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Big Ten regular season awards

Chucky Hepburn’s game-winning 3 to take down Purdue appeared to be the shot to give Wisconsin the standalone Big Ten regular season title. All the Badgers had to do was defeat last-place Nebraska at home, but because it’s March, the Cornhuskers spoiled Wisconsin’s senior night with a 74-73 upset. 

This opened the door for Illinois to claim a share of the Big Ten regular-season crown. Iowa’s Kris Murray missed an open look that would have won the game, but instead Illini fans stormed the court as their team claimed the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament.

It was a season filled with buzzer beaters, physical play and plenty of star power, and now it’s time for postseason play. The Big Ten Tournament will start on March 9, which means it’s time to hand out some Big Ten regular season awards. (Stats through March 7)

Player of the Year: Johnny Davis, Wisconsin

Johnny Davis’ season ended on a low note when he missed most of the second half with an ankle injury in Wisconsin’s home loss to Nebraska, but don’t let that diminish the incredible season he had. Davis can score from anywhere on the court, leading to his 20 ppg, 8.1 rpg and 2.2 apg. He often guarded the other team’s best player and broke hearts with countless late-game daggers. Wisconsin might not make the NCAA Tournament without Davis. 

Honorable mention: Kofi Cockburn

Coach of the Year: Greg Gard, Wisconsin

A recording was released last offseason where a former member of Wisconsin’s basketball team said he wouldn’t recommend Wisconsin to future recruits due to a poor culture under Greg Gard’s leadership. Wisconsin lost four starter’s from last year’s sixth-place Big Ten team, and the Badgers were picked to finish between ninth and 12th by four ESPN analysts. So how did Gard and Wisconsin respond? They won a share of the Big Ten regular season title and will likely be a two or three seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

Honorable mention: Brad Underwood  

First team All-Big Ten:

Johnny Davis, Wisconsin (20 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.2 apg)

Jaden Ivey, Purdue (17.2 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.0 apg)

Keegan Murray, Iowa (23.3 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.1 bpg)

E.J. Liddell, Ohio State (19.4 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 2.6 bpg)

Kofi Cockburn, Illinois (21 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 59.7 FG pct)

Honorable mentions: Hunter Dickinson, Ron Harper Jr., Zach Edey

Clutch Performer Award: Ron Harper Jr., Rutgers

Ron Harper Jr. was an early frontrunner for this award when he drilled a half-court buzzer beater to take down then-No. 1 Purdue. Harper Jr. put up 30 points and 10 rebounds in this game, willing the Scarlet Knights to victory without Geo Baker. Harper Jr. then cemented his status as the Big Ten’s most clutch performer when he splashed a 3 in Race Thompson’s face to win a battle of bubble teams at Indiana. If you need a big shot late in the game, give Harper Jr. a ring. 

Honorable mentions: Johnny Davis, Jaden Ivey

Glue Guy Award: Mason Gillis, Purdue

After missing the first four games of the season due to suspension, Mason Gillis stepped in an made an immediate impact in a crowded frontcourt with Zach Edey and Trevion Williams. Playing in an offense with scorers at every position, Gillis contributed 6.6 ppg and 4.6 rpg while shooting 44 percent from 3 and 82 percent from the free-throw line. He snatched 34 offensive rebounds in 19 starts, constantly diving for loose balls and doing the dirty work for the Boilermakers. 

Honorable mentions: Damonte Williams, Race Thompson, Caleb McConnell

Defensive Player of the Year: Caleb McConnell, Rutgers

This award typically goes to a big man with the most blocks, but no one gave Big Ten guards a harder time than Caleb McConnell. Averaging 2.2 steals per game, McConnell had 20 more steals than any player in the Big Ten. In a physical conference where no game is easy, McConnell was constantly tasked with guarding the opponent’s best guard or wing. And when asked to mix it up in the paint, the 6-foot-7 McConnell could hold his own with some of the premier frontcourt players in the Big Ten. 

