Player of the Week
Hunter Dickinson (Fr., Mich)
Michigan has been the biggest surprise in the conference, sitting at 10-0 and featuring one of the strongest starting lineups in the country. The Wolverines were expected to be decent and possibly make the tournament, but that was about it. What spurred this awakening in Ann Arbor, that has made this team so dynamic and hard to beat, you may ask? All signs point to the addition and play of freshman big man Hunter Dickinson. Dickinson entered the season coming off the bench, with more emphasis being put on his development and improving for next season and possibly seasons after that, but it did not take long for the plan to change. Dickinson entered the starting lineup for the sixth game of the season, and has not looked back since. Now, ten games into the season, the freshman from DeMatha Catholic in Maryland has established himself as one of the best big men in the conference and one of, if not the most impactful freshman in the country. In a huge game against Minnesota on 1/6, Dickinson was fantastic yet again, notching 28 points and 8 rebounds in a big win. Hunter Dickinson has gone from unheralded freshman coming off the bench to one of the premier big men and ultimate matchup nightmare for opposing teams lacking size.
Just about everything has gone right so far for the maize and gold so far this season. The Wolverines, who many expected to be in the middle-of-the-pack of the Big Ten coming into the year, are one of six remaining undefeated teams in the country, as they are winners of their first ten games, including an 82-57 thrashing of Minnesota, a team competing with Michigan for the top spot in the conference. Michigan’s core of Isaiah Livers, Franz Wagner [Mike Smith] and Hunter Dickinson have all played themselves onto the NBA scouts’ radars’, and are really hitting their stride as we get into the heart of the season. While Dickinson has been getting a ton of attention as the breakout freshman making a name for himself, Mike Smith has been just as important to the team’s early success. Smith is a transfer from Columbia, where he averaged 22.5 points on an astonishing 19 shots per game in his final season there and was the only source of offense his team had. Tasked with being the starting point guard for Michigan, Smith has changed his game completely this year. He has become much more efficient on offense as he is taking less shots, and now averages nearly as many assists (5.2 per game) as he does shots taken (5.9 per game). Everything is seemingly coming together for Juwan Howard and his team, and they are slowly but surely becoming one of the most feared teams in the entire country.
Ohio State Buckeyes
Quietly sitting at 9-3 on the year, the Buckeyes have made it a theme of bouncing back after losses with impressive wins to get back on track. After struggling against Purdue in their conference opener, OSU responded with a quality win over UCLA on 12/19. Nearly two weeks later, history repeated itself. After falling to Northwestern on 12/26 in a close loss they let slip away, Ohio State went out angry and smacked Nebraska by 36 four days later. Finally, after losing to Minnesota by 17 on 1/3, Duane Washington Jr. led the way in a huge bounce-back 79-68 win over Rutgers six days later. The win against Rutgers was especially important, as it moved Ohio State in front of Rutgers in terms of their record and in the conference standings, puts OSU back into contention for the conference title, and is a huge addition to their tournament resume. With a quality coach in Chris Holtmann at the helm, there is reason for Buckeye fans to be excited. They have a tough and gritty, yet talented team that clearly knows how to play together and play through adversity, ingredients necessary for any successful NCAA tournament team.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
The beginning of the season could not have gone any better for Rutgers. They started the season with six straight wins, including victories over Syracuse, Maryland, and a huge win against Illinois. Ron Harper Jr. established himself as one of the best players in the conference and country, and players such as Jacob Young and Montez Mathis have played well enough to put themselves on the NBA’s radar. But, after losing a very winnable game against Iowa that would have put the Scarlet Knights atop of the conference, it appears that they have lost all momentum. They are 1-4 in their last 5 games, and are losers of their last three, including a 23-point loss to Michigan State in East Lansing. Harper has averaged 12 points during the losing streak and has not made more than five field goals in any of the games. With the struggles of Harper lining up with this ugly losing streak, it has become abundantly clear that the Scarlet Knights will only go as far as their star will take them. How Rutgers and Ron Harper Jr. respond to the adversity they are currently facing will likely show what this team is made of.
The season has been a rocky road for the Terps. Big man Jalen Smith led Maryland to their first Big Ten regular season title last year before getting drafted by the Phoenix Suns, and his departure has been an absolute killer for this talented team and hindered their potential. They are currently 6-6 on the season, and 1-5 in conference play, including three straight losses to Michigan, Indiana, and Iowa, three teams with star big men in Hunter Dickinson, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Luka Garza. With only one senior on the roster, the Terps are a young team with lots of potential, but it is becoming apparent that the lack of a post presence will prevent this team from making any sort of noise this season. Coach Mark Turgeon has a history of using the transfer portal to bring in talented players, so definitely expect the Terps to use the portal to fill their needs.
Top 5 Most Impactful Players in Big Ten this season
5. Trayce Jackson Davis) (So., Indiana)
In a conference featuring some of the best big men in the country, Trayce Jackson-Davis poses as one of the toughest players to match up with of them all. He is tall, long, and extremely strong, which allows for him to clean the glass with ease if he is not accounted for when the shot goes up. He is averaging 20.5 points, 9 rebounds, and nearly two blocks per game.
4. [Player: Ron Harper Jr. (Jr., Rutgers)
It may have taken a while, but teams finally have reason to fear playing against Rutgers. They play hard, they play fast, they play tough, but most importantly, they have one of the best all-around players in the conference in Ron Harper Jr. He is averaging 20 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists this season, and has come up huge in the clutch moments for his team.
3. Ayo Dosunmu (Jr., Illinois)
Illinois is one of the top teams in the conference and country, and this is in large part due to the play of veteran Ayo Dosunmu. Illinois is a team featuring a lot of star power with Adam Miller and Kofi Cockburn also in the mix, but this team will only go as far as Ayo Dosunmu will take them. Averaging 22.3 points, 5 assists, 7 rebounds, and nearly 1 steal, it appears as if Dosunmu has the ability to take them far.
2. Marcus Carr (Jr, Minnesota)
Carr transferred to Minnesota after a successful freshman season in 2017, and built upon that in 2019-2020 for the Gophers. As a redshirt junior, Carr has turned himself into one of the best scorers in the country, having put up some monster numbers already this season. The crafty Canadian guard is averaging 21 points, 5 assists, and nearly 4 rebounds, and has made his teammates better. Thanks to Carr, Minnesota is one of the most feared and fun teams to watch in the B1G.
1. Luka Garza (Sr., Iowa)
There doesn’t really seem to be a player or coach who knows how to stop Luka Garza. The big man from Iowa has singlehandedly won games for the Hawkeyes this year, as there have been multiple occasions where he has outscored opposing teams by himself going into the half. He is a big man who can shoot, rebound, defend, and pass, and Iowa coach Fran McCaffery has done a great job of putting players around Garza who fit to his strengths and allow him to be as impactful as possible. Garza is averaging 27 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocks this season and has Iowa primed for a deep tournament run.