Together with our friends from Indiana Daily Student, The Herald-Times and Inside Indiana, we’ve come together to vote on the top 25 players from the Big Ten. Six voters ranked the top 25 and the results of our exercise are below. (Each player got a point value of 25-to-1 with the No. 1 player getting 25 points and the No. 25 player receiving one point):
1. Draymond Green, MSU (150): The consensus No. 1 player across all ballots, Green boasts what Tom Izzo calls the nation’s most versatile game. And his coach may have a point. With an improved perimeter game and added explosiveness, the powerful forward dominated the conference in his farewell campaign.
2. Jared Sullinger, OSU (144): Sullinger actually saw his numbers drop year-over-year, but he’s still the most dominant post player in the Big Ten. His strength and ability to finish through contact is unmatched by his peers and his competitiveness was on full display when the Buckeyes spoiled Michigan State’s outright league title last Sunday.
3. Cody Zeller, IU (134): Zeller not only lived up the tremendous expectations bestowed upon him by fans and media alike, he exceeded them. Zeller led the Big Ten in effective field goal percentage, was third in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and was the catalyst for Indiana’s turnaround this season.
4. Robbie Hummel, PU (126): The fifth-year senior carried the Boilermakers down the stretch and put up 16.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game without much interior help. But more importantly, Hummel returned from two devastating knee injuries and will finish his career with a NCAA Tournament berth.
5. Trey Burke, UM (120): The departure of Darius Morris to the NBA left many wondering how the Wolverines would compete for a league championship following the loss of their star. Burke not only filled the void left by Morris, he was the best point guard in the Big Ten as a freshman.
Jared Sullinger might have won the statistical battle with Cody Zeller on Saturday night in Assembly Hall, but it was Indiana who walked off Branch McCracken Court with a 74-70 victory over Ohio State.
Sullinger, the heavy preseason favorite to win the Big Ten Player of the Year, finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, but was limited in the first half with two fouls.
And a big part of that foul trouble was the presence and craftiness of Zeller, who bounced back from what he called a “bad game” on Wednesday at Michigan State.
“He’s a good basketball player. Very creative around the rim. He’s strong,” Sullinger said of IU’s prized freshman. “A lot of freshmen don’t come in strong and ready to play in Big Ten basketball. It’s a very physical conference as you can see today. There was a lot of banging, a lot of physicality down low and even on the perimeter.”
Zeller finished with 14 points and four rebounds before fouling out with 2:24 remaining.
“Give him all of his respect. He played one hell of a game,” Sullinger added.
CROWD A FACTOR SANS STUDENTS
The decibel levels didn’t measure up to IU’s 73-72 thriller over No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 10, but the home court advantage of Assembly Hall was still fully in tact.
“They were responsible not only for some baskets, but also for some stops. The building was electric,” Tom Crean said. “The Hoosier Nation is so incredible. To have that kind of energy in the building without the student here obviously due to break was awesome.”
The atmosphere was a factor in the eyes of Sullinger, too, who compared it favorably to “Phog” Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence, Ks.
“It had the same effect as Kansas,” the Ohio State sophomore said. “Even though I was sitting on the sideline. You walk off the floor, they hang a L on you and your ears are ringing because the fans are so loud. Hoosier Nation was very loud today and they gave a very good home court advantage.”
Indiana shocked the nation when it pulled a 73-72 upset against then-No. 1 Kentucky on Dec. 10.
But not everyone was convinced the Hoosiers belonged amongst the country’s elite teams.
“He [Christian Watford] just hit a lucky shot,” Kentucky’s Doron Lamb said after the game.
The No. 15 Hoosiers’ 74-70 win against No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday night should eliminate the remaining doubters.
This team is for real.
“Give all the credit to Indiana,” said Ohio State star Jared Sullinger. “They played hard, and they got the 50-50 balls. They made us turn the ball over. Indiana played a great basketball game.”
Some of the shock factor is gone this time around because we’ve seen the Hoosiers do it before. But that doesn’t make this win any less impressive or significant.
The Hoosiers matched and sometimes exceeded the physicality of one of the nation’s most physical teams. They matched big Ohio State shots with bigger ones of their own. And they won a game in which they didn’t have Cody Zeller (fouled out) or Will Sheehey (left foot injury) down the stretch.
The win against Kentucky, by itself, could have been a fluke. Saturday’s night’s performance proves it wasn’t.
For the second (and most likely last) time this season, the Hoosiers will take Branch McCracken floor as underdogs on Saturday evening. Ohio State has overtaken Michigan State as the Big Ten’s top program with four regular season titles and three conference tournament titles over the past six seasons. The Buckeyes are once again the heavy favorite to win the Big Ten thanks to Jared Sullinger’s decision to return to Columbus for his sophomore season.
