Big Ten’s Top 25 Players: 5-1

Dylan Burkhardt

With the official start of practice less than two months away, Inside the Hall and UM Hoops have again partnered to bring you a preseason breakdown of the top 25 players in the Big Ten for the 2015-2016 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 final installment of players 5-1 is available below: (Previously: 25-21, 20-16, 15-11, 10-6)

5. Denzel Valentine, Michigan State (6-foot-5, guard, senior)

33.2 mpg, 14.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.3 apg, .9 spg, 55.7 eFG percentage

Unlike last season when Frank Kaminsky was the clear cut No. 1 choice on our list, the truth is the top five this season had its share of debates. Valentine was terrific as a junior and was the leader on a team that ended its season with a loss in the Final Four to eventual national champion Duke. He finished the season ranked in the top 10 in the conference in both 3-point percentage and assist rate. He’s a multidimensional contributor that can take on a scoring role when needed, but is also a great distributor. With the graduation loss of Travis Trice, Valentine will now be the clear leader in a backcourt that also includes LouRawls Nairn, Eron Harris and Bryn Forbes. He’s easily the most versatile of that group. Tom Izzo will again count on Valentine to anchor the wing on a Spartan team that should compete for a top spot in the league standings.

4. Caris LeVert, Michigan (6-foot-6, wing, senior)

35.7 mpg, 14.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg. 3.5 apg, 1.9 spg, 47.8 eFG percentage

When Caris LeVert took the floor for Michigan last season, it was finally his turn. As a freshman, he played a supplemental role on Michigan’s 2013 Final Four team with Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Mitch McGary dominating the spotlight. As a sophomore, he was Robin to Nik Stauskas’ Batman. LeVert was great in both roles, but he never had a chance to be the focus of a Michigan offense.

He  sat out last summer after undergoing surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot and then never seemed to find consistent success in 2014-15. He played in just 18 games before re-injuring his foot and the Wolverines were just 11-7 when he was healthy. Despite the ups and downs, LeVert led Michigan in virtual every statistic — minutes, points, rebounds, assists and steals – while he was healthy. Back for his senior year, LeVert is still regarded as one of the Big Ten’s top pro prospects and he should benefit more than anyone from his teammates’ improvements while he was injured last season.

3. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana (6-foot, guard, senior)

34.9 mpg, 16.3 ppg, 4.9 apg, 3.2 rpg, .7 spg, 53.9 eFG percentage

A first team All-Big Ten selection last season by the coaches and the media, Ferrell deserves legitimate consideration in the preseason debate for the league’s top player. Like Troy Williams and James Blackmon Jr., he considered jumping to the NBA in the offseason before ultimately deciding to return for his fourth and final season. He carried Indiana offensively at times as a junior – while leading the conference in percentage of minutes played – and led the Hoosiers back to the NCAA tournament after the program missed the postseason altogether in 2013-2014. His effective field goal percentage and assist rates improved last season and his turnover rate went down, which is a major reason IU’s offense went from average in his sophomore year to elite last season. Now Ferrell will be tasked with leading a team that has significant expectations — perhaps even past the Sweet 16 for the first time in Tom Crean’s tenure in Bloomington.

2. Melo Trimble, Maryland (6-foot-2, guard, sophomore)

33.5 mpg, 16.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.0 apg, 53.4 eFG percentage

As the college game evolves, it’s becoming clear that one of the ultimate keys to success is an elite pick-and-roll player. The ball screen is everywhere these days and players like Trey Burke or D’Angelo Russell have demonstrated that it’s possible to completely dominate the college basketball world with the high ball screen. Melo Trimble was an elite ball screen player as a freshman and he should take the next step as a sophomore.

Only DJ Newbill and Terran Petteway scored more points (including passes) than Trimble in the ball screen game last year, according to Synergy Sports, meaning Trimble was actually more productive than players like Yogi Ferrell or D’Angelo Russell. Now with an extra year of experience, Trimble will be allowed to play with the conference’s best incoming big man in Diamond Stone. That luxury should be something equivalent to Trey Burke and Mitch McGary in the 2013 NCAA tournament and is one of the primary reasons why some publications have even picked Maryland as the country’s No. 1 team in the preseason.

1. Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin (6-foot-8, forward, junior)

33.0 mpg, 12.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.0 apg, .9 spg, 55.7 eFG percentage

Surprise? Maybe a little, but not as much when you dig into the numbers and just how much Hayes grew from his freshman to sophomore year. He’s the only player returning to the league this season from the KenPom All-Conference team last season. After not even attempting a 3-pointer as a freshman, Hayes made close to 40 percent as a sophomore (on 101 attempts). At 6-foot-8, he’s an incredibly difficult matchup because he can score inside, outside and is excellent at drawing fouls and converting from the line. The Badgers lost plenty from last season’s national runner-up team, but Hayes opted to return for Bo Ryan’s (maybe) final season. He enters his junior campaign as Wisconsin’s best player and he’ll no longer be a sidekick to Frank Kaminsky or Sam Dekker. Given the growth he exhibited last offseason, look for another leap to be taken by Hayes.

