Brent Yarina, BTN.com Senior Editor, October 18, 2011
On Tuesday night, Mike Hall and two-time Big Ten Player of the Year Jim Jackson brought you Big Ten Hoops Hysteria, spotlighting all the highlights from last weekend's Midnight Madness events. We had highlights, interviews and behind-the-scenes looks from Indiana, Michigan State and Minnesota. With the season less than a month away, Brent Yarina decided to unveil his preseason Top 10 Big Ten Players and offer some 2011-12 predictions. Watch Jackson's top three storylines for the season now and see Brent's blog in this post.
1. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State – The Big Ten's best player on the Big Ten's best team, Sullinger has shed weight and expects to spend more time with his face to the basket. As if he wasn't hard enough to guard already.
2010-11 stats: 54%, 17.2 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1 spg, 0.5 bpg
2. Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin – The Big Ten's best point guard continues to improve and add new dimensions to his game, averaging 18.1 points per game last year after putting in 10 as a sophomore.
2010-11 stats: 18.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 4.7 apg, 0.7 spg
3. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota – The Big Ten's double-double machine should see a spike in scoring and rebounding with the losses of Blake Hoffarber and Colton Iverson.
2010-11 stats: 58%, 13.9 ppg, 10.5 rpg, 1.3 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.5 bpg
4. Draymond Green, Michigan State – Boasting the Big Ten's best all-around game, Green figures to flirt with a few triple-doubles, but he and the Spartans would benefit from him staying inside (shot 43 percent after 53 percent as a sophomore).
2010-11 stats: 12.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 4.1 apg, 1.8 spg, 1.1 bpg
5. Aaron Craft, Ohio State – The Big Ten's best on-the-ball defender, Craft dazzled as a freshman and impacts the game in ways that don't always show up in the box score.
2010-11 stats: 6.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 4.8 apg, 2 spg,.
6. William Buford, Ohio State – We've yet to see Buford's best, and if he lives up to his high potential and continues to improve on defense, we could be looking at this year's E'Twaun Moore.
2010-11 stats: 14.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.9 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.3 bpg
7. Tim Hardaway, Jr., Michigan – No one knows how Darius Morris' departure will affect Hardaway's overall game, but there's no denying the sophomore has the uncanny ability to put the ball in the basket.
2010-11 stats: 13.9 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 1.7 apg, 1 spg
8. John Shurna, Northwestern – If fully recovered from last year's injuries, Shurna chould have his biggest season yet, and that's saying something.
2010-11 stats: 48%, 16.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.1 spg, 1 bpg
9. Robbie Hummel, Purdue – Take away the two surgically repaired knees, and Hummel would be near the top of everyone's list – although he wouldn't still be in college, admittedly. You get the point, though, and that's that this guy will produce as long as he's healthy.
2009-10 stats: 15.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1.1 spg, 1 bpg
10. Christian Watford, Indiana – One of the Big Ten's most underrated players, Watford has the supporting cast now to make life a lot easier on him.
2010-11 stats: 16 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.1 apg, 0.8 spg
Next 10: Brandon Paul, Illinois; Jordan Hulls, Indiana; Melsahn Basabe, Iowa; Bryce Cartwright, Iowa; Jordan Morgan, Michigan; Zack Novak, Michigan; Ralph Sampson III, Minnesota; Tim Frazier, Penn State; Lewis Jackson, Purdue; Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
BIG TEN PREVIEW
Player of the Year: Jared Sullinger, Ohio State – As mentioned above, he's the best player on the best team. Other than that, he's a beast who is a nightmare of a matchup for every team he faces. If he adds a successful face-to-the-basket game this season, as reports indicate, it won't even be fair.
Team of the Year: Ohio State – The Buckeyes have won at least a share of the Big Ten title each of the past two seasons, and now they look as strong as ever and compete in what figures to be a less competitive Big Ten.
Breakout team: Indiana – When you think of a breakout team, last year's Michigan team serves as the perfect example. There probably won't be anything close to that kind of breakout this season, with a predicted cellar team going on to win a NCAA tourney game, however Indiana could surprise and go from three straight seasons in the basement to the middle part of the Big Ten. Part of that has to do with Indiana's talent level improving and another part has to do with the Big Ten not being as strong, from top to bottom. Either way, the Hoosiers have the talent to flirt with a .500 conference record, which would be a huge improvement, and make the NIT.
Breakout player: Tim Frazier, Penn State – Not many people outside Big Ten circles know much about Penn State's junior guard. No, he isn't going to be mistaken as Talor Battle, but this guy has a very nice game. Due to the losses of Battle, Jeff Brooks and David Jackson, Frazier will be asked to do it all for Penn State – and he's capable of contributing across the board. He's almost a certainty to lead the Nittany Lions in scoring and assists, but don't be surprised if the 6-1 guard is in the mix for the lead in rebounds, too. Basically, Frazier will be a name all Big Ten fans will know quite well by season's end.
Under-the-radar team: Purdue – When it comes to the Big Ten this year, most people talk about Ohio State, Michigan, Wisconsin and Michigan State, and in that order. But don't sleep on Purdue. Yes, the Boilers lost NBA draft picks JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, but they return their share of talent and Matt Painter's teams always play terrific defense. If Robbie Hummel can stay healthy – that's a big if – he makes Lewis Jackson, D.J. Byrd, Ryne Smith, Kelsey Barlow and Terone Johnson much better players. And if a healthy Hummel can return to something close to what he was prior to his knee injuries – another big if – the Boilers will be as good as any Big Ten team not named Ohio State.
Under-the-radar player: Mike Bruesewitz, Wisconsin – Every season, it seems, Bo Ryan turns a returning role player into a big-time contributer, and the popular red head fits the bill this season. Bruesewitz isn't going to wow anyone with his stats, but don't be surprised if he averages 10 points, five or six rebounds and a couple of assists this season. Add that contribution to Bruesewitz's never-give-up playing style, and you have a player who will give opponents fits.
Biggest question mark team: Illinois – The Illini are a tough team to read, what with the departures of Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale and Jereme Richmond, to go along with the inconsistencies of now junior leaders Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson. When Paul and Richardson are on, they're very good players. But Bruce Weber knows all too well he can't count on them bringing it every game. Sophomore Meyers Leonard has all the potential in the world, although he didn't show it last season. He could break out, and if he does, he'll be a star. Basically, Illinois has a lot of questions it must answer before anyone will know much about it.
Biggest question mark player: Keith Appling, Michigan State – Appling arrived at Michigan State with more than his share of pub and went on to have a pretty solid freshman season, all things considered. But as a sophomore, Appling will be asked to replace Spartan legend Kalin Lucas, not to mention keep the Spartans near the top of the Big Ten. It won't be an easy task. Appling has the skills to take over for Lucas, but he will face more than his share of pressure as a direct result of replacing the 2008-09 Big Ten Player of the Year. While it might not be fair, a lot of Michigan State's fate will be placed on how Appling performs.
And Jim Jackson also offers what he thinks Big Ten fans should watch for here: