Michigan's Trey Burke is in the conversation for National Player of the Year.
No conference comes close to matching the Big Ten's depth in terms of its talent pool. With five teams in the AP's top 14, the battle for the conference title will be even more competitive than in years past.
The Big Ten is chock-full of playmakers, and it's no coincidence that all of the conference's ranked teams have at least one representative, and in some cases two, on this list. In fact, a few of the Big Ten's elite have even begun to generate National Player of the Year buzz.
Those playmakers that are garnering national attention aren't doing so solely by scoring. Athleticism, passing ability, defense and, of course, offensive production were all taken into consideration.
Playmakers, particularly in the Big Ten, are exactly why some pundits believe the championship runs through this conference. So, just who are the Big Ten's top playmakers?
Wolverines G Trey Burke drives to the basket in Michigan's loss to Ohio State on Jan. 13.
Maybe it’s a Michigan thing because if this was a list of the most dynamic Big Ten football players, there’s little doubt Denard Robinson would find himself atop the rankings.
As it is, Burke is the best facilitator on the conference’s best team.
He’s equally capable of breaking down a defender and finishing off a difficult layup in traffic as he is at knocking down a three-pointer from the top of the arc. His best assets, though, are his teammates. At 7.2 assists per game, Burke averages 2.5 more than the next closest Big Ten distributor, Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, according to ESPN.
Michigan’s versatile frontcourt of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III are the perfect complements for Burke in the transition game and lethal three-point shooter Nik Stauskas is more than comfortable in catch-and-shoot situations.
Oladipo finishes a dunk against the Gophers.
As good as Indiana C Cody Zeller has been for the Hoosiers, 6'5'' Oladipo has actually been coach Tom Crean’s best player to this point in the season.
The junior is averaging 13.5 points, up nearly three points from last season, but even more impressive is that his field goal percentage has skyrocketed nearly 20 percent from last year’s campaign, according to ESPN.
He’s hitting a league-high 66 percent of his shots, which is a direct result of his stellar perimeter defense. Via BigTen.org, Oladipo leads the conference with 2.3 steals per game, often jarring the ball loose to lead to easy transition buckets. He’s also averaging nearly six rebounds per game for the No. 7 Hoosiers, the third-most on the team.
Appling soars over Ohio State's Deshaun Thomas.
It’s not often that a team can lose the league’s player of the year (Draymond Green) and still be in the thick of the conference title race, but with a 6-2 Big Ten record, that's exactly what coach Tom Izzo has his Spartans doing.
Much of Michigan State's success can be attributed to Appling, the scrappy point guard who leads his team with 14.1 points and 4.3 assists, according to ESPN. Appling does an excellent job of getting the ball his to his big men in the post when they already have good position, but with the shot clock winding down, he’s as good as anyone in the league at driving, drawing contact, and finishing from difficult angles. His 1.7 steals are also the sixth-best in the conference.
The experience Appling gained as the starting PG throughout last season's Sweet 16 run should prove extremely beneficial come March.
Craft is tied for second in the Big Ten with two steals per game.
Without Craft, the Buckeyes would be a supremely athletic group without a field general, but as long as he's orchestrating the offense, Ohio State is capable of keeping pace with the most potent offenses in the country.
The junior can deftly navigate his way through a crowded paint and set up the Buckeyes’ numerous jump shooters like Deshaun Thomas, Sam Thompson, and Lenzelle Smith Jr.
Craft keeps them all engaged with his slicing dribbles to the interior and crisp bounce passes to open space.
Thomas leads the league in scoring, but if it was not for Craft, there’s no way he would average more than 20 points per game. Craft’s on-ball defense is second-to-none, and he has no trouble engaging his opponent far beyond the perimeter.
Good footwork helps keep his man in front of him and has contributed to 2.0 steals per game, the second-highest mark in the Big Ten, according to ESPN.
Paul drives past numerous Minnesota defenders in a home loss on Jan. 9.
Paul has been the catalyst to the Fighting Illini’s hot start, as he’s averaged 18 points per game and nearly five rebounds per game throughout the first third of the conference season.
