Big Ten’s top 25 players for 2017-18: 25-21

  • 07/31/2017 7:39 am in

With the official start of practice less than two months away, UMHoops and Inside the Hall have again partnered to bring you a preseason breakdown of the top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2017-2018 season.

Our selection process involved much deliberation to arrive at a list we hope will provide plenty of reaction and debate. The series will be broken into five parts and our first installment of players 25-21 is available below:

Also considered: Vic Law (Northwestern), Keita Bates-Diop (Ohio State), Charles Matthews (Michigan), Lamar Stevens (Penn State), Corey Sanders (Rutgers), Jordan Bohannon (Iowa).

25. (tie) De’Ron Davis, Indiana (6-foot-10, forward, sophomore)

The inclusion of Davis on this list is a bet on his potential and an increased role with Thomas Bryant moving on to the NBA. A former top-50 recruit from Colorado, Davis was unstoppable at times as a freshman, but struggled with his conditioning and foul trouble (seven fouls per 40 minutes). He’s already reshaped his body this offseason by shedding 21 pounds over the last 12 weeks. He’s also increased his vertical jump by over eight inches and trimmed his body fat by five percent. With no go-to scorer on the roster, look for new Indiana coach Archie Miller to make getting the ball to Davis a priority. As the only true post player on Indiana’s roster, he’ll have the opportunity to be a focal point on Miller’s first team in Bloomington.

25. (tie) Mike Watkins, Penn State (6-foot-9, forward, redshirt sophomore)

Watkins had a promising freshman season anchoring a Penn State defense that ranked sixth in the Big Ten in points per possession allowed. Watkins was the best shot blocker in the league other than Reggie Lynch (and the 8th best in the country) and he was solid on the glass on both offense and defense. His 59 percent two-point shooting was solid last season, but we’ll be watching whether he can develop into a more consistent low post scorer. Most of his offense came by finishing cuts and rolls to the basket, an important skillset to be sure, but he graded out in just the 46th percentile nationally in post-up scoring. With a young core that should continue to improve around him, Watkins has the potential to be one of the better big men in the league.

24. Jaaron Simmons, Michigan (6-foot-1, guard, graduate student)

Simmons joins Michigan as a graduate transfer from Ohio University where he averaged 15.9 points and 6.5 assists per game last season. He cracked the list despite some questionable efficiency numbers (99.7 ORtg, 22% turnover rate) because of the role that he’s likely to play in Michigan’s offense. The Wolverines have consistently been one of the best ball screen teams in the Big Ten and lose 80 percent of their ball screen production from last year’s roster with the graduation of Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin. Given the lack of other proven options, an experienced graduate transfer like Simmons, who played a similar role at Ohio should be the perfect option to step in. He’ll have to become more efficient while playing against tougher competition — a tough task — but Simmons will have every opportunity to succeed in Ann Arbor.

23. Carsen Edwards, Purdue (6-foot, guard, sophomore)

Edwards built off of his promising freshman campaign by making the USA U19 basketball squad. The 6-foot guard led the team in assists and averaged 10.4 points per game and had a productive time abroad despite Team USA’s disappointing loss to Canada in the FIBA U19 World Cup. Edwards still needs to cut down on the turnovers and improve his 2-point shooting (just 41 percent last season), but his ability to create his own offense should be valuable for Purdue this season. The Boilermakers won’t have the luxury of playing through Caleb Swanigan this year, but there are still enough talented pieces in place that Edwards could have a breakout year if he can be just a bit more efficient and consistent.

