After taking a look at the five other major conferences in college basketball, we have finally reached the Big Ten. While the ACC and Big East grab all the headlines, the Big Ten has quietly seen several teams rise back to prominence. Minnesota, Illinois, and Michigan have all been back in the Top 25 at different points during this season, something we haven't been accustomed to seeing the past few years. Right now the Big Ten isn't overflowing with top NBA talent, but there are still some very intriguing prospects. Here's a look at the Big Ten's best:
Evan Turner - 6'7 Forward (Ohio State)
After the 2008 NBA draft Evan Turner had a lot of expectations placed on him for this season, and to say he's responded well would be an understatement. Turner has become a leader under Thad Matta, and more importantly someone that really has no limitations on the basketball floor. He's truly the kind of player that no matter what you ask him to do, he can do it. Turner leads the team in all three of the major categories, averaging 15 points, seven rebounds, and three assists a game.
While Turner plays a lot of forward for Thad Matta, it's very likely that he's moved over to the shooting guard position full time in the NBA. His versatility just makes him that much more valuable. What's most impressive about Turner's sophomore season is how much better he's shot the ball. Turner is shooting 49% from the floor, and an incredible 56% from beyond the arc. As his expectations have raised his shooting percentages have done the same, and you rarely see that.
Projection: Top ten.
Manny Harris - 6'5 Shooting Guard (Michigan)
Another one of the emerging sophomores in the Big Ten is Michigan's star Manny Harris. Harris showed us his freshman year that he could score the ball, but this year he's really shown the ability to help the Wolverines in other areas of the game. Harris leads the team in assists with four a game, and is also second in rebounding at seven per contest. His individual offense hasn't been slowed by his new found balance either as he's still scoring 17 points a game on 42% shooting, up from 38% last year.
After starting off conference on an absolute tear Harris has slowed down significantly his last two games, undergoing a shooting slump. As long as Harris doesn't let his shooting affect what he does in other areas of the game though he shouldn't see too much of a drop in his stock. Harris had a forgettable performance against Penn State, and although he didn't shoot much better Northwestern he made his impact felt on the boards while creating for others. As long as he continues to do that his stock will remain the same.
Projection: Mid-late 1st round.
Deshawn Sims - 6'8 Power Forward (Michigan)
One of the big keys behind the Michigan Wolverines resurgence has been the continued development of big man Deshawn Sims. Although the hope was that Sims would be able to have this kind of impact a lot earlier in his Wolverince career, it's hard to be disappointed with what the big man is bringing to the table now. Sims knew that shooting under 40% from the field his first two years was unacceptable for a big man with NBA aspirations and has done a great job this year of improving his shot selection. This year Sims is shooting 51% from the field and has cut back on his three-point attempts dramatically.
One of the reasons Sims has remained on the NBA radar after two disappointing seasons is his strong frame that is fit to handle even more strength that he currently has. Sims still has some limitations in how high his stock can go up because he's 6'8, but he's really done himself a lot of good this year.
Projection: Early 2nd round.
Robbie Hummel - 6'8 Forward (Purdue)
To say that Robbie Hummel is undergoing a "sophomore slump" would be far from accurate. As one of the leading scorers, rebounders, and assist men on the Boilermakers it's hard to think where they would be without him, although it's certainly somewhere outside of the top 25 and towards the bottom of the Big Ten. Hummel's versatility has once again been showcased this year, but as a tweener Hummel hasn't done much to erase the question marks about him at the next level.
Whether or not Hummel can hang with the ridiculous athletes that play small forward in the NBA is definitely questioned, and at 212 lbs it's a guarantee he cannot play in the low post with likes of Tim Duncan, Amare Stoudemire, and Pau Gasol. With so many teams valuing basketball IQ and ability over defensive ability though, there's a place in the league for Hummel. How big that place is for Hummel though is up to him and how well he can transition into being a full time perimeter player.
Projection: Late 1st, early 2nd.
Raymar Morgan - 6'8 Forward (Michigan State)
This season held a lot of promise for Michigan State's Raymar Morgan, and while he's had a solid season he has not shown the development that NBA scouts were hoping to see. At 6'8 225 lbs Morgan has the ideal size, strength, and athleticism for an NBA small forward. However, his natural abilities won't stand out in the NBA like they do at the college level.
Morgan's actual basketball skills prevent him from being a lottery pick. As a projected small forward in the NBA he's going to really need to work on improving his ball handling skills and jump shot. As of right now Morgan is not much of a threat shooting the ball, and his assists are outnumbered by his turnovers. Morgan's recent struggles caused by a viral infection aside, he's left NBA scouts yearning for more.
Projection: 2nd round.
B.J. Mullens - 7'0 Center (Ohio State)
Before the season started B.J. Mullens was expected to establish himself as the best center in college basketball and cement his status in the top three. Instead he struggled to get into Thad Matta's rotation and showed that he was not anywhere near as ready as many thought he was.
As of late Mullens' minutes have gone up, but it still evident that he needs more time. He's a very efficient player offensively, finishing at a very high rate and showcasing an expanding set of low-post moves. However, Mullens does not have the impact that he should have on the boards considering his incredible size and athleticism. Unless Mullens doesn't mind leaving while his stock is down he should stay in Columbus for at least one more year. After watching Greg Oden and Kosta Koufos bolt after a year the fan base and Thad Matta could live with Mullens needing more time than expected.