College Basketball: Picking the All-Big Ten First, Second and Third Teams
With the regular season officially coming to an end and the dawn of conference tournament season upon us, it is time to reflect on what got us here.
The Big Ten may well be the deepest conference in college basketball, and it was definitely among the the most exciting and competitive..
Three teams sit atop the conference standings, Michigan State, Michigan and Ohio State all at 13-5 in league play. Four other teams have a legitimate case to be dancing by next weekend.
As always, this is not the absolute definitive list and all reader feedback is welcome and encouraged.
Whether you agree or disagree, whether you think someone was left off unjustly, or you think someone was rated too high, say so. That is really the fun part of sports and these types of lists. Everyone is different and sees things with their own point of view.
With that, it's time to select the 2012 All-Big Ten teams.
First Team: Guard, Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
Jordan Taylor was expected by many to be the nation's top point guard in 2011-12. He didn't perform to that level for much of the season, but he is rounding into form.
Taylor's numbers are down from last year across the board, but he is still doing the things a good point guard does. He scores for a shaky offensive team, he helps make his teammates better and he plays tough perimeter defense.
He is averaging 14.6 points, 4.1 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game. He is leading the Big Ten with a 2.6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
In the last five games, Taylor is going for 15.4 points per game and his three-point shooting is picking up. He hit 10-of-19 in that stretch and Wisconsin came out on top in all but one of those games.
Taylor's season as a whole may be viewed as a step back, but anyone going against the Badgers right now better be aware that he is back at the top of his game.
First Team: Guard, Tim Hardaway, Jr, Michigan
The second guard spot was one of the toughest to pick. There were at least three worthy players, but Tim Hardaway came out on top.
Statistically he isn't as appealing as people would expect, but there are few shooting guards that Michigan would take over him.
He scores 14.5 points per game, he doesn't offer a lot in the way of rebounding or assists, at 3.8 and 2.2 per game respectively. He is shooting just 42.3 percent from the field and 28.9 percent from three.
Numbers aside, Hardaway is a true scorer who has the size and flair to make big plays on both ends of the court. He can get to the basket whenever he wants, he can be deadly with a mid-range pull-up and when motivated he can help lock down the perimeter.
Hardaway has the talent and pedigree to take over a game offensively like no other player in the conference and he helps make Michigan a real threat every night.
First Team: Forward, John Shurna, Northwestern
John Shurna has been everything for Northwestern this season. He is their leader in scoring, rebounding and shot blocking. He is doing everything in his power to lift the Wildcats to their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.
He is also the top scorer in the Big Ten at 19.8 points per game and he leads the conference in three-pointers made with 80. He is an incredibly accurate 42.3 percent from long range.
Shurna gets the most out of his ability and with his height, he is so tough to guard on the perimeter. He is known as an offensive player, but he is a very effective defender as well. He averages 1.6 blocks and 1.2 steals per game.
In Northwestern's biggest win against Michigan State he went for 22 points, five rebounds and five assists. In a huge game against Penn State he kept the Wildcats' tourney hopes alive by dropping 23 points, six assists and five blocks. He also hit the game-winning free-throws with 2.6 seconds remaining.
Shurna is a smart player who has a chance to lead his team to it's biggest accomplishment ever.
First Team: Forward, Draymond Green, Michigan State
What is there left to be said about Draymond Green at this point? He has put together an incredible season and led an unproven, undermanned Spartans team to an unimaginable season.
Green has absolutely done it all in East Lansing. He brings it every night in every way for Michigan State.
He is averaging 16.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.5 steals and a block per game. He is even shooting the lights out with 40.5 percent shooting on threes.
Green isn't the most explosive or dynamic player, but he could be argued as the nation's best this season. He is one of the toughest players in the last decade and he is the ultimate competitor and leader.
Jared Sullinger was the talk of the Big Ten heading into the season, but Draymond Green has dominated that conversation all season.
First Team: Forward, Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Jared Sullinger may not end up being the Big Ten Player of the Year, but he has been outstanding.
Expectations couldn't have been any higher for the sophomore and all he did was deliver what was demanded.
He averaged 16.9 points and 9.3 rebounds for the regular season and led the Buckeyes to a share of the Big Ten crown.
He managed to do it while battling injury and inconsistency throughout the season.
In their two heavyweight matchups with Michigan State, Sullinger averaged 15.5 points and 13.0 rebounds while hitting 10-of-12 from the foul line.
After a shaky February, Sullinger helped Ohio State close out strong with road wins against Northwestern and Michigan State. He posted a double-double in both games and averaged 18.0 points, 14.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists.
Ohio State isn't being viewed as a top-seed, but Sullinger can help them exceed expectations in March.
Second Team: Guard, Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Aaron Craft was in serious consideration for the first team, but he came up just short. There is no shame in this placement though, especially in this conference.
Craft is a true point guard who fills the role of keeping his talented teammates fed and playing relentless defense. His tenacious defense is what brings him to another level.
He averages 2.4 steals per game and absolutely hounds opposing point guards. The steals don't tell the whole story either. He tips a countless number of passes and constantly pokes the ball away from ball handlers.
He isn't a scorer at 8.6 points per game, but he can be helpful if called upon. He is shooting 50.3 percent from the field and 38.3 percent on threes.
Craft's contributions don't all show up in the stat sheet, but he is a tough and relentless player who really raises the Buckeyes' level of play.
Second Team: Guard, Trey Burke, Michigan
Trey Burke was also in the debate to be higher, but his teammate just edged him.
As far as freshmen point guards go, it doesn't really get much better than Burke. He has played beyond his years this season as he strikes a balance between scoring and distributing.
With the ball in his hands he is a threat to knock down shots off the dribble or get into the lane and dish to an open teammate.
He is scoring 14.6 points per game and he ranks second in the Big Ten with 4.6 assists. He is incredibly strong for his size and he is an iron man, averaging 35.9 minutes per game, third in the conference.
Burke doesn't play like a freshman and has no fear shooting in big situations. He makes more than he misses and his team has the utmost confidence in him.
Second Team: Forward, Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
Playing alongside Sullinger makes it hard to get attention. Deshaun Thomas has quietly had a great sophomore season.
Thomas has doubled his scoring average to 15.1 points per game and is grabbing 4.9 rebounds as well, both second on the team.
His offensive game is efficient, shooting 52.6 percent from the field and a respectable 34.9 percent on threes. He is also fourth in the conference in offensive rebounding.
Thomas may be overshadowed, but he has been excellent over the last five games of the regular season.
He has averaged 19.6 points per game and 7.8 rebounds in that stretch. He is also shooting a sizzling 47.8 percent on threes.
Not known as a defender, Thomas is a deadly scorer inside and out as well as off the dribble. He also gives them great size and rebounding on the wing.
Every team that wins a title has a great secondary scorer and Thomas can be just that for the Buckeyes.
Second Team: Forward, Robbie Hummel, Purdue
Robbie Hummel is one of the best stories in college basketball. He tore the same ACL twice in a year, missed a season and still came back strong in his delayed senior season.
Hummel is a hard worker and a scrappy player that goes all out all the time. He isn't just an energy-guy though. He has some game as well.
He is fourth in the Big Ten in both scoring and rebounding at 16.8 points and 7.0 rebounds per game. He shoots 36.5 percent on threes and 82.8 percent from the line.
At 6'8" he can actually handle and distribute the ball, averaging 2.0 assists per game and he has deep range from beyond the arc.
Hummel isn't the greatest defender due to his athletic limitations, but he plays hard and ranks sixth in the conference with 1.3 blocks per game.
He has overcome adversity and has succeeded in his college career. Hummel is one of the Big Ten's best.
Second Team: Forward, Cody Zeller, Indiana
Cody Zeller isn't as heralded as his big brother Tyler, but he has been an impressive freshman.
At 6'11" and just 210 pounds, he isn't a powerhouse, but he is fleet of foot and is good on both ends of the floor.
He is in the top-10 in the conference in scoring, rebounding, blocks and steals and he leads the Big Ten in field-goal percentage at 63.5 percent.
Zeller has a soft touch around the basket and he gets to the line a ton, where he converts 75.1 percent of his opportunities.
He has been incredibly consistent for a first-year performer, scoring in double-figures in all but four games this season.
Indiana has had an up and down year, but Zeller is the type of big man who will be hard for any team to stop in the tournament.
Third Team: Guard, Keith Appling, Michigan State
In what was supposed to be a down year for Michigan State, Keith Appling exceeded expectations.
For a team with a surprising 24-7 record that won a share of the Big Ten title, he was the second leading scorer and assist man.