22. Tony Carr, Penn State (6-foot-5, guard, sophomore)

Although Carr has garnered some discussion as a potential as an All-Big Ten player elsewhere this summer, we’re not ready to go that far with the rising sophomore. As a freshman, Carr was fourth in the Big Ten in assist rate in league games and also tenth in free throw rate. Distributing and getting into the lane have been the focal point of Carr’s game going back to his days at Roman Catholic in Philadelphia, where he was a top 100, signature recruit for Pat Chambers and the Nittany Lion staff. The next step for Carr is to become more well-rounded offensively. As a freshman, he shot just 39.9 percent on 3s and 32 percent on 3s. For a Penn State program that needs to become more efficient offensively to win more games, improvement from Carr is pivotal and will go a long way in determining if he can outperform our expectations.

21. Reggie Lynch, Minnesota (6-foot-10, center, redshirt senior)

When Lynch is on the floor, he’s arguably the most devastating shot blocker in college basketball. Over his first three seasons (two at Illinois State and one at Minnesota), Lynch has ranked first, first and second nationally in block percentage. Last season as a redshirt junior in Minneapolis, he was named to the league’s All-Defensive team and was a key piece in the program’s turnaround. Offensively, he’s a role player, but he did rank in the top 15 in the league in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. Unlike last season, Lynch and Minnesota enter the 2017-18 season with expectations. And although he won’t be counted on for major offensive production, Lynch has room to grow as both a finisher (54.3 percent on 2s) and free throw shooter (63.9 percent).

Filed to:

  • Arch Puddington

    Won’t argue Davis at 25, but I will say this: getting to that level (or higher, hopefully) will require more than his staying in shape and out of foul trouble. With ongoing uncertainty at PG and only one player returning who shot better than 40% from 3PFG last year, DD could find himself the object of a lot of attention on both ends. Put it this way: if I was an opposing coach, I’d pound the ball into the post on every possession to test DD’s ability to defend without fouling (and/or getting tired), and I’d sag on him on defense until the guards made me pay for doing so. DG, CJ, and others are going to establish themselves as legitimate perimeter threats in order for DD to truly thrive.

  • adam

    green shot over 40% from deep. 24/55 with usage going up as the year went on.

  • Arch Puddington

    Yes, that is who I was referring to when I said we have only one player returning who shot more than 40%. Hopefully he is even better next year, but even if he is, we will need more than that to keep defenses honest.

  • adam

    doh, misread it originally.

  • Fifer39


  • Hoosier Hall

    I would consider Colin Hartman a returning 40% 3pt shooter. He is right at 40% for his career and shot nearly 48% his sophomore year. You are right though, we need to be respectable from outside to give Davis some breathing room. Newkirk was 38% last season and he should improve some.

  • Hoosier Hall

    Also, I forgot about Rob Johnson. He is close to 40% for his career. He really went cold the last several games of last season.

  • Arch Puddington

    Hartman is a good point. Because he will be guarded by bigger players, he will almost be more important than our guards for keeping DD freed up in the middle. If he can regain his best stroke, he could really help.

    As for Rob and Josh, they are both capable. As you say, Rob kind of fell apart at the end of the year, and not just his shooting. I am hopeful that CM’s approach will help Rob find himself.

    But with all that said, all our shooters have questions. Hartman is returning from injury, Rob and Josh both shot less than 40% for the year last year, and even DG’s efficiency is from a fairly limited sample. If all goes well, we could actually be a really good shooting team. But none of them are exactly proven at this point, and will have to show it on the court in order to keep the floor as spread as we’ll need for DD.

  • ScoopGeoff

    Not sure how high you could legitimately put DD on this list before the season starts, but I’d be willing to make a substantial bet that he’ll end up way higher when the season is over. Top 10…

  • Justin Beard

    Rob shot pretty well in the OSU game and the Iowa BTT game. And I think Josh’s shooting(shot selection mostly) improved just a little too late..

  • TomJameson

    Kind of agree with some of this, but not totally. It’s all about a perspective at this point, because nothing will be proven (or disproven) until they start playing. First though, I don’t think there’s any uncertainty for PG, it will be Josh. Others can play point, but JN is the only true point guard on the team. Yes, there’s Al, but I really don’t think he will be a factor until his sophomore/junior year.

