Tonight, the Big Ten announces their season-end awards, meaning it's time for the second annual SoP Big Ten awards. If you missed last year's edition, or need a refresher on some of the categories, click here.
So without further ado, here are this year's winners (and remember, the player stats cited are for conference play only).
Player of the Year (The Glenn Robinson)
Three Big Ten teams (Ohio State, Purdue, and Wisconsin) separated themselves from the field during conference play, so it seems fitting that Player of the Year is a three horse between a member of each of these teams. Really, you could give the award either Jared Sullinger, JaJuan Johnson, or Jordan Taylor, and no one would have cause for complaint.
I was all set to give the award to Taylor, who for a while was the Big Ten's leading scorer in conference play, but after his disappointing effort yesterday vs. Ohio State, he's out. So that leaves it between Sullinger and Johnson. The two were equally unstoppable in the post, and Sullinger was slightly better on the glass, averaging one more rebound per game, but I'm giving Johnson the Player of the Year for a couple reasons. First off, he blocked 2.5 shots per game during conference play, a skill Sullinger does not possess, and secondly, Johnson had to carry his team more often, as he was the only thing even remotely resembling an inside presence on the Purdue roster. Sullinger is certainly the better NBA prospect, but the senior Johnson was a bit better this year.
Least Valuable Player (The Mike Thompson)
The battle for this year's LVP was even more hotly contested than usual. In the past, it was simply a matter of determining which rotation regular sucked the worst, but this year's crop of candidates took it a whole new level by taking themselves off the floor completely. Michigan State's Korie Lucious made a valiant bid to defend his LVP title, getting himself booted off the team midway through the conference season and forcing Tom Izzo to run out Mike Kebler for extended minutes, while Minnesota's Devoe Joseph Sean Williams'd his way out of Minneapolis and landed in Oregon (presumably in search of some Cali Kush), leaving a huge hole in the Gophers' backcourt.
However, to find the true LVP, you need only look back at Mike Thompson himself, a talented Northwestern forward who chose to forgo his senior season due to a mix of injury and vagitosis, yet remained in school and got his degree. Sound familiar? Yes, this year's LVP is none other than Kevin Coble, who apparently hated Italy so much that he quit NU's team instead of going on a pre-season trip, choosing instead to spend the time in Hawaii with his family. With Coble in the lineup, NU may not have made the tourney, but they probably would have come a lot closer than they did, and his presence would have given them some much needed depth at the wing. What a shame.
Most Improved Player (The John Shurna)
Another tough choice, as several players took their game to the next level. Jordan Taylor certainly comes to mind, as he nearly doubled his scoring average, but he was already pretty damn good last year. Darius Morris dramatically improved his game and has led Michigan to the cusp of the NCAA tournament, but as impressive as he's been, Morris was projected to be a great point guard out of high school. Instead, the most improved player in the Big Ten is Penn State's Jeff Brooks, who came out of nowhere to have a monster senior year, averaging 14 points a game on ridiculous 59% shooting, including 42% from three-point range. Not only that, he led Penn State with 5.6 rebounds per game and was among the conference leaders with 1.5 blocks per game. Had he not missed a game against Michigan with a shoulder injury, it could be the Nittany Lions on the bubble right now and the Wolverines headed for the NIT.
Least Improved Player (The Vince Scott)
This one isn't particularly close. After a disappointing freshman season in which he struggled mightily as JaJuan Johnson's backup, many expected a breakout 2010-11 from Purdue's Patrick Bade. Both media and teammates alike were raving about the slimmed-down Bade, and he had nowhere to go but up after having more fouls than points during Big Ten play as a freshman.
So how did Bade do during this year's Big Ten season? In 67 minutes off the bench, he had 4 points on 2 for 15 shooting, and committed 13 fouls. Yikes. Again, I feel bad making fun of the poor kid, who simply isn't a Big Ten player. He would probably be best off transferring to a mid-major program in the off-season, where he'd be a better fit.
Freshman of the Year (The Greg Oden)
Tim Hardaway Jr. went nuts during the second half of Big Ten play, averaging 14 points on a game on 44% 3-point shooting and keeping this from being a complete runaway, but please, Jared Sullinger has had this award on lockdown since late November. Definitely one of the best freshman in conference history, and if he can lead Ohio State to the national title, he'll get the tremendous honor of having this award named after him in the future.
