Player of the Year:
Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
This selection may be a bit controversial to some, as Dosunmu gets the top spot here over Iowa senior big man Luka Garza, who was awarded the official Big Ten Player of the Year title for the second straight season recently. But the junior guard from Chicago gets the nod here due the recent late season tear he has been on, even with the broken nose he suffered in a loss to Michigan State on February 23rd. The loss ended a 7-game win streak and left the Illini star’s availability for the remainder of the season in doubt, but Dosunmu was able to come back for Illinois final game of the regular season against #7 Ohio State and was once again the best player on the floor, leading his team to victory, putting them firmly in second in the Big Ten season standings, and giving their chances of obtaining a #1 seeding in the NCAA Tournament a huge boost. Dosunmu averaged 20.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 5.2 assists on 49.2% from the field and 40% from behind the arc. Before Ayo, Illinois hadn’t had a superstar since Deron Williams back in the early 2000’s, and Williams went on to dominate the NCAA tournament, and then have an excellent NBA career. Expect Dosunmu to do the same.
Freshman of the Year:
Hunter Dickinson, Michigan
This one shouldn’t come as any surprise. Dickinson came off the bench for the first five games of the season, but once he moved into the starting lineup, he stayed there for good. The 7’1, 255-pound unit displayed an uncanny knack for finishing at the rim, especially when he is posted up with his back to the basket. Few players in the entire country possess the finishing skill that he has. Defensively, Dickinson was the anchor of the Michigan defense, averaging nearly a block and a half per game, and altering many more shots at the rim. On the season, the freshman from Alexandria, Virginia averaged 14.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 0.9 assists per game. He finished second in the conference in field goal percentage at nearly 60 percent, and fourth in blocks per game. Dickinson could go to the draft after this season and still will most likely be a first-round pick, but I expect him to stay another season to increase his draft stock.
Coach of the Year:
Juwan Howard, Michigan
This one should also come to the shock of none, as Howard took a team expected to finish middle of the pack in an extremely talented Big Ten conference and led them to a conference championship for the first time in seven years. Not only that, but Howard was able to bring in high-impact transfer Mike Smith, as well as under-the-radar freshman Hunter Dickinson who blossomed into the best freshman in the country under Juwan Howard’s tutelage. The Wolverines finished the year at 19-3 (14-3) and with a #4 national ranking. They have a #1 seed in the conference tournament and are in prime position for a #1 seeding in the NCAA Tournament, Juwan Howard has led his alma mater to a dream season and is in prime position to lead them to a national championship.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
This season, Minnesota experienced the ultimate highs and lows of the college basketball season. At one point they were 11-4, and had wins over Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Michigan, who were all ranked at the time. In fact, they were the team that handed Michigan their first losses of the season, and even scored 102 points on a stingy Iowa defense. Marcus Carr began the year on an absolute tear and established himself as one of the top point guards and scorers in the conference. But then, everything seemed to go wrong. After going 2-3 in a span of five games, they proceeded to lose seven straight at the end of the year, turning a dream season into a nightmare. They finished the season with a 14-15 record, which is most definitely not what Golden Gopher fans expected their team to finish with back in the beginning of the year.
Michigan State Spartans
An extremely talented team featuring the likes of guard Rocket Watts, high-impact transfer Joey Hauser and one of the top all-around players in the conference, Aaron Henry, the Spartans were ranked #13 in the preseason poll, and even had a huge early season win against #6 Duke, but things just never seemed to click for this team after that. They ended the season with a 15-12 record and finished 8th in the Big Ten. Despite the disappointing season, MSU had a chance to make the NCAA Tournament with a good showing in the conference tournament but lost to Maryland in the second round. It was an uncharacteristic season for a usual blue-blood program, and fans in East Lansing can expect Tom Izzo to have his team ready to avenge the lost season next year.
Top 5 2021 NBA Draft Prospects
5. Luka Garza Iowa
Garza was the best player in college basketball this season, and at times was as close to impossible to stop as a person can get. He’s a large human being at 6-11, 265 pounds, and has amazing touch around the rim. He plays very well in the pick and roll with both his finishing ability as well as his ability to shoot the three-ball. Defensively, he led the conference in blocks at nearly 2 blocks a game. But the thing that keeps Garza from being a high pick is his limited upside and questions about how his game will translate at the next level. He is slow and limited athletically, and while he was able to overcome his limitations at Iowa, there is chance he will be exposed in the NBA.
