The Big Ten’s Biggest Surprises, Improvements & Disappointments

Posted by Patrick Engel on February 16th, 2016

Iowa is atop the Big Ten after Valentine’s Day, Indiana is (mostly) better defensively and Minnesota still hasn’t won a conference game. Those are typical of the team surprises, improvements and disappointments that appear over the course of every Big Ten season. The same thing happens on an individual level: some players seem to come out of nowhere, others take impressive leaps in production, and still others regress or plateau. With conference play now two-thirds finished, here are some of the biggest surprises, improvements and disappointments among this season’s Big Ten players.

P.J. Thompson's ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt (Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports).

P.J. Thompson’s ball-handling has helped give Purdue stability in the backcourt. (Sandra Dukes/USA TODAY Sports)

Biggest Surprises

  • O.G. Anunoby, F, Indiana: The least-heralded member of Indiana’s freshman class is now a crucial part of its rotation. The Hoosiers found the freshman forward from Jefferson City, Missouri, while scouting another player, but he has been their best defender and owns the second-highest effective field goal percentage (64.8%) on the team (minimum 60 FGAs).
  • Nicholas Baer, G/F, Iowa: An unknown freshman walk-on in November, Baer gives Iowa productive minutes off the bench. He makes 43 percent of his threes and 52 percent of his twos, but is also second on the team with 18 blocks. That versatility means that he can play the three or the four positions.

  • P.J. Thompson, G, Purdue: Point guard was a big question mark heading into the season for the Boilermakers. Matt Painter doesn’t need a high-scoring point guard, just one who can facilitate his offense and take care of the ball. Thompson stole the job from grad transfer Johnny Hill and has produced a 71-to-11 assist-to-turnover ratio along with a stellar 9.4 percent turnover rate. That’s a big reason for his nation-best 139.4 offensive rating.

Honorable mention: Max Beilfeldt, F, Indiana

Most Impressive Improvements

Peter Jok is playing like an all-Big Ten player in his first season in the starting lineup. (Alyssa Hitchcock, The Daily Iowan)

Peter Jok is playing like an all-Big Ten player in his first season in the starting lineup. (Alyssa Hitchcock/The Daily Iowan)

  • Peter Jok, G, Iowa: Iowa needed a second option next to Jarrod Uthoff in much the same way that Uthoff had been to Aaron White a season ago. The junior guard has been that guy and has played like an all-conference performer in his first year in the starting lineup. Jok ranks 11th in the Big Ten in scoring at 15.3 points per game (doubling last season’s average) and also shoots 41.4 percent on three-pointers.
  • Matt Costello, C, Michigan State: The senior is the only player to average a double-double in conference play at 13.1 PPG and 10.2 RPG. He scores a lot of easy baskets on putbacks, but his improved consistency shouldn’t be overlooked as part of Michigan State’s success.
  • Bryn Forbes, G, Michigan State: A mid-major star at Cleveland State, Forbes has filled the Travis Trice role for Sparty this season. He was always considered a good shooter, but he’s been an elite one this year. His 48.7 percent mark on threes ranks 17th nationally and is up six percentage points from last year.
  • Tai Webster, G, Nebraska: The junior from New Zealand’s numbers took a big leap now that he is playing exclusively off the ball. His shooting percentage of 47.4 percent is up by nearly 12 percent and his three-point percentage is up by 11 percent. He isn’t yet consistent enough as a scorer and doesn’t have a great mid-range game, but his ability to finish is important in Tim Miles’ dribble penetration offense.
  • Dom Uhl, F, Iowa: The German native is an important rotational piece for the Hawkeyes this season. While he is versatile in terms of his position, his game is mostly made of threes (48%) and putbacks (8% offensive rebounding rate).

Honorable mention: Vince Edwards, F, Purdue; Vitto Brown, F, Wisconsin; Mark Donnal, C, Michigan; Brandon Taylor, F, Penn State

Biggest Disappointments

Jared Nickens' shooting numbers have taken a massive hit this year (Matt Hazlett/The Baltimore Sun).

Jared Nickens’ shooting numbers have taken a massive hit this yea.r (Matt Hazlett/The Baltimore Sun)

  • Rapheal Davis, G, Purdue: Davis is still a good defender and is shooting much better from three-point range this season, but he has been inconsistent offensively. In the first eight games of Big Ten play, he averaged 6.3 points per game on 33 percent shooting. His ratio of shots at the rim is 32.4 percent, down from 48.1 percent a year ago. Defensive plays like this one, however, against Maryland are a little more common this year.
  • Nate Mason, G, and Carlos Morris, G, Minnesota: The Gophers are 6-18 overall and winless in the Big Ten. While they have a lot of issues, Mason and Morris combine for 23.5 PPG, a 38.8 percent field goal percentage and 32.4 percent three-point percentage. Last year, they combined to shoot 43.1 percent from the field and 37.7 percent from three. Mason and Morris’ offensive ratings and effective field goal percentages are also down from last season.
  • Jared Nickens, G, Maryland: His game has one and only one dimension – shooting – and it hasn’t been very good this year. He made 39 percent of his threes and 36 percent of his two-point jumpers as a freshman last year, but those numbers have dipped to 32.4 percent and 12.5 percent, respectively, this time around. He is shooting an icy 19 percent from three-point range in conference play.
Patrick Engel (33 Posts)

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