Big Ten Basketball Power Rankings: The 5 Most Underrated Players in the League

Ryan Curi@rcuri1Featured ColumnistJuly 27, 2012

Big Ten Basketball Power Rankings: The 5 Most Underrated Players in the League

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    In response to my recent article highlighting the most overhyped players in the Big Ten, I decided to write an article touching on the most underrated players in the league.

    In this slideshow, I hope to show you the reasons that certain players are underrated. All of the players highlighted here are up and coming players, but for whatever reason have not garnered the attention or received the credit they deserve.

    All of these players finished last season incredibly strong, leading me to believe that same level of play will carry over into 2012-13. But until they reach their full potential and play at the same high level that I saw in all of them sporadically last season, thus getting the attention that they deserve, I will consider them underrated.

Andre Hollins, Minnesota

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    After starting the first 10 games of his freshman campaign, Hollins' role was moved to the bench as Minnesota has many interchangeable guards. Hollins would not regain his starting position again until late February, but looks to have secured that slot for the upcoming year.

    The Golden Gophers were 15-6 in games that Hollins started, as opposed to 8-9 in ones that he did not. Aside from a season-ending defeat to Stanford in the NIT Finals, Hollins scored in double figures in eight straight games, surpassing 20 points in half of those games.

    Hollins' season averages finished at 8.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 21.1 minutes of playing time. However, it's tough to read too much into these stats since he basically had two seasons himself: one of which he was a reserve, and the other he was a starting point guard who barely left the floor.

    Hollins' emergence is just one of the few reasons that Golden Gopher fans should be excited about the upcoming campaign. Trevor Mbakwe will be returning from an injury that kept him out most of the 2011-12 season, while Rodney Williams and Austin Hollins (unrelated to Andre) also return to school.

JerShon Cobb, Northwestern

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    After a solid freshman season, Cobb was unable to really get going until March last season. Cobb only participated in 21 games as a sophomore due to a lingering injury that also kept him out of some games as a freshman. If Cobb can stay healthy though, he has a promising career ahead.

    Cobb scored 13 points against Iowa on March 3, the last game of the Big Ten campaign. He followed that up with a 24 point, eight rebound effort against Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament, although the Wildcats fell in overtime and left them with another NIT appearance. Cobb continued his strong play by scoring 19 points in a win over Akron at the NIT.

    Cobb is an athletic shooting guard and is the best candidate to play at the top of the Wildcats' 1-3-1 zone this upcoming year. He is lanky enough to create turnovers on over-the-top passes and cause mishaps for the opposing guards.

    I predict that Cobb will have a breakout year in 2012-13, assuming he stays healthy, possibly becoming the Wildcats' seasoned option on offense behind Drew Crawford. If Cobb can improve upon his 30.7 percent accuracy from three-point range, he will be tough to stop considering his ability to get to the basket.

Lenzelle Smith Jr., Ohio State

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    In 2011-12, Smith Jr. scored in double figures in nine of the Buckeye's 39 games. Thankfully for Ohio State, three of those nine games happened to be the team's final three NCAA Tournament games, where Smith Jr. scored 17, 18 and 10 points, respectively.

    During those final three games, Smith Jr. shot 8-for-15 from long range and 11-for-13 from the foul line, both of which well exceeded his regular season percentages. The soon-to-be junior from Zion, Ill., will not be under the radar this upcoming season, as both Jared Sullinger and William Buford have left school.

    Smith Jr.'s averages from last season came out to be 6.8 points, 4.6, and 2.0 assists in 25.4 minutes. His role as the Buckeye's fifth—and most dispensable—starter should upgrade to the team's third option offensively behind Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft.

    Smith Jr. needs to get off to a quicker start in 2012 if he wants to become a legitimate scoring threat. Only once during 2011 did Smith Jr. score in double figures—a December 31 loss at Indiana where he scored 12 points.

Jared Berggren, Wisconsin

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    After a redshirt season and two seasons were he was hardly used, Berggren jumped right into the role of starting center for Wisconsin in 2011-12. He finished the year with averages of 10.5 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 1.7 blocked shots in 27.8 minutes.

    Berggren was also a real threat from three-point range, converting on over 37 percent of his attempts. Having a center like Berggren is important because it stretches out opposing defenses, making each defender play on the outside and respect their shooting abilities.

    Berggren's season ended sitting at the score's table, ready to check into the game, as he saw his Jordan Taylor's last second three pointer miss in a 64-63 loss to Syracuse. In that game, Berggren scored 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting, while also converting all three of his three-point attempts.

    Berggren's numbers should increase as a redshirt senior, but maybe not as drastically as other players on this list. Berggren is already an established threat, but it seemed like Taylor got most of the credit for the team's success. Without Taylor this year, it will be interesting to see how Bo Ryan and the Badgers adjust.

Tracy Abrams, Illinois

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    After starting the first two games of his collegiate career, Abrams lost the job to fifth year senior Sam Maniscalco, only to get it back after the New Year. Abrams' per game averages as a freshman were 4.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, and 1.9 assists in 21.1 minutes.

    While his numbers should certainly improve as the full-time starter in 2012-13, don't expect Abrams to become a big time scorer yet. He scored in double figures only three times as a freshman, with his career high coming against Purdue in February when he dropped 22 points.

    Abrams is the Fighting Illini's best on-the-ball defender, while ex-coach Bruce Weber also heralded Abrams as the team's best leader, even as only a freshman. Illinois needs to become less of an isolation team to be successful this year, which should also help Abrams' assist average.

    Although 2012-13 could be another tough year for the Illini, head coach John Groce should have the program back up and running sometime before Abrams graduates. Abrams must also improve upon his shooting, as he was only a 25.7 percent shooter from three-point range and 63 percent free-throw shooter last year.