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Basketball is the ultimate team sport. But, at the same time, it is one that can be taken over by a single player. There have been some incredible individual performances over the past couple of seasons in the Big Ten and this year should bring more of the same.
The 2012-2013 season seems to have the Big Ten as strong as it’s ever been. Three teams (Indiana, Ohio State and Michigan) are all ranked in the top five in preseason polls.
On those great teams obviously are some outstanding players. So here are my top ten players in the Big Ten conference for this upcoming season.
10. Brandon Paul (SG, Illinois)
Those unforgettable individual performances from last season I mentioned earlier in this column? Yeah, Brandon Paul had one of those when he lit up Ohio State for 43 points. The senior guard averaged 14.7 points per game last year and is as solid of an all-around player as you will find in the Big Ten. This will be Paul’s senior season for the Illini and knowing they have a player of his caliber on the floor, you can never count the Illini out of any game.
9. Keith Appling (PG, Michigan State)
With Draymond Green finally departing from East Lansing, the Spartans become Appling’s team. Appling averaged 11.4 points and 3.9 assists per game last year, and with Green gone and it being his team this year, there should be a jump in those stats this year. Head coach Tom Izzo will have his Spartans right in the thick of things again this year in the Big Ten and Appling will be his best player.
8. Christian Watford (F, Indiana)
Watford may have already had his moment in his college career when he hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer last year to knock off No. 1 and eventual national champion Kentucky. You learned a lot about Watford’s game with that shot, though. He’s absolutely fearless and he’s got a smoothness to his game that is fun to watch. He averaged 12.6 points and 5.8 rebounds per game a year ago while shooting 43.7% from deep. Watford will no doubt be a key component to Indiana’s national title run.
7. Tim Hardaway Jr. (SG, Michigan)
Hardaway Jr. had somewhat of a disappointing sophomore season after an outstanding freshman campaign. But, that doesn’t take away from his talent. He’s a sensational all-around player who averaged 14.6 points per game a year ago. If Michigan wants to be an elite team this year, it will need more production out of the junior guard.
6. Trevor Mbakwe (F, Minnesota)
I had a difficult time trying to figure out where to rank Mbakwe as he comes back from tearing his ACL and only playing in seven games last year. In those seven games, Mbakwe averaged 14 points, 9.1 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game. If he is fully recovered, he is easily a candidate to be an All-American. He can be a dominating force in the paint, but once again, the question is his health.
5. Tim Frazier (PG, Penn State)
It may seem strange to see a Penn State player on this list, but Frazier deserves all of the preseason accolades he is getting. He was second in the conference in scoring a season ago, averaging 18.8 points per game. He also led the Big Ten is assists per game with 6.2. He’s the most underrated player in the Big Ten and possibly the country. Not many people have seen Frazier play or have even heard of him before. This year, they will.
4. Trey Burke (PG, Michigan)
The next two were honestly a toss up. Burke is a dynamic player and a true scoring point guard. After his freshman season, Burke thought long and hard about entering the NBA draft. Thankfully for Michigan fans, he decided to return to school for his sophomore campaign. Last year, Burke averaged 14.8 points and 4.6 assists per game. He’s an elite point guard at the college level.
3. Aaron Craft (PG, Ohio State)
The two are totally different players, but I ended up giving Craft the nod over Burke because of his ability to change games defensively. Craft is the best perimeter defender in the country and can completely take out an opposition’s best perimeter player with his defense. His impact on the game goes far beyond the box score. Obviously, Craft’s main question is his consistency on offense, but if he gets that down it is game over. He’s the ultimate point guard and a true leader.
2. Deshaun Thomas (F, Ohio State)
For the first time in his Ohio State career, Ohio State is Deshaun Thomas’ team. Even with star players such as Jared Sullinger and William Buford in years past, Thomas was still able to find shots for himself, and he delivered. Thomas averaged 15.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore and now that he is the main option offensively, those numbers will see a significant increase. Thomas’ offensive game has never been the question, if he buys into playing more defense this year, he can live up to that preseason All-American hype he is currently getting.
1. Cody Zeller- (C, Indiana)
Cody Zeller is the reason Indiana is the preseason No. 1 team in college basketball. He’s the player who turned the Indiana program around and brought it back to prominence. Last year as a freshman, Zeller averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Now with one full season under his belt, look for Zeller’s numbers to skyrocket during his sophomore campaign as he hopes to lead the Hoosiers to a national championship.