2016-17 Big Ten Postseason Awards and Conference Tournament Preview

The postseason is among us, which means it’s time for a couple of things: the Big Ten Tournament and award season.

I’m assuming the awards will come Tuesday simply because they did last year, but you never know with the Big Ten anymore. The conference tourney is in Washington D.C. this year because apparently the consistently great attendance in Indianapolis and Chicago was just getting old. Next year it’ll be in New York a week earlier than usual because I guess Jim Delany is looking to capture some of that Missouri Valley and old Big East mojo at the same time.

But I digress. It’s time for the awards. When they’re announced, it’ll provide some fodder for a couple of days until the conference tourney starts up and everyone forgets about them forever.

I base mine solely on performance in the 18-game conference schedule and most of the statistics I mention are conference-only numbers.

Image result for caleb swanigan purdue

Player of the Year

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue

I understand that I have an inherent bias, but I don’t treat this blog as a Purdue fan site and I try to be as rational and impartial as I can possibly be and hopefully that comes through. With that said, I didn’t find the POY race to be particularly close this year, especially after the last couple weeks.

I love Ethan Happ. I drove the Happ Train in December of LAST season, begging for the Badgers to get him more involved. He’s a better defender than Swanigan and doesn’t turn it over quite as much, but Swanigan is just a different type of force.

In conference play, Swanigan led the league in points (18.9) and rebounds (12.6). The next highest rebounding average was 9.3 from Jordan Murphy. And while he’s not the defender that Happ is, he’s not exactly a turnstile either. At times he would sacrifice challenging a shot in order to avoid foul trouble, but he still ends the year in the top 6 of all major defensive analytics (rating, win shares, box plus/minus).

And finally, nobody was more consistent in the league. He scored in double figures in every Big Ten game and made those double-doubles in 15 contests. His versatility and dominance on the glass allowed him to positively affect every game in a big way.

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Defensive Player of the Year

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

This one also wasn’t very close to me. As a post defender, Happ still managed to lead the league in steals and was sixth in blocked shots, while also being one of the top rebounders in the league. He’s a monster whether you look at traditional, raw statistics or the new-age analytical numbers and it’s confirmed every time you watch Happ play defense. His activity on that end jumps off the screen and that’s why he deserves it.

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Freshman of the Year

Miles Bridges, Michigan State

In a league that doesn’t often have many surefire one-and-done guys come through, guys like Bridges stand out. He’s 6’7″, 230 pounds and he can hit a contested three on one possession and dunk on your entire team the next. He was among the league leaders in points, rebounds, blocks, and three-point percentage. I imagine if they kept track of dunks, he’d be among the leaders in that too.

And he did all that as the best player on a team that’s going to make the NCAA Tournament and will be the #5 seed in the league tournament after coming back from an injury that kept him out the last five games of non-con and the first two games of league play. His consistent production was only rivaled by the two guys previously awarded in this blog.

 

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Sixth Man of the Year

Isaac Haas, Purdue

To be honest, there weren’t a lot of great candidates for this award. I guess there rarely is in college basketball, really. The NBA features quite a few guys that come off the bench, but still play more than half the game. You don’t often see that at this level.

Haas wins the award because, at times, he was the most productive player in games for the championship team. He certainly has his flaws and those are often picked apart, but at the same time he came off the bench and scored in double figures on more occasions than he didn’t, he rebounded at a high percentage, and only Nick Ward drew fouls at a higher rate. That last part might be his most important attribute as it pertains to his own team’s success. Swanigan draws a lot of fouls by himself. By the time Haas got into the game and made his impact, some teams essentially fouled themselves out of competing.

 

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Coach of the Year

Richard Pitino, Minnesota

There are probably four coaches you could pick here and I wouldn’t have much of a problem with it: Pitino, Chris Collins, Matt Painter, and Mark Turgeon.

I imagine Collins will get some votes because he’s taken Northwestern to the highest heights it’s ever been to as a program. That’s a worthy argument.

Matt Painter’s team won the league by two games. Also a pretty good argument.

Mark Turgeon’s team was picked to finish 10th and the ended up tied for second while starting three freshmen.

I’m going with Pitino. His team finished 2-16 in the league last year, they had a lot of roster turnover, and now they find themselves in a position where they’ve been playing for NCAA Tournament seeding for weeks now.

I base the awards off league performance only, but the Gophers were 12-1 in non-con and they started off 3-1 in B1G play, including wins at Purdue and Northwestern. They then lost five games in a row. That’s tough to come back from, but they did by winning their next eight.

Admittedly, in a way, that’s giving him credit for getting his team to bounce back from its own failures, but it was impressive nonetheless.

Like I said, I would have no problem with any of the four I mentioned. COY means something different to everybody and everyone has their own set of parameters. For me, I like to vote for the guys who get their teams/programs to bounce back from adversity and seemingly improve as a coach along the way. And I’ve been hard on Pitino, possibly too hard, but they had no business only winning two games last year. But this year his team has been stout defensively from the jump and they’ve made great strides on offense.

First Team

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Derrick Walton, Michigan
Melo Trimble, Maryland

These teams are hard, man. It’d be easier to separate them in to tiers with no defined number on each tier.

The first three on the list should be unanimous and actually Walton probably should be too. He was special at the end of the year and his improved play is the biggest reason why Michigan turned their season around.

The fifth spot is up for debate and I personally had a tough time choosing between five guys. I landed on Trimble because of his consistency, importance to his team, and the fact that his team ended up in second place, the highest of the five I considered.

I don’t love everything about Trimble’s game – particularly his infatuation for shooting a lot of threes despite the fact that he’s not very good at it – but he was important to the Terps in a lot of different areas. The success of the three freshmen was a big storyline for Maryland this year, but at the end of the day Melo was the biggest constant and the guy that carried the weight of the game’s outcome whenever it was tight down the stretch.

I think you can make an argument for any of the other four to be on the first team, but I found it most difficult to argue against the merits of Trimble.

Second Team

Malcolm Hill, Illinois
Peter Jok, Iowa
Nate Mason, Minnesota
Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern
Tai Webster, Nebraska

The “other four” I was referencing are the first four listed.

I can’t say anything other than what’s been said about Malcolm Hill’s production the last three  years. It stinks that we’re probably never going to see him in the NCAA Tournament. I don’t know whose fault that is, maybe it’s John Groce, maybe it’s his teammates, maybe it’s Malcolm’s. Probably a combination of all three. Hill has been really good, but never has taken his game to quite the next level where he could carry his team. He’s got a weekend left to change that.

I love Peter Jok and he’s probably the most natural scorer in the league, but he’s not always the most engaged defender, and it didn’t really help his cause that Iowa played two great games without him.

Mason’s production doesn’t always match his volume, but he’s still one of the best playmakers in the league, both for himself and his teammates. The Gophers basically hopped on his back and were along for the ride in two of their bigger wins of the year.

For me, McIntosh was the hardest to leave off the first team. There’s a lot about his game to like and him and Chris Collins might share equal importance in the Wildcats’ season. I ultimately went with Trimble because he’s more efficient and his team was better, but McIntosh certainly has a case.

Webster had a great year and was one of the most improved player’s in the league, but his team went 6-12.

Third Team

Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
Thomas Bryant, Indiana
Tony Carr, Penn State
Dakota Mathias, Purdue
Jae’Sean Tate, Ohio State

The third team is pretty much a crapshoot. There’s like 20 guys you could probably make a case for.

Although Wisconsin’s season seemed like a bit of a disappointment and Koenig had some health issues, he still had quite a good season himself. I’d still prefer my point guard to get teammates involved a little more, but Koenig is still worthy of recognition here.

Bryant didn’t live up to expectations this year, but it wasn’t due to a lack of effort. Maybe he lingers on the perimeter too much, but, in his defense, his teammates ignore him too often when he’s on the block.

Carr is a personal favorite of mine and I think he’ll be on that first team by the time his career is over. I figured Shep Garner would be the star of the show for the Nittany Lions this year, but by the time February hit, it was fairly clear that Carr was the best offensive player on the team.

Maybe Mathias is a bit of my bias showing and the fact that Purdue’s the only team that I watched play every single minute, but his improvement this year was a huge factor in Purdue winning the league. He’s turned himself into one of the best defenders in the conference, one of the best shooters, and a great passer, which comes in handy when your team feeds the post more than anyone in the country.

I love Jae’Sean Tate. His skill level might not be among the 50 best in the Big Ten, but his effort, energy, and will level is as good as anybody. He’s 6’4″, plays with rebound-hog Trevor Thompson, and he still gets 6.2 rebounds a game. He’s 6’4″, a terrible shooter, not particularly a great ball handler, and still averaged 14.1 points a game.

Freshman Team

Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Tony Carr, Penn State
Tyler Cook, Iowa
Justin Jackson, Maryland
Amir Coffey, Minnesota
Anthony Cowan, Maryland
Nick Ward, Michigan State

I couldn’t pick just five and I probably could’ve picked five more because it was a great year for freshmen in the league. This blog has gone on too long, but all of these guys are going to be great college basketball players in years to come. Unfortunately for them, a former walk-on who’s upset that his two favorite teams aren’t good this year thinks the Big Ten is dead now so it won’t matter.

Defensive Team

Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Dakota Mathias, Purdue
Reggie Lynch, Minnesota
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State
Josh Reaves, Penn State

I’ve already talked about the first two, so let’s knock out the obvious one in Reggie Lynch, who lives to block your shot and embarrass you in front of everyone you love.

Thompson doesn’t get near the attention that Happ and Lynch do around the league, but he should. He “only” blocks 1.3 shots a game, but he makes life incredibly difficult for other bigs by just being so solid in defending on the block. There’s two elite big men offensively in the Big Ten: Swanigan and Happ. He played three games against those two. It wasn’t all his doing, but it’s important to note that he only gave up 26 points (8.7 ppg) on 27 attempts in those three games. His individual defensive numbers don’t jump out, but it helps if, you know, watch him.

Reaves probably won’t get as much recognition as he deserves either, but he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the league. He was second in steals per game and the only guard among the league leaders for blocks.


Conference Tournament Preview

Favorite

Purdue

The Boilers ended up winning the league by two games, so I guess you have to consider them the favorite. Their road wins over some of the top teams in the league is traditionally a good sign for success in the postseason and the fact they won a couple of those without shooting well helps.

With all that said, they could lose to 11 or 12 different teams in the conference and it wouldn’t be all that surprising. And their half of the bracket isn’t the most favorable. They’ll have to beat Michigan/Illinois and then probably Minnesota or Michigan State to reach Sunday. The Wolverines just eviscerated their defense a couple of weeks ago, Illinois did the same a year ago despite being the significantly worse team, Minnesota won their only matchup this year in West Lafayette, and MSU is a talented team that’s starting to figure things out.

The Boilers probably have to be the favorite, but if you were given the option of Purdue or the field, I think most everyone would take the field in a heartbeat.

Runner Up

Wisconsin

The Badgers have mostly stunk lately, but they’re still the most experienced team in the league with by far the most postseason success already under their belt. They’re also on the more favorable side of the bracket. They got hot against Minnesota on Sunday and if that continues, they’ll have as good of shot at winning as anybody.

Darkhorse (single bye team)

Indiana

Even though the Hoosiers went 2-3, their last five games were all pretty decent showings. Four of those games were on the road. If Rob Johnson keeps his hot shooting from the Ohio State game going, they’ll be really tough to defend. They open with Iowa, who has been playing really well in their own right, but IU almost won in Iowa City a couple weeks ago. They’ve beaten Northwestern and nearly won at both Maryland and Wisconsin, so there’s reason to believe the Hoosiers could get through their side of the bracket.

Super Darkhorse (no bye team)

Ohio State

Winning five straight games is basically impossible, especially when the top 4 teams will have an extra two days of rest. However, if anybody that plays Wednesday can do it, it’s the Buckeyes. They’ve beaten or nearly beaten every top team in the league.

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