The Big Ten is the best league in college basketball season, and among the many things that make it such a gauntlet is the assortment of talented big men across its 14 teams. From Iowa’s Luka Garza to Michigan’s Hunter Dickinson to Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn to Purdue’s Trevion Williams …

“The list (of elite big men) goes on and on,” Rutgers head coach Steve Pikiell said.

Halfway through the Big Ten schedule, it is clear Rutgers center Myles Johnson is in the cream of the crop.

The junior ranks near the top of the league in multiple stat categories midway through conference play: second in blocks per game (2.1), block percentage (8.9%), steal percentage (3.9%), steals per game (1.7) and defensive rebounding percentage (27%); fifth in field goal percentage (64.2%) and offensive rebounding percentage (13.3%).

He proved his worth through the first 10 games, standing toe-to-toe with the Big Ten’s best.

In Sunday’s win over Indiana, Johnson held Hoosier big Trayce Jackson-Davis — an All-American candidate — to 13 points on 4-of-10 shooting, allowing him to shoot just seven free throws taken. Johnson finished with five blocks, three steals, eight rebounds and 8 points on an efficient 4-of-4 night.

“Myles Johnson is one of the best interior defenders in the country,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller said following the game.

Johnson did the same against Illinois’ Kofi Cockburn, holding him to 6 points and three rebounds in the final 17 minutes of the contest, fueling Rutgers towards its biggest win of the season yet.

“Myles Johnson, I thought, was the difference in the game,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said after the contest.

There are some limits to Johnson’s game that prevent him from being the best big in the Big Ten.

He has no range offensively, taking just two jump shots this season and missing both, per Synergy. He fouls far too often (4.62 fouls committed per 40 minutes, 11th most in the Big Ten) and while he gets to the foul line frequently on the other end (43% free throw rate, eighth in the Big Ten), he does not take advantage (his 38.2% free throw percentage ranks last among high-major players).

On the whole, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Johnson is an elite defender and an efficient scorer who belongs in the conversation of the Big Ten’s best.

A former three-star recruit with little high-major interest who redshirted his freshman year, Johnson also serves as an example for Pikiell to use on his younger players.

“Myles has been a good mentor for all of our young guys,” Pikiell said. “He comes to practice every day and he’s gotten so much better. I watched a tape of him his freshman year and you can’t truly appreciate how far he’s come until you put on a tape of the year he redshirted. You realize how far he’s come in so many different ways.”

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Brian Fonseca may be reached at [email protected].

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