BIG 10 Basketball: Forwards/Centers To Watch

The 2019-2020 college basketball season may have abruptly ended prior to March Madness, but it’s not too early to take a look at next season – we will be looking at a few of the top players in college basketball entering next season. Today, we’re checking out the top three returning forwards and centers in the Big 10. Incoming freshman recruits were not included in these rankings – these only cover players who have already played a collegiate season (or at least, most of one season). 

#3. Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana

Jackson-Davis may have soared under the radar on a mediocre Indiana team next year, but even if he can’t single-handedly lift the Hoosiers back to glory, the rising sophomore forward looks ready for big things next season. Jackson-Davis’s stats were relatively modest in his freshman campaign  – 13.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game – but he shot 57% from the field and put up some massive games in high-profile contests. After putting up solid numbers in a breezy start to Indiana’s non-conference slate, Jackson-Davis raised some eyebrows with a 15 point, 8 rebound performance against #17 Florida State. 25 points and 15 rebounds in an overtime victory over Nebraska, a double-double against #21 Iowa, and a 27-point, 16-rebound effort at Minnesota highlighted a few of his top performances in conference play. The Big 10 was one of the most wide-open conferences, so the Hoosiers have a chance to shoot back up into the mix for the top seeds, and expect Jackson-Davis to be leading the charge. 

#2. Trevion Williams, Purdue

After averaging 5.2 points per game in his freshman year, Williams upped his numbers to 11.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per contest. A 52% shooter, Williams has a clear weakness at the free throw line, but his game off the charity stripe has been on an upwards trajectory since he arrived at Purdue, and I feel like he’s ready to explode in his junior year. He showed hints at such an explosion in Big 10 play this past season, recording double-doubles in games against #13 Penn State, at Wisconsin, and versus Michigan. His true monster performance came in a brutal double-overtime loss at Michigan, where, in front of a hostile crowd in Ann Arbor, Williams posted 36 points and a whopping 20 rebounds. He’s showcased high ceiling and potential to this point, and that looks like it’s getting ready to come together, which is great news for the Purdue Boilermakers. 

#1. Luka Garza, Iowa

No chance it was going to be anyone else. This is, of course, assuming Garza comes back to the Hawkeyes for another season, which it seems likely he will do. He is currently not projected as a selection in most mock drafts, but the Iowa star was an absolute beast this past year, one of the consensus top-2 players in the country. Averaging a touch under 24 points and 10 rebounds per game, Garza scored 20+ points in his final sixteen contests of the year. Picking out his top games is to pick diamonds from piles of jewels. He put up 44 points on Michigan when they were ranked #4, 38 points against Indiana, and 34 points and 12 rebounds against a ranked Penn State squad. No contest here, Garza is the best returning player in the country, and clearly in the Big 10.

NBA Draft Feature: Luka Garza, Iowa

We’re kicking off our NBA Draft prospect series with Iowa center Luka Garza. Garza has declared for the draft while maintaining NCAA eligibility. Projected as the #1 returning player if he comes back to college, it’s very possible Garza doesn’t end up turning pro this season, but this feature will assume he does. 

Garza is definitely one of the most underrated players in this draft class, as he absolutely dominated the Big 10 this past season, putting up huge numbers on a Hawkeyes’ that lacked an additional standout talent. Despite constantly drawing the opposing teams’ top defender, and often facing double teams, Garza was unstoppable, particularly in the paint. 

Top Games

Garza started his year off with some decent, if not jaw-dropping, numbers, but he broke out in an early December contest against then #4 Michigan. Although Iowa lost the game, Garza dropped 44 points on a stiff Michigan defense, single-handedly keeping the Hawkeyes within striking distance despite the eventual loss.
A few other notable performances from Garza came in ranked wins over #19 Illinois, when he went 4-9 from three-point range and posted 25 points and 10 rebounds, and #16 Penn State, as Garza tortured the Nittany Lions to the tune of 25 points and 17 rebounds. His most impressive calling-card, however, is his consistency, as the Hawkeyes’ center scored at least twenty points in his final sixteen contests, carrying Iowa to a strong Big 10 performance. Despite his team’s struggles on the road – Iowa went 2-5 in true road games in that twenty-game stretch – Garza averaged just a touch under 25 points per game in those contests, actually higher than his season-average of 23.9 points a game. Garza is an absolute beast, and he was undoubtedly the star of a team that lacked elite talent. He repeatedly powered through top defenses, and he rarely had an off-night. 
Prospect Grade: 5.9

Projection

Despite his impressive collegiate credentials, Garza is currently ranked as the 14th ranked center in the draft class, and many rankings don’t have him even being selected in the two-round draft. Garza’s biggest knock, according to many, is his below average lateral movement, as he sometimes struggled to guard more athletic players. Despite this, Garza is a high-IQ basketball player, with decent playmaking ability, and great finishing ability. Garza could be a solid find at the back end of the second round, or even to sign after the draft, but the money will have to be worth it in order to convince Garza to give up a chance at leading Iowa to the Final Four in his senior season. The prediction below is assuming Garza goes pro, despite the real possibility he heads back to the Hawkeyes for one more ride.

