Big Ten Postseason Awards and Tournament Preview

The Big Ten awards were announced tonight. Here’s my meaningless ballot:

Player of the Year

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

Valentine ended up receiving the award from both the coaches and the media, but I wouldn’t have been outraged if Yogi Ferrell took one of them home. I went with Valentine because he did absolutely everything for what I would actually consider the best team in the league.

If you’re in the Ferrell camp, you’ll argue that he was by far the best player on the team that won the league championship and he actually played every game of the conference season, unlike Valentine. But Valentine’s numbers all around were just incredible. He led the league in points per game, assists per game, assist rate (by more than 7%!), win shares, and points produced per game. He was top-10 in more categories than not. Many consider him a point guard (including me) and he was seventh in rebounds per game. And if you’re thinking to yourself, “What about defense?”, he was second in defensive win shares and fourth in defensive rating.

Defensive Player of the Year

A.J. Hammons, Purdue

Hammons also won both awards in this category, and deservedly so. Rapheal Davis usually guards the best offensive player for a Boiler opponent unless they play the 5. But if you watch many Purdue games, you know that Hammons is the one who has the biggest impact on the team’s defensive performance. He not only blocks shots at the highest rate in the league, but he affects so many others. It’s noticeable when he’s out how much more opposing teams attack the rim. He deserved this and it wasn’t even that close, in my opinion.

Freshman of the Year

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

I’ve been a Happ supporter all year and honestly wasn’t sure if he could win this over Diamond Stone and Thomas Bryant when I gave my mid-season awards. Obviously, Wisconsin’s success in the second half was a big factor and he was the second most valuable Badger on that run. No one in the league can match his footwork in the post, with the exception of Hammons.

Sixth Man of the Year

Max Bielfeldt, Indiana

You know who could use a guy like Bielfeldt right now? Michigan. Too bad they couldn’t have recruited him there and had him on their team for a couple of years. He would’ve brought them another shooter, a really good defender, some actual toughness, and just an overall solid player. Anybody would be really silly just to force him out and allow him to transfer in-conference, win a conference title with his new team, and have a major impact on said title. Can you imagine?

Coach of the Year

Greg Gard, Wisconsin

Tom Crean swept the award. I certainly understand the selection. They were a mess in November, lost a guy who scored a ton of points, and then won the league by two games. But to me, a big reason for their turnaround was how much better they were defensively after said player got injured. Obviously I’m referring to James Blackmon, who, to put it mildly, is an absolute turnstile on defense. But Crean would’ve never made that move if Blackmon was still healthy. Also, they were picked to finish second in the league in the preseason and were ranked 15th in both polls.

Gard on the other hand took over a team in mid-December that was 7-5 with home losses Western Illinois, Milwaukee, and Marquette and turned them into a 12-6 Big Ten team against the second strongest schedule in the league. They lost three NBA players and two other starters from a year ago. They were a lot better than they should have been and if Wisconsin didn’t do this type of stuff regularly for the past 15 years, Gard would’ve been coach of the year.

First Team

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

The top three were unanimous, but I’d love to hear the explanation for why Hammons wasn’t. He’s the best big man in the country. I considered Jok and Forbes for the last spot, but ultimately went with Hayes because of how important he was to the Badgers this year.

Second Team

Melo Trimble, Maryland
Peter Jok, Iowa
Bryn Forbes, Michigan State
Matt Costello, Michigan State
Malcolm Hill, Illinois

Costello only made the media’s second team, which is kind of surprising to me that the coaches wouldn’t favor him more. I mean they still put him on the third team, but still. He led the league in defensive rating and offensive rebound percentage. He was second in defensive rebound percentage and chipped in 12.5 points and 1.3 blocks per game in league play for good measure.

Third Team

Shavon Shields, Nebraska
Brandon Taylor, Penn State
Robert Carter, Maryland
Troy Williams, Indiana
Andrew White, Nebraska

Shields was the hardest to leave off the second team and there were a ton of guys I wish I could’ve included on the third team that deserve it, but that’s what makes it such a great honor.

Freshman Team

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Diamond Stone, Maryland
Thomas Bryant, Indiana
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Corey Sanders, Rutgers

The first four are pretty easy to me. Jordan Murphy ended up in the fifth spot for the coaches (the media doesn’t have a full team). You can certainly make a case for Murphy, but Sanders had to do everything offensively for an awful Rutgers team. Hard not to believe his four-game suspension was the biggest reason he got left off.

Defensive Team

A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Rapheal Davis, Purdue
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
Matt Costello, Michigan State

Same as the coaches, except for Costello. I don’t know, maybe it’s his personality that gets to them. He can be a bit outgoing, to put it lightly.


I’d also like to give out a few awards of my own.

Dudes I Love to Watch But Didn’t Receive Any Mention

Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State
Mike Gesell, Iowa
O.G. Anunoby, Indiana
Vince Edwards, Purdue
Duncan Robinson, Michigan

Tate because he plays so hard with so much emotion that it’s hard not to love him. It sticks out like a sore thumb on that team.

