Every year we call the Big Ten unpredictable, thrilling, and incredibly balanced.
But even in that context, this year has provided the best example of that in recent memory — with plenty of shake-up around the top, and every league team winning at least five games for only the third time in history.
There have been plenty of stars — some expected, some not — that have woven a constant two-month parade of games into a memorable, exhilarating season. There is still time yet to shock and awe: This weekend, regular-season games wrap up and then a sure-to-be interesting conference tournament lies in wait in Indianapolis. But for now, a few of my postseason awards:
Player of the Year: Nik Stauskas, Michigan Last year’s national runner-up looked like it was sure to take its lumps after losing guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to the NBA this past offseason and center Mitch McGary to injury. Instead, with a resounding 31-point victory over Illinois on Tuesday, the Wolverines clinched the Big Ten regular-season title outright. A big reason for that? Stauskas, who has gone from a good player to a dominant one, averaging 17.3 points per game and maintaining the team’s best assist rate.
Coach of the Year: Tim Miles, Nebraska There are so many candidates for this one, from Michigan’s John Beilein growing a young team incredibly quickly to Michigan State’s Tom Izzo for guiding his team through incessant injuries. But it’s hard not to nominate Miles, who has taken a Nebraska team picked to finish last in the conference and somehow molded the hard-working, overachieving bunch into a borderline NCAA tournament team. What a pleasant surprise the Cornhuskers have been this year, and much of that credit has to go to Miles.
Freshman of the Year: Noah Vonleh, Indiana Occasionally, it’s hard to remember that the center is, in fact, just a freshman. That amateur status won’t last much longer — Vonleh is projected to go in the first round of the NBA draft this summer after averaging 11.6 points and 9.1 rebounds, while becoming one of the best defensive rebounders in the nation. None of that is very freshman-like.
Most Improved Player: Caris LeVert, Michigan As a freshman a year ago, the 6-6 guard was somewhat of an afterthought. Now, he is the second-best player on a team that has proved to be the Big Ten’s best. LeVert, who is shooting 40.9 percent from behind the arc, has been incredible consistent in his new role, and has hit a new stride down the stretch.
Most likely to make the Final Four: Iowa Yes, the Hawkeyes have gone through some sudden struggles, and perhaps that’s an understatement. But I maintain what I have said for most of the year. Iowa is the conference’s most complete team and an incredibly tough matchup. After losing three of four, the Hawkeyes figure to enter the tournament hungry once more.
All-Big Ten first team
Stauskas, G, Michigan He is making a stunning 46.4 percent of his three-pointers and has the nation’s 44th-best offensive rating.
Devyn Marble, G, Iowa He has reached double-digits in a every Big Ten game. That’s insane.
Gary Harris, G, Michigan State Is there a tougher player in the league? He has played through injuries ever since joining the Spartans, but they haven’t slowed him down much.
Terran Petteway, G-F, Nebraska The Cornhuskers’ biggest surprise is using a huge amount of their possessions (31.1 percent) and has turned that effort into 17.8 points and 4.7 rebounds a game.
Frank Kaminsky, C, Wisconsin He has proven to be ridiculously versatile, attempting 71 three-pointers and making 40.8 percent, while being incredible efficient; he is ranked 37th in the nation in offensive rating.