The Big Ten has always been known for the most rugged and physical league around college basketball and the 2012-13 season proved the same. Seven of the 12 teams in the league received bids to March Madness, with four making the Sweet Sixteen and beyond.
Here is a recap of the 12 starting centers in the Big Ten this past season, ranked solely on this season's performances. While this is just part one of five lists containing Big Ten starters, I hope it gives a preview of what is to follow in the near future, so please enjoy.
3.5 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 16.5 minutes
The 6'11" 250-pound sophomore was primed for a big season following an impressive March Madness performance in 2012. Jared Sullinger's departure gave way to Williams' chance to start this season, though he was never able to put together a complete streak.
Though more of a defensive-minded player, Williams' inability on offense made Thad Matta's decision to play small with Deshaun Thomas at center an easy one, during many March Madness moments in 2013. Williams' minutes should increase as a junior as center Evan Ravenel is the team's lone graduate, along with Thomas' NBA departure.
6.1 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, 22.2 minutes
After four years of enduring Luka Mirkovic at the starting center position for Northwestern, Wildcats fans hoped Olah's career would turn out differently. Olah showed flashes of strong play and is a great passer from the center position in NU's Princeton offense, averaging 2.0 assists.
Olah endured a concussion during a February matchup at Iowa and struggled in the following weeks. Olah ended the season with double-figure performances in the final two games of Bill Carmody's tenure. Though Olah's role on the court could change under new head coach Chris Collins, I like the potential in this soon-to-be sophomore.
4.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 16.5 minutes
At 7'1", Woodbury stepped into the starting center role from Day 1 in Iowa City. The highly regarded recruit out of high school had an up-and-down first season, as many true freshmen do. Woodbury scored in double figures six times, but scored two points or less on 15 occasions.
Woodbury will be better as a sophomore than he was a freshman, though I believe his biggest jump will come following his sophomore year. Iowa's frontcourt will be loaded in 2013-14 with Woodbury, Melsahn Basabe, Aaron White, Zach McCabe, Jared Uthoff and Gabe Olaseni.
7.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.4 blocks, 23.5 minutes
Though only a redshirt junior, coach Patrick Chambers and Borovnjak decided midway through this past season that this would be Borovnjak's last. Borovnjak played the best basketball of his career after the fact, scoring in double figures eight times.
Borovnjak is the only significant loss to Penn State, as Tim Frazier returns following a 2012-13 season that ended in injury. The three seasons in which Borovnjak played, Penn State finished with losing records, as he redshirted his sophomore season when the Nittany Lions made the NCAA Tournament.
4.6 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.1 blocks, 15.9 minutes
Like Borovnjak, Morgan is a redshirt junior, though he'll need to be back in Ann Arbor, especially as a few Wolverines are anticipated to announce their NBA declarations. Morgan was a member of the Big Ten All-Defensive Team despite a midseason injury and end of season struggles that led to his benching.
Mitch McGary's emergence was also a big reason for Morgan's demotion, though Morgan's numbers have dropped each season since his redshirt freshman year when he averaged 9.2 points and 5.4 rebounds. He'll need to match those numbers a year from now for Michigan to stay successful.
6.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 25.4 minutes
After Meyers Leonard's decision to forgo his final two seasons in Champaign, Egwu assumed the starting center role as a sophomore. Though Egwu did not match Leonard's accolades, the future looks bright for this 6'11" player from Saint Ignatius in Chicago.
Egwu's best game of his career came in the Illini's loss to Miami in the NCAA Tournament. He scored 12 points and grabbed 12 rebounds, seven of which came on the offensive end. Egwu is a force on the defensive end, but needs to play smarter and more under control, as he averaged 3.1 fouls.
10.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 23.1 minutes
The 7'0" 280-pound freshman from Oak Hill Academy proved to be a load in the paint during his first year in West Lafayette, but lacked consistency and effort at times throughout the year. Hammons scored 10-plus points 18 times and notched three double-doubles on the year.
Hammons' 30-point performance against Indiana was extremely impressive. Despite losing the game by 37, Hammons scored half of his team's points in the contest. Hammons' future is a bright one and we could see him as an All-Big Ten player as a sophomore and future NBA lottery pick.
11.5 points, 6.7 rebounds, 0.8 blocks, 33.0 minutes
Coming back to the Cornhuskers as the most experienced returning player, Ubel didn't disappoint under first year coach Tim Miles' tenure. Ubel scored in double figures 22 times and added four double-doubles after moving from power forward to center midway through the season.
Unfortunately for the Cornhuskers, next season shouldn't have any more success than the past two since Nebraska joined the Big Ten, as Ubel and guard Dylan Talley have graduated. Ubel's 33 minutes will be hard to reproduce from whoever his replacement turns out to be.
9.9 points, 6.6 rebounds, 0.1 blocks, 27.6 minutes
After battling issues on and off the court throughout his Spartan career, Nix put it all together as the team's lone senior in 2012-13. He finished fourth on the team in scoring for the well-balanced club, good enough to be Honorable Mention All-Big Ten.
Nix's conditioning allowed him to play almost nine more minutes per game than he did as a junior, while splitting time with Adreian Payne at center. This year, Payne and Nix often played beside each other in the Spartan frontcourt. Assuming every Spartan underclassman returns next season, MSU could be a preseason top-five team. For Nix, his one Final Four appearance will be all.
10.0 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 24.9 minutes
Mbakwe did not start his first game until Dec. 22, but from that point on he was the team's top player. Mbakwe was selected to the Third Team All-Big Ten, including a nine-point, 12-rebound effort in the team's NCAA Tournament victory over UCLA.
Though not the walking double-double he was during his first year in Minneapolis, Mbakwe still found himself notching 10 double-double performances on the year. The Gophers will miss Mbakwe and frontcourt mate Rodney Williams' Jr. next season, though both their futures look promising for the NBA.
16.5 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.3 steals, 29.5 minutes
Zeller's decision to return to Indiana as a sophomore led IU to receiving the preseason No. 1 ranking, a Big Ten regular season championship and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Zeller's stats, while impressive, were nearly a mirror to that of his freshmen season.
His NBA draft stock may have taken a bit of a hit, though he has decided to forgo his final two seasons for the greener pastures of the Association. To some Hoosier fans however, Zeller may be remembered for his 3-of-11 shooting performance in the Hoosiers' season-ending loss to Syracuse.
11.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks, 28.5 minutes
Berggren's NBA stock may not match Zeller, Mbakwe, or Hammons', but this fifth-year senior had quite a finale in Madison. After losing Jordan Taylor to graduation and Josh Gasser to injury, Berggren assumed the team's "star" role as he was selected to Second Team All-Big Ten as well as the All-Defensive Team.
Berggren's three-point shooting percentage dropped 12 points between his last two years, though he averaged two more rebounds. Berggren is often described as deceivingly athletic, though after watching him hammer down dunks and rise up to blocks shots every game, the deceiving part should have been dropped.
Berggren's selection atop the list of starting centers in the Big Ten may come as a surprise to many, though if you watch Berggren match up next to Cody Zeller in the team's two matchups this year you would understand.
The Badgers defeated Indiana in both matchups, and have in each of the team's past 12 showdowns. In the two battles this year, Zeller outplayed Berggren statistically, but Berggren gets the edge because of his physical play that frustrated Zeller, who at times played "soft." Maybe it's me being anti-Hoosier and pro-Berggren, but his value to Wisconsin earns him the team spot here.