The Big 10 is this year’s Pu Pu Platter

Sasha+Stefanovic+and+Purdue+lead+the+way+in+the+Big+10.+%28Courtesy+of+Twitter%29

Sasha Stefanovic and Purdue lead the way in the Big 10. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Thomas Aiello, Assistant Sports Editor

Magic Johnson and the Michigan State Spartans still hold the title of “most watched college basketball game” to this day following the 1979 NCAA championship game. A total of 10 NCAA titles, multiple basketball icons and so much parody, the Big 10 is deep this season and is on the verge of at least six NCAA tournament bids.

“More!! MORE!!!” -Adam Driver.

Part five of the College Basketball Guide is right on time. Big 10 time.

Purdue’s Garden of Fresh Food

The Purdue Boilermakers have evolved into one of the most powerful entities in all of college basketball and are headed by a rockstar coach in Matt Painter. The four-time Big 10 coach of the year has once again regrouped his team following a “blah” 2021 season. Painter has done some of his best coaching since 2019 by taking his motion offense to a new level with players who are on a different planet.

Sophomore Jaden Ivey has ascended to All-American discussion following a promising freshman year in which he was an All-Freshman selection. Ivey has grown his all around game with an increase across all major categories. He also has an innate ability to take over games and never look back. His presence alone can change a game, and it all starts on the defensive side. Ivey jumps to the moon, moves well laterally and maintains discipline on defense. Utilizing your gifted athleticism is never a bad thing, and Ivey is able to harness such a gift, making him one of the best players in America.

Purdue also has an excellent big man rotation with 7’4” sophomore Zach Edey and 6’10” senior Trevion Williams. Edey, like Ivey, was an All-Freshman selection in the Big 10 last year while Williams made first team All-Big 10. Both players can rebound and defend well within Painter’s system which requires moving your feet and maintaining discipline on defense. Williams also acts as the veteran leader of this team. Considering he is a fourth year player, Williams is a calming presence on the team and a very complete big man.

Williams’ helps Edey by taking pressure off of him and being his front court mate. His 8.1 rebounds per contest leads the team while Edey grabs 7.5. Also adding to Purdue is American Sniper Sasha Stefanovic, who is shooting 41% from three point range and has a career percentage of 40% at Purdue. Also a senior, Stefanovic provides a very reliable fourth option and another stable voice in the Boilermakers locker room.

Painter is more than likely en route to his fifth Big 10 coach of the year award, Ivey will be on an All-American team, Edey, Williams and Stefanovic will be on All-Big 10 teams. But there’s one thing that can hold the Boilermakers back and that is their ghastly point guard play. Between senior Eric Hunter, sophomore Ethan Morton and junior Isaiah Thompson, none of these players move the needle significantly. Having a good point guard isn’t the end all of a great team, but it is one of the main focuses of a team’s success and the Boilermakers lack that despite everything else they have.

The Wisconsin Badgers Surprise Ascension to Power

At the beginning of the year, the Wisconsin Badgers were seen as a decent Big 10 team who was maybe a few years away from making any real noise, but they have ascended to greatness as one of the best teams not only in the Big 10 but in all of college basketball.

When examining this Badgers unit, you must start with sophomore Johnny Davis who spawned out of thin air this season. Davis went from a 7 point per game scorer to a national player of the year candidate and a potential All-American. Davis’ 20.3 points per game is third in the Big 10 and is the heart and soul of this Badgers unit. His 8.2 rebounds per contest also shows that he isn’t afraid to stick his nose in the gritty part of the game and make an impact. His rise from the ashes has powered this Badgers machine into one of the best teams in the country.

Speaking of players who came out of nowhere, junior Tyler Wahl and sophomore Steven Crowl have been exactly the type of role players that the Badgers needed to step up. Wahl has been the reliable and wildly efficient big man that Wisconsin needs when it’s time to dump the ball into the paint. He shoots an insane 53% from the field and is second on the team in rebounds with 5.7 boards. Crowl went from 0.7 points per game as a freshman, to now 9.1 in his second year and 33% from distance. If you want to talk about improvement, look no further than these two right here.

Adding to this is fifth year guard Brad Davison, who provides a stable leader and second scoring option (14.4) to Davis’ big point totals. Head coach Greg Gard has garnered the nickname “silent assassin” from CBS’ Jon Rothstein, which perfectly embodies this team and how they have quietly come into the fold and put college hoops fans on notice that the Badgers are not to be messed with.

