Fresh Faces Emerging as Big Ten Injuries Pile Up

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 28th, 2015

Big Ten training staffs have been working overtime this season, as many notable names have already missed significant time with injuries. Just last weekend, Aaron White, Robert Johnson, Bishop Daniels, Brandon Taylor, and Mike Williams all suffered various ailments that could result in missed action. This piles on to the already large injury toll suffered by conference teams, with Illinois (Rayvonte Rice), Indiana (Hanner Mosquera-Perea), Michigan (Caris LeVert), and Wisconsin (Traveon Jackson) all losing key starters for multiple games. Injuries, of course, are a part of the game, but it means that others must step in and make contributions in their absences. Here’s a look at how some of these Big Ten understudies have performed with the resulting boost in minutes they’ve received.

Kendrick Nunn has stepped things up offensively in the wake of Rayvonte Rice being out of the lineup. (USA TODAY)

Kendrick Nunn has stepped things up offensively in the wake of Rayvonte Rice being out of the lineup. (USA TODAY)

  • Illinois has gone 3-3 since its star Rayvonte Rice went down in practice. The senior had been logging 11.1 shots per game before his injury, and his primary replacement, Kendrick Nunn, has barely left the court since (36.2 MPG in the six games that Rice hasn’t played). The sophomore has been productive in his absence, though, contributing 16.7 PPG along with 4.5 RPG and 1.3 SPG. Rice’s biggest improvement had been shooting from deep, where he got off to an insane 29-for-60 start, but Nunn has been equally adept from three-point range, making 18-of-39 attempts in six games. On balance, Nunn has effectively matched Rice’s production, but Illinois’ main problem right now is depth. Without Rice and with Aaron Cosby (also sidelined), John Groce is pretty much running a seven-man rotation right now. Should Nunn or forward Malcolm Hill struggle offensively, there really aren’t many other options.

  • Indiana‘s Tom Crean may have stumbled onto something when Hanner Mosquera-Perea was injured four games ago, using his player availability to take small ball to an even more extreme level. Collin Hartman has entered the starting unit in his place, and the Hoosiers have gone 3-1 since the change. This has allowed the Hoosiers to spread the floor with four threats from behind the arc rather than three, resulting in an absurd 47 threes made in those four games. Hartman has played so well that there’s an argument to make the switch permanent even when Mosquera-Perea returns — his shooting has been terrific (10-of-15 from three), but he’s also blocked 0.8 shots per game and more than held his own on the inside. The Hoosiers might be better off keeping things like this for the duration, using Perea as a bigger bench option to add some size.
  • Michigan has only had to endure without Caris LeVert for three games, but the Wolverines have acquitted themselves very well without its star in the lineup, notching wins against Northwestern and Nebraska sandwiched by an overtime loss to Wisconsin. Aubrey Dawkins and Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rankman have gone from little-used substitutes to heavy contributors. Dawkins has shown an ability to knock down shots, while Abdur-Rankman has exhibited a knack for getting to the basket and finishing — the freshmen duo combined for 22 points over 69 minutes in the Nebraska win (Derrick Walton Jr. was also benched due to a lingering toe injury). John Beilein’s two freshmen look to be the latest perimeter players in his system to go from under the radar to major factors in a short period of time.
  • Wisconsin ultimately lost the Rutgers game a couple weekends ago when Traevon Jackson suffered a Jones Fracture, but they’ve gone 3-0 since with Bronson Koenig taking the reins at the point guard position and Zak Showalter taking Koenig’s backup minutes. Koenig has supplied a superb 3.5-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio and has scored double figures in all three games, and it’s arguable that he’s actually playing better than his senior teammate was before going down. (Jackson’s ATO was 1.5-to-1 in his four B1G games and his offensive rating was substantially lower). Showalter hasn’t really done anything statistically noteworthy, but he brings athleticism and another steady ball-handling presence in the 12.3 MPG he’s averaged over the last three games. Look for big things from this sophomore next season when starters Jackson and Josh Gasser move on.
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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