Brent Yarina, BTN.com Senior Editor, November 22, 2011
We're in the third week of the college basketball season, and it's time to point out the Big Ten's best new faces thus far. You know, the first-year players who are off to fast starts, the ones Big Ten fans probably don't know very well at this point in the young season. These are the guys who may become household names this season and who may be the Big Ten's top players in coming years.
Watch our interview with Nebraska coach Doc Sadler now, catch up on Tuesday night's Big Ten hoops action and see Brent Yarina's best new faces in this post.
1. Cody Zeller, Indiana (81% FG, 14.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1 apg, 2.6 spg, 1 bpg) – I could spew out the numbers again, but I'll save some time and post my tweet from Monday night, comparing Zeller's first five career games to that of Ohio State's Jared Sullinger. As you can see below, the numbers are very similar. It's a small sample size and one of Sullinger's games was at Florida, a far superior team to anything Zeller has faced, but it's impressive nonetheless.
2. Bo Spencer, Nebraska (17 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 2.7 apg, 2 spg) – Spencer isn't a new face in college basketball – he played three seasons at LSU – but he's a new face in the Big Ten. Averaging 12.7 points per game over the last two seasons, it's no surprise Spencer immediately assumed the role of the Huskers' go-to guy, both because of his experience and natural ability. Spencer struggled in his debut, going 1 of 9 from the field and scoring six points, but he's poured in 22 and 23 points the last two games.
3. Branden Dawson, Michigan State (59% FG, 9.5 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.8 bpg) – Dawson's numbers are terrific for a player's first four college games, but they're even more remarkable when you consider half of the games were against top-ranked North Carolina and No. 6 Duke. A talented athlete with a diverse skill set, Dawson is contributing in every facet of the game. He can hold his own on both ends of the floor, always a plus for a Tom Izzo player, and he's already proven to be an efficient scorer, shooting a ridiculous 59 percent, including 50 percent against North Carolina and Duke.
4. Trey Burke, Michigan (11 ppg, 3 rpg, 2.8 apg, 1 spg) – Replacing Darius Morris is no easy task, and while John Beilein and company aren't placing all of the point guard duties on the true freshman – yet – he's making the loss of Morris to the NBA a little easier to swallow. Five inches shorter than Morris, Burke is a different style point guard, one who's as comfortable shooting from distance as he is driving and creating. In four games, Burke has hit six 3-pointers, only 10 fewer than Morris made in 34 games last season.
5. Anthony Johnson, Purdue (9.4 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.4 apg) – A redshirt a season ago, Johnson gives Purdue a long guard who can penetrate and create his own shot when necessary. If you've watched any of Purdue's first five games, you've seen Johnson drive the lane and put in a tear-drop or two. With 3-point specialist Ryne Smith on the wing, plus Robbie Hummel becoming a bigger threat from downtown, Johnson could benefit from a heavier diet of penetrating and dishing.
5 other impressive new faces: Nnanna Egwu, Illinois; Aaron White, Iowa; Josh Oglesby, Iowa; Andre Hollins, Minnesota; Dave Sobolewski, Northwestern