The Illinois Fighting Illini and Orange Krush.

Losing one consensus All-American is always a loss, but it helps when you have a second consensus All-American stay behind for a third season. The Illini had two of those last season, Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn, but Dosunmu is making headlines with the Chicago Bulls in the NBA. Cockburn has remained at Illinois and has become the Shaquille O’Neal of college hoops, while looking to repeat as a consensus All-American player but this time make the first team rather than the second team.

Cockburn’s 21.5 points per, 11.4 boards per and his 61% shooting has him as a no-brainer Big 10 player of the year candidate. Standing at seven feet tall with 285 pounds of muscle, Cockburn’s physical presence alone can alter an entire contest and make life hell in the paint for opposing teams. 

While raving about Cockburn, he does have some friends who give him help on the floor. Senior transfer from Utah, Alfonso Plummer, and fifth year senior Trent Frazier. Plummer has come to Illinois and has taken on a much larger role under head coach Brad Underwood. Plummer averages 15.4 points per game on 41% shooting from three, plus adds a reliable ball handler in a backcourt with Frazier. Frazier also adds some solid defense at the guard positions and experience which can never hurt a team when going deep into tournaments.

The Fighting Illini will be a force again in the Big 10 conference tournament and shake some ground in the dance come March. Adding to this trio is a slew of very good role players who will grow as time passes and a good coach in Brad Underwood. Though Illinois isn’t super flashy, their experience and talent makes them a team worth paying attention to. A first place team in a power five conference is always worth a breakdown.

Ohio State’s Revenge Tour?

After a major upset in last year’s tournament, Ohio State has returned this season by way of their leader in head coach Chris Holtmann. The Buckeyes are a top 20 team in the country in terms of offense and hold the Big 10’s fourth spot in team points per game (74.5), fourth in free throw percentage (74.9%) and third in three point percentage (38%).

Holtmann has elevated junior EJ Liddell into a Naismith award caliber player following his success from last season as an All-Big 10 selection in both the regular season and in the Big 10 tournament. Liddell now possesses a slash line of 19.7 points per, 7.6 rebounds, 2.6 blocks, on 52% field goal shooting and over 40% from three. He is essentially guaranteed a spot on the All-American team and is in the running for Big 10 player of the year.

Behind Liddell is freshman Malaki Branham who was the 32nd best prospect among the high school class of 2021. Branham will be the one to push the next regime in the near future, but right now he plays a Robin role to Liddell’s Batman. Branham provides 11.2 points per game, on 47% shooting. 

The Buckeyes also add experienced role players in defensive stud Zed Key, senior leader Kyle Young and graduate student transfer Jamari Wheeler from Penn State. The Buckeyes are currently top four in the Big 10 with a 9-5 record in conference play. Their 20th ranked offensive rating in the nation, so points are not hard to come by for this team.

Holtmann’s team, as it has been for a few seasons now, are flat out bad on defense. Ohio State ranks 225th out of 358 division one teams in defensive rating and are one lacking defensive performance away from blowing up their season. Their next two games are against Indiana and Illinois, both of whom are either tournament teams or more than likely to be in the first four in.  

Honorable Mentions

Rutgers has come alive as of late with head coach Steve Pikiell and the Scarlet Knights holding down the fifth spot in the conference and notable wins over Purdue, Michigan State, Ohio State, Wisconsin and Illinois. They have gotten hot at the right time and are poised to ruin someone’s season come Big 10 tournament time.

Michigan State and head coach Tom Izzo will definitely make an appearance, but this Spartans team is not as talented as past versions. Izzo’s team struggles in two major categories: turnovers (they lead the Big 10 with 13.8 per game) and closing games. While the Spartans have a nice roster, unless they are blowing teams out or getting blown out, Michigan State has issues with managing close game scenarios. The Spartans have lost four of their last five, and two of those losses have come by five points or less to Illinois and the lowly Penn State Nittany Lions.

Iowa is another team hanging around with an 18-8 overall record, and are 8-7 in Big 10 play. Keegan Murray is the undisputed leader of this team and potential NBA lottery pick.  Indiana’s Mike Woodson is also around, with the one man army known as Trayce Jackson-Davis leading the charge. The Hoosiers’ resume is, in my estimation, a tad stronger than Iowa’s but that doesn’t mean when the two face off it won’t be a middle of the pack blood bath.

The Big 10 might be even better than the Big 12 this year, with the conference in position to have nine tournament teams, but will send at least six to the NCAA tournament and all teams will be very high in quality.