    My pessimistic perspective says that all the shooters will be better with a shooter like Archie teaching them. I really do think that RJ will return to form, JN will continue the trend he ended last year on, DG & CH will continue to shoot well, and the surprise of the bunch will be Curtis Jones. He was known as a scorer, and I think this regime change is just he thing for him. He’ll be my surprise of the bunch.

    As far as the advice to the other coaches about DD … have to agree with you on that one. Hopefully there will be a few power forward types (CH, JM, and FM) that will give a lot of help down low.

  • I think you’re discounting the significance of Archie’s pack line defense. To the extent that he can get it implemented (hopefully it’s decent by the time the B1G rolls around), that would mitigate the lack of a strong rim protector.

  • Arch Puddington

    The uncertainty to which I was referring wasn’t about who would play PG, but about how well. As a team we averaged more TO’s (15) than assists (14) last year. JN was top individual on the team with 3. 2 assists per game, but all but offset them with 2.2 TO’s per game. Throw in an at-best mediocre offensive game — 9 ppg, and the lowest FG% of any regular on the team other than CJ — and that’s just not very good PG play. I’m not saying he can’t or won’t improve, but as of this moment what we will get from him or anyone else in that position is very much in question.

  • Arch Puddington

    I am at a bit of a loss. I didn’t say anything at all about rim protection or our defense more generally. My comments were about needing our guards to establish themselves as shooting and scoring threats in order to keep DD from being relentlessly double teamed. So while I share your hope that the new defensive scheme is an improvement over the old one, I’m just not sure how that relates to my post.

  • Sorry, wasn’t clear (dog was waiting for a walk). I was specifically referring to the idea of opposing coaches pounding the ball inside to test DD. That’s not quite so easy to do against the pack line, even if you have a center who’s not the strongest post defender all by himself.

  • Yes, this bit “Hopefully there will be a few power forward types … that will give a lot of help down low” is what I was referring to in my response to Arch above. (I know we’ve talked about this ad nauseam in the premium forum). This is the entire concept of the pack line defense — it’s all about keeping the ball out of the post in the first place and having guys available to help in the post when the ball does get in there. It’s less prone to fouling for that reason — everyone’s already in good help position so you don’t have guys fouling because they’re trying to recover. If I’m not mistaken, A LOT of DD’s fouls last season were him being out of position and rushing back to defend inside. I’m pretty convinced that of all our players, CH and JM will be two of the first to pick up the defense and execute it, and so I think DD will benefit from it.

  • Oh, and, I wasn’t discounting your point about the need for good outside shooting. I just don’t think it’s _quite_ so important under Archie as it was under Crean.

  • Arch Puddington

    Got it.

  • Hoosier Hall

    If Indiana finishes in the top 5 or 6 in the conference and makes the tournament then it will be because DD and RJ were 2 of the top 15 players in the B10. I think it’s not unreasonable to think Colin or Juwan might slip into the top 25 too.

  • Outoftheloop

    I see your points, but I am very confident that Rob, Devonte, Curtis and Josh can and will hit 40%+ on 3’s. Then add in Collin and IU should have 5 good shooters to space the floor. Juwan can shoot the 3-ball, but more importantly I look for him to score 15+ pts and have 8+ rebounds/game. We shall see.

  • dwdkc

    I agree with this. I fear that perimeter shooting, after how we’ve been spoiled going back the last 3 years, will be back to no better than average. All of those guys are capable of shooting at 40%, but doing it when you don’t have a premier threat (like JBJ last year, and multiple threats the previous years) getting outsized attention, will make things tougher on everyone else. The offense will have to be good at playing inside-out, reduce turnovers, and see someone surprise to the upside (CuJo? Juwan?) to really be what we would call good. I do expect defense to be much stronger however, so I still think we can make some noise in a weak Big 10.

  • Geoff_85

    Great Geoffs think alike.