FORT WAYNE — The final two weeks of the Big Ten regular season have arrived. That means year-end awards are right around the corner.
Trey Burke, last year’s player of the year, and Victor Oladipo, last year’s defensive player of the year, left school, while reigning sixth man of the year Will Sheehey moved into the starting lineup, so most honors will belong to new blood this season. Here is a look at some of the top contenders in each category:
Gary Harris, Michigan State: He plays an all-around game, leading the Spartans through a year of poor overall team health. Harris battled an ankle injury and is asked by his coach to be All-Big Ten on offense and defense. “Defending is important to him, you can tell,” Illinois coach John Groce said.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan: A great shooter who diversified his game, Stauskas’ team might win the league, and that helps with such intense competition for this award. “Stauskas’ ability to pass separates him,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said.
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: The question is whether Ferrell has been good enough (ranks second in conference play scoring at 18.6 points per game) to overcome his team’s mid-pack status. “It’s fun to watch guys develop – he’s pretty good,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.
Tim Miles, Nebraska: The second-year coach took over a 12-18 team and has it 16-10 this year, despite being picked to finish last. “He’s gotten a lot out of his talent and gotten his guys to play really hard and for one another,” Groce said.
John Beilein, Michigan: Having kept Michigan together despite losing two key players from last year’s national finalist squad and a lengthy injury absence for Mitch McGary, Beilein received an endorsement from fellow candidate Tom Izzo. “We try to get our kids to be students of the game,” Beilein said.
Fran McCaffery, Iowa: An underappreciated coach has delivered on predictions for a breakthrough season at a school that last made the NCAA tournament in 2006. “We’ve gotten a lot accomplished,” McCaffery said. “You have to have an expectation for yourself.”
Noah Vonleh, Indiana: Despite a late push from Derrick Walton Jr., the award is Vonleh’s to lose. The center is leading the league in rebounding and is the only freshman among the top 25 in scoring. “For being such a young guy, he’s physically very impressive,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “Sometimes big guys play because they’re big, but he seems to really love the game. Their coaches have done a good job developing him.”
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin: His statistics (7.9 points per game) do not properly convey that Hayes is nearly a one-man bench for a top team. Wisconsin’s tight rotation also includes Bronson Koenig and Duke Dujan, who combine for 5.8 points in 23.1 minutes per game. “We knew how smart he was,” Ryan said. “I don’t think he has a lot of flaws.”
Tre Demps, Northwestern: On a team desperate for scoring punch, Demps has provided more of it than any reserve in the league, with 17 double-figure games off the bench. “He’s like the old ‘Microwave,’ Vinnie Johnson,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said.
A.J. Hammons, Purdue: The 7-footer leads the conference in blocks. “When he gets to the basketball, he really helps us,” Painter said.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State: Craft has been his usual pesky self, leading the league in steals and powering one of the nation’s better defensive teams. “He really disrupts flow with his quick feet,” Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said.