brown. The 6-8, 235-pound senior can be inconsistent, but there’s no doubt Wisconsin is a better team when he’s hitting from the perimeter. Brown never attempted a 3-pointer his first two seasons in Madison but hit 40 percent from beyond the arc last year and is at 31.3 percent this season. The forward showed what he can do in the 65-62 win vs. Villanova last week, tallying 10 points with three rebounds in 24 minutes. He hit 3-of-6 3-pointers with three rebounds, two assists with a steal and a block. Brown is averaging 6.8 points, but he has played a lot of NCAA games, helping the Badgers to the Final Four in 2014 and the national championship game in 2015.