Recruiting is never easy, but identifying and luring — and then developing — an immediate-impact big man is a special kind of challenge. This season, though, the Big Ten is loaded with standouts in the post. Performances under the hoop will shape the league landscape as much as any year in recent memory. Who will have success? Who will struggle? It could be a case of the haves and have nots. My picks for the Big Ten’s five best big men:
A.J. Hammons, Purdue: The 7-footer returned to Purdue for his senior season and so far, Hammons has not disappointed despite being upstaged by his own teammate at times. He’s upped his scoring from 11.9 points per game to 14.4 and is pulling down 8.5 rebounds after averaging 6.6 per game last season. He had 24 points and seven rebounds in Tuesday’s 61-55 win over Wisconsin.
Thomas Bryant, Indiana: The freshman’s still growing, but his efficiency can’t be denied. Bryant, incredibly only the fourth-best scorer on the Big Ten’s top-scoring team, is hitting a blazing 72 percent of his shots from the field. His .763 percentage on two-point shots is second best in the nation.
Diamond Stone, Maryland: There is something to be said for a freshman being so productive — 11.2 points and 4.8 rebounds, to be exact — on a team with such great talent and the league’s preseason Player of the Year in Melo Trimble. Stone has been mostly steady for Maryland early and has shown a natural nose for rebounds, especially on the offensive end.
Deyonta Davis, Michigan State: There will be no guarantees under the basket this year for Michigan State opponents — Davis plays a huge role in the Spartans’ last line of defense with 1.3 blocks per game, which lands him in the top 10 nationally among freshmen, and he’s averaging 8.4 points and 5.5 rebounds while doing things like leading the team to an overtime victory over Oakland (Mich.) sans star Denzel Valentine last week.
Isaac Haas, Purdue: It might not seem fair that Purdue has two of the league’s top five big men (and perhaps a third, freshman Caleb Swanigan), but such is the case in West Lafayette. The 7-2, 297-pound sophomore has taken over the starting job, throwing down 11.8 points per game and drawing a nation’s best 9.2 fouls per 40 minutes heading into Tuesday’s games.