It’s easy to sit here and write that players like Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky and Ohio State’s D’Angelo Russell will be key factors in how the Big Ten race shapes up once conference play begins this week. It’s a little harder to dig deeper and find several of the league’s non-superstars who will also have significant roles in the final determinations. Is it the freshman who starts to understand the speed of the game and plays much better with a few games under his belt? Or is it the underachieving senior who plays with an increased urgency now that his career is coming to a close? Here’s a look at several non-household Big Ten players who will be key cogs for their teams over the next couple of months.
- Bronson Koenig: The sophomore guard struggled in his first five games, only averaging 2.8 PPG on 33 percent shooting from the floor. Since then, he’s increased his output to 6.3 PPG on 40 percent shooting over seven games. The Badgers have not yet really replaced the three-point production of Ben Brust despite their 12-1 record, so Koenig will need to be a more consistent offensive option when he gets called upon.
- Aaron Cosby: Illinois has done a good job in being less reliant on Rayvonte Rice this season. His usage rate has only dropped only a bit (from 26.6 to 25.8 percent), but his minutes are reduced as well (27.8 MPG). The Illini’s offense is therefore more balanced, and it will be even better if Aaron Cosby can regain his shooting touch. In Illini wins, Cosby has made 36.5 percent of his shots from distance. In three losses, he’s made only 20.0 percent. He’s done a good job contributing in other ways — like when he grabbed seven rebounds in a win against Missouri — but Cosby is in Champaign to make jump shots. If he can get things rolling and shoot like he did when he was at Seton Hall for his first two seasons (nearly 40 percent from three), Illinois will be hard to stop.