It's easy to overlook Marshall Strickland on the Indiana team when you combine two very important factors: (1) in his previous three seasons at Indiana, he has not lived up to the expectations that were placed on him before he stepped foot on the court in Bloomington and (2) he is on the same team as Marco Killingsworth and DJ White.
Over the previous three seasons of his career, Strickland has had a field goal percentage of 38.9%, 35.9%, and 36.6%. Not too stellar shooting, but this year Strickland's shot has come around and his turnovers have decreased back to the level they were at in his freshman season. For good reason the pundits have focused on the exploits of Marco Killingsworth so far this season, but without Strickland, Indiana would not be where they are in the Big Ten race.
Against Ohio State Strickland did more than just get run over by Terence Dials, he also contributed 15 points on 4-for-7 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2 steals. In Indiana's two losses this season, Strickland has combined for 4-of-13 shooting and zero assists, showing that while Killingsworth gets all the praise, the Hoosiers might be even more dependent on the play of Strickland.
G: Je'Kel Foster, Ohio State
Je'Kel Foster? I will wait for everyone to ask themselves, "Who in the hell is this guy?" before continuing. Je'Kel Foster is in his senior year at Ohio State, but since he was a junior college transfer and Terence Dials is on the team, and he only averaged 7.7 points per game last season, no one had heard of this senior guard. So far this season, Je'Kel Foster has been one of the most efficient scorers, not just in the Big Ten, but in the nation. His true shooting percentage of 81.5% and his points per shot attempt of 1.63 are great for any player, but especially for a guard.
Foster has stepped up for the Buckeyes and is the leading scorer, while playing the most minutes for Thad Matta. When you look at his numbers, the other thing that sticks out is his ability to generate turnovers on the defensive end of the court, with his 2.5 steals per 35 minutes. Foster has been very consistent throughout the whole season as he has only not scored in double digits in two games, Virginia Tech and Penn State, and he only scored more than twenty points in two games, St. Joseph's and Iowa State.
The reason Foster is getting overlooked is a combination between the press focusing on Terence Dials and the collection of the guards in the Big Ten Conference. Despite having a season statistically as good as the cream of the crop in the Big Ten, Foster is not mentioned by any national press in the same breath as Dee Brown, Maurice Ager, Shannon Brown, Vincent Grier, Jeff Horner, and even Daniel Horton.
G/F: Robert Vaden, Indiana
It's another player from Indiana on the team, but that is for good reason. Do you ever think the Purdue coaching staff has bad dreams at night when they realize that Gene Keady had a commitment from Robert Vaden during his sophomore year of high school? Just putting him on that team would definitely make them a contender for at least seventh place in the league, instead of placing them in a competition with Penn State for the bottom of the league.
The sophomore guard / forward is the second leading scorer, and is leading the Hoosiers in both assists and steals. Yes, he turns the ball over too much right now, but he is a player with the ball in his hands a lot. The one thing that Vaden could do more is take the ball to the basket to get points on the foul line. This season, he has only taken fourteen free throws, and that number should be much higher for a player of Vaden's caliber.
Like Strickland, I think people are overlooking Vaden's play for the simple reason that his name is not Marco Killingsworth or DJ White.
F: Vedran Vukusic, Northwestern
VUKU! VUKU! It may be time for the battle cries of Vedran Vukusic fans all across the country and as far away as Split, Croatia to be heard. Vukusic was named the Big Ten Player of the Week for his performance in the first two games of the Big Ten season putting Northwestern into a lofty standing they rarely hold even at this point in the season, first place in the Big Ten Conference. In his first two conference games this season Vukusic has averaged a mere 22.5 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 2.0 steals against conference stalwarts Purdue and Minnesota, but these numbers are just routine for the man, the myth, and the legend that is Vukusic.
Even with every team knowing that there is really only one player that can beat you on the Northwestern roster, Vukusic is still putting up numbers that warrant mention on a national scale. Vukusic has made 72-straight starts dating back to his sophomore season in Evanston. Without Vukusic, Northwestern would be, well, Penn State or Purdue. But since they have the forward from Croatia on their roster the Wildcats have won five straight games, and will make it six straight with a win over Penn State on Wednesday night in Welsh-Ryan Arena.
If Vukusic was playing for a school named Gonzaga, St. Mary's, Nevada, or Bucknell he would be the darling of the national media, but instead he is playing for Northwestern, the perennial doormat of the Big Ten, and no one is paying him any attention. Hopefully things will change, but since I know they won't, I will continue to enjoy the wonders that are Vedran Vukusic with the few enlightened souls who understand.
Here is a random Vedran Vukusic fact that I don't think you knew: Achilles was supposedly the greatest warrior of all time, but he died because of his weak spot, the Achilles tendon. There is no Vedran Vukusic tendon.