Gesell because he’s the glue that keeps that team together. You can use all the stereotypical white guy descriptors for him (tough, gritty, etc.)…and he dunks! I’ll miss Mikey G. next year.

Anunoby’s going to be a star one day. He’s still kind of raw, but he’s long, athletic, and can defend already. If his offense comes along, he’ll be a lottery pick one day.

Edwards is so much fun to watch when he’s engaged and aggressive and equally maddening to watch when he’s passive. He’s got the skill set of a former Boiler – Robbie Hummel – only he hasn’t quite figured out how to use all of his skills like Hummel could, but he’s a more explosive athlete.

I’m a sucker for a pure shooter and Robinson is exactly that. He’s not entirely one-dimensional, but he’s also not quite multi-dimensional.

Favorite Team to Watch

Michigan State

My favorite thing about watching the Spartans is right after they get scored on. Nobody gets the ball down the floor faster and they put teams on their heels in a hurry. Valentine by himself is so fun to watch because of his ability to pull up at any time, his ability to drive, and his ability to see the floor like some of the all-time greats. Bryn Forbes is the best off-the-catch shooter in the country. Eron Harris was born to get buckets. Costello was born to get putbacks and act like a crazy person after he gets an and-one. And Tum Tum Nairn was born to push on a 3-on-2 fast break. Oh, and they guard.

Favorite Game

Michigan State at Purdue

Mackey Arena was on fire for this one. Rapheal Davis was unconscious in the first half. Denzel went for a casual 27-8-10. A.J. Hammons went for a casual 19-13-8 blocks. Purdue was up 18 before the Spartans took a four-point lead with two minutes left and made the Boilers scratch and claw just to force overtime. There were dunks, missed dunks, blocked dunks. There was the underlying story line of Caleb Swanigan committing to Michigan State before changing his mind and going to Purdue a few weeks later. In the end it was a one-point overtime game between two of the Big Ten’s best.

Also considered:

Indiana at Iowa
Michigan State at Wisconsin
Indiana at Wisconsin
Iowa at Purdue
Maryland at Michigan
Iowa at Maryland
Nebraska at Michigan State

Most Overachieving Team

Wisconsin

I laid a lot of this out in the Coach of the Year section, but the fact that Wisconsin was projected to finish fifth before the year is a testament to the program and less about who they actually had on the team. They returned two guys who played significant minutes a year ago and it’s not like they had some heralded, Kentucky-like recruiting class to step in.

Most Disappointing Team

Maryland

Michigan and Illinois were the other two candidates, but those were largely injury-related. Maryland is still a really good team that has a good chance to be in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. But they’re not the great team that everyone was expecting. Of the eight BTN “experts” polled before the season, seven of them picked the Terps to win the league. They finished three games behind. They were 3rd in both preseason polls. They close the regular season 18th in the AP and 15th in the coaches. With all that said, it they make a deep run into early April, all the disappointment will be forgotten.

Least Valuable Coach

Eddie Jordan

Jordan’s B1G conference record through two seasons: 3 wins, 33 losses. 25 of those losses have been by double digits.


Big Ten Tournament Preview

Favorite

Michigan State

No one is playing better right now and it’s an Izzo team in March. They’ve been in the championship three of the last four years and they’ve won it twice. I’m not exactly going out on a limb with this one. They’re basically a lock to get to the semifinals.

Runner-Up

Purdue

It’s obviously got to come from the other side of the bracket and the other available teams are Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Illinois, and Minnesota. Indiana’s the odds-on favorite, but if they get a match-up with the Boilers, I would lean Purdue’s way. Indiana led the entire way in the two teams only meeting, but I think Matt Painter figured out something at the end of that game. They went small (for them) and their offense was lethal against the Hoosiers. Since then, Painter has used a similar lineup in spots against Maryland, Nebraska, and Wisconsin and it’s been really effective.

IU was awesome against everyone in Assembly Hall. They’ve proven they can win away from there, but they still have the highest home advantage in the entire country through power ratings. They have a #2 power rating at home, #28 on the road, and #84 on a neutral site. Purdue’s more consistent across the board, no matter the venue, which is largely because they’re less reliant on perimeter shooting. Teams like Indiana that rely so heavily on threes historically are at a big disadvantage when the postseason arrives and it’s a one-game playoff format on a neutral floor.

Dark Horse

Northwestern

I don’t think anyone would be shocked if any of the top-six seeds wins the thing, so I wouldn’t consider any of them a dark horse. That makes this category kind of tough, so I’m forced to pick a bottom-8 seed that’s not on the same side of the Spartans.

The Wildcats play a stumbling Michigan team that they nearly beat on the road recently in the first round. After that it’s Indiana, who I expressed my concerns about above. They got crushed by the Hoosiers earlier this year, but they’ve beat IU in each of the last two years.

Not likely, but it’s a tough case to make for anybody in the top-six.

Super Dark Horse

Illinois

They open up with Minnesota, who just lost to Rutgers by 23. Next would be Iowa, who’s been shaky at best the past few weeks. Next would be Purdue, who they methodically destroyed in their only game this year. Say Michigan or Northwestern upset Indiana and, boom, you’ve got about a 40% chance of making the finals.

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