Six Big Ten X-Factors Heading Into Conference Play

Posted by Brendan Brody on December 26th, 2016

Conference play is almost here, and after a 138-42 (.767) combined non-conference start, Big Ten teams will begin squaring off against each other tomorrow afternoon. As of right now, it looks like three front-runners (Wisconsin, Purdue and Indiana) have emerged, followed by a group of good-not-great teams competing for the top of the next tier — a glance at the most recent KenPom ratings reveals eight teams ranked within the NCAA Tournament at-large sweet spot of #29-#68. With things so relatively even, a number of x-factors around the league could very well swing the race with improved performances. Here are six players who could heavily influence how the Big Ten standings ultimately end up.

Carsen Edwards (USA Today Images)

Carsen Edwards is a Possible X-Factor For Purdue (USA Today Images)

  • Carsen Edwards, Purdue: One of the reasons why Purdue is a perceived title threat is because the majority of their players are reasonably consistent. Edwards, however, is the biggest wild card in the rotation, and his continuing development could be the key for the Boilermakers in March. Since the freshman moved into the starting lineup on December 3, he has averaged 9.3 PPG and a couple assists per outing. His shooting can stand to improve, but he’s a blur in the open court and causes havoc defensively on the perimeter. If Edwards can become a more efficient scorer during Big Ten play (95.0 Offensive Rating on 24.9 percent usage), Purdue’s offense (as well as the team) could move into the top 10 nationally.
  • D’Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin: With five returning starters this season, little was expected from Wisconsin’s lone true freshman. And yet Trice has been an efficient and capable third guard off the bench, including some outstanding shooting from deep so far (18-of-30 3FG). He has basically stolen the minutes that were going to Jordan Hill last season, and if he continues to give the Badgers another backcourt option beyond Bronson Koenig and Zak Showalter, Wisconsin could make another run at the Final Four.

  • De’Ron Davis, Indiana: The third of three freshmen x-factors in this league, Davis has averaged 7.7 PPG in his last six games on 68.2 percent shooting from the floor. Thomas Bryant, Juwan Morgan and OG Anunoby are going to get most of Indiana’s frontcourt minutes, but he gives Tom Crean more options in his rotation as he grows comfortable in his backup role. He’s also a valuable insurance policy if any of the starters get into foul trouble.
  • Moritz Wagner, Michigan: Wagner started to emerge at the end of last season and he is arguably Michigan’s best offensive player right now. He has scored in double-figures in seven of his last eight games, showcasing a balanced ability to score from both the outside and in the paint. He also does a nice job on the offensive glass (9.1% OReb rate). If Wagner can continue to get good looks and convert them at a high rate, it frees up the Michigan shooters for open looks. Michigan could burst into the top three of the Big Ten if Wagner fulfills his promise.
  • Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State: A case could be made for almost anyone on the Ohio State roster as an x-factor, but Bates-Diop gives the Buckeyes another dimension when he’s right. His production has been somewhat limited from a lingering ankle issue, but the junior has averaged 11.7 PPG in his last three games and has shown some signs that he’s back. If he can consistently give the Buckeyes a double-figure scoring threat combined with another long athlete who can guard multiple positions, the Buckeyes should be able to win enough games to return to the NCAA Tournament.
  • Dererk Pardon, Northwestern: Pardon has missed the last six games with a hand injury and the Wildcats have gone 6-0 regardless. The silver lining of his injury is that it has allowed Gavin Skelly and Barret Benson to earn some quality minutes in his absence. For Northwestern to continue on its path to making that elusive first NCAA Tournament in school history, it will need all of its pieces in place during the rugged Big Ten. Pardon gives Northwestern one of the best rim-protectors and offensive rebounders in the league — he will be needed at 100 percent if the Wildcats want to finish in the top half of the standings.
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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