Early look at Big Ten honors
Two weeks — four games for most teams — remain in the Big Ten regular season and so much still needs to be decided:
MSU’s Draymond Green is making a push for MVP honors. (Sandra Dukes-US PRESSWIRE)
Who is the Most Valuable Player?
It was basically Ohio State sophomore Jared Sullinger’s award to lose when the season started. It was arguably still that way a couple weeks ago.
But Michigan State senior Draymond Green is swooping in and about to steal it away.
While Sullinger and the Buckeyes struggle, Green has led the Spartans’ unexpected charge to the top of the conference.
There is no more versatile player in the Big Ten. Green ranks first in rebounding (10.5), eighth in scoring (15.4) and ninth in assists (3.7). His on- and off-the-court leadership is off the charts, according to his coach, Tom Izzo.
Others who deserve consideration include Northwestern’s John Shurna, who leads the Big Ten in scoring with a 20.2-point average, and Penn State guard Tim Frazier, who ranks second in scoring (18.5) and first in assists (6.3) on a lousy team.
Wisconsin point guard Jordan Taylor was supposed to be in the running, but he hasn’t lived up to it in too many games, most recently at Michigan State when he got outplayed by the Spartans’ Keith Appling.
Pick: Sullinger might still win the award based on hype and reputation, but Green should win it, as of today, based on performance. Nobody has been more valuable.
Trey Burke is always on the floor for the Wolverines. (Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE)
Who is the Freshman of the Year?
Do you go with the big man (Indiana’s Cody Zeller) or the point guard (Michigan’s Trey Burke)?
Zeller ranks sixth in the conference in both scoring (15.6) and rebounding (6.6), and is tied for fifth in blocks (1.3), but Burke is second in assists (4.8) and fifth in minutes played (35.4).
Another candidate to consider is Northwestern point guard Dave Sobolewski, who leads the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio (97 assists, 31 turnovers in 26 games).
Pick: I’d give the nod to Burke based on the fact he’s always on the floor and the ball is always in his hands. His emergence is the biggest reason why the Wolverines are in contention for a Big Ten title.
Tom Izzo has the Spartans in position to potentially grab a No. 1 tourney seed. (Mike Carter-US PRESSWIRE)
Who is the Coach of the Year?
Indiana’s Tom Crean appeared to be a lock with the way he’s rebuilt that program. The Hoosiers are the only team to beat No. 1 Kentucky all season.
But they’re also just 5-6 in their last 11 games, including a loss Sunday to Iowa.
Michigan’s John Beilein certainly should be in the conversation, but how do you deny Izzo if the Spartans go on and win the title?
Pick: Izzo. Michigan State has emerged as a possible No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. That was not supposed to happen this season.
Michigan State controls its own destiny for a Big Ten title. (Mike Carter-US PRESSWIRE)
Who’s going to win the championship?
Michigan State can claim its second outright title — third total — in the last four years by sweeping its final four games.
That includes two possible challenges on the road (Minnesota and Indiana) and then the season finale at home against Ohio State.
The Buckeyes don’t deserve the title with the way they’re playing right now, but they are talented enough to snap out of it and still win this thing.
The other contender is Michigan, which is tied for second place with OSU, a game behind Michigan State. Three of Michigan’s final four games are on the road, but they are all winnable.
If the Wolverines can beat Northwestern tonight on the road, they will give themselves a realistic chance to win a share of their first regular-season title since 1986.
The problem is that it doesn’t appear Michigan State is going to cooperate. The Spartans have the look of a team determined to run the table. No team is playing with a greater sense of urgency at the moment.
Pick: Michigan State, outright title.
How many teams are going to get NCAA Tournament bids?
As of last Friday, CollegeRPI.com’s Jerry Palm had nine Big Ten teams in his projected field.
It’s not likely to be that many in the end, though, because the conference keeps beating itself up. Illinois, for instance, continues to play its way out of the field by losing eight of the last nine. The Illini look down and out.
There are five apparent shoo-ins at this time. Michigan State and Ohio State are competing for No. 1 or No. 2 seeds. Michigan and Wisconsin — possibly Indiana, too — are potential top-five seeds.
The separation of the contenders from the rest of the conference is starting to take a toll on some teams that were considered NCAA-bound not too long ago.
Purdue and Northwestern are sitting on or dangerously close to the bubble. Some projections have them in the 68-team field as of today. The Big Ten’s reputation as the nation’s top conference certainly won’t hurt their chances.
What’s more, the Boilermakers and Wildcats still have good opportunities to impress the selection committee.
Purdue, which has lost five of its last eight, would benefit greatly from a win at Michigan or Indiana. Northwestern needs to beat Michigan or Ohio State at home. Both also have the conference tournament to make a last-ditch statement.
Minnesota, like Illinois, has picked a bad time to go on a losing skid. The Gophers, who have lost three straight and five of their last seven, probably need to beat Michigan State or Indiana at home. Maybe both.
Iowa is hanging in the conference standings with some of these fence-sitting teams, but a RPI of No. 137 — worst among conference teams — takes the Hawkeyes out of the mix.
Projection: No more than seven NCAA bids for the Big Ten, maybe surprisingly as few as five if the bubble teams don’t beat someone ahead of them down the stretch.