Jess Settles, BTN men's basketball analyst, March 12, 2016
It's the semifinals of the Big Ten tourney, and, chances are, role players will play a significant role in helping guide their team to Sunday's Big Ten final.
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Who are a few likely candidates, considering recent play and semifinal matchups?
Here are my picks!
P.J. Thompson, Purdue. Purdue's regular-season finale vs. Wisconsin had the feeling of a championship game. Both teams were battling for a double-bye in the Big Ten tournament. Purdue was hoping to make history with a school record 17th home win. A victory for Wisconsin would?ve probably tipped the final few Coach of the Year ballets to then-interim coach Greg Gard. Two great Purdue seniors, A.J. Hammons and Rapheal Davis, were being honored and expected to have memorable games. And then Thompson decided to crash the party. Wisconsin?s stingy half-court defense was effective most of the night, except against Thompson. Shot after shot for Thompson splashed in from beyond the arc, and he refused to allow Wisconsin any breathing room. He finished with six 3-pointers and 22 points, both career highs. Dakota Mathias and Ryan Cline have stepped up their perimeter game, as well, but Thompson is more than capable of making headlines in big games, the latest coming Saturday vs. the Wolverines.
Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan. Abdur-Rahkman is one of the more underrated guards in the Big Ten. The fearless sophomore uses his quickness and craftiness to attack the rim and squeeze shots past longer opponents. If Michigan is going to pull off another upset, this one vs. lengthy Purdue, Abdur-Rahkman will have to continue to play a major role. Zak Irvin, Duncan Robinson and Derrick Walton Jr. get the headlines, but Abdur-Rahkman is just as important to the Wolverines? success. In Michigan?s epic upset over top-seeded Indiana, Rahkman was 6-of-13 from the floor en route to scoring 15 points in 34 valuable minutes; in the opening-round win vs. Northwestern, he scored 14 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Abdur-Rahkman brings a lot of playground moves to the table, and has a knack for getting his defender leaning one direction while exploding past him on the other. Purdue could have a hard time slowing him down.
Deyonta Davis. Michigan State. With the exceptional freshman seasons Diamond Stone, Caleb Swanigan, Thomas Bryant, and Ethan Happ put together in the post, it?s easy to forget about Davis. An excellent shot-blocker who possesses soft hands that allow him to catch the lobs and lasers Denzel Valentine sends his direction, Davis gets it done on both ends of the court. To that point, in his first postseason game, he gave Ohio State trouble on his way to finishing with 12 points, seven rebounds, two steals and two blocks. He did all of this in only 22 minutes. Those are numbers that have Spartans fans tasting a Big Ten tournament championship. Davis' biggest challenge, to date, may be today. Maryland?s front line of Robert Carter Jr., Jake Layman and the aforementioned Stone are not only big, but quick and versatile. Davis? two points in the first matchup against Maryland won?t be enough. He has to be in the right place at the right time defensively and sprint the floor to punish Maryland?s transition defense. He flew under the radar in the regular season, but today Tom Izzo expects a veteran type performance out of his freshman.