4. Kofi Cockburn, Illinois
Illinois’ other star player, the 7’0, 285-pound mountain of a man dominated the paint on both sides of the ball, and proved he has what it takes to make it to the professional level. He nearly averaged a double-double on the season finishing with an average of 17.3 points and 9.6 rebounds per game. For someone his size, he moves extremely well, and knows how to use his large frame to take advantage of smaller opponents.
3. Aaron Henry, Michigan State
Although he and his team did not meet expectations this season, Henry still played well in spurts throughout the season and proved he is a legit NBA prospect. He won’t be able to go out there and get you 20 points a night, but he does a lot of little things and plays some exceptional defense on the wing.
2. Franz Wagner, Michigan
Brother of Washington Wizards big man Mo Wagner, Franz is one of the best all-around players in the country and looks to be a natural fit on the wing for the modern NBA game. The 19-year-old stands at 6-8, 205 pounds, is a three-level scorer on offense, and has the length, speed, and physicality to guard every position on the floor
1. [Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
The Fighting Illini star combo guard is one of the best players in all of college basketball currently and has the ability to play both guard positions very well. He has great size for a guard at 6-5, 185 pounds, and knows how to use his size to dominate smaller players. He also has the ability to extend his range, is a strong three-point shooter, and has quick hands on the defensive side of the floor. Being a bit old for his class at 21 years old, Dosumu should be a mid to late first round pick who will produce right out of the gate.
Final Regular Season Conference Rankings
14. Nebraska Corn Huskers
Even with experienced coach Fred Hoiberg at the helm and Teddy Allen having a solid year, Nebraska struggled due to a lack of talent. They got caught in a tough position, as they don’t have a bad team, but are stuck in the best conference in college basketball.
13. Minnesota Golden Gophers
Minnesota began the season extremely hot, starting out with an 11-4 record, but then came back down to Earth and stumbled through the finish line of the regular season, losing seven games down the stretch of the year and killed their chances of postseason basketball.
12. Northwestern Wildcats
Like Minnesota, NW started the year out hot and had fans hopeful for the season, but the Wildcats went ice cold and lost an astonishing 13 games in a row from the middle to the end of the season. That is the kind of losing streak that kills all momentum for the rest of the season.
11. Penn State Nittany Lions
The Nittany Lions did not have the talent that other teams in the conference had, and were playing under an interim coach, which usually is a recipe for a bad season. They had some quality wins, but the lack of direction for the team limited them.
10. Indiana Hoosiers
Trayce Jackson-Davis was one of the premier big men in the conference but didn’t have much help. The Hoosiers were in position to make the tournament late in the season, but choked it away and finished with a 12-14 record.
9.Michigan State Spartans
Another team that underachieved this season, MSU had the talent to be one of the top teams in the conference, but never were able to put it all together.
8. Maryland Terrapins
It was an up and down season in College Park, but the Terps ended the season playing really good basketball and have a chance to sneak in to the tournament.
7. Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers and Ron Harper Jr. were one of the top-ranked teams in the country at one point, but eventually came back down to Earth and had a disappointing ending to their season.
6. Wisconsin Badgers
The Badgers are one of the oldest and most talented teams in the conference and used their experience and talent to have a strong season. A small slip-up late in the season hurt their record and ranking, but they will still make the NCAA Tournament, and will be a scary matchup for any team.
5. Ohio State Buckeyes
OSU had a fantastic season, led by E.J. Liddell and Duane Washington Jr.. This team is tough and plays hard and will be a 2 or 3 seed in the tournament.
4. Purdue Boilermakers
Quietly, Purdue is one of the best teams in the conference and showed it this season. They are extremely well-balanced and play extremely well in their home state of Indiana, where the NCAA Tournament will be held this year.
3. Iowa Hawkeyes
Many thought the Hawkeyes would be the best team in the conference, led by Luka Garza. They are an offensive juggernaut and have a great chance of advancing far in the tournament.
2. Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois hit a rough patch in the middle of the season but bounced back and now are one of the best teams in the country and a near lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They are deep and have exceptional guard play. The sky is the limit for them this postseason.
1. Michigan Wolverines
It was a dream season in Ann Arbor, as a team with no expectations dominated everyone in their path to a conference championship and number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. As one of the most well-balanced teams in the country, it is championship-or-bust for them.