Big Men Standing Out Among Big Ten Freshmen

Posted by Patrick Engel on December 24th, 2015

Fall semesters have wrapped up across Big Ten campuses, and that means that league freshmen have now played 11 to 13 games and put a full semester of the collegiate experience behind them. As usual, their contributions run the gamut. Some have become invaluable parts of their teams; others are playing well but still going under-appreciated in fan circles; while a number of others haven’t yet cracked their teams’ rotations. As we enter the holiday break and look forward to league play starting on Tuesday next week, here is a look at how some of the Big Ten’s freshmen have performed so far this season.

Caleb Swanigan's addition to Purdue has taken this team to new heights in the early season. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Caleb Swanigan has been one of the Big Ten’s best freshmen and has helped make Purdue’s interior defense among the nation’s best. (AP Photo/Doug McSchooler)

Five Freshman Stars

(Note: used for player ratings)

  • Caleb Swanigan, Purdue: This former five-star recruit has made Purdue’s front line even tougher than it already was. Purdue likes to play the 6’9″, 260-pounder alongside A.J. Hammons or Isaac Haas, which creates a special circle of hell for opposing teams and allows for more big-to-big passing on offense. Swanigan is averaging 11.2 PPG, 2.5 APG and a league-best 9.3 RPG, but he has exhibited a bit of a turnover problem (3.4 miscues per game).
  • Diamond Stone, Maryland: The No. 6 overall prospect in the class of 2015, Stone hasn’t been quite as good as fast as many thought he would be. Nevertheless, he has still put together a fine young season, averaging 10.7 PPG and 4.6 RPG as top-10 Maryland’s starting center. His 18.0 percent offensive rebounding percentage ranks ninth in the country, per KenPom.

  • Deyonta Davis, Michigan State: Davis doesn’t start, but his production in limited time is very impressive. The former Michigan Mr. Basketball averages 8.2 PPG, 5.7 RPG and 2.2 BPG in just 17.8 minutes per contest. He has been the Spartans’ most productive big man to date.
  • Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Another former-five-star recruit, Bryant is the anchor to the Hoosiers’ four-out, one-in offense. While he isn’t absolved from Indiana’s glaring defensive issues, he’s scoring 11.5 PPG this season, second among Big Ten freshmen. He’s also shooting a masterful 75.0 percent on two-pointers.
  • Corey Sanders, Rutgers: Sanders goes unnoticed because the Scarlet Knights are awful, but he has been a bright spot in an otherwise moribund program. The former four-star recruit (somehow Rutgers got one of those) leads all Big Ten freshmen with 13.5 PPG. He ranks third among all Big Ten players with 1.5 steals per contest.

Five Overlooked Freshmen

Aaron Falzon has been solid this season. (Getty)

Aaron Falzon has been solid this season. (Getty)

  • Aaron Falzon, Northwestern: Falzon came to Northwestern with considerable hype and he has played plenty for the Wildcats with Vic Law out for the year. His rebounding numbers (3.6 RPG, 5.8% offensive rebounding rate, 11.3% defensive rebounding rate) are only adequate — even for a stretch four-type player — but he’s shooting 38 percent from three-point range and averaging 9.0 PPG.
  • Glynn Watson Jr., Nebraska: Nebraska’s first four-star signee since 2005, Watson’s poise is rare among freshman point guards. His 37.0 percent mark from the field needs improvement, but he’s turned over the ball only 11 times in 12 games while handing out 32 assists. He has also collected 14 steals and drilled a game-tying three-pointer that forced overtime against Miami.
  • Jordan Murphy, Minnesota: The Gophers are just 6-6 on the season, but the San Antonio native has been a bright spot off Richard Pitino’s bench. He leads Minnesota with 8.7 RPG, which also ranks second in the conference. He’s a versatile, aggressive wing who averages 5.5 free throws per game while also averaging a block and a steal per outing.
  • Ethan Happ, Wisconsin: After some early season struggles, Happ has started producing more consistently for the Badgers. He has posted four double-doubles and is third in the Big Ten with 8.3 RPG while also averaging 11.5 PPG.
  • Jalen Coleman-Lands, Illinois: The former top-50 prospect has played a bunch from the start due to Illinois’ injury issues. He has four games with at least 15 points and is shooting 42.0 percent from three-point range, which ranks second among Big Ten freshmen.

Three Underperforming Freshmen

  • JaQuan Lyle, Ohio State: Lyle is an extremely gifted passer, but he has forced way too many of them leading to an average of 3.2 turnovers per game. He also needs to shoot higher than 38 percent from the field. The answer may be taking more of the open shots he’s given instead of forcing low-percentage passes, since he’s a gifted scorer as well.
  • Moritz Wagner, Michigan: Wagner has flashed some promise but he’s been largely inconsistent. He has failed to score in four games this year and played single-figure minutes in five others. He needs more games like his 19-point effort vs. Charlotte to earn more minutes in John Beilein’s rotation. When he has played well, he has looked like Michigan’s best big man.
  • Khalil Iverson, Wisconsin: Iverson is one of only six Badgers who averages at least 15 minutes per game, a testament to their poor depth. He’s an athletic wing with some potential, but he needs to produce more than his current 3.5 PPG and 2.5 RPG. Wisconsin’s bench has been virtually invisible this season, so Iverson needs to be the guy to change that statement during conference play.
Patrick Engel (33 Posts)

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