4 Standout Big Ten Player of the Year Candidates
With one game left in the men’s Big Ten regular season, talks have started about who will be named the conference’s player of the year. Whereas Michigan’s Trey Burke easily took home the award in a landslide selection a year ago, this season doesn’t have such a clear front-runner. The Big Ten always has one of the deepest and best conferences in the nation, but the parity has been even more so this season. Everybody has beaten everybody — for example, the recently crowned Big Ten Champion Wolverines needed a buzzer-beating layup from Glenn Robinson III to beat last-place Purdue a little more than a week ago.
This depth and parity that has become a staple of Big Ten basketball is because of the players; they make their respective teams competitive, and becoming the conference’s player of the year has become an honor second to none. It’s given to the most distinguished player in the one of the best conferences in the nation.
It would be easiest if the selection was solely based on talent and statistics. It is not. While those factors play an important role, there are other more intangible characteristics. The voters (the coaches in this case) tend to take into account how a player’s team has done throughout the season — which is something that isn’t necessarily determinative of who the best player in the Big Ten actually is — and also how they have played recently. A team like Michigan, who just won its first Big Ten regular season since 1986, is more likely to produce the player of the year than, say, Penn State or Purdue, who reside at the bottom of the conference. Either way, this is not a list ranking who is most likely to win the award: it’s a list making a case for the current top candidates.
1. Nik Stauskas, Michigan Wolverines
The sophomore guard has done a little bit of everything this season for Michigan. He’s made big 3-pointers when the Wolverines needed it, he’s been a consistent scoring threat, and his 6’6″ frame is very difficult to defend against as a guard. On the season, he’s averaging 17.3 points, 3.5 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game. While his numbers have dropped a little bit in conference play (16.8 points per game), he has been the difference this season for Michigan.
Stauskas will also be in consideration because of the role he undertook following the departure of Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. last season to the NBA. The Wolverines were thought to be undergoing rebuilding this year because they were lacking a true scorer and had a relatively young, inexperienced roster. Stauskas squashed that idea very quickly as he became a dominant go-to scorer for Michigan’s offense. It also doesn’t hurt his case that he was the impetus behind the Wolverines’ successful Big Ten regular-season championship. With one game left before the Big Ten Tournament, Stauskas isn’t the best statistically, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he isn’t worthy of receiving the accolade.
2. Terran Petteway, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Though Nebraska might fall short of an NCAA Tournament berth this season, they have been surprisingly successful (relatively speaking) and Petteway has been the force driving this success. His 17.8 points per game is tied for second in the conference, and he also averages 4.7 rebounds per game. In just his first season with the Cornhuskers — he transferred and had to sit out last season — Petteway has been the scoring threat they’ve always lacked. Nebraska hasn’t made the NCAA Tournament since 1998, and if they finally get back to it this season, Petteway is a major reason.
But it might not be enough. Though the Cornhuskers sit fourth in the conference and are one win away from a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, they’ve yet to make a splash at the national level. A late-season push and a tournament berth would really bolster Petteway’s chances, but that will occur after the player of the year votes have been tallied. Win or not, Petteway has had the kind of impact that every coach hopes for in their transfer students.
3. Devyn Marble, Iowa Hawkeyes
A second-generation Iowa basketball star, Marble has been terrific in his senior campaign. While statistically he is probably the weakest of the bunch, his presence has finally put Iowa back on the national stage. After years of being just a few shots or a few wins away from making the jump to a bigger stage, the Hawkeyes have finally done that this season — and it’s a lot in part to Marble.
He’s averaging 17.1 points per game and has saved some of his best plays for the end of the season, which tends to have a favorable effect on the voters. Despite Iowa’s .500 record over the past six games, Marble has scored 21.2 points per game during that stretch. He can beat teams down low in the post or on the perimeter, and this what makes him such a threat to opposing teams.
4. Gary Harris, Michigan State Spartans
At the beginning of the season, Harris was the favorite to win this award — and he still very well may win the award, but now it is not as much of a certainty. He leads the league in scoring with 17.9 points per game, and he’s proven throughout much of the season that he is a very skilled player. Opposed to Marble, though, Harris is trending downward and the Spartans have followed suit.
Michigan State has lost three of its last four games, and during that run, Harris has not shot well from the field (most notably during a 79-70 loss to Michigan, where he went an abysmal 7-17 from the floor and 4-13 from behind the 3-point line.)
When the Spartans were plagued by injuries for a majority of this season (most notably senior forward Adreian Payne), Harris took on a majority of the scoring burden to account for the loss of production. This in itself is enough to put him near the top of the player of the year ballot. The only knock on Harris’ candidacy comes in the Spartans’ late-season struggles and how he equally struggled during that time. Whether or not Harris wins the award next week, he’s a player to watch for come the Big Ten tournament — especially if the Spartans are completely healthy.