F: Paul Davis, Michigan State
There has been no one this side of Kyle Galloway that I have made fun of in the Big Ten in the last seven years than Paul Davis. Davis came into the Big Ten as a heralded recruit, but he has been tagged as a player softer than a roll of Charmin Ultra. Not only is Davis known for being soft, he has been immortalized to college basketball fans across the country thanks to great photography skills of the Associated Press.
Of course, when I decided on the names for my All Underrated Team, it was last Monday evening. My laziness has forced it to take me about a week to complete the entries, and to be honest Paul Davis has been more JR Koch than an underrated player in the first two games of conference play, but I will not be remiss. Davis is the first player to go from being severely overrated for his first three seasons, to being severely underrated as a senior. This is a task that should not be looked at lightly, and for that Mr. Davis should be applauded.
The work Davis has done has gone under the radar because of his poor performance in the previous two seasons when heavy expectations were placed on him. Now, the fans and the national media pundits are looking at guards Shannon Brown, Maurice Ager, and Drew Neitzel while they are ignoring the contributions of Davis. Even with his two performances to open up the Big Ten, Davis deserves a spot on this First All Underrated Big Ten team for putting up 18.3 points and 9.9 rebounds per game (numbers that are at an elite level for big men across the country).
G: Adam Boone, Minnesota
Adam Boone has already done something that no other college basketball player has achieved, getting run out of Chapel Hill quicker than Matt Doherty. But, Boone's days in Chapel Hill are long behind him and he is flourishing as a starter for the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Once Boone figured out North Carolina wanted him less than they wanted Doherty when they realized Roy Williams was available, he transferred back to his home state. Since then many people have forgotten that Adam Boone even plays for the Golden Gophers. But that is understandable because most people have forgotten that basketball is played in the Land of 10,000 Lakes unless your name is Kevin Garnett.
So far this season, Boone has started all twelve games for the Golden Gophers, the only player to do so, and has been a steadying influence on a team that desperately needs one. Now that Vincent Grier is back in the Gopher rotation, Boone's main role will be setting up Grier for scoring opportunities, but his outside shooting prowess will be a benefit to the Gophers since he is able to find openings when Grier drives to the basket.
G: Rich McBride, Illinois
When you are in a starting backcourt with a player known to every college basketball fan across the country, you tend to get overlooked for what you do on the court. Not only is Dee Brown taking all the headlines for the Fighting Illini, but when Dee has an off game, it is freshman sharp shooter Jamar Smith that has taken the headlines away from McBride.
McBride has not done one thing spectacularly to make him stand out to basketball fans, but he has done everything well. With the departure of Deron Williams and Luther Head to the NBA, Rich has taken on more of the ball handling load, and with it he has increased his assists while keeping the turnovers down. This season Rich is the one Illinois guard that is adept at feeding the post. While Rich is not shooting as well as he would like (evident by his true shooting percentage and his points per shot attempt), he is doing one thing that he has not done in the previous two seasons at Illinois, take the ball to the basket.
One of the staples of the Illini this season has been the team defense, and Rich has been a key component of the Illini attack. He is playing in great defensive position as his steal numbers show.
G/F: Geary Claxton, Penn State
I know, sometimes even Ed DeCellis does not realize that there is basketball played in Happy Valley, but the Nittany Lions actually have some basketball players and at this point in the season, they have a record above .500. In picking the most underrated players in the Big Ten, I decided that I had to pick someone from Penn State because no one, even Penn State fans, can even name their starting five. So what I did was pick their best player: Geary Claxton. Yep, that's the ticket, he is underrated because, well no one ever expects his team to win a conference game, until they play Purdue.
F: Courtney Sims, Michigan
It pains me to put Courtney up on this list because he puts up numbers in the same light as Alex Rodriguez, when the games don't matter and against the lowest level competition possible. For example, Sims recorded his two double doubles of the season against Division IA stalwarts Delaware State and Chicago State. Yet against Big Ten competition, and even low-mid-level Division I programs like Boston University, Sims becomes HG Wells' Invisible Man.
Despite this, he is putting up the numbers that warrant a place on this team, but he is the tenth member of a ten member team. He is so far down on the bench that were the All Big Ten Underrated Team the Duke Blue Devils; Coach K would not even know his name.
C: Brian Butch, Wisconsin
I know, I know. He's skinny. He's awkward. He is the only McDonald's All American to redshirt before playing a season. He has bust written all over him. But quietly, silently, Brian Butch is putting together a very solid sophomore campaign for Bo Ryan and the Wisconsin Badgers. Butch has started every game this season for Wisconsin, and while he is not putting up All American numbers, he is quietly showing why he was named a McDonald's All American out of high school.