BTN.com staff, April 8, 2015
It was another memorable Big Ten men's basketball season.
Michigan State and Big Ten regular season and postseason champ Wisconsin made the Final Four, marking the first time since 2005 that two Big Ten teams made the regional semifinals, and Wisconsin advanced to the national final.
With the season in the books, BTN.com asked a writer from every school for his/her team's 2014-15 MVP and 2015-16 Player to Watch.
Below, see the writers' players to watch.
Michael Finke. Illinois struggled to get much scoring production from its front court players last season and Finke, who redshirted, is a skilled big man who can score in a variety of ways. He and Darius Paul should add an offensive element that was missing.
Troy Williams. Williams was brilliant at times as a sophomore, but he also disappeared for stretches which proved costly for Indiana. On his list of offseason improvements to make is developing a more consistent jump shot and learning to use his athleticism to his advantage as a defender.
Peter Jok. I believe Jarrod Uthoff will be a 15 points per game player pretty easily for Iowa, maybe even 18 points per game. But every Batman needs a Robin, so Jok will need to take steps toward consistency in his junior season because he can be a 12 to 14 points per game player in his own right. Iowa will be more of a perimeter team next year and Jok will need to mature and play a big role.
Jared Nickens. If the fearless sharpshooter improves his defense this offseason, it will be hard for Maryland to keep him off the court as a sophomore. He averaged 10 points per game in the NCAA Tournament and has a knack for hitting outside shots at critical points.
Derrick Walton Jr. This was supposed to be Walton's breakout year as the sophomore point guard and he was a scoring guard for the first few weeks. But then he sprained his toe in late November and it bothered him for two months and led to a foot injury, ending his season by early February. Next year will be his next chance.
Eron Harris. The West Virginia transfer has been giving MSU's guards more than a few headaches in practice as they try to guard him. He'll play some point but is at his best slashing and scoring.
Nate Mason. Although the first-year guard failed to make Big Ten's All- Freshman team, Mason had one of the most consistent seasons for Minnesota and showed the ability to score from the perimeter and on the drive as well as craftily set up teammates.
Andrew White. Nebraska was among the worst three-point shooting teams in the nation, and White, a Kansas transfer who sat out this season, is expected to provide a huge lift in perimeter shooting. The athletic guard has a penchant for rebounding, too.
Vic Law. The light turned on for Law in mid-February, and he turned in fine performances against Penn State (17 points, 11 rebounds) and Indiana (14 and 8). NU coaches are counting on a bulked-up Law to play a major role as a sophomore.
Keita Bates-Diop. The best returning player for Ohio State, assuming Russell departs, will be Jae'Sean Tate. But the Buckeyes pretty much know what they're going to get out of the gritty 6-foot-4 Tate who plays much bigger than his size. It's the 6-foot-7 Bates-Diop who could make a big jump in minutes and production next season. As a freshman, he was used sparingly off the bench (9.9 minutes per game), but he proved he's a player with a very high ceiling when he was on the floor. His biggest moment came in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament when he buried his only two shots of the game — both 3-pointers late — to help OSU beat VCU in overtime.
Shep Garner. Overshadowed by the league's tremendous freshman class, Garner was solid in his own right in his first year with the Lions. With the scoring void left behind by Newbill, Shep will be expected to lead the Lions' attack next season after scoring 9.2 PPG as a freshman.
Dakota Mathias. If we have to choose just one, Mathias is a guy to watch. With an off-season to work out, he'll make huge strides. We're hoping that he runs the point next season…his passing made everyone better. When he replaced Stephens in the starting lineup, Purdue got better almost immediately because of his vision.
Honorable mention players to watch: Vince Edwards and Kendall Stephens.
Corey Sanders. Much will be expected from the incoming freshman, Rutgers? prized 2015 recruit. The point guard from Florida will be handed the keys from day one. He?s exhibited an ability to be the kind of playmaking floor general Rutgers has lacked for many years.
Nigel Hayes. With Kaminsky and likely Dekker gone, Hayes will be counted upon to take a Kaminsky-like leap in his junior season. Hayes is nearly a 40-percent three-point shooter this season, and if he can continue improving his shot while becoming an even more consistent, well-rounded threat, Wisconsin might not lose as much as expected without Kaminsky.