Appling is an explosive athlete who isn't a great shooter, but he can get to the rim almost at will and draw fouls. Once he gets to the free-throw line, he knocks down 79.5 percent of his shots. He also shoots an impressive 50.8 percent from the field.
He has struggled at times, but few players put forth more effort than Appling and he is dangerous in both the half court and in transition.
Tom Izzo traditionally lasts a while in the NCAA Tournament and Appling will need to be a big part of it for him to do it once more.
Third Team: Guard, Tim Frazier, Penn State
Tim Frazier is not the best player in the conference, but no player has produced more.
Numbers may ring slightly hollow for a 12-19 team, but Frazier's output has been impressive. He averages 18.6 points, 6.3 assists, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 steals per night.
He is second in the conference in scoring and steals and he leads the Big Ten in assists, free-throws attempted and free-throws made.
Frazier literally does it all for Penn State, leading his team in scoring, assists, rebounds and steals.
He posted five double-doubles on the season and fell one assist shy of a triple double against Nebraska. He also topped 20 points in 16 games this season. Frazier does it on a losing team, but he still does it.
Third Team: Guard, William Buford, Ohio State
William Buford was almost relegated to the honorable mention list, but he stole a spot with his brilliant performance at Michigan State on Sunday. Actually, a case could probably be made that he deserves to be even higher.
Buford has had a wonderfully consistent career at Ohio State. He has topped double-figures in scoring all four years. He has never averaged less than 3.7 rebounds or 2.9 assists per game. He has also never shot lower than 43.4 percent from the field, 36.1 percent on threes and 75.4 percent from the line.
This year Buford is scoring 15.1 points per game and adding 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists. He is hitting 36.6 percent of his threes and 83.5 percent from the line.
He is one of very few highly productive seniors in college basketball and aside from leadership, he brings competitiveness, physicality and the ability to hit shots in crucial moments.
The more you look at Ohio State's roster, the harder it is to imagine anyone beating them before the Final Four.
Third Team: Forward, Ryan Evans, Wisconsin
Ryan Evans is not a big name, especially for a junior. Regardless of his production prior to this season, he has become an impact player in 2011-12.
On an offense-deficient team like Wisconsin, his consistant double-figure scoring is huge. Evans has 10-consecutive games over 10 points and the last time he was held under that mark was January 22.
Wisconsin is 7-3 in that stretch, with two of those losses coming to Ohio State and at Michigan State.
Evans is also a tough rebounder and defender, averaging 6.9 rebounds and 1.0 block per game.
He posted a double-double in a huge win at Ohio State last week. Wisconsin is starting to play like the team they were supposed to be and Evans' scoring and rebounding can help them make a dent in the tournament bracket.
Third Team: Center, Meyers Leonard, Illinois
Meyers Leonard is a legitimate 7'0" center and he is far from a plodding stereotype.
He is 240 pounds and has incredible quickness and athleticism for a man his size. Leonard is very effective on the block with a nice scoring touch around the rim.
He is also a tough rebounder and a very good post defender.
Leonard averaged 13.4 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.9 blocks in the regular season. He was also a highly efficient 57.5 percent shooter from the field and 73.2 percent from the foul line.
In a great matchup with Indiana's Cody Zeller, he held his own with 17 points, three blocks and three assists on 7-of-10 shooting.
He dramatically improved as a sophomore and if he returns to Champaign for another year, you can expect another significant jump.
Inspired by readers, every list will now be accompanied by an honorable mention list. It seems that the comments center on players that ended up just missing the cut, so it is only fair to include them in some way.
Here are the players who were closest to making the All-Big Ten team:
|Lewis Jackson, G||Purdue||10.5 PPG||4.2 APG||3.2 RPG|
|Brandon Paul, G||Illinois||15.0 PPG||4.7 RPG||1.5 STL|
|Drew Crawford, G/F||Northwestern||16.4 PPG||4.6 RPG||.419 3PT%|
|Victor Oladipo, G||Indiana||11.2 PPG||5.4 RPG||1.5 STL|
|Matt Gatens, G||Iowa||15.7 PPG||3.8 RPG||.429 3PT%|
Even with five extra players added, I'm sure there are some others who deserve to be recognized. Especially since all five players are guards. Now it is your turn to have your voice heard.
I look forward to debating with you all.