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You’re Nuts: Which Big Ten sophomore will have the biggest impact this season?

The Big Ten lost a few one-and-done’s to the draft this summer, but a strong sophomore class returns, too.

Ohio State v Purdue Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

This week for the basketball version of You’re Nuts, Connor and Justin are talking about Big Ten sophomores.

Last week, we debated which Big Ten freshman would make the most impact on their respective teams this season. Connor argued Mackenzie Mgbako of Indiana, and Justin argued DeShawn Harris-Smith of Maryland.

The audience thought it would be someone else, and “Other” won the poll with 43 percent of the vote. Mgbako got 33 percent of the vote, and Harris-Smith got 24 percent of the vote.

Here are the updated standings. With “Other” winning this week, it remains tied.

After 113 weeks:

Connor- 48
Justin- 48
Other- 13

(There have been four ties)

And that leads us to this week’s topic.

Today’s Question: Which Big Ten sophomore will have the biggest impact this season?

Connor: Bruce Thornton

Ohio State v Purdue Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

I racked my brain thinking of the different Big Ten sophomores who could potentially have huge seasons this year, hoping to avoid picking one of the Ohio State sophomores. The fine folks who read our content at Land-Grant Holy Land are no strangers to Buckeye basketball and know the hype that’s accompanied the likes of Roddy Gayle, Felix Okpara, and Bruce Thornton. Because of that, I wanted to pick someone from a different team.

But I just couldn’t.

What Thornton did last season as a true freshman was remarkable. The baseline statistics don’t jump off the page — 10.6 points per game on 45.6% shooting, including 37.5% from three-point range. He averaged 2.6 assists to 1.3 turnovers per game. But to me, the biggest stat is his minutes per game — 30.5. That was the fourth-most among freshmen in the Big Ten last season, behind Jalen Hood-Schifino, Jett Howard, and Dug McDaniel. The first two of those — JHS and Howard — became first-round NBA draftees this summer.

When you dig a bit deeper, Thornton played at least 35 minutes 14 times last season — an insanely heavy workload for a freshman point guard. Chris Holtmann repeated several times last season that that’s not how he envisioned Thornton’s freshman year going, but there were times when he had no choice — either Thornton’s play mandated he remain on the floor, or the Buckeyes lacked a reliable second option.

He finished the season on a high note, scoring in double digits in 10 of Ohio State’s final 13 games, including a season-high 22 points against Michigan on Feb. 5, when he shot 10-13 from the floor overall and hit two of his three three-pointers.

Thornton did not allow the game to speed him up during his freshman season. He didn’t settle for long jumpers, as only 36.7% of his shots came from downtown last season. In fact, for as efficient as he was shooting, his only taking eight shots per game actually could be viewed as him being timid or passive.

With three of Ohio State’s top five scorers from a season ago now gone and another — Zed Key — recovering from shoulder surgery in the spring, Thornton very well might be option A for the Buckeyes early on this season and even beyond that. Brice Sensabaugh was such a ball-dominant player last season, and losing him will spread out shots to more players than what we saw last season.

Thornton, in his own right, will be one of Ohio State’s best shooters and shot-creators. He’ll be even more important this season, and I think we could see him elevate to All-Big Ten status by the time his sophomore year is complete.

Justin: Braden Smith

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament First Round-Purdue Vs Fairleigh Dickinson Joseph Maiorana-USA TODAY Sports

I would love to take any of the sophomores on the Buckeyes this season, but since Connor has Bruce Thornton, it doesn’t seem fun for me to take Roddy Gayle or Felix Okpara. So, I am going to take the fourth best option.

Purdue is coming into this season with incredibly lofty expectations. With 2022 National Player of the Year Zach Edey returning, in addition to basically the entire lineup that earned them the No. 1 seed last season, the Boilermakers will have a Final Four or bust mindset.

Braden Smith is going to be the second most important player on the team, behind Edey. As the starting point guard with now a full season of hoops under his belt.

Last season, Smith started in all 35 games for Purdue as the point guard, averaging 9.7 points per game, 4.4 assists per game, and 4.2 rebounds per game. He shot 38 percent from three-point range, 48 percent from two-point range, and 87 percent from the free-throw line.

Smith is coming into the same position that Thornton is when it comes to sophomores that played their full freshman season. They are in different situations teamwise, but as players, the similarities are obvious. Edey is important, but if Smith takes the next step as he should, Purdue can make a national title run this season.


Which sophomore will have the biggest impact in the Big Ten?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    Bruce Thornton (Connor)
    (20 votes)
  • 8%
    Braden Smith (Justin)
    (2 votes)
  • 4%
    Someone else
    (1 vote)
23 votes total Vote Now