Honorable mentions: Trent Frazier, E.J. Liddell, Trayce Jackson-Davis

Sharpshooter Award: Alfonso Plummer, Illinois

The big question for Illinois heading into the season was how it would replace Ayo Dosunmu and Adam Miller in the backcourt. Plummer transferred to Champaign after two seasons at Utah and was a perfect fit with Trent Frazier. The 6-foot-1 guard connected on 41 percent of 3-point attempts, splashing 12 or more 3s than any player in the Big Ten. He’s the definition of instant offense, and his 15.1 ppg ranked 12th in the conference. 

Honorable mentions: Payton Willis, Sasha Stefanovic

Dennis Rodman Award: John Harrar, Penn State

In a league filled with All-American big men, John Harrar will be forgotten because of Penn State’s record in conference. But every night  – whether it was against Kofi Cockburn, Hunter Dickinson, Zach Edey or any other 7-footer – first year head coach Micah Shrewsberry could count on Harrar to contend on the glass. The 6-foot-9 senior Harrar averaged 10.3 rebounds per game and snatched at least eight rebounds in 21 of Penn State’s 28 games. He started the season with a 16-point, 14-rebound effort against Youngstown State and ended the regular season with 15 points and 17 rebounds at Rutgers. And in a fitting moment on senior night, Harrar fought for 20 rebounds in Penn State’s win over Northwestern.


Honorable mentions: Kofi Cockburn, Keegan Murray

Sixth Man Award: Trevion Williams, Purdue

After being named first-team All-Big Ten last season, Trevion Williams was asked to come off the bench for Zach Edey this year. While some players would have let this affect their play, Williams took it as a point of pride. The 6-foot-10 senior averaged 11.6 ppg and 7.3 rpg and was often in Purdue’s lineup down the stretch of games. Williams and Edey formed one of the conference’s most dominant frontcourts while rarely stepping foot on the floor at the same time. 

Honorable mentions: Kris Murray, Malik Hall

High Flyer Award: Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana

Trayce Jackson-Davis threw down 10 dunks in a 43-point effort against Marshall on Nov. 27, which set an NCAA record for most dunks in a single game dating back to 2010 when the stat first began to be tracked. Before the season, Jackson-Davis talked about developing a jump shot, but the vast majority of his points came on dunks and layups this season, leading to a 57.8 field goal percentage that ranked third in the Big Ten. Jackson-Davis developed great chemistry on pick-and-roll plays with Xavier Johnson, resulting in a slew of alley-oop highlights throughout the season.

Honorable mentions: Cliff Omoruyi, Kofi Cockburn

Freshman of the Year: Malaki Branham, Ohio State

Malaki Branham’s first double-digit night came on Dec. 5 at Penn State when he scored 11 points, but his breakout performance was a 35-point effort in Ohio State’s win at Nebraska on Jan. 2. Branham scored 20-plus points four times in Ohio State’s final seven games, significantly raising his NBA draft stock. Nebraska’s Bryce McGowens led Big Ten freshmen at 17.2 ppg, but Branham was second at 13.2 and was a starter on a much better team. 

Honorable mentions: Bryce McGowens, Max Christie, Caleb Houstan

Best Transfer Award: Alfonso Plummer, Illinois

I mentioned it earlier when I gave Plummer the Sharpshooter Award, but it is impressive how seamlessly he fit into Illinois’ backcourt in just one season after transferring from Utah. Both Plummer and Trent Frazier move well without the ball and know how to set each other up for shots, but Plummer doesn’t just look for his own shot. He has a great feel for when to let it fly and when to dump it down to Kofi Cockburn on the block. 

Honorable mentions: Fatts Russell, Jamison Battle, Xavier Johnson

Hard Hat Award: Race Thompson, Indiana

Trayce Jackson-Davis provided the slam dunk highlights for the Indiana frontcourt, but Race Thompson did all of the dirty work that might have gone unnoticed by some. The fifth-year senior took a big leap this season, averaging 11.8 ppg and 7.7 rpg. He was the anchor of an Indiana defense that allowed a Big Ten-best 1.008 points per possession while also allowing the third-fewest points per game in conference play at 65.5, just 0.3 points behind first-place Rutgers. No player ran through the lane without a bump from Thompson, who was always eager to dive on the floor for loose balls and battle for rebounds. 

