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Casting our ballots: Big Ten

3/2/2011

A quick look at the player and coach of the year races in the Big Ten:

Player of the Year

Ohio State fans say Jared Sullinger. The Paint Crew wants love for JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore. Badgers loyalists will scream “Jordan Taylor and/or Jon Leuer!” from the mountaintop.

Frankly, whether you’re talking about the Big Ten or the national player of the year, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

Johnson is arguably the most important player in the conference. Without him, Purdue would have next to nothing in its frontcourt, and even with consistent, focused defensive attention, Johnson has remained one of the best forwards -- arguably the best -- in the country this season. His teammate, Moore, is just as deserving. Both players are also tremendous on the defensive end, and both can share credit for giving this Purdue team a legitimate chance at a national title even without injured forward Robbie Hummel.

Taylor, meanwhile, is only the most efficient player on the most efficient offense in the country. No big deal, right? He and Leuer are the main reasons Wisconsin has scored at will on its opponents this season. Neither player plays outside of the confines of Bo Ryan’s swing offense; both are wondrous to behold within it.

In the end, though, these awards tend to go to the best player on the best team, and that player and that team are Jared Sullinger and Ohio State. That said, this isn’t a Derek Jeter-type situation. Sullinger, the rare big man with the body, motor and desire to dominate like a traditional center in the low block, has been brilliant in his freshman season at OSU. Sullinger makes OSU’s offense work, and without him, this brilliant OSU team wouldn’t be the best team in the country.

Coach of the Year

Tom Izzo has struggled with a disappointing Michigan State team. Bruce Weber has yet to turn all of that frustrating talent into much of anything at Illinois. Minnesota’s Tubby Smith has watched his once-promising and now-injured team’s tournament chances dissolve. Penn State’s Ed DeChellis and Northwestern’s Bill Carmody will both miss the tournament again this season.

In fact, Michigan is the only team outside the league’s top three to actually exceed expectations this season. John Beilein has done a tremendous job in Ann Arbor, and he should receive more than a few mentions for coach of the year honors, even if his team doesn’t sneak into the tournament by season’s end.

Still, the best and most important coaching job of the season has come out of the elite triumvirate of Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin. The team? Purdue. The coach? Matt Painter.

Few coaches are forced to face what Painter faced in October when Hummel lost his senior season to a second ACL tear. After Hummel’s injury, Purdue went from a Final Four favorite to a middling Big Ten team, or so went the common consensus. Instead, the Boilermakers have a shot to share the Big Ten title with Ohio State. Why? Because Painter rebuilt his team around Johnson and Moore, with pieces from the role-player scrapheap -- guys like Lewis Jackson, Ryne Smith, D.J. Byrd and Kelsey Barlow.

Who? Exactly. None of those players is a five-star recruit; none of them is near the player Hummel was. But together, thanks to Painter’s brilliant guidance, they’ve made Purdue a legitimate national-title contender. Coaching jobs don’t get much better than this.

Click here to find out who our panel of 15 experts picked in each of the nation's 10 best conferences.