Five X-Factors Who Will Influence the Big Ten Race

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 30th, 2015

We’re now fully past exams and the insane holiday season, and our reward for all that jolly is a pre-New Year’s feast of Big Ten basketball with which to roll into 2016. This means that it’s a good time to consider how a handful of players who were notable in the non-conference portion of the schedule will fare with the better competition to come. The performance of these five players in particular could make all the difference in determining how well their teams fare over the next two months, and ultimately which teams are still playing deep into March.

Eron Harris and his ability to score will be needed for Michigan State in the coming months. (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

Eron Harris and his ability to score will be needed for Michigan State in the coming months. (Mike Carter, USA Today Sports)

  • Eron Harris, Michigan State: Harris finally showed what he could do on the offensive end of the floor with 27 points in Michigan State’s overtime win against Oakland. Prior to that explosion, he had only showed flashes of the scoring ability that he showcased at West Virginia. With Denzel Valentine expected to remain out for another one or two weeks, Harris needs to seize the extra playing time to build greater confidence in his role in Tom Izzo’s system. Those extra minutes could pay dividends when Valentine returns, as the Spartans will need additional scoring options in order to make a deep NCAA Tournament run.
  • Jake Layman, Maryland: Layman’s role has changed this year now that Maryland has a deeper arsenal of scorers on its roster. That said, he’ll need to be a bit more aggressive once conference play begins. He’s only taken more than 10 field goal attempts in a game three times this year, but his offensive rating has improved from 109.8 to 122.7. He needs to find a happy medium where he takes better advantage of his high efficiency and effective shooting in the paint (63.2 percent on two-point shots) to provide more scoring.

  • Kendall Stephens, Purdue: Stephens is a career 36.8 percent shooter from behind the arc, but he’s only at 33.0 percent this season and is still taking around seven triples per game. In Purdue’s four games against power conference teams, he shot the ball at an abysmal 3-of-26 clip. Outside shooting is his primary contribution when he’s on the floor, so he needs to find a way to break out of his slump as soon as possible. With its imposing and talented front line, a Boilermakers team with a hot Stephens on the perimeter will be that much more dangerous. If he cannot find the mark, this team will have several more nights like in their lone loss to Butler where it struggled to score without his ability to stretch the defense.
  • Nicholas Baer, Iowa: Baer has really hit his stride lately and his significant uptick in production was one of the best stories to come out of the latter few weeks of non-conference play. Iowa’s depth took a fairly large hit with Dale Jones getting knocked out for the season, but Baer averaged 16 points per game on 67 percent shooting in the last two contests before Christmas. He also blocked seven shots and snagged 12 total rebounds in these two games. Is the freshman just a flash in the pan, or is he a legitimate bench weapon for a team that needs some younger players to step up and complement the veteran core?

[baer pic]

  • Duncan Robinson, Michigan: Robinson thus far has been everything Michigan could have envisioned and then some. His shooting numbers are unheard of (e.g., 60.3 percent from three-point range), but the key question is whether he’s capable of shooting at that level once conference play begins. Big Ten defenses will slow him down, but can they neutralize him completely? And if so, can Robinson (4.0 RPG, 3.8 APG, 1.0 SPG in his last four games) find other ways to contribute if he’s not getting the same looks?
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.

Share this story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *