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Top 25 Players in the Big Ten for 2017: No’s 20-16

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It is almost time for pads to start popping and helmets to start cracking together…and that means football season is right around the corner. Here at talking10 it also means the release of our annual Big Ten Preseason Top 25 Players list.

Top 25 List: No’s 25-21 |

After unveiling the first five players for the 2017 season, we continue our annual countdown of the best the Big Ten has to offer according to our staff.

Don’t forget to follow our staff of Andy Coppens, Phil Harrison, Philip Rossman-Reich and Zach Worthington on Twitter for their breakdowns of the Top 25 and their individual lists.

No. 20 — Michael Deiter, OC/G (Wisconsin)

http://gty.im/615527018

2016 Season Stats: Started all fourteen games in 2016 (ten at center and four at left guard). He was a consensus all-Big Ten honorable mention for the second year in a row, and anchored a line that saw the Badgers rush for 203.1 yards per game.
Best Game: vs. Illinois (led the O-line in a team effort of 363 yards rushing, 6TDs and no INTs)

Deiter is the arguably the most valuable and versatile player on the offensive line. He returns for his third year, so there’s also tons of experience to draw from. Wisconsin will always be a run first team, but we can’t forget about the passing game. To that end, he has been worked at left tackle some in the spring, so there’s a good shot he’ll at least be seeing some time against edge rushers that will be hell-bent on getting to the quarterback.

He’s played the interior of the line, has had to call out blocking assignments, and is a two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten performer. He’ll be counted on again to be the leader of Wisconsin’s vaunted offensive line tradition in 2017.

No. 19 — David Blough, QB (Purdue)

http://gty.im/627768174

2016 Season Stats: 3,352 passing yards, 295 for 517 (57.1%), 25 TDs, 21 INTs, 4 TDs rushing
Best Game: vs. Iowa (458 yards passing on 30 for 59 (50.8%), 5 TDS, 1 INT

There’s no questioning the talent No. 11 possesses. But up until last year, it had just been potential with a lot of inconsistent play. While the decision making still needs to get better, Blough can make all the throws in the book. He is accurate deep, has a big arm, and when hot, can give even the best of secondaries fits.

Purdue has long been known as the cradle of quarterbacks in the Big Ten, and if Blough can cut down on the interceptions and learn the new system head coach Jeff Brohm, we might be looking at a first team All-Big Ten type talent. He’ll get the volume, he just needs to grow as a decision maker and be more consistent — especially against the better defenses in the league.

No. 18 — D’Cota Dixon, S (Wisconsin)

http://gty.im/625991878

2016 Season Stats: 60 total tackles, 2.5 TFLs, 1 sack, 4 INTs, 4 PBs, 1 FF, and 1 recovered fumble
Best Game: vs. Ohio State (9 total tackles, 1 INT)

Dixon is the steady safety that never misses an assignment and seems to have a knack for the big play. His interception late in the game sealed the win over LSU on September 3, and another INT in the end zone in overtime ended Nebraska’s bid for an upset in Camp Randall on October 29.

He earned third team All-Big Ten as well as Academic All-Big Ten last year. He is a great leader on and off the field and is very involved in the community, but it’s his play on the field that gets him the recognition in our Top 25. As the game has progressed to more and more spread attacks — with the Big Ten being no exception — having a safety as a leader and big-play guy who can read things is paramount to the success of the defense. Dixon fits that bill.

He’s already been named to the Bronko Nagurski Trophy watchlist this preseason. The award is given annually to the player judged to be the best defensive player in the country, and is handed out by the Football Writers Association of America. The Badger D is counting on his steady play in the back-end of the defense to keep up the high level they’ve been playing at over the last few years.

No. 17 — Jack Cichy, LB (Wisconsin)

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2016 Season Stats: 60 total tackles, 7 TFLs, 1.5 sacks, 2 passes defended
Best Game: vs. Ohio State (15 tackles, 3.5 TFLs)

Cichy probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves. Part of that is likely because of his size, and another part is largely due to an injury that cut his season short last year. Still, No. 48 is another hard-nosed, 100% effort Wisconsin inside linebacker who is not afraid to throw his body into the fray.

In 2016, he was a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award, Lott IMPACT Trophy quarter-finalist, and All Big Ten honorable mention. And that was in just seven games of duty.

He’ll once again be looking to anchor a defense that has set the template for being stingy and aggressive. If he can stay healthy in 2017, he will be a force once again, and get further notoriety than what he already has.

As far as the preseason awards go, he is on the Bednarik, Nagurski, and Lott IMPACT Trophy watch-lists, and for good reason.

No. 16 — Marcus Allen, S (Penn State)

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2016 Season Stats: 110 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 3 passes defended
Best Game: vs. Minnesota (22 tackles)

Allen led the Nittany Lions in tackles last year — as a safety. Yes, a player out of the secondary led the entire defense in tackles. Let that sink in for a moment, because it’s the first time a safety has done that in Happy Valley since James Boyd did it in 2000.

Allen is very good at diagnosing plays on the back-end, but even better at coming up in run support, and off his initial read to make stops closer to the line of scrimmage. He’s not afraid to stick his head in on bigger players, and has great break and explosion after recognition.

In 2016, he was named All-Big Ten third team by the Coaches, and so far in 2017 he is on the Nagurski, Lott IMPACT, and Bednarik watch-lists. He is another talented defender on the back end that should play a huge part in the continuation of the Penn State resurgence.

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Badgers football

Wisconsin knocking on the Playoff door in latest College Football Playoff standings

Wisconsin sits on the outside of the College Football Playoff once again at No. 5. Their outlook looks fine to get in, but they will need help and to take care of business.

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Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin Badgers, Indiana Hoosiers

The undefeated Wisconsin Badgers are still on the outside looking in for the College Football Playoff. But they continue to inch their way closer to the proceedings.

Wisconsin is No. 5 in the latest College Football Playoff standings, trailing Alabama, Clemson, Miami and Oklahoma. A slip by any one of those teams would surely put the presumptive Big Ten champions into the College Football Playoff.

And, realistically, that is what it will take for Wisconsin to have a shot at the national championship. The Badgers must go undefeated and win the Big Ten to reach the Playoffs.

Even that might leave them little breathing room.

At No. 6 is two-loss Auburn. If the Tigers go undefeated that would give them a win over No. 1 Alabama and likely another win over No. 7 Georgia. That would be three wins over top-10 teams in about a month. That would be hard for anyone to ignore — even with two losses.

Wisconsin can only do what it can do with the schedule remaining. But the margin of error is as thin as it can be. The Badgers’ only real chance for an impressive victory would come in the Big Ten Championship Game where they would likely face No. 9 Ohio State. As it stands, Wisconsin’s most impressive win is over No. 23 Northwestern.

Wisconsin plays No. 24 Michigan this Saturday. Another chance for a solid win that might get shrugged off. Such is Wisconsin’s season.

The Big Ten has six teams in the Top 25 of the College Football Standings. Wisconsin leads the way at No. 5. Ohio State is No. 9, Penn State is No. 10 and Michigan State is No. 11. Northwestern and Michigan bring up the rear at No. 23 and No. 24. Iowas was dropped from the rankings following the loss to Wisconsin last weekend.

To be sure, the standings are encouraging for the Badgers. It would seem they are in prime position to jump into the Playoff picture. But they will need help. They do not control their own destiny in this matter.

And even winning out and winning their conference with a loss from a team above them does not guarantee much. The Big Ten’s hopes rest on Wisconsin finding a way in. Only time will tell if they can.

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Badgers Basketball

3 Keys for the Wisconsin Badgers against Florida

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Despite toppling number one overall seed Villanova, the road isn’t getting any easier for the Wisconsin Badgers. In fact, their Sweet 16 opponent, Florida, is the number three team in the country according to Ken Pomeroy Rankings. Villanova was number two. So ignore the fact that Florida is just a four-seed. They are a really, really good basketball team. In order to pull off another upset, Wisconsin is going to have to get back on defense, play inside-out on offense, and limit their turnovers.

1. Limiting Turnovers

While Florida’s offense isn’t bad, their defense is their real calling card. They have really quick, athletic guards that relentlessly pressure and pester the opposing team’s guards. For that reason, they are one of the best teams in America at forcing turnovers. On the flip side, Wisconsin has not had great ball security this season. While it has been improving, the Badgers still turned the ball over 14 times against Villanova. They will need to be better in that area against the Gators.

2. Play Through the Post

On February 15th, the Gators lost starting center John Egbunu to a torn ACL. That left a massive hole for the Gators on the interior. Thus far in the tournament, they haven’t played a team that can exploit that weakness, but that is about to change. Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ should be able to dominate inside against Florida, much like they were able to do against Villanova and Virginia Tech. Florida’s only chance to stop them is to bring a double-team, which should result in open three-pointers for Bronson Koenig and company.

Florida has a really tenacious perimeter defense, so it may be difficult for Wisconsin’s guards to create their own offense. While Bronson Koenig is remarkably effective at pulling miracles out of thin air in late shot clock situations, it would be unwise for the Badgers to keep relying on that. They need to get the ball into the post early and often, and run their offense through there.

3. Get Back on Defense

Florida loves to get out in transition and score easy baskets after turnovers and missed shots. They are excellent at it too.

Wisconsin needs to make the effort to get back on defense and set up. Florida has an inconsistent half court offense that the Badgers stout defense should be able to contain. But if they let Florida’s speedy guards get in the open court and make plays, it could be a long night.

Bonus Key: Stay out of Foul Trouble

This one is pretty self explanatory, and really applies to any game. But given that it has been a common trend for Wisconsin during this tournament, I thought I would mention it. Wisconsin’s stars, especially Ethan Happ (Koenig’s was kind of fluky), need to avoid picking up silly fouls. Happ has dealt with foul trouble in the first two rounds. That can’t be the case on Friday. He can dominate against a much smaller Florida front line if he can stay in the game.

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Badgers Basketball

Seniors Showing Up in Crunch Time for Wisconsin Basketball

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Redshirt sophomore Ethan Happ has garnered most of the national media attention on this Wisconsin Basketball team, and rightfully so. But with the season on the line, it was Wisconsin’s senior class that stepped up in two straight games to extend their historic careers.

Bronson Koenig has been a phenomenal shotmaker all season long. When Wisconsin’s offense is faltering, Koenig creates and makes shots out of thin air. The last two games have been the biggest example of that. Against Virginia Tech in the Round of 64, Koenig had 28 points, including a Wisconsin NCAA Tournament record eight three-pointers. Then on Saturday, he did it again. In addition, his clutchness was on full display, as it has been his entire career.

After sitting with four fouls (after a terrible charge call) for a long stretch in the second half, Koenig checked back in with five minutes to go. With the Badgers trailing by five, Koenig had seven points in a four minute span, including a pair of huge three-pointers. Koenig may not be the best player in Wisconsin history, but he definitely is the clutchest. He just has ice water running through his veins.

Zak Showalter was also excellent. Although he struggled offensively against Villanova, he was his usual steady, consistent self. He played 38 minutes of incredible defense. He also did a great job as the second guard handling Villanova’s half-court trap. He’s not flashy ,(although his block was actually pretty flashy) but you can also count on him to get the job done. Death, taxes, Showy.

I don’t think I’ve ever criticized a player more than I criticize Vitto Brown. That includes Traveon Jackson, Ryan Evans, and even Joel Stave on the football side. But he shut me up today. His three three-pointers in the first half were huge. He was also the best post feeder on the team in that game. But his defensive play to strip the ball from Josh Hart in the waning seconds will be apart of Badgers lore forever.

