There may not be a more intriguing conference race in the country than the one taking place in the Big Ten. Teams in the nation’s best league litter the Top 25, and the physical style of play and intimidating and historic arenas make Big Ten play must-see television every night.
The captivating nature of the race for the conference crown will soon transfer to the Player of the Year competition as the season enters its final stages. After all, it’s only logical that the conference with the best combination of teams also has some of the best players.
It would not be difficult to make an air-tight case for a number of candidates to be named the Big Ten’s MVP. Trey Burke may be the best point guard in all of college basketball, Cody Zeller was the preseason darling who has the Hoosiers primed for a deep run in March and lesser-talked about guys like Brandon Paul, Jared Berggren and Keith Appling have also been great.
However, today we are going to make the case for Ohio State’s Mr. Everything Deshaun Thomas. I’m not necessarily saying he is going to win the award, but if he does, this is why it will happen.
Any argument for Thomas' behalf has to start with his scoring prowess. He leads the Big Ten in points per game at 20.5, which is also good enough for 12th in the country.
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What’s more, Thomas puts up his impressive scoring totals while basically being a one-man show when it comes to half-court offense. While players like Burke and Zeller can lean on others such as Tim Hardaway Jr. and Christian Watford to draw the defense's attention, Thomas is the sole focus of just about every defense he plays. He rarely sees an open shot.
In fact, in the Buckeyes’ recent loss to Michigan State Thomas put up 28 points—the same amount as the rest of the team combined.
It would be easy to read into that and assume that Ohio State’s leading man accumulates his points merely by chucking up significantly more shots than his teammates, but Thomas has developed into an efficient scorer. He is shooting better than 47 percent from the field, 42 percent from downtown and 80 percent from the free-throw stripe.
He actually leads the Buckeyes in three-point percentage and is behind only Aaron Craft when it comes to free throws.
Tom Dienhart from the Big Ten Network recently ranked the seven players from the league that he would want taking the final shot, and Thomas was on top of that list. He noted Thomas' limitless range, ability to drive around or shoot over defenders and the fact that Thomas is the best pure scorer in the Big Ten as his reasoning.
Yes, the scoring is impressive, but the knock on Thomas during his first two seasons in Columbus was that he was a liability on defense and a purely one-dimensional player. While he will never be mistaken for Craft when the other team has the ball, his defense is much better than in years past.
Thomas has held his own in the paint and is quick enough to handle smaller forwards. What’s more, he has hit the glass hard and leads the Buckeyes in rebounding at nearly seven boards a night. Considering he is only 6’7” in a league full of giants, that is fairly impressive.
Anytime an offensive force can contribute in other areas of the game, it makes for a great player that any coach would love to have on his squad.
Ultimately though, Thomas’ chances at the Big Ten Player of the Year will come down to how he performs down the stretch and where Ohio State ends up in the standings. With games against Michigan, Indiana, Michigan State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois still on the docket, he will have plenty of opportunities to show his worth.
The Buckeyes are going to need him to do just that.