Big Ten's Race To the Top: The Top 10 for Conference Player of the Year
With conference play finally under way, Big 10 fans are finally going to have the chance to see who turns out to be the Evan Turner of 2011. While it is clear that the Big 10 is heads above the rest the most intense conference in college basketball, they also have one of the deepest field of stars that we have seen in recent years.
Nonetheless, Ohio St., Michigan St., Purdue, Minnesota, Illinois, and Wisconsin all vying for spots in the March Madness Tournament, each of these teams have one or two studs who could outplay the rest and reach the ultimate personal goal, Big 10 player of the year.
10. John Shurna: Northwestern Wildcats
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Stats (through 1/7/11): 21.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.3 APG
John Shurna has the unfortunate opportunity of playing around a bunch of guys who don't play anywhere near his caliber. He has clearly emerged as one of the Big 10's best and continues to make surprise pushes with a team who really relies on him to make the big plays and step up in the big games. Even though the last 3 games he has averaged 11.6 PPG compared to the 24.4 PPG in his first 9, and his team has lost 3 of their last 4, watch for Shurna to pick his team up and make a push for the Wildcat's first postseason birth in school history.
Why He's Here: It may be very difficult for Shurna to win this award but I could see it happening if and only if Northwestern makes a run to at least the Sweet 16 or Elite 8. Sure being a leader is all about helping your team progress to push for a championship, but I don't think there's enough beneath Shurna to bring this team to the top.
9. Durrell Summers: Michigan State Spartans
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Stats (through 1/7/11): 15.2 PPG, 4.7 RPG
Durrell Summers, while increasing his stats from an impressive 2009-2010 campaign, still hasn't reached the potential that Tom Izzo looks for. Being the experienced player that he is and while his minutes and points are going up, his rebounding is so far the exact same last year at 4.7 RPG. While he is a guard and should be worried about passing the ball more, he's still only averaging .6 APG which ranks in the lower third of Big 10 players.
Why He's Here: Last year when Kalin Lucas went out with an awful injury, Summers had to step up huge to bring MSU back to another Final Four. If once again, Lucas goes down with a season ending injury, Summers will have to step up and be the back bone of this Spartan team who has been struggling so far this season.
8. Kalin Lucas: Michigan St. Spartans
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Stats (through 1/7/11): 14.4 PPG, 3.6 APG, 1.3 SPG
Coming into this season, I seriously thought that Kalin Lucas was hands down the most overrated player in college basketball. I certainly didn't think he was going to bring Michigan State to yet another Final Four this coming season. While his numbers are a surprisingly bit higher than they were last year, I still don't think that him and Summers have the ability to make a run for a Big 10 Championship.
Why He's Here: To be frank with you, I personally don't see Lucas as one of the top players in the Big 10 today. For his fortune though, he plays for perhaps the best coaches in the country and has been on one of the most consistent and successful teams of the past decade. Many people are saying that Lucas will be drafted in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft and I'll be shocked if that actually happens.
7. ETwaun Moore: Purdue Boilermakers
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Stats (through 1/7/11): 19.3 PPG, 5.9 RPG, 3.0 APG
E'Twaun, like his teammate who you will meet in a minute or two, have formed a formidable duo of Boilermaker seniors who have taken over the Big 10 by surprise. Just like Talor Battle, Moore has been on a statistical climb ever since he came into West Lafayette. As of today, Moore ranks 5th in the conference in PPG, and 5th in steals with 1.7 SPG. He has stood out among guards throughout the nation and while he dishes out very few assists, his defensive capabilities make him a target for NBA teams.
Why He's Here: Moore seems to be getting an awful lot of hype compared to his teammate who appears in a few slides. Regardless, Moore's PPG has been a show of why he has brought Boilermaker basketball back on the map even without star Robbie Hummell. Though Moore got very little preseason recognition, he's been the talk of several Big 10 analysts of players to look out for.
6. Jon Leuer: Wisconsin Badgers
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Stats (through 1/7/11): 19.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 52.2 FG%
Ever since he stepped on the court in Madison, Jon Leuer has become a star for the Badgers. While he only averaged roughly 9 points a game his sophomore year, Bo Ryan had huge hopes for this 6'10" forward and was prepared to witness an extremely mature player help run his team. Jon Leuer is playing like a college version of Dirk Nowitzki. He is playing the post game well, rebounding really well, and he's figured out how to shoot the 3. Even though he's shooting about 39% from behind the arc, you'll struggle to find another big man in college basketball who can shoot like him.
Why He's Here: Even before the season started Leuer was getting lots of hype from analysts about how Wisconsin is going to be such a good team because of his talent. As much as I'm not a fan of Wisconsin, Leuer really has done a lot for this Badger team showing that he does play about 33 minutes per game which ranks in near the top of the conference.
