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Freshman talent could keep Big Ten fueled for a long time

Freshman standouts such as Michigan State’s Gary Harris are only getting better learning from successful older players. | Al Goldis~AP

Freshman standouts such as Michigan State’s Gary Harris are only getting better learning from successful older players. | Al Goldis~AP

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The Big Ten’s freshman stat leaders, and where they stand in the league overall (through Friday):


15 Gary Harris 13.2 ppg

20 Nik Stauskas 11.8

24 Glenn Robinson III 11.1

27 A.J. Hammons 10.9


9 A.J. Hammons 6.5

16 Mitch McGary 5.6

17 Glenn Robinson III 5.5


3 Yogi Ferrell 4.4

8 Ronnie Robinson 3.8

11 Anthony Clemmons 3.3

13 Mike Gesell 2.9


3 Nik Stauskas .458

4 Sam Dekker .448

5 Gary Harris .430

8 George Marshall .395

13 Kale Abrahamson .356


4 Nik Stauskas 2.3

9 Gary Harris 2.0


1 A.J. Hammons 2.0

13 Alex Olah 0.9


6 Yogi Ferrell 2.1

7 Anthony Clemmons 2.1

10 Ronnie Johnson 1.4

Updated: April 4, 2013 6:42AM

It’s difficult to argue with the experts, including Dick Vitale, who think the Big Ten is the best it has been in 20 years.

What’s equally impressive is that the bumper freshman crop this season gives the league a chance for continued success — and there might not be a one-and-done among them.

Michigan State point guard Gary Harris, the Sun-Times’ freshman of the year, and Michigan forward Glenn Robinson III, the runner-up, are the only players who might have a decision to make. And both would be better off in every way by staying in college.

Michigan sharpshooter Nik Stauskas, one of the league’s top three-point shooters; swingman Sam Dekker, who’s bringing much-needed offense to Wisconsin; and Purdue 7-footer A.J. Hammons, who leads the league in blocked shots, round out our all-freshman team.

Leaving out Indiana point guard Yogi Ferrell, who’s having an excellent debut, says a lot about how strong this freshman class is. So does the depth of the freshman classes at Purdue, Iowa and Northwestern, which seem poised to be more competitive soon.

The problem for teams trying to move up is that front-runners Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State and Wisconsin are blending in strong freshman classes with top-notch veterans.

That’s the key, said Tom Crean, who has guided Indiana to a 51-13 record the last two seasons after IU went 28-66 in his first three years.

‘‘You don’t get an old league like we have here if you don’t have a lot of young players to grow,’’ Crean said. ‘‘We learned that when we started here. We didn’t have the older players to teach the younger ones. Now we have that.’’

All-freshman or not, players such as Ferrell, Michigan State guard Denzel Valentine and Michigan big man Mitch McGary are examples of freshmen playing big roles on teams that could reach the Final Four without raising an eyebrow.

‘‘We have some key freshmen,’’ Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. ‘‘They’re not all one-and-done guys, but they’re all making serious contributions. When the league leaders all have freshmen making serious contributions, that speaks volumes for the present and the future.’’

Without balanced classes, though, there can be growing pains, as Purdue, in danger of its first losing Big Ten record since 2006, is learning. The Boilermakers have four freshmen among their top seven players, notably Hammons and point guard Ronnie Johnson.

‘‘We do have a very good crop of freshmen in the Big Ten, but you want to have some balance,’’ said coach Matt Painter, who’s trying to be patient. ‘‘You want to have some older guys, but you want to be playing some younger guys, so when you lose [the older guys], you have some experience. If we’re going to sustain being the top conference in the country, that’s what you’re going to have to have.’’

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