Honorable mention: Damonte Williams

The Player You Love to Hate Award: Brad Davison, Wisconsin

I couldn’t find a stat for charges taken or charges attempted, but Brad Davison has to be close to the top of the list. His long career as a Badger started as a defensive pest, but Davison developed into a deadly 3-point shooter who always seemed to hit timely shots or snatch offensive rebounds. He’s a guy you love on your team but hate to play against. 

Honorable mention: Hunter Dickinson, Jordan Bohannon

Best Team Offense: Purdue Boilermakers

Iowa was the highest scoring team in the Big Ten at 83.3 points per game, but Purdue was a close second at 80.7. The Boilermakers also hold the top-ranked adjusted offensive efficiency in the country at 122.5, according to KenPom. When the Boilermakers aren’t dumping it down to 7-foot-4 Zach Edey – who shot a Big Ten-best 66.7 percent from the field – for an easy look, Jaden Ivey is blowing by defenders to rim, Sasha Stefanovic is hitting 3’s or Matt Painter is drawing up a play for an easy look. 

Honorable mention: Iowa Hawkeyes

Best Team Defense: Indiana Hoosiers

Rutgers allowed the fewest points per game in the Big Ten at 65.2, but Indiana was right behind at 65.5. The Hoosiers ranked 20th in the country and first among Big Ten teams with a 93.2 adjusted defensive efficiency rating, according to KenPom. Indiana also led the Big Ten in defensive rebounds per game at 27.5 and finished second in the Big Ten in effective field goal percentage defense. First-year head coach Mike Woodson came in with a plan to revitalize Indiana’s offense, but the Hoosiers’ stingy defense led to its biggest wins of the season. 

Honorable mention: Rutgers Scarlet Knights, Illinois Fighting Illini

Game of the Year: Purdue 96, Illinois 88 (2OT), Jan. 17

This was one of the first games of the college basketball season that had a true March Madness feel. It was a noon tipoff on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and the State Farm Center in Champaign, Illinois was rocking. Purdue led by 11 points at halftime, but the Illini tied the game with 10:29 to go. Jaden Ivey gave the Boilermakers a six-point lead with 1:16 in regulation after a slice to the rim, but Trent Frazier and Andre Curbelo combined for six unanswered points in the final minute to force overtime.

The first overtime again favored Purdue from the start, but Alfonso Plummer’s layup with nine seconds left meant more free basketball. Eric Hunter Jr. scored eight points for Purdue in the second overtime to secure a road win for Purdue in a game where both teams established themselves as Final Four contenders. 

Honorable mention: Wisconsin 70, Purdue 67, March 1

Upset of the Year: Nebraska 74, Wisconsin 73, March 6 

Just days after Wisconsin guaranteed itself a share of the Big Ten regular season title, the Badgers were upset on their home court by one of the worst teams in the Power Five conferences. Nebraska was playing without freshman phenom Bryce McGowens, but Alonzo Verge Jr. scored 26 points in the win. Johnny Davis didn’t play most of the second half with a sprained ankle, which speaks to his value for Wisconsin but doesn’t diminish how big of an upset this was. 

Honorable mention: Rutgers 70, Purdue 68, Dec. 9

Shot of the Year: Ron Harper Jr. buzzer beater to beat Purdue

Trevion Williams might have thought his layup saved the game for Purdue, but Ron Harper Jr. took four dribbles up the court before heaving a shot from the logo that swished perfectly through the net at the buzzer. The shot not only gave Rutgers momentum after losing to DePaul, Lafayette and UMass early in the season, but it took down Purdue in its first game in school history as the nation’s No. 1 team. 

Honorable mentions: Tyson Walker versus Purdue, Chucky Hepburn versus Purdue, Rob Phinisee versus Purdue

Highest NBA ceiling: Keegan Murray, Iowa

Johnny Davis is my pick for Big Ten Player of the Year, but I’d take Keegan Murray over any other Big Ten player in the next NBA Draft. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged a league-high 23.3 ppg while also grabbing 8.6 rebounds and blocking 2.1 shots per game. Murray can score in every way imaginable on the basketball court, shooting 38 percent from 3 and 55 percent from the field. He held his own when matched up with taller and stronger players in the post and could beat anyone off the dribble when driving to the rim. 

Honorable mentions: Johnny Davis, Jaden Ivey

Surprise Team of the Year: Wisconsin Badgers

After losing four starters, Wