Big Ten Conference Wrap-Up

Player of the Year

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

Denzel ValentineDenzel ValentineDespite some stiff competition in a league loaded with parity this year, Denzel Valentine comes away with our POY honors. As the leading scorer, not only on what is looking like the conference’s best team at the moment, but also in the whole league, Valentine also led the Big Ten in assists (as a small forward!) and defensive rebounds and finished top 7 in the league in rebounding, 3-pt. percentage, free throw percentage, and assist/turnover ratio. And he’s maybe the most influential vocal leader of any team in the conference. He’ll certainly be near the top of the list of All-American candidates and should even get some consideration for the Wooden and Naismith Awards. Valentine has meant so much to this program over the past four year, but his career is, hopefully for the Spartans program, far from over. His teams have progressively gone one round further in each of his NCAA Tournament appearances, culminating last season in a Final Four bid. But Valentine has the talent to continue that streak and put this year’s Spartans in the championship.

Runner-Up

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

Early in conference play, the Player of the Year race was a two-man one. Between Valentine and Jarrod Uthoff. Not to mention, the Big Ten title race looked like it would likely be Iowa’s to lose. So the fact that Yogi Ferrell has not only led his team to an unlikely Big Ten conference title, but has gotten his name into the conference Player of the Year discussion is a marvel. Ferrell sits at 4th in the conference in both scoring (17.1 PPG) and assists (5.5 APG) as he is the spark for the league’s most potent offense. It’s been an incredible career for the senior from Indianapolis, and after Indiana’s early tournament exits the past few seasons, he’s got his eye on the Final Four and beyond.

Freshman of the Year

Diamond Stone, Maryland

Officially, this will likely end up as a two-man race between Stone and Ethan Happ of Wisconsin. Both came on strong in conference play and have played like upperclassmen when at their best. I personally give the nod to Stone who, while often more inconsistent and prone to freshman mistakes (quite understandable due as Stone spent last season in high school while Happ spent the year redshirting and practicing against Frank Kaminsky.), has been, at times, dominant (see his 39 points against Penn State) and has posted a pretty solid statline: 12.7 PPG – 5.4 RPG – 1.7 BPG – 56% FG. One would think he has another year left at the college level, but at times this season, he certainly looked like a pro player.

Draft Sleeper

AJ Hammons, Purdue

While he’s had a fantastic season, he hasn’t quite made an impact among NBA scouts. Hammons is generally being projected in the late first round-early second round in mock drafts, but he’s been one of the best big men in college basketball this season. An incredibly well-rounded post player, Hammons has a soft touch around the hoop, has great size (7’0”, 260 lbs.) for an NBA 5, has a solid amount of both strength and athleticism, just earned the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Award as he has closed in on the Purdue blocked shots record, and has recently showed a surprising shooting touch from all the way beyond the 3-point arc, as his 6/10 shooting from distance, in addition to his pretty good rate on long 2’s, can attest. He’ll be 24 by the start of the next NBA season, which is the primary drawback for him, but he certainly has developed into an NBA-ready basketball player in his four years at Purdue, and if he can lead the Boilermakers on a deep run in the tournament, his stock could plateau in the mid-first round or even the late lottery.

Coach of the Year

Greg Gard, Wisconsin

A strong case can be made for Indiana’s Tom Crean, who took a team that struggled on defense all of last season and lost it’s second-leading scorer to injury halfway through this season to a Big Ten title and a potential top 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but Greg Gard came into a unique coaching situation, inheriting an underperforming Wisconsin fresh off losing it’s two best players to the NBA, and taking them to Big Ten title contention. Gard took over in December when the team was 7-5 and has since coached them to a 13-6 record. A team that was once totally off the Selection Committee’s radar at 9-9 well into the season is now quite comfortably in the big dance and looking to compete for a conference title. The trio of Hayes, Koenig, and Happ has been one of the best in the Big Ten and hopes to be one of the best in the nation as the Badgers prepare for the first Bo Ryan-less postseason since 2001.

Biggest Surprise

Peter Jok and Iowa

In preseason, Iowa was projected by most to finish in the bottom half of the conference and to likely be squarely on the tournament bubble. Peter Jok, though one of the key returning players for Iowa, was expected to play a distant third fiddle to teammates Jarrod Uthoff and Mike Gesell. But Jok soon blossomed as one of the premier shooting guards in the conference and Hawkeyes ran out in front of the pack to gain an early grip on first in the conference before their recent struggles. Jok more than doubled his scoring average (7.0 to 15.8) and played excellent defense while proving to be a big-time threat from 3-point land. Though still outperformed by Uthoff, without Jok, this team is likely not a top 25 team and would be very one-dimensional on offense. The junior will likely be an early candidate for 2016-2017 Big Ten Player of the Year, and, at 6’6” with good lateral quickness, athleticism, and shooting ability, he may soon find himself on draft boards. The Hawkeyes have cooled off this season, but they have more than competed with the Maryland’s and the Michigan State’s and the Indiana’s and the Purdue’s of this tough, tough conference.

Honorable Mention:

Matt Costello, Michigan State
Andrew White III, Nebraska
Robert Carter, Maryland

Biggest Disappointment

Caris Levert, Michigan

There weren’t any individuals who massively underperformed this season to snatch up this dubious distinction. Most of the guys considered were affected by injuries like LeVert and Blackmon, or saw their teams dramatically improve following this injuries, also like Blackmon, or didn’t quite break out as expected, like Koenig. The ultimate disappointment, through no fault of his own, would have to be the season of Caris LeVert. The Michigan standout, long rumored to be a potential NBA lottery pick, continued to be plagues by injury this season, having to call it quits after battling a nagging injury for much of conference play. Any time a player has to sit on his Senior Day, let along a star player and high-character guy like LeVert, it’s really tough to see. LeVert played very well while healthy, but his Wolverines are now struggling to sneak into the tournament without him and his draft stock is in serious danger of slipping out of the first round. We wish this kid the best, because it’s been an up-and-down 4 years.

Honorable Mention:

[Player: James Blackmon, Jr.], Indiana
Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
Illinois
Melo Trimble and Maryland

First Team All Big-Ten

F – Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
G - Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
F - Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
C - AJ Hammons, Purdue
F – Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

Second Team
G – Melo Trimble, Maryland
G – Peter Jok, Iowa
G – Malcolm Hill, Illinois
G – Bryn Forbes, Michigan State
G – Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern

Third Team
G – Shavon Shields, Nebraska
F – Troy Williams, Indiana
F – Andrew White III, Nebraska
F – Robert Carter, Maryland
F – Matt Costello, Michigan State

All-Freshman Team
C – Diamond Stone, Maryland
F – Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
F – Thomas Bryant, Indiana
F – Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
G – Corey Sanders, Rutgers

Power Rankings/Likelihood of Winning Conference Tournament/Bracketology

1) Michigan State – 1 seed
2) Indiana – 4 seed
3) Purdue – 5 seed
4) Iowa – 5 seed
5) Maryland – 4 seed
6) Wisconsin – 7 seed
7) Ohio State - NIT
8) Michigan – 11 seed
9) Northwestern - NIT
10) Nebraska – No postseason
11) Penn State - No postseason
12) Illinois - No postseason
13) Rutgers - No postseason
14) Minnesota - No postseason

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