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You’re Nuts: Who is the best returning player in the Big Ten?

The conference as a whole might stink this year, but the B1G has a few guys returning who are going to absolutely light it up.

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Ohio State vs Purdue Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to “You’re Nuts”, a marvelous, witty, and ridiculous weekly article that our basketball writers Connor and Justin pair up each week for. Every Friday, they debate a hoops-related topic, with each person taking a separate stance and then doing their best to back it up, no matter how far-fetched it may be.

Last week, they debated which game was the best of now-former Buckeye guard Duane Washington Jr.’s career. Connor chose the Illinois game from this past season’s Big Ten Tournament (a loss), and Justin picked last season’s regular season loss to the eventual Big Ten champion Michigan Wolverines.

After falling into a mini-rut for a few weeks, Connor was able to pull out a victory, as 50% of the people who read and voted agreed with his Illinois choice. 45% sided with Justin, and 5% of readers chose “other.”

Connor now leads the Nuts World Series 5-2 over Justin, but there’s plenty of time for a comeback, as we will continue to write this nonsense every Friday until someone tells us to stop.

After 9 weeks

Connor- 5
Justin- 2

(Three weeks ago was a tie, another week the “third” option won)

With the July 7 deadline now having passed for all players to either return to school or stay in the draft, Connor and Justin are debating who the best returning B1G player is this week. The conference lost quite a bit of talent to the NBA Draft, but is returning several key contributors from last year. Which one is the cream of the crop? Our Buckethead boys break it down.

As always, if you agree with one of us, let us know in the comments below, or respond on Twitter! We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic in particular, or anything Ohio State-hoops related!

Today’s Question: Who is the best returning player in the Big Ten this season?


Connor’s pick: E.J. Liddell

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Barbara J. Perenic/Columbus Dispatch via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Alright, before you get on me about being a homer, I thought long and hard about this one. I followed the scientific method, crunched the numbers, watched hours of film, and have come to the conclusion that E.J. Liddell is in fact, the best returning player in the Big Ten this season.

Actually, what really happened is that I thought of four players and argued with myself for about five minutes, and then decided that yes, Liddell is in fact the king of the Big Ten castle this season. He’s a stat stuffer, he’s extremely versatile, and he’ll be in a position this year where he is the main scoring option on his team. Not every great player in the conference can say that.

Full transparency: my final two players I was trying to decided between were Liddell and Purdue’s Trevion Williams. Here are their stat lines from last season, for reference. I included the stats that I think are more important and probably prove my point, because well, I make the rules in my article.

Williams: 15.5 PTS, 9.1 REB, 2.3 AST, 52.5% FG, 0% 3PT, 13 FGA per game, 25.1 MIN/game, 50% FT. 0.6 BLK
Liddell: 16.2 PTS, 6.7 REB, 1.8 AST, 47.4% FG, 33.8% 3PT, 11.5 FGA per game, 29.4 MIN/game, 74.6% FT, 1.1 BLK

So as you can see, Liddell scored more than Williams per game on fewer shot attempts and in more ways than his Purdue counterpart. Williams didn’t hit any three-pointers last season because he simply does not take them. He took three shots from beyond the arc last year and missed all three. Liddell, on the other hand, took 80 shots from beyond the arc, and knocked down 27 of them. I expect him to be more efficient from distance this season, but not necessarily take a bunch more of those shots. That’s not his bread and butter.

The main thing that sets Liddell apart from the other elite players in the conference is the variation in his game and how he can score the basketball at all three levels. At close to 250 pounds, he will absolutely bang on some guys down low, and he’s a tank to take on in the paint. But he’s also improved his mid-range and three-point shot, forcing opposing bigs to step out and guard him away from the basket. That is something that Williams, Hunter Dickinson, and Trayce Jackson-Davis really cannot do.

Liddell is also an acceptable free throw shooter, which most big men in the conference are not. I consider 75% to be the benchmark for being an “good” free throw shooter. While he doesn’t quite get there, 74.6% is pretty darn close. Dickinson (73.9%) is also pretty close, but neither TJD or Williams are even within 10% of that mark. That means that teams can’t just hack Liddell in the paint and expect to get bailed out with missed free throws. Teams actually have to defend him, cleanly — and that’s proven tough to do.

Dickinson operates much in the same way, except he does not shoot threes at all, and you’ll rarely see him move out to the elbow to keep teams honest. Liddell is one of the few who can.

Finally, Liddell scored over 16 points per game last season with Duane Washington Jr. also on the team — taking nearly 14 shots per game. As we all know, Washington has moved on, so Liddell won’t be option two or option “1b” anymore. He is option 1, the main squeeze, the big Lebowski, whatever you want to call it. I expect he’ll get more shots up this season, and I think his jumper is going to improve. All around, Liddell is just the most versatile and talented player of those guys who are returning this year.

I wholeheartedly think this, and am certainly not biased in any way for being both a fan and alum.


Justin’s pick: Trayce Jackson-Davis

NCAA Basketball: Big Ten Conference Tournament-Rutgers vs Indiana Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Time for the bounce back. Boomerang.

When it comes to returning players in the Big Ten, there are a pretty set handful to choose from. For me though, I am going to go with potential. For that, it is Indiana’s Trayce Jackson-Davis.

Jackson-Davis was pretty much the lone bright spot for the Hoosiers in a season that was a wash last year. From the moment he stepped on campus in Bloomington, he made an immediate impact; Jackson-Davis came out of high school as the No. 26 recruit in the country in 2019.

As a freshman, he averaged 13.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game while starting all 32 contests and averaging almost 30 minutes each time out. Jackson-Davis ranked second in the league in field goal percentage (56.6%) and was seventh in the league in rebounding and blocked shots. He was named to the All-Big Ten freshman team and was named Third Team All-Big Ten.

As a sophomore, he made a huge jump, averaging 19.1 points 9.1 rebounds and 1.4 blocked shots per game. As good as the Big Ten big man play was last season as a whole, Jackson-Davis was as good as any of them.

He was named a First Team All-Big Ten member and Third Team All-American. He was also a Wooden Award and Karl Malone Award finalist.

Most people assumed Jackson-Davis would be heading to the draft after his stellar sophomore season and especially with a new coach coming in, but he almost immediately decided to return to Bloomington for his junior season.

In fact, it is the new coach Mike Woodson that helped convince him to stay. Jackson-Davis stated that learning from an NBA coach was a “no-brainer” and loved what Woodson had to say after his parents convinced him to give Woodson a chance.

With most of the top bigs leaving the conference after the past season (Assuming Kofi Cockburn is leaving the conference and heading to another), Jackson-Davis will have all the chances in the world to further stamp his case as one of the top overall players in the country.

He will have some help this season, with Northwestern’s Miller Kopp transferring to Indiana and officially taking his name out of the NBA draft this week, so teams will not be able to lock in on Jackson-Davis on defense; not like that was making a difference anyway. Ohio State In particular will have some trouble guarding him, but that is where his former teammate Joey Brunk will enter the equation, as he knows Jackson-Davis better than most.

At the end of the day, Jackson-Davis is one of the most dynamic players in the country. Expect 24-and-10 on average from the big man.

Like Connor, my honorable mention pick was Trevion Williams as well. I ultimately went with Jackson-Davis due to consistency and simply, Indiana is much worse than Purdue, so Jackson-Davis will have way more opportunities to light it up.


Poll

Who is the best returning player in the Big Ten?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    E.J. Liddell (Connor)
    (37 votes)
  • 18%
    Trayce Jackson-Davis (Justin)
    (17 votes)
  • 41%
    Other
    (38 votes)
92 votes total Vote Now