As the Big Ten readies itself to defend its reputation in the NCAA Tournament, I examine its promising young talent. The senior-laden Golden Gophers, Badgers, Spartans and Boilermakers don't put any players on the list while Iowa, Indiana, Illinois and Michigan each have multiple freshman/sophomores on the list.
Posting 17.8 ppg and 9.9 rpg, Sullinger has garnered support for National Player of the Year. For good reason, too. Though his stats underwhelm by player of the year standards, he's become the go-to player on a team otherwise full of experienced players. His 12 double-doubles have helped the Buckeyes become a good bet for a No. 1 seed in the tournament.
Though Iowa's fall into inferiority has led to steep attendance declines over the last five years, the fans in Indiana have stayed loyal to their red and white heroes through their down years. However, now the IU fans might have something to truly be excited for: Christian Watford is leading IU with 16.6 ppg as a sophomore. His ability to create shots and shoot threes make him the player that Tom Crean has been looking for.
Though the Wolverines may have had their tournament hopes smashed by a Josh Gasser buzzer beater on Wednesday, they can look forward to perhaps a deep NIT run or a very successful next couple years with Darius Morris leading the Wolverines. The sophomore from Los Angeles is averaging 15.1 ppg and dishing out 6.8 apg.
Perhaps the most athletic player on this list outside of Sullinger, Jereme Richmond will look to take a primary role with the Illini next season. His 7.8 ppg and 5.8 rpg have been a helpful addition for the Illini this year.
Jordan Hulls is a shooter. The sophomore has one of the smoothest stroke in the Big Ten, hitting 43.7 percent of his three-point attempts. He's averaging 11.5 ppg with his career high of 24 coming against Iowa.
Will Northwestern ever have as good of a shot of making their first NCAA Tournament as this year? Well, maybe if Drew Crawford continues his development. This was supposed to be the year for the Wildcats, and instead NU has spiraled to a 6-9 conference record. Crawford has done his part in the offense with 12.5 ppg.
A common question in Iowa City these days is, "Who's the leader of this basketball team?"
Freshman Melsahn Basabe is stating his case. Posting 10.9 ppg combined with his tremendous defensive presence, Basabe has given Iowa some semblance of hope for a decent basketball season in the coming years.
Tim Hardaway Jr. and Darius Morris have helped Michigan fans forget the premature departure of Manny Harris to the NBA draft. Though, not completely. His 13.3 ppg has been helpful, but he needs to develop a better shot selection and fine tune his game. Look for little Hardaway to develop to be a big star for the Wolverines.
Jordan Morgan has stepped in to be a much-needed inside presence for the Wolverines this year. Like Hardaway Jr., he could use some development. However, John Beilein has to be pleased with the freshman's 9.6 ppg. Watch out for the Wolverines in the coming years.
While Jared Sullinger is likely to bolt for the NBA draft, Ohio State is likely to have DeShaun Thomas there for the long haul. The freshman is averaging 7.7 ppg coming off the bench for the Buckeyes.
Brandon Paul is showing signs of maturation this year with the Illini. His 33.3 percent shooting percentage last year showed that he wasn't quite ready for Big Ten play. However, as a sophomore he has increased his output in almost every category. This year he averages 9.4 ppg.
Eric May is showing the potential to lead Iowa back to the glory days of Greg Brunner, Adam Haluska and Jeff Horner. His athleticism and high-flying dunks were the only reason to watch Iowa basketball last year. Now, he finds himself in the midst of a roster with more talent. He's becoming known around the Big Ten for his athletic dunks, but perhaps that's been detrimental the Hawkeyes. The last few weeks, his teammates have been forcing alley oops his way to no avail. If the Hawkeyes can figure out when to let May loose, he can be a very dynamic scorer.