Coach of the Year (The Bob Knight)
In almost any other year, John Beilein would win this award easily. Picked to finish last in the Big Ten by many (including this humble blogger), and with a roster consisting of no seniors and just two juniors, Beilein has led Michigan to a 9-9 conference record, the #4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, and a likely trip to the NCAAs. Quite the coaching performance; I wouldn't want to be the team that faces Michigan in the tournament.
While Beilein was brilliant, he was outdone by Purdue's Matt Painter, who overcame the loss of Robbie Hummel and led the Boilers to a 14-4 conference record and a top 10 national ranking. I expected Purdue's 4 guard lineup to be continually exploited on the defensive end, but Painter proved that he is one of the nation's best defensive coaches, as Purdue fielded a top 5 KenPom defense for the third consecutive season, a stat that's even more incredible when you consider he lost his two best defensive players in Hummel and Chris Kramer. And somehow, Purdue's offense didn't miss a beat, as Lewis Jackson, D.J. Byrd, and Ryne Smith stepped right into the lineup and filled their roles to perfection. So kudos to Painter, who has a very good chance at winning national Coach of the Year.
Worst Coach (The Kevin O'Neill)
There are plenty of coaches who made a strong case for the dreaded O'Neill. Bill Carmody missed the NCAA tournament for the 11th straight season despite arguably his most talented roster ever, but that's not really saying much given the collection of stiffs who've suited up in Evanston over the years. Tom Izzo has taken the pre-season #2 team in the country to a barely over .500 overall record and the NCAA tournament bubble, but given his brilliant career, he gets a mulligan. Tubby Smith has seen his team plummet from a top 15 national ranking to 9th place and the NIT, but it's not his fault that Devoe Joseph is a burnout and Al Nolen hurt his foot. Bruce Weber underachieved for the second straight year and threw his best player directly under the nearest bus, but at least he's going to the tournament.
All things considered, this year's O'Neill winner is Indiana's Tom Crean. Yes, he's had to deal with some injuries, but there is no reason for his team to be this terrible in his third year at Indiana. For the first time since 1900 (!), Indiana didn't win a game all season away from Assembly Hall, and while the lack of talent is certainly an issue, a lot of the blame should be assigned to Crean. His bizarre substitution patterns confused many fans, and often left his players out of rhythm on the court. He whined endlessly on Twitter and elsewhere about having to play twice in 36 hours, a rant that ironically came after a game where Bill Carmody has his team ready to go vs IU despite having less than 48 hours to get his team ready, while Crean had a week to prepare and came up with the brilliant idea of double-teaming Luka Mirkovic in the post (shockingly, it burned him). If Crean can't get the Hoosiers out of the Big Ten basement next year, it might be time to consider a change.
The Big White Stiff (The Nate Doornekamp)
As usual, the Big Ten was teeming with big white stiffs, and any one of about 10 guys could win this. Patrick Bade was once again a stiff, and is still white, but after losing weight in the off-season, he's not really big anymore and thus failed to defend his title. Perennial favorite Andrew Brommer was a strong candidate, but he finally managed more points than fouls this year and actually looked somewhat competent at times, so he's out. Garrick Sherman could easily have won, but out of fear of having Rodger go William Tecumseh on me for disrespecting a fellow Sherman, he's out. Tom Pritchard was in contention for a while, but then he did this, so he's out. Davide Curletti was the runaway favorite through 16 conference games, mostly for driving me insane by being unable to set a screen legally, but then he blew up for 30 total points in the last two Big Ten games, so he's out.
After much consideration, this year's Doornekamp goes to none other than Luka Mirkovic. Yeah, he played pretty well at times, and he's probably better than everyone else I just mentioned, but he's just so incredibly slow and immobile that he's earned himself the title. We're talking about a 6'11" guy who has yet to dunk in three full seasons, seriously, I've yet to see him dunk. Not only that, his feet appear glued to the ground when he tries to defend inside. Sorry Luka, please don't break out the Serbian finger guns on me if we ever meet in real life.
The Biggest Chucker (The Devan Dumes)
New award this year, named after the mediocre Hoosier who never saw an NBA range three he wouldn't jack up and brick. However, if I were Devan, I wouldn't be too comfortable, as Ohio State freshman Deshaun Thomas may one day go down as the biggest chucker in Big Ten history. Thomas, in 212 minutes played, jacked up 81 shots (the highest shots per minute rate of anyone on Ohio State) and managed just 5 assists. And he did all this damage as a reserve and the 7th best player on the team; I shudder to think what he's going to do in future years when he's one of the go-to guys.