When Illinois' sensational junior guard Ayo Dosunmu carried his team during a recent seven-game win streak, he looked the part of a national player of the year candidate.
Dosunmu racking up triple-doubles, 30-point games and last-minute takeovers in the last month skyrocketed him into a stratosphere where only a few stars have reached this season.
Could Dosunmu actually be the best player not only in the Big Ten but all of college basketball? Good question.
Wait a minute, though. Didn't we already anoint Iowa big man and reigning Big Ten player of the year Luka Garza as the hand's down winner for both awards not long after the 2020-21 season started.
Not so fast. Dosunmu proved that this shouldn't be just a one-man race. As brilliant as Garza played for most of this season, the nation's leading scorer has shown recently in Big Ten play that he's actually human after all. As did Dosunmu with a reported broken nose that could keep him out a bit.
It probably feels like voters are still leaning toward Garza, the 6-11 senior and most consistent player at the major conference level the last two years, especially since Dayton's Obi Toppin stole the honor away from Garza last season in some eyes.
But here's a list of five players right now who have shown they're worth a good look for college hoops' version of the Heisman Trophy this year:
Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois: The 6-5 Chicago native had his fourth 30-point game this season in a double overtime win at Nebraska earlier this month. That wasn't even his most impressive effort with two triple-doubles in wins vs. Wisconsin and the Gophers, the only player in Illinois history to do so. A recent injury could keep him out until the postseason, which hurt his chances. Good thing star big man Kofi Cockburn is there to pick up the slack.
Luka Garza, Iowa: What can be said that already hasn't about the top big man in the country. He leads the Division I with nearly 25 points per game, but also recently became Iowa's all-time leading scorer. His progression from average starter to Big Ten legend is an inspiring story about working to improve.
Jared Butler, Baylor: There should be no debating that he's the nation's best all-around point guard. The 6-3 junior ranks second in the Big 12 in scoring, second in assists and tops in steals. His 30-point, eight-assist game vs. Kansas made NBA scouts drool. The only knock on Butler with this award is that teammates MaCio Teague and Davion Mitchell sometimes look just as elite.
Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga: When the top-ranked Zags are at their best, it's because Suggs is either hitting big shots or making plays to get others theirs. Yes, this team has other stars such as Corey Kispert and Drew Timme. But Suggs is the reason Mark Few could win a national title. The only other freshman in college hoops in similar shoes is fellow Minnesotan Paige Bueckers leading UConn, the No. 1 women's team.
Charles Bassey, Western Kentucky: This might not be a name the average fan is familiar with, but they'll hear it quickly draft night. The 6-11 junior is averaging 18 points, 11.7 rebounds and 3.2 blocks, ranking third nationally in the latter two categories. Ok, he's in a smaller conference. But he had 27 points and 12 rebounds in a win vs. Alabama. He's also up for the Naismith Defensive Player of the Year Award.