5. Talor Battle: Penn St. Nittany Lions
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Stats (through 1/7/11): 21.1 PPG, 5.1 RPG, 3.0 APG
Do you know who's leading the Big 10 in scoring? Is it Kalin Lucas? No. Is it John Shurna? No. Is it Jared Sullinger? Nope, sorry. I know, I was surprised too. This senior guard, ever since freshman year has been on a statistical climb in points and rebounds. Averaging an unbelievably high 36.6 PPG, Battle has unbelievable endurance and it won't be any question to likely see him drafted come NBA Draft time.
Why He's Here: It's unfortunate when you come across a player with this much talent and whose team is as bad as they are. The 8-6 Nittany Lions are 1-2 in Big 10 play and their next four games are against #19 Michigan St., #20 Illinois, #2 Ohio St., and #10 Purdue. If Battle is going to want recognition from here on out, he's going to have to pick up his team and make huge statements in these next four difficult games. I hope the best for Battle because he is certainly the Allen Iverson of college basketball.
4. JaJuan Johnson: Purdue Boilermakers
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Stats (through 1/7/11): 19.6 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 2.4 BPG
While last year JaJuan followed in the shadow of E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummell, Johnson has emerged as the star player for Purdue. Could you imagine if Hummell was playing in the front court with this guy these days? Those two men would probably be the best front court in college basketball. Averaging 8.5 rebounds per game, he is currently 4th in the conference and his 2.4 blocks per game rank him at the 2nd spot.
Why He's Here: It is certainly not a long shot for Johnson to win Big 10 Player of the Year since he has become an integral part of a Purdue team who has a serious shot at a good seed in the NCAA Tournament. There is no doubt in my mind that he can make that happen. Towards the end of the season, watch for Johnson to make a push for possible Big 10 Defensive Player of the Year if he begins to falter offensively.
3. Trevor Mbakwe: Minnesota Golden Gophers
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Stats (through 1/7/11): 13.2 PPG, 10.3 PPG, 58.8 FG%
Most people didn't know who Trevor Mbakwe was before this season. Truth is because he hasn't played college basketball since the 2007-2008 season for Marquette. Nowadays for Coach Tubby Smith, Mbakwe has become the leading rebounder in the Big 10 and has the 3rd best FG% in the conference. Playing along side Ralph Sampson III, these two guys have put together a dominating Gopher front court that may and will cause many problems for teams later this season.
Why He's Here: Well saying that Mbakwe is the best rebounder in the conference and hasn't played at this level in a few years, it's difficult to keep him off this list. Oddly enough, his 6'8" and 240 lb. stature shows that he is almost all muscle. I would never wanna go up for a rebound against this guy cause he will shove you to the ground. Fortunately, Tubby Smith has found a way to put this guy into the Gopher rotation and he is a man to be reckoned with in the upcoming seasons.
2. Demetri McCamey: Illinois Fighting Illini
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Stats (through 1/7/11): 16.2 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 7.3 APG, 54.3 3P%
McCamey is currently playing as one of the top players in the country. This 6'3" guard out of Bellwood, Illinois has become one of the past passer-shooters in the game. His 7.3 APG ties him for the most in the conference and his 3-point percentage is 2nd best in the Big 10. By some miracle, McCamey is surrounded by other good young players down in Champaign-Urbana and they have really brought back the U of I hype that was once felt with Dee Brown and Deron Williams 5 or so years ago.
Why He's Here: Other than how great his numbers are, there's really no explanation as for why McCamey is on this list. He leads the #20 ranked team in the nation and he is the best player on that team. McCamey will surely be a first round pick come draft time and he will be a great energy guy to come off the bench and knock down the threes in times of need.
1. Jared Sullinger: Ohio St. Buckeyes
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Stats (through 1/7/11): 18.1 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 59.5 FG%
Was there really any question who this would be? This freshman superstar is the exact same player as Greg Oden. Big, strong, tough, and probably a first selection at the draft both out of Ohio State. Sullinger was surrounded by Harrison Barnes, Josh Selby, and Kyrie Irving as the freshman to watch in the 2010-2011 season. He has been the most important part of Coach Thad Matta's 15-0 Buckeyes thus far. I see no backing down in this star and I see great things to come from this unbelievable fighter.
Why He's Here: I don't know what else to say here. He clearly has been the most dominant force in the Big 10 and has taken down some pretty good teams so far this season. His biggest test so far will be on Sunday when they face the Golden Gophers at home along with their star Trevor Mbakwe. This should be a match-up you won't want to miss, folks.