Prediction: Undrafted, signs with New York Knicks
Garza would be an excellent complement for Allen Robinson in New York. Robinson excels defensively, but his offensive contributions are limited to alley-oops and put-back baskets. Garza’s playmaking ability would allow the Knicks to have a more offensive lineup on the floor, while Robinson could be a great defensive option and mentor as Garza adjusts to the pro game. 

March Impact Player Profile: Luka Garza, Iowa

Our third March Impact Player Profile belongs to Luka Garza, the junior center for the Iowa Hawkeyes. Garza has been a three-year contributor for the Hawkeyes, and he very nearly led Iowa to a Sweet 16 berth last year. Both Garza and his squad have looked much stronger this year, and they appear to be loading for a big surge in March. Garza has averaged 23 points per game and 10.4 rebounds, while shooting at an astonishing 54.6% clip from the field. While the shooting percentage is around the same as it has been his first two seasons, Garza’s points and rebounds per game have almost doubled since last year. 

Garza made a statement in the Big 10 opener. Having played solidly to open the year, Garza torched Michigan for 44 points on 77% shooting. Although Iowa lost 103-91, their star had officially arrived on the scene, and he has barely slowed down. Recording a dozen double-doubles, Garza has also scored at least 21 points in eight straight contests, and 11 of 13 since the 44-point game. Iowa is 10-3 in that stretch with four victories over ranked opponents. 

The biggest knock on Garza was his one-dimensional game, as he rarely shot the ball from distance. #19 Illinois tried to limit Garza in the paint, and the 6’11, 260-pound center responded by knocking down four three-pointers, a career-high. Overall he is now shooting 38% for triples on the year, forcing opponents to respect his ability to drill a shot or two, opening up more room for him inside. 

Garza takes 16 shots a game and, if he keeps up his scoring average, he could be a one-man wrecking ball for the Hawkeyes come March. Watch out for this man, as after nearly single-handedly lifting the Hawkeyes to the Sweet 16 last year, he is looking better, and ready to do it again.

Big 10 Status Report: Luka Garza Is Really Good, And Other News

Much like the ACC, I don’t believe the top of the power structure in the Big 10 has changed too much. Michigan State is still the odds-on favorite, and I still regard Maryland and Ohio State as their biggest challengers. However, beyond that? Identifying favorites is a complete nightmare, as results have varied greatly. Here’s a look at who is boosting their stock, and who is struggling in the conference.

Biggest Risers: Iowa, Rutgers, Penn State

  • Iowa has soared into the national picture courtesy of the potential Big 10 player of the year in Luka Garza. Garza continues to put up monster numbers and has essentially put the Hawkeyes on his back. After a disappointing loss to Nebraska 16 days ago, Iowa has won four straight, including wins over Rutgers and Maryland. This team has the skill and star power to make a little run in March.
  • Rutgers is one of the hottest teams in the country, even with their close loss to Iowa last night. They are propelled by their 13-0 record at home, and they are extremely close to making a breakthrough on the road, having lost several tight ones to ranked opponents away from home. They’ll need to improve in that area to push themselves into true Big 10 title contention, but the Scarlet Knights are surprisingly relevant in their conference right now.
  • After a tough start to Big 10 play, Penn State is starting to get hot. They put together an impressive performance to beat Ohio State at home. The Buckeyes had beaten the Nittany Lions by 30 points earlier in the year. They then went to Ann Arbor and took down a solid Michigan squad, 72-63. After their slow start in conference games largely negated their impressive 10-1 non-conference record, the Nittany Lions are playing their way back into the Big 10 conversation.

Biggest Fallers: Purdue, Michigan

  • Last week, I was praising Purdue for their ability to win at home. After a 71-42 throttling of Michigan State, they looked like a team that could stay relevant due to their home-court advantage. However, they followed up easily their most impressive result of the year with a road loss to Maryland and then a 79-62 flop at home to Illinois. Maybe that was a blip on the radar in the big picture, but the tough loss did a lot to damage the perception of Purdue being extremely tough to beat in their own house.
  • Michigan has now lost three straight and four of five in Big 10 games, as the Wolverines seem unable to keep up with their conference foes. Last night’s home loss to Penn State was the most concerning, as the Wolverines looked extremely flat at times on their own court, outclassed by an unranked opponent. Michigan is hardly looking like a Big 10 contender, and they certainly don’t resemble the national contender they were heralded to be during the preseason.

Quick Hits

  • My current prediction is that 8 teams in the Big 10 make the NCAA Tournament field, but I could see that number fluctuating as the surprising results pour in. Currently I predict Michigan State, Maryland, Ohio State, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Penn State, and Rutgers to secure tournament berths.
  • I believe four Big 10 teams are still very much in the picture, and they have a lot to play for down the stretch: Indiana, Purdue, Michigan, Minnesota.
  • I’m declaring 2 teams officially dead in the Big 10 picture, and those teams are Northwestern and Nebraska, who have combined for a 3-13 mark in Big 10 play.

Biggest Upcoming Games

  • #17 Maryland @ Indiana
  • #11 Michigan State @ Minnesota
  • Wisonsin @ #19 Iowa