  • jkuofm27

    Tally of top 25 list per team in no particular order (except UM 1)
    Mich 18, 14, 4
    MSU 13, 5
    Wisc 23, 7, 1
    MD 20, 10, 8, 2
    Indi 24, 14, 9, 3
    Ill 22, 17
    Purd 25, 12, 6
    Neb 15
    Nor 21, 16
    Iowa 11
    OSU 19

    Rank Player Team Position Class
    25 Rapheal Davis Purdue F Sr
    24 Thomas Bryant Indiana F Fr
    23 Ethan Happ Wisconsin F RFR
    22 Kendrick Nunn Illinois G Jr
    21 Tre Demps Northwestern G Sr
    20 Rasheed Sulaimon Maryland W Sr
    19 Jae’Sean Tate OSU F So
    18 Derrick Walton UM G Jr
    17 Malcolm Hill Illinois W Jr
    16 Bryant McIntosh Northwestern G So
    15 Shavon Shields Nebraska W Sr
    14 Zak Irvin UM W Jr
    14 James Blackmon Jr Indiana G So
    13 Eron Harris MSU G Jr
    12 Caleb Swanigan Purdue F Fr
    11 Jarrod Uthoff Iowa F Sr
    10 Jake Layman Maryland F Jr
    9 Troy Williams Indiana F Jr
    8 Diamond Stone Maryland C Fr
    7 Bronson Koenig Wisconsin G Jr
    6 AJ Hammons Purdue C Sr
    5 Denzel Valentine MSU G Sr
    4 Caris Levert UM W Sr
    3 Yogi Ferrell Indiana G Sr
    2 Melo Trimble Maryland G So
    1 Nigel Hayes Wisconsin F Jr

    • JohnNavarreIsMyHero

      Makes sense to me. Michigan a top 4 team along with Maryland, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

  • Bluerev

    I enjoy this every year–having a decent idea where players rank in conference. But this year I am just as happy at the excellent depth which goes unaccounted for by top 25 lists.

    Based on 25 points for #1 player down to 1 point for the 25th:
    MD 64
    IU 54
    UW 47
    UM 42
    PU 35
    MSU 34

    It would be interesting to see the projected top 75 players as some teams like Michigan could have 8+ players listed. We don’t use our depth as much as some teams but even 15+ minutes from guys like Spike, and the non-starters of Dawkins/Chatman/Robinson and Doyle/Wilson/Donnal and we have positive quality and quantity even tho they don’t all make a top 25 team. I’d put 4-5 more wolverines in the 26-75 category.

    I love the star power–especially when you have 3 guys in that category, but stars go farther when backed by such quality role-players too. And JB’s offense allows role players to roll as much anyone I’ve seen.

    Thanks for the work and Go blue!

  • JVS

    Fully realizing that the point of this process is to stir some debate, this isn’t meant to be critical as much as it is meant to be another opinion…

    Nigel Hayes’s Kenpom numbers were great, b/c he was on a team that gave him great looks and had the benefit of two top 20 tough matchup guys spacing/drawing defenses regularly (see Demarre Carroll). You could liken it to Caris going into last year with the talent that left UM. I think Hayes is more of a question mark with high potential, than someone who sits in the #1 slot. Trimble did more with less, and at a younger age than Hayes did. The James Harden #1 is probably Yogi b/c he is so critical to how that team executes, Trimble probably the one who has shown the most at the earliest age (see Anthony Davis), but Caris at 4 seems conservative, to me anyway, unless you somehow see last year’s performance as undermining his ability to lead or his ultimate ceiling.

  • bobohle

    Got it right with Levert ahead of Valentine. However I would have Trimble #1 and Hayes #2.

  • section13row15

    Dylan, what are your thoughts on why Michigan was only 11-7 while Levert was healthy? He played well against NJIT but we still lost that one and we lost to EMU where nobody could score. Villanova was a good game and could have easily gone our way but didn’t. I like Levert but I thought he pressed last year and put too much on his shoulders. He took a lot of bad shots, didn’t want to get it to the bigs when he should have, etc. It will be interesting to see how he does in his final year where the guys around him have developed a bit more. I hope he doesn’t dominate the ball too much (he seems like a volume shooter to me). Great analysis of the top 25 though, hard to argue with any of them.

    • Mark Worthley

      young bigs

      • Champswest


      • bobohle

        You are right.

  • Champswest

    Like, duh.

    • Jvs

      At least what I’ve read… Hayes late teens, Caris 20-25, Trimble early 2nd rd, yogi late 2nd to undrafted, valentine no mentions.

      Other b1g of note at least w ford: stone 14, layman 35, Troy Williams 41,

  • three_goggles

    I think Trimble makes the jump this year and gets some NPOY votes…give me him over Nigel Hayes 10 times out of 10

  • Nick

    Ironic you chose a picture vs. SMU, he was AWFUL that game! I love Caris, but he has a lot to prove.

  • bacon141

    I wish Hayes was with Michigan. I’m from the Toledo area and watched him quite a bit in high school and I never really understood why Michigan didn’t recruit him heavily. He was very versatile in high school and thought he’d be a perfect fit for the 4 in Ann Arbor.

  • John

    It is too early to project Hayes at number 1. Way too early. Kaminski opened up so much for everybody. He did not show me enough to be top 5 right now, let alone 1.

  • UMTigersLionsWings

    Caris is by far the best player in the B1G. He might be the best player in the country this year.