The Seven Most Surprising Big Ten Players So Far This Season

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 13th, 2013

With the season now a little over a month old, it’s time to take a look at how different players are performing in accordance with their preseason expectations. I’m always more of a good news first kind of guy, so I’ll start with the guys who are making a better-than-expected impact first, with the disappointments coming next week. Many of these players are transfers, although some are simply just producing more in additional minutes. The common thread with all seven of these Big Ten breakout players is that they are heavily contributing to wins in more than one way, and doing so at a high level.

Frank Kaminsky has played his way into B1G Player of the Year consideration (Getty)

Frank Kaminsky has played his way into B1G Player of the Year consideration (Getty)

  • Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin (14.7 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 2.1 BPG, 1.1 SPG, 42.9% 3FG, 55.4% FG). “Frank the Tank” is leading the Badgers in scoring, steals and blocks. People thought that he’d be able to have an impact with more minutes due to the graduation of Jared Berggren, but no one thought he’d be capable of dropping 43 points in a single game. Kaminsky leads a balanced attack on the offensive end that has five different players capable of scoring 20 on a given night, and he’s a defensive presence to the tune of blocking 7.06 percent of all opponents’ field goal attempts. Wisconsin in general has been a surprise, but Kaminsky has been an even bigger one.
  • Eliott Eliason, Minnesota (5.7 PPG, 8.4 RPG, 2.5 BPG). Eliason got lost in the shuffle last season with Trevor Mkakwe and Rodney Williams getting most of the frontcourt minutes in 2012-13. This year he has emerged as a major rebounding and shot-blocking threat for the Gophers. Eliason is currently third in the league in defensive rebounding rate (26.5%), sixth in offensive rebounding rate (12.6%), and third in block rate (11.74%). On a team that frequently features a three-guard attack, it is vital that someone can clear the glass and protect the rim, which Eliason is doing at an elite level in the early going.

  • DeAndre Mathieu, Minnesota (10.5 PPG, 4.9 APG, 2.1 SPG, 81.1% FT, 2.35:1 A/TO). Mathieu and coach Richard Pitino’s system seem to be a perfect fit. He brings quickness and the ability to harass opponents into turnovers, as evidenced by his 4.41 percent steal rate, good for sixth in the league. Mathieu is not a terrific jump-shooter, but he knows that it is his job to facilitate and get others involved, which he’s doing at the second best level in the conference (34.5% assist rate).
  • Leslee Smith, Nebraska (8.2 PPG, 6.4 RPG, 1.2 SPG, 1.2 BPG, 60.5% FG). It was mentioned on a recent broadcast that Smith would prefer to come off the bench as opposed to starting. Either way, it would seem that Tim Miles and Nebraska would be better off giving him more than the 46.4 percent of the available minutes he’s currently playing. Smith is Nebraska’s best option on the low blocks, with Walter Pitchford acting as more of an outside player, and he leads the Huskers in blocks, steals, and rebounding. He gives them someone who is willing to do the dirty work, which is what they will need more of once conference play begins.
  • Amir Williams, Ohio State (10.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 2.7 BPG, 69.8% FG). Aside from maybe giving the funniest postgame interview of the season on Wednesday night, Williams has also gone from someone who looks lost on the court to someone who knows his role and is thriving in it. We’ve spoken about the Buckeyes getting him more involved in the offense before, and they’ve done just that in the last couple of games. Williams mainly shines as a shot-blocker, where he is blocking 11.1% of all shots, good for fourth in the league. He’s starting to come into his own and legitimately change games inside, and the undefeated Buckeyes are reaping the benefits.
  • Rayvonte Rice, Illinois (17.9 PPG, 5.7 RPG, 1.3 SPG, 51.2% FG). Rice has become Illinois’ go-to-guy offensively, leading the team in scoring in seven of its 10 games. He’s doing so efficiently as well, leading the league in offensive rating for all players that have a usage rate above 24 percent at 128.5. He’s proven that he’s a threat in taking the ball to the hoop or shooting it from outside. Rice is also one of four Illini players to average over five rebounds a game, and he’s tied for the team lead in steals.
  • Jared Uthoff, Iowa (10.3 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.5 BPG, 54.7% FG, 53.8% 3FG). Just pretend for a second how loaded Wisconsin would be if Uthoff had stuck around and played in Madison. Uthoff is the ringleader for a deadly Iowa bench that has allowed Fran McCaffery to mix and match different lineup combinations without having any dropoff whatsoever. Uthoff’s eFG percentage of 60.4 would be good for sixth in the league if he played enough minutes to qualify. He’s proven to be a good rebounder despite his slender build, and also has shown that he can score both inside and outside for the 10-1 Hawkeyes.
Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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