MEET THE BUCKEYES
Ohio State comes to Bloomington sporting a 13-1 mark and their lone blemish came at Kansas on Dec. 10 without Sullinger in the lineup. Sullinger (16.3 ppg, 9.6 rpg), who is now healthy, is once again the centerpiece of Thad Matta’s team and his ability to dominate a game in the paint is unmatched in the conference. He currently ranks as the nation’s top defensive rebounder (34.4 DR%) and sits in the top 60 in fouls drawn per 40 minutes (6.7).
Perhaps equally as dangerous, at least offensively, are senior William Buford (16.6 ppg, 41.4% from 3) and sophomore Deshaun Thomas (15.9 ppg). Buford is coming off his best game of the season — 28 points in a 87-54 win over Northwestern on Wednesday — and is a guy Indiana can’t afford to lose on the perimeter. Even if he’s not hitting from behind the 3-point line, Buford’s midrange game is already NBA-ready.
Thomas’ role has increased significantly as a sophomore and thanks to efficiency from inside the 3-point line (62.5 percent on 2s), he finds himself as one of three Buckeyes scoring over 15 points per game. Given his size and athleticism, Matta would probably like to see more effort on the glass from Thomas. His defensive rebounding percentage (8.7) is mediocre.
With the college basketball season inching closer, we’ll be taking a long look at the conference at large as well as Indiana’s roster over the next few weeks. Today, we begin our look at our preseason All-Big Ten team with Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger.
After the Buckeyes’ disappointing 62-60 Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky in last year’s NCAA Tournament, Jared Sullinger was tasked with a decision many felt was a no-brainer.
The choices? Bolt early for the top five of the 2011 NBA Draft or return for a second season and a chance to win a national championship. It’s not often that a player passes up that type of position in the draft, but in a NBA labor climate that was uneasy and headed for a lockout, Sullinger quickly announced his decision to return to Columbus.
His father, Satch, didn’t mention the pending NBA labor problems as a reason for Jared’s decision to return, but instead cited unfinished business at Ohio State in an interview with The New York Times. Not only was Sullinger’s return predicated on his desire to win a national championship, according to Satch, but it was also important for him to play more minutes at the four, which will become his position at the next level.
A quick peek at Sullinger’s advanced stats profile on Ken Pomeroy reveals just how productive and NBA ready he appeared to be as a freshman. Pomeroy compares Sullinger’s 2010 season with Tyler Hansbrough’s 2006 season, Greg Oden’s 2007 season, Blake Griffin’s 2008 season and Kevin Love’s 2008 season.
— There will be no protected rivalries in the scheduling for the new 12-team Big Ten, according to Scott Dochterman of TheGazette.com. We also learned that there will be seven double plays and four single plays in the new schedule. Two of IU’s double plays next season will be Michigan State and Penn State.
— Michigan State sophomore Garrick Sherman will transfer, which will free up a scholarship for the Spartans to continue their pursuit of Gary Harris or add a junior college recruit this year, writes The Only Colors.
In lieu of availability this weekend ahead of Indiana’s trip to Ohio State, we were all e-mailed a selection of thoughts from IU coach Tom Crean regarding his team’s tilt with the Buckeyes. Take a gander below to see what he said:
Indiana Head Coach Tom Crean on the Ohio State game
“First and foremost, this is another great opportunity for our players and coaches. We get to play on CBS on a Sunday afternoon against one of the top teams in the country.”
”We will have to play mistake-free and make the most of our opportunities on offense. We have to move the ball, make the extra pass and take the best shot possible each time down the floor.”
“Each game is an opportunity to find out something about yourself. When we have played with toughness and resolve we are a different basketball team, home or on the road. We have to play with trust and belief in one another and we have to play with a controlled confidence. As I said after the Purdue game, we played hard, but we didn’t always play smart.”
“Defensively, they have so many weapons that we are going to have to be active with our hands, move on the pass to disrupt what they want to do and contest every shot. We can’t allow them to be active on the offensive glass.”
On Ohio State
“Ohio State is a great example of a player-led team. Their seniors (Lighty, Diebler and Lauderdale) have done a great job of integrating their younger players.”
“I think everything starts with Diebler, because he’s as good a shooter as there is in the country and the ball continually finds him back because of the way he finds other people. They’re such a dominant team and they’re so good at so many positions that you just can’t let guys do things that they don’t normally do in games.”
“Last time against us, Buford got hot early with the three and it just created everything else for the rest of the team and we did not have an individual match-up for Jared Sullinger.”
“Ohio State is different because of how much talent they have and there are multi-dimensional. These guys can beat you from three, they can beat you from the pull-up game, they can beat you at the rim and you’ve got to get up and you’ve got to establish more will and grit and resolve to that.”