Big Ten Tournament X-Factors for Round One

Posted by Brendan Brody on March 13th, 2014

Without going into full-fledged preview mode for all four games set to tip off on Thursday in Indianapolis, here are some under-the-radar players to keep an eye on in round one. Some are more obscure than others, but all the players I’m highlighting were not named to any of the All-Conference teams on Monday. They all have a specific skill set, however, that can be used to exploit a weak spot on the team they are playing against in the first round.

Tracy Abrams' ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas, Lee News Service)

Tracy Abrams’ ability to get steals will go a long way toward determining if Illinois can beat Indiana on Thursday. (Stephen Haas/Lee News Service)

Illinois: Tracy Abrams — Indiana turns the ball over 21.7% of the time, and Abrams averages 1.2 pilfers a game. Abrams had 5 steals in the two teams previous games, and if he can be the defensive catalyst that leads to 23 Indiana turnovers — like what happened on December 31 when the Illini beat the Hoosiers in overtime — Illinois will move on to the second round.

Indiana: Devin Davis The Illini are only mediocre at getting their own misses (165th nationally), and Davis has been productive with increased minutes recently. He’s gotten 20 MPG in his last two games, and has a robust 21.6% defensive rebound rate in limited minutes for the season. That would be good for 6th in the conference had he played enough minutes to qualify, and if Crean gives him the playing time in this game, he’ll prevent Illinois from getting any second chance buckets.Ohio State: Amir Williams It could be argued that Williams is the x-factor every game the Buckeyes play. He’s vital here because Purdue gets their shots blocked 12.o% of the time. Their guards — specifically the Johnson brothers — like to get into the paint and score inside. Williams can set the tone early with some blocks on said shots, forcing Purdue to try their luck from the perimeter.

Purdue: Raphael Davis Stephen Bardo recently described Davis as a “junk yard dog,” and in what promises to be a game that’s not very easy on the eyes, Davis can hurt the Buckeyes making hustle plays. He also does a really good job getting rebounds for someone only 6’5″. Ohio State is weak on the offensive glass, and if Davis can get the defensive rebounds that A.J. Hammons doesn’t get to, Purdue can limit the Buckeye attack.

Minnesota: Malik Smith Penn State does a poor job limiting three-pointers, to the tune of allowing teams to shoot 34.8% against them. Smith has been frigid lately (1-for-20 in his last six games), but he should get some good looks here. If he can give the Gophers another perimeter threat by making one or two early, it should open things up for Deandre Mathieu drives, or Maurice Walker and Elliott Eliason down low.

Penn State: Jordan Dickerson Much like Purdue, Minnesota gets their shots sent away quite frequently. Dickerson could serve a similar function to Williams by forcing Minnesota to try and bomb away from deep. He won’t do anything offensively, but the 7-footer can be significant by staying away from foul trouble, serving as an intimidating lane presence by changing and altering Minnesota forays into the lane.

Iowa: Melsaan Basabe Basabe hasn’t been the same since he essentially missed two games with an illness. He’s only totaled 7 rebounds in his last four games, but he checks in with a 22.4% defensive rebounding rate for the season. Northwestern almost never crashes the boards, and if Basabe can control the boards and get the ball out quickly to his guards, Iowa could literally run Northwestern out of the gym.

Northwestern: Alex Olah Iowa’s defense has been abysmal as of late, and Olah is Northwestern’s best scorer from in close. If he can get something going down low against Adam Woodbury and Gabriel Olaseni, Northwestern will be able to offset Iowa’s offensive potency. Olah is averaging 16.3 PPG and 7.5 RPG in his last four games, and seems to be on the verge really becoming a consistent force for the Wildcats. With Iowa’s struggles guarding anyone, he could have a breakout game here.

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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