Fighting Illini
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Who are the Big Ten players we’re watching as the NCAA Tournament gets started?

With the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is set to tip off Thursday night, there are nine teams out of the 14 in the Big Ten conference looking to grab the national championship. On top of that, there are ten players in particular that are big time players to keep an eye on as the tournament unfolds.

Ayo Dosunmu, G, Illinois

The USA Today Player of the Year, the combination of Ayo Dosunmu and Kofi Cockburn could be the strongest 1-2 punch in the entire tournament. Standing at 6-6, the lengthy guard has fantastic reach and can guard the opposition’s point guard all the way to small forward. Along with Cockburn, Dosunmu has been an offensive juggernaut for the Fighting Illini, averaging 20.7 PPG while shooting 48.8% from the field.

The junior has an opportunity to cement his legacy as one of the best players to put on the orange and navy with a successful tournament on a personal level, but also leading the team to a national title.

Luka Garza, C, Iowa

One of the more obvious names in the Big Ten, Garza was dominant this season. Averaging 23.7 PPG and 8.8 RPG, the Hawkeye big man put together one of the more memorable seasons in Iowa history. For Garza, it is his opportunity to continue to help build his draft stock, as this is Garza’s final season in Iowa. With the Washington D.C native playing at such a high level, he could make Indianapolis his home for the next month or so.

Kofi Cockburn, C, Illinois

Luka Garza without the perimeter offense, Kofi Cockburn was the glue that held the Fighting Illini together this season. The true sophomore has compiled a great résumé of offensive and defensive numbers, all while shooting 65% from the charity stripe. With Illinois firing on all cylinders, Cockburn will need to be a force down the stretch as they should breeze draft Drexel.

The Big Ten is one of the more represented conferences in the tournament this season. When it comes to talent, they are arguably the deepest as well. These ten prospects should have the lights shining bright upon them throughout the rest of the season.

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E.J. Liddell, F, Ohio State

As the forward saw a rise in his minutes after his Freshman season, he also saw a jump in all of his statistics as well. He became more of a scorer, jumping from 6.7 to 16 PPG, while adding 13 more minutes to his slate. Ohio State is a team that does not have that true star that shines bright at the moment, however Liddell has the potential to become one.

Eli Brooks, G, Michigan

Juwan Howard and the Wolverines burst onto the scene this season with a 20-4 record nobody really expected. One of the more underrated players on that team is Eli Brooks. A “three and D” type player, Brooks shot an impressive 41.9% from behind the arch, and a whopping 94.4% from the charity stripe. Although the senior only averaged nine points per game, he has played key minutes throughout the season, and will continue to do so throughout March madness.

Donta Scott, F, Maryland

A 16-13 record landed Maryland a 10th seed in March Madness this season, with a faceoff against UConn looming. Although the Terps are a relatively small team, Donta Scott is looking at a much bigger role against UConn and potentially beyond. The sophomore pulled down six rebounds per game, while playing 12-17 feet out from the rim. He also has Obi Toppin type dunking ability, which could come in handy against a physically intimidating UConn squad.

Jacob Young, G, Rutgers

A team and institution whose athletics have struggled over the last few years, it is a refreshing site to see Rutgers back in the loop. Senior guard Jacob Young is a big part of the reason why they are in the position they are in. Young has shot 47% from the field, while averaging 14.4 PPG. A guard on the shorter side (6ft 2), he is able to keep a low center of gravity, making it hard to defend, similar to Curbelo at Illinois.

Nate Reuvers, F/C, Wisconsin

Reuvers stands a tall 6- 11, and will need to use every inch he has in order to keep Wisconsin in March Madness. The senior big man has not pulled down an absurd amount of rebounds this season, only averaging just north of three boards throughout the 2020-2021 campaign. With a match up with University of North Carolina looming, being a big presence in the paint will be severely important.

Andre Curbelo, PG, Illinois

The Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year has been a key part to Illinois success this past season, specifically in the Conference tournament final. In the overtime win over Ohio State last week, the Long Island Lutheran graduate scored 16 points in 36 minutes on the floor. Curbelo is an x-factor; if he is able to facilitate and spread the floor consistently, he could put the Fighting Illini on the fast track for the Final Four.

Aaron Henry, F, Michigan State

To say this season for Tom Izzo and the Michigan State Spartans was a bit of a let down for them is an understatement, however one of the bright spots was Aaron Henry. With 32 minutes a game on Henry’s slate, Izzo puts a lot of stock on Henry, but not necessarily as a scorer. He is a fantastic defender, averaging almost two takeaways a game. The Indianapolis native is returning home with a battle for the 11th seed against tough UCLA team, and Henry could be that guy to get a big stop Thursday night.

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