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Jack Freifelder | | August 9, 2016

5 Big Ten bigs with big shoes to fill

  Thomas Bryant (31), a sophomore at Indiana, is just one of many bigs with shoes to fill across the conference.

Losing students to graduation, juggling incoming and outgoing transfer scenarios, or handling a myriad other circumstances are among the issues facing coaches at any program, but the old adage is "You've got to work with what you've got."

The 2016-17 college basketball campaign will kick off in November, but coaches and their staff are busy looking ahead to see which players can carry the load for their respective squads. In a guard-heavy Big Ten conference, a few big men will be expected to both patrol the paint and control the glass.

(1) Isaac Haas — Purdue (7'2", center, junior): 9.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 0.5 apg, .8 bpg, 59.4 FG percentage, 14.3 mpg

Haas is likely the only player on this list who spent his time in practice going at another 7-footer in AJ Hammons. Some would say the departure of Hammons makes for a perfect fit, but with increased minutes comes increased attention and extra scrutiny.

More importantly, Haas is a big man with an ambidexterous touch around the rim. Pair that with a solidly built frame, a baby fadeaway jumper and good defensive instincts, and you've got a solid two-way player to deal with.

With the departure of Hammons (and other seniors like Raphael Davis), Haas will likely be trusted with a leadership role on this year's ball club. One that he seems ready to take on.

Given Purdue’s tendency to dump the ball into the post, Haas’ field goal percentage is sure to make his coaches excited about the possibilities. But arguably the most valued attribute in Haas’ arsenal may be one that is still being cultivated in the big man — patience.

In just over 14 minutes a game last year, Haas tallied nearly two fouls a contest. Now that the 7-footer is primed to see his playing time jump, Matt Painter and company will be looking for more control from the pivot on both offense and defense.

  Bryant dunks against the Michigan Wolverines during the 2016 Big Ten Conference tournament.

(2) Thomas Bryant — (6'10", center, sophomore): 11.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.0 apg, .9 bpg, 68.3 FG percentage, 22.6 mpg

Following a run to the Sweet 16, Indiana rolls into 2016-17 campaign with a few questions marks. After dealing with the departureS of Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams, head coach Tom Crean will be tasked with weaving combo guard James Blackmon Jr. back into the mix.

This year's Hoosiers will likely be more of a blend of styles from years past.

The spacing and ball movement that has epitomized the IU attack could still take shape around Bryant setting up shop down low. Shooting still surrounds the sophomore big man in the form of Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson, and another year will do wonders for the continued maturation of O.G. Anunoby.

Fact of the matter is, some of Bryant's best work on the year came at the end of the season in high-profile matchups against two top-tier opponents, Kentucky and UNC (both in the NCAA tournament). While Bryant will have to work on his back-to-the-basket game a bit, an abundance of good looks close to the rim should come from the natural motion of Coach Crean's offense.

The onus will be on Bryant to rise to the occassion and continue his strong play from last season.

(3) Damonte Dodd — (6'11", forward, senior): 2.9 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 0.3 apg, .8 bpg, 63.1 FG percentage, 15.6 mpg)  

It might seem odd to highlight a frontcourt player with less than three points and three boards a game, but that shouldn't belie the fact that there is a real opportunity for Dodd to assume the load that was handled by Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone last year. Those three acted as a de facto Cerberus in the frontcourt for head coach Mark Turgeon.

However, Dodd was often the odd man out in that scenario in favor of Stone and Carter Jr.'s ability to score and rebound the basketball. That duo accounted for nearly 25 pts and 10 rebounds a night, which means Dodd could see some of those looks and boards come his way.

  Damonte Dodd (35) will look to fill the void left by the departures of Robert Carter Jr. and Diamond Stone.

One area where Dodd will surely look to improve is on his free throw shooting and his back-to-the-basket presence. Dodd's free-throw percentage hovers around 67 percent, albeit with limited attempts, whereas Carter and Stone each shot near 75 percent from the charity stripe. There is likely to be some potential for a drop-off but Maryland's coaching staff will be looking for Dodd to improve his touch from the line and around the rim.

  Dererk Pardon (5) can be a low-post scoring threat for the Wildcats and Coach Collins' offense this year.
(4) Dererk Pardon — (6'8", sophomore, center): 6.7 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.6 bpg, 64.6 FG percentage, 16.6 mpg)

Despite the fact that Pardon was scheduled to redshirt during the 2015-16 season, the team was forced to burn his redshirt status and trot him out early in response to an injury. What followed was another season without any playoff basketball for the Wildcats, but all was not a total loss.

Northwestern lost four seniors from last year's squad, including guard Tre Demps and center Alex Olah, but in the process the team may have found its first legitimate post-up threat in the Chris Collins coaching era.

The Cleveland native leaves a bit to be desired in the free throw department (52.9 percent in '15-'16), but soft hands and an ability to score over the left and right shoulder via a jump hook or a dropstep is a treasure in this day and age.

(5) Mike Thorne Jr — (6'11", center, senior): 12.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.6 bpg, 21.4 mpg)

Illinois was near the bottom of the conference last year, but some departures around the league could shake things up for a team that made some waves in the Big Ten tournament. And a sixth year of eligibility for Thorne after being granted a medical hardship waiver could help the Illini get back to fighting form.

  Illinois will welcome back forward Mike Thorne Jr. in 2016 after being granted a medical waiver.

Thorne, who transferred to Illinois from Charlotte before the 2015-16 season, played in only eight games last season before suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee. 

Nonetheless, the coaching staff and players alike are looking forward to weaving the burly big man back into the fold.

For a team that returns three of its top four scorers, not including Thorne Jr., the addition of a legitimate center could make Illinois an up-and-coming player in the Big Ten race. Only time will tell.

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