This could be one of the most difficult seasons in recent history for members of the media and coaches in the Big Ten to select the 10 best players in the Big Ten.
How tough will it be to select the 10 best players in the Big Ten? Consider the following facts.
Nine players who earned either First, Second or Third team All-Big Ten honors last year are back and playing well.
While there are many returning stars, there are also many new stars that are making a huge impact in the Conference.
Five of the top 10 scorers, seven of the top assist leaders and eight of the top 10 rebounders this season in the Big Ten were not among the players who earned All-Big Ten honors last year.
Also complicating matters is that the leading candidate to be named Big Ten Player of the Year, Jared Salinger, is a freshman.
While there is still plenty of basketball left to be played and for players to earn All-Big Ten honors, let’s identify 10 players that at the midway point in the season that have distinguished themselves and will get serious consideration at the end of the year.
Sullinger has been exceptional this year as he is averaging 19 points and 10 rebounds a game on the season in the Big Ten while shooting 58 percent from the field and 73 percent from the free-throw line. When Sullinger gets the ball in the low post, he is virtually impossible to stop. While being a force in the post this season, Jared has played very intelligently avoiding ill-advised fouls as he has fouled out in only one game this season and has picked up four fouls only twice on the season.
The amount of work Johnson did in the offseason to improve his game is evident in the smooth release of his jump shot and the 10 extra pounds of weight on his frame. Johnson is leading the Big Ten in scoring with 22 points a game, and he is averaging seven rebounds a game. While Sullinger is the front runner for player of the year honors, Johnson deserves some consideration for the award given JaJuan has little frontcourt help as there is no other Purdue player over 6'5" averaging more than 10 minutes of playing time a game. Did I mention Johnson is the Big Ten block shot leader?
Taylor has emerged this year as the best point guard in the Big Ten which is an amazing accomplishment given there were three guards last year who received First Team All-Big Ten honors, and one of those guards was a former Big Ten Player of the Year. Taylor is second in scoring in the Big Ten averaging 20 points, but what separates him from the other guards is that his assist to turnover ratio is 3.8; E’Twaun Moore is second with an assist to turnover ratio of 2.9.
Last year, Moore was a first team All-Big Ten selection. After Robbie Hummel was injured, coach Matt Painter undoubtedly asked the senior to do even more this year with the understanding that every team in the Big Ten would target him for extra attention. No problem. Moore is averaging more points, rebounds and assists while committing fewer fouls and turnovers from last year.
Leuer may be the most underrated big player in the Big Ten as he moves exceptionally well without the ball and is never in the wrong position on defense. Leuer is averaging 19 points, fourth best in the league, and seven boards a game in Big Ten play while shooting 45 percent from beyond the arc on the season. Leuer rejects the idea that free-throw shooting is a lost art as he is shooting 85 percent from the charity stripe.
Battle has been named to the All-Big Ten team the past two years, and he should once again be so honored at the end of the year as he is once again among the leading scorers in the Conference averaging 20 points a game. Battle has unbelievable shooting range and the only player in the country who has comparable shooting range is Jim Fredette of Brigham Young. If Jeff Brooks is unable to return back in the near future from his shoulder separation, expect to see the Nittany Lions rely on Battle even more on the offensive end. Penn State as a team has exceeded expectations of everyone which in turn has likely increased Battle’s value in the eyes of the media and coaches in the Big Ten.
Lucas had a rough start to the season likely attributable to the torn Achilles tendon injury he suffered last March; however Kalin is beginning to show signs of returning to his old form. Lucas is averaging 17 points and four assists a game. Kalin is taking more three-point shots and has improved his shooting stroke from beyond the arc; Lucas, however, has struggled with his medium-range jump shot as his overall shooting percentage from the floor has dropped this year. If the Spartans implode after their 72-52 loss to Iowa, it will be interesting to see if the media views any of the Spartans worthy of First or Second Team All-Big Ten honors.
There are players in the Big Ten that score more points, grab more rebounds and make more assists than Lighty, but it is harder to imagine a senior in the Conference that means more to his team than Lighty. Sure Sullinger is the locomotive of the Ohio State train, but when there is a need to make a key defensive stop or jump start, the Buckeye offense's Lighty seems to find a way to make a play. The most impressive play Lighty made for Ohio State this season is allowing Sullinger to clearly be the big man on campus.
The Michigan program appears to be on the rise again and the Wolverine leading the pack is Darius Morris. Morris is leading the Big Ten in assists with an eye-popping seven assists a game. Darius is also averaging 15 points and four rebounds. Morris has increased his scoring, assist and rebound averages threefold from last year. The most impressive statistic that demonstrates how much Darius has improved from last year is that his shooting percentage increased by 11 percent. The future is looking much brighter in Ann Arbor.
Thompson is under the radar and in the shadow of John Shurna in Evanston. While Shurna is an outstanding player, the player that stirs the drink for Northwestern is Thompson who is averaging 15 points, five assists and two steals a game. When Shurna was unable to play against Ohio State because of injury, Thompson took the team on to his shoulders and led the Wildcats to within a bucket of upsetting the Buckeyes by scoring 16 points and dishing out eight assists while committing only one turnover.