Conference Preview: Big Ten

Conference Preview: Big Ten

This article is part of our Conference Preview series.

There's no denying the Big Ten lost an abundance of talent at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, with 10 of the league's top-13 scorers either running out of eligibility or moving on to professional basketball. Heading into the upcoming year, there's a lot of uncertainty regarding who will step up and shine in the conference behind the likes of Cassius Winston and Lamar Stevens, who are both double-double threats on a nightly basis. This means plenty of opportunities for some of the younger players in the league to make an impact, something that isn't all that common for the Big Ten. In all likelihood, though, most of the fantasy production this year figures to once again come from returning players. 

After winning the Big Ten Player of the Year award last season, Winston will be poised to take home the Big Ten scoring title following the departure of Carsen Edwards, who racked up an eye-popping 23.0 PPG a season ago for the Boilermakers. While Winston should be taken in the first round of most leagues, other returners such as Ayo Dosunmu and Anthony Cowan will likely fall to the later rounds of nationwide formats. I'll also delve into a few of the top incoming freshmen, which includes D.J. Carton of Ohio State and Trayce Jackson-Davis of Indiana, both four-star recruits. 
 

Key Players

Center: Matt Haarms, C, Purdue

At 7-foot-3, 250 pounds, Haarms saw a huge uptick in playing time throughout his sophomore season, and his scoring

There's no denying the Big Ten lost an abundance of talent at the conclusion of the 2018-19 season, with 10 of the league's top-13 scorers either running out of eligibility or moving on to professional basketball. Heading into the upcoming year, there's a lot of uncertainty regarding who will step up and shine in the conference behind the likes of Cassius Winston and Lamar Stevens, who are both double-double threats on a nightly basis. This means plenty of opportunities for some of the younger players in the league to make an impact, something that isn't all that common for the Big Ten. In all likelihood, though, most of the fantasy production this year figures to once again come from returning players. 

After winning the Big Ten Player of the Year award last season, Winston will be poised to take home the Big Ten scoring title following the departure of Carsen Edwards, who racked up an eye-popping 23.0 PPG a season ago for the Boilermakers. While Winston should be taken in the first round of most leagues, other returners such as Ayo Dosunmu and Anthony Cowan will likely fall to the later rounds of nationwide formats. I'll also delve into a few of the top incoming freshmen, which includes D.J. Carton of Ohio State and Trayce Jackson-Davis of Indiana, both four-star recruits. 
 

Key Players

Center: Matt Haarms, C, Purdue

At 7-foot-3, 250 pounds, Haarms saw a huge uptick in playing time throughout his sophomore season, and his scoring production more than doubled as a result. After starting just two of the 37 games he appeared in during his freshman campaign, Haarms found his name in the starting lineup 24 times a year ago. Despite his enormous frame, Haarms registered only one double-double for the Boilermakers in 2018, but I see that changing now that he has two seasons of college ball under his belt. His scoring has already drastically improved, moving from 4.8 points in his freshman season to 9.4 points last year, and following the departure of Carsen Edwards, it would only make sense for Purdue to lean more heavily on the veteran big man. While I foresee improvement in both scoring and rebounding, Haarms has also had his way at the rim over the first two seasons of his career, averaging 2.1 blocks over 73 career contests. It's clear he doesn't need to do much more when it comes to swatting shots. The junior center certainly won't be selected in the first round of nation-wide fantasy leagues, but he could turn into one of the more dominant big men in the Big Ten, especially with the kind of turnover the conference is facing this year.  

Also Considered: Jon Teske, Michigan; Luka Garza, Iowa; Giorgi Bezhanishvili, Illinois; Mike Watkins, Penn State

Freshman: D.J. Carton, G, Ohio State

Carton is one of the top incoming recruits that the Big Ten has this season, and he checked in at No. 35 on ESPN's Class of 2019 rankings. Hailing from Bettendorf, Iowa, the four-star guard has a ton of raw talent and is expected to immediately slot into a key role for the Buckeyes behind C.J. Walker, who transferred from Florida State. It's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Carton could surpass Walker for the starting job at point guard, though Walker will have the advantage when it comes to college experience. Standing at 6-2 with a 6-6 wingspan, Carton was known in high school for his ever-improving athleticism and basketball IQ, though scouts have also been impressed by his shooting stroke, especially from range. He should have plenty of opportunities to make a name for himself this season for Ohio State, and he appears to have the right tools for the job. 

Also Considered: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana; Rocket Watts Jr., Michigan State

Scoring: Cassius Winston, G, Michigan State

It's no surprise to see Winston's name scattered throughout this article, as he can do damage in a number of categories. It's difficult to say whether the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year is better at distributing or scoring the basketball, but I'll focus on his scoring prowess in this section. While size isn't one of the senior guard's strengths, this hasn't stopped him from taking the conference by storm, finishing his junior campaign with 18.8 points to go along with 7.5 assists, three rebounds and one steal. His free-throw and three-point percentage noticeably fell going from his sophomore to junior seasons, but he managed to improve his overall scoring average by just over six points, an impressive feat. The other upside with Winston is that he is, by definition, an everyday player. The 6-1 guard failed to miss a single game last season despite battling injury during the end of the year, providing fantasy owners with constant production. Heading into his final season of collegiate action, expect Winston to push for a second straight conference player of the year award, and it'll all start in the scoring department. 

