Breaking into the Rotation: Surprise Big Ten Contributors

Posted by Jim Root on January 16th, 2017

My colleague Brendan Brody recently wrote about three of the biggest surprises and disappointments in the Big Ten this season, and I wanted to piggyback his idea by analyzing Big Ten rotations. As much as we think we know about a team’s lineup in the preseason, unsung players will inevitably force their way into playing time. While the four players below may not yet be household names in Big Ten circles, they’ve significantly exceeded expectations this year and their futures seem very bright.

DJ Wilson Has Caused a Stir With His Game and Fashion Sense (credit: MLive)

  • DJ Wilson, Sophomore, F, Michigan – The best and most exhaustive college basketball preseason preview comes from Blue Ribbon, and because of how deeply they dive into each team, it’s a great way to identify “out of nowhere” players. To that point, Michigan’s Wilson was the very last player discussed in the Wolverines’ section, barely registering a courtesy mention. Instead, he’s used a combination of long arms and short shorts to become one of John Beileins’s most important players this season – he leads the Wolverines in offensive rating (19th nationally); he’s easily their best rebounder; and he’s even hitting 44 percent from the land of plenty. He’s the captain of (and the inspiration for) this year’s team.
  • Cordell Pemsl, Freshman, F/C, Iowa – Continuing to use Blue Ribbon as a tool for this exercise, we come upon another disregarded forward in Iowa City. Like Wilson, Pemsl was also the 11th player mentioned in the Iowa preview, and although the Hawkeyes’ roster was more uncertain in the preseason, it’s still impressive how important the freshman has been thus far. After bouncing back from a twice-torn meniscus (and an intentionally broken leg) in high school, he’s now averaging over 10 points and nearly five rebounds per game while shooting an absurd 65 percent from two-point range. He’s also shown a nice penchant for getting to the free throw line and blocking shots early in his career. He, along with fellow freshman Tyler Cook, will make Iowa’s frontcourt a force to be reckoned with for the next three-plus years.

  • D’Mitrik Trice, Freshman, PG, Wisconsin – It’s been said a million times, but Wisconsin returned everyone of importance (over 99 percent of its scoring and minutes) from a team that made last year’s Sweet Sixteen. So how would a lowly-recruited, diminutive three-star point guard break into that rotation? Trice, the younger brother of former Michigan State guard Travis Trice, has leapt over last year’s reserves and become the Badgers’ pivotal sixth man. He’s picked up the Wisconsin defensive scheme rather quickly, a key for anyone playing under head coach Greg Gard, and he’s shooting a blistering  54 percent from three-point range (seventh nationally). His presence has also allowed senior Bronson Koenig to play off the ball and focus on scoring, a huge plus for the Badgers.
  • Gavin Skelly, Junior, F, Northwestern – As part of Northwestern’s lauded 2015 recruiting class (see also: Bryant McIntosh, Vic Law and Scottie Lindsey), Skelly has been mostly overshadowed during his whole career in Evanston. With the losses of Alex Olah and Joey Van Zegeren in the frontcourt, however, Skelly has seized the opportunity as playing time opened. The junior is shooting 64 percent inside the arc, and most importantly, his block rate has shockingly skyrocketed to 8.7 percent, a top-50 figure nationally — translating to 1.8 blocks per game. He was expected to fill a rotation spot this season, but his newfound rim protection (only 4.3 percent last year) places him on this list. Skelly forms an intimidating rim protection duo along with long-armed sophomore Dererk Pardon, and the Wildcats’ excellent interior defense (opponents are shooting just 42.3 percent inside the arc, 18th-lowest in the nation, per KenPom), has the Purple Cats sitting pretty thus far.

Honorable Mention (just barely enough preseason love to disqualify them): Carsen Edwards, Purdue; Moritz Wagner, Michigan;Juwan Morgan, Indiana.

Jim Root (8 Posts)

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