Last, and certainly not least, how bout Nigel Hayes! He has taken so much crap from Wisconsin fans over the course of his career. Whether it was due to his regression from his sophomore season or his failure to live up to expectations, he made up for all of it in the last two games. With his Badger career on the line, he refused to lose. He was an absolute beast. Against Virginia Tech, he had 16 points and 10 rebounds, including 8-9 free throws. But that performance paled in comparison to what he did against Villanova. With Happ and Koenig taken out of the game by the refs for large chunks of the game, Hayes was the rock. He kept Wisconsin afloat all game, with 19 huge points. He just did what it took to win. His game-winning fake spin and reverse layup was a thing of beauty.

With all the attention this season in college basketball on star freshmen like Lonzo Ball, Josh Jackson, Lauri Markkanen, and Jayson Tatum, it is truly special to see seniors step up and dominate like the Badgers quartet did against Villanova. They were determined to make sure that this wasn’t their last game wearing cardinal and white. It has been an absolute joy watching Koenig, Hayes, Showalter, and Brown play over the last four years, and today was their best performance yet. I want to see them play as many more games as possible. I really, really don’t want to see them leave.

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Badgers Basketball

3 Keys for the Wisconsin Badgers against Virginia Tech

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The eight-seeded Wisconsin Badgers are 5.5-point favorites over the nine-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies. It is usually rare for an eight-seed to be that big of a favorite over a nine-seed, but the fact of the matter is Wisconsin is a much better team. However, that doesn’t mean they can’t lose this game. They have lost this season as bigger favorites, and another upset here wouldn’t be shocking at all.

In order to avoid the early upset, Wisconsin is going to have to defend the three-pointer well, take advantage of their massive size disparity, and get more production from their bench.

1. Play good three-point defense

As a team, Virginia Tech has a lot of weaknesses. They are small, don’t rebound well, and struggle on defense. But three-pointers are their big equalizer. They hit 40.3% of their three-point attempts, which makes them 10th in the country and 6th in the NCAA Tournament. When this team gets hot, which isn’t that rare, they can go toe to toe with anyone in the country.

This is especially concerning considering Wisconsin has been very poor at three-point defense. Wisconsin is actually one of the bottom 50 teams in the country in that category. In their recent loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game, they gave up 10 three-pointers on 44% shooting.

Needless to say, if Wisconsin doesn’t tighten that up in this game, they will lose. They cannot afford to let the Hokies get hot.

2. Take advantage of their size

Virginia Tech is one of the smallest power conference teams in the country. Most of the time, they use four guards around one forward, 6 foot 7 senior Zach LeDay. Their only rotation player taller than that is freshman Khadim Sy, and he usually produces very little in 11 minutes per game. Their small ball style will give them the speed advantage over Wisconsin, but the Badgers will be much bigger.

Wisconsin needs to use their size advantage to dominate in the paint. Ethan Happ and Nigel Hayes should be able to have a field day on the boards. Both of them will also have constant mismatches. The Badgers need to make a concerted effort to feed them the ball and let them go to work. They shouldn’t settle for quick shots against the much smaller Hokies.

3. Get production from their bench

It is no secret that Wisconsin’s bench has been incredibly inconsistent this season. In their loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Championship game, the Badgers got a staggering zero points from their bench. It is hard to win games when that happens.

Bench play will be especially important in this game. Virginia Tech plays a faster, “small ball” style, and in order to defend it, Wisconsin may need larger doses of Khalil Iverson, Jordan Hill, Brevin Pritzl, and D’Mitrik Trice. Virginia Tech also excels at drawing fouls, so foul trouble may cause Wisconsin to have to resort to the bench.

Wisconsin’s substitutes need to be ready to play hard. They need to play well enough that Wisconsin’s offensive production doesn’t fall off when a few of the starters are out.

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