Also Considered: Ayo Dosunmu, F, Illinois; Kaleb Wesson, F, Ohio State; Anthony Cowan, G, Maryland; Joe Wieskamp, G Iowa; Trent Frazier, G, Illinois

Rebounding: Lamar Stevens, F, Penn State

Stevens is in a similar boat as Cassius Winston -- both are impressive all-around players who contribute across the board when it comes to fantasy. While Stevens has averaged 12-plus points in each of his first three seasons (including a career-high 19.9 ppg last year), his performance on the glass took a big step forward during his junior campaign. After sitting around 5.5-6.0 boards per contest through his first two years, the 6-8 forward hauled down 7.7 boards over 32 matchups in 2018-2019. He may have to battle for rebounds with Mike Watkins, who is a true center, but I expect Stevens to put up another impressive year on the boards as well as in the scoring column.

Also Considered: Mike Watkins, C, Penn State; Daniel Oturu, Minnesota; Nojel Eastern, F, Purdue

Assists: Zavier Simpson, G, Michigan

Simpson finished the 2018-2019 campaign with 6.6 assists per contest over games, good enough for second in the Big Ten behind Cassius Winston. This was a big step forward in the passing game for the 6-0 guard, who dished out 3.7 dimes during his sophomore campaign. Despite a new head coach in Juwan Howard, I'm expecting Simpson to improve yet again in his final year of college ball. The Wolverines did lose a stud in Ignas Brazdeikis to the NBA after just one season, but Simpson will be able to lean on Isaiah Livers and Jon Teske for offensive production. The departure of Brazdeikis also means there will be opportunities for Simpson to improve his scoring output. He put up 8.8 ppg a year ago.  

Also Considered: Anthony Cowan, G, Maryland; Geo Baker, G, Rutgers; Connor McCaffery, G, Iowa
 

Sleepers

D'Mitrik Trice, G, Wisconsin

With Ethan Happ no longer around to lead the Badgers to victory, a good chunk of the weight will fall on Brad Davison and Trice, who averaged a career-best 11.6 points over 34 games last season. Trice also dished out 2.6 assists while knocking down 2.2 treys per game, proving that he can provide value in a number of different categories. The 6-0 guard has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his college career, and I believe this is the year he'll finally put it all together (although he didn't necessarily put together a poor 2018-19 campaign, either). 

Joe Wieskamp, F, Iowa

Wieskamp pieced together a stellar freshman season, putting up 11.1 points to go along with 4.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists over 35 starts. After testing the NBA Draft waters, the 6-6 guard unsurprisingly elected to return for his sophomore campaign, a decision he's unlikely to regret. Wieskamp is dangerous from all over the court, as he possesses the ability to score inside, though he also showcased an impressive three-point stroke a season ago (42 percent from three). It's reasonable to expect improvement out of the young guard during the 2019-20 season. 

Giorgi Bezhanishvili, C, Illinois

Illinois finished near the bottom of the Big Ten at 7-13 against conference opponents last year, but Bezhanishvili certainly did his part to keep this team competitive, registering 12.5 points and 5.2 rebounds in his freshman season. While this may not be much of a sleeper pick considering the amount of success the 6-9 big man has already had, Bezhanishvili could evolve into one of the top inside scorers in the Big Ten during his sophomore campaign. There's plenty of returning talent for the Fighting Illini, with three of their five starters averaging in double figures a year ago (Trent Frazier, Andres Feliz and Bezhanishvili). 

Also Considered: Aaron Wiggins, F, Maryland; Jalen Smith, C/F, Maryland; A.J. Turner, F, Northwestern; Gabe Kalscheur, G, Minnesota; Mike Watkins, C, Penn State; Nojel Eastern, G, Purdue; Akwasi Yeboah, F, Rutgers; Kobe King, F, Wisconsin
 

Top-10*

  1. Cassius Winston, Michigan State
  2. Lamar Stevens, Penn State
  3. Anthony Cowan, Maryland
  4. Kaleb Wesson, Ohio State
  5. Haanif Cheatham, Nebraska
  6. Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
  7. Trent Frazier, Illinois
  8. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
  9. Luka Garza, Iowa
  10. D'Mitrik Trice, Wisconsin

*Note: These rankings are at the discretion of the article author, and may not necessarily correspond with Rotowire's official 2019-20 player rankings.

Want to Read More?
Subscribe to RotoWire to see the full article.

We reserve some of our best content for our paid subscribers. Plus, if you choose to subscribe you can discuss this article with the author and the rest of the RotoWire community.

Get Instant Access To This Article Get Access To This Article
RotoWire Community
Join Our Subscriber-Only College Basketball Chat
Chat with our writers and other RotoWire College Basketball fans for all the pre-game info and in-game banter.
Join The Discussion
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Zack Osell
Zack began at RotoWire in 2017, covering breaking news across a variety of sports. He has since focused on NBA DFS. Zack, who hails from the Milwaukee area, recently became the proud owner of a 1996 authentic Reggie White jersey, although it's yet to bring the Green and Gold much luck.
College Basketball Best Bets: Picks, Odds & Predictions for Thursday, Dec. 1
College Basketball Best Bets: Picks, Odds & Predictions for Thursday, Dec. 1
DFS College Basketball: Thursday Preview & Picks
DFS College Basketball: Thursday Preview & Picks
College Hoops Barometer: Risers & Fallers
College Hoops Barometer: Risers & Fallers
DFS College Basketball: Wednesday Preview & Picks
DFS College Basketball: Wednesday Preview & Picks