The problem for Paul, and the Illini in general, is that he has come to rely too heavily on the outside shot.
Paul is third in the Big Ten with 132 attempts from the three-point line, but he has knocked down just 34 percent of his deep balls, the 26th-best mark in the conference, according to ESPN.
The senior is most dangerous when he’s aggressive and driving to the lane as opposed to settling for the outside shot.
He has 95 free throws made this season, second only to Indiana’s Zeller.
Hollins attempts a difficult running layup in a road loss to Indiana.
Hollins had a few 20-plus games for the Gophers last season as a freshman, but his 41-point explosion in the win over then-No. 19 Memphis on Nov. 23 forced people to take notice of the streaky shooter.
He’s the fifth-best three-point shooter in the conference at 43.2 percent (via ESPN) and has had six games with at least three triples so far this season.
Hollins is a shoot-first point guard, and his quick-trigger release frees him up coming off of screens or working one-on-one against a defender.
The Gophers are mired in a four-game losing streak in no part due to Hollins. He’s led Minnesota in scoring in two of the four games, including outbursts of 25 against Indiana and 20 against Wisconsin.
He’s exactly the type of player you don’t want to face come March.
Deshaun Thomas flips the ball up against Michigan State.
The sweet-shooting lefty has been Ohio State’s go-to scorer all season long, and with Jared Sullinger gone to the NBA, Thomas’ responsibilities have only heightened.
He’s averaged a league-high 20.5 points on nearly 16 shots per game, both significant increases from his sophomore year, according to ESPN.
Although he needs Craft to initiate the offense, he’s been excellent from the perimeter, knocking down 42 percent of his three-pointers. If he gets position in the post, he’s also able to maneuver his way into scoring position and flip the ball up with his left hand.
In the Buckeyes’ home upset of then-No. 2 Michigan, Thomas scored a game-high 20 points and was the only Ohio State player to reach double digits.
If Thomas can find a consistent complementary scorer, Ohio State could make a deep run come March.
Ferrell attempts a runner in a tough road win at Iowa.
Coach Tom Crean has showed little restraint in using Ferrell, a freshman, as the Hoosiers’ primary point guard, and the decision has paid huge dividends for the up-tempo squad.
He’s the perfect running mate for Oladipo, Zeller and Christian Watford, and his vision on the break is more like that of an upperclassman.
Indiana averages 83.7 points, tied for the most in the NCAA, according to ESPN, and Ferrell is averaging nearly five assists per game in just his first year at the helm.
His numbers would be even higher if he did not share the backcourt with senior Jordan Hulls, whose 3.4 assists rank second on the team.
Ferrell’s swift ball handling gives him a huge advantage, and his 7.1 points per game are adequate, especially with so many scorers around him.
Tim Hardaway Jr. attempts a jump shot in a road loss to Ohio State.
With defenses paying so much attention to Burke and his dribbling abilities, Hardaway Jr. has blossomed into a legitimate inside-out scorer as the Wolverines’ second scoring threat.
His overall field goal percentage is hovering close to 50 percent this season, while he’s converted 40 percent of his three-point attempts, a 12 percent uptick from last year, via ESPN.
At 6-6, he’s as versatile a forward as there is in the Big Ten. He can beat his man off the dribble to create his own shot, knock down a three-pointer off a screen, or be on the receiving end of a half-court alley-oop, like he did in the loss to Ohio State (CBS). His 16.2 points are fifth in the Big Ten.
Newbill tries to contain Ohio State's Aaron Craft.
Once all-Big Ten G Tim Frazier went down with a torn ACL early this season, much of the scoring, passing and rebounding burden was shifted to Newbill, the 6-4 sophomore.
He’s responded by averaging 15.5 points, the sixth-most in the Big Ten and is averaging 5.9 rebounds, the most of any guard in the conference, according to ESPN.
He’s also become the team’s primary distributor, but the Nittany Lions were not deep to begin with.
The loss of Frazier has seen them begin conference play 0-8, despite Newbill's best efforts.