Keeping with our theme of talking about certain classes in the Big Ten, we are now on the juniors in the Big Ten.
Last week, we discussed which Big Ten sophomore will have the biggest impact on his team this season. Connor talked about Ohio State’s Bruce Thornton, and Justin talked about Purdue’s Braden Smith.
After the votes were tallied, Connor and Thornton won with 87 percent of the vote. Was he pandering to a certain fanbase? We may never know.
Here are the updated standings:
After 114 weeks:
(There have been four ties)
And here is this week’s discussion.
Today’s Question: Which Big Ten junior will have the biggest impact this season?
Connor: Julian Reese
Juniors playing college basketball are an interesting group. They’ve played two years and weren’t quite good enough to get drafted, so they’ve returned for a third (and most likely fourth) year of college. But unlike the senior class above them, the junior class hasn’t necessarily scratched the surface of their potential. There’s still plenty of room for growth, improvement, and even a few breakout candidates. But the fact remains that the players with the most raw talent leave after one or two years and head to the league. This leaves a group of grindy, gritty juniors who are most likely destined for a full four years of college basketball, followed by a career overseas or in something other than basketball.
There’s an interesting batch of juniors in the Big Ten, but the one who I think could wind up having the biggest year is Maryland center Julian Reese. The younger brother of Angel Reese, who won the national championship at LSU this year on the women’s side, Julian was still a bit raw last season but was uber-efficient for Kevin Willard’s first team at Maryland. The Terrapins won 22 games, got as high as 13 in the AP Poll, and made the NCAA Tournament as well — and Reese was a big reason why.
The 6-foot-9, 230-pound center from Baltimore averaged 11.4 points per game and pulled down 7.2 rebounds per contest. He played just under 27 minutes per game and also averaged 3.3 fouls per game in those 27 minutes. The kicker with Reese is his efficiency — he shot 63.2% from the floor last year, which was the third-highest in the Big Ten, even higher than Zach Edey.
As Reese learns to play without fouling and earns more minutes, I think that both his point and rebound totals will increase this year. And unlike some of the other incoming juniors in the Big Ten, I think Reese could be the leading scorer/go-to guy on his team this year. I expect the Terrapins to be in the top third of the Big Ten this season. The Terrapins were No. 36 nationally in offensive efficiency last season, but were 10th in the Big Ten in field goal percentage, at 44.8%. Perhaps if Maryland gives more shots to Reese and his 63% shooting percentage and fewer to Jahmir Young (41.5%) and Donta Scott (39.1%), Maryland will improve their offensive efficiency.
Simply put, if the Maryland Terrapins want to take a step forward this year, it means more of a featured role for Reese. And if that happens, he’ll certainly be the best junior in the Big Ten this season.
Justin: Payton Sandfort
I am going a little out of the box with this one, but to people who have paid attention to the Big Ten know what Sandfort is capable of. And on a now-depleted Iowa team, they may need Sandfort to be really, really good.
Sandfort was the Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year last season and really was able to find his stride throughout the conference season.
He averaged 10.3 points per game and 4.1 rebounds per game last season as a sophomore for the Hawkeyes. With Kris Murray, Connor McCaffery, and Filip Rebraca taking on the brunt of the scoring load, Sandfort was a nice spark off the bench and surprised some teams with his ability to score on multiple levels.
Now, along with Patrick McCaffery and Tony Perkins, Sandfort will be relied on to be one of the leading scorers for the Hawkeyes.
Iowa has a lot of new faces (including Payton’s younger brother, Pryce who is an incoming freshman), so Sandfort will have to be one of the familiar faces that Fran McCaffery and the coaching staff rely on.
The 6’7 forward can pose multiple challenges for defenses since he is a knockdown shooter and can put the ball on the floor and create for himself. He will have to do that this season as one of the focal points.
Which Big Ten junior will have the biggest impact this season?
This poll is closed
Julian Reese (Connor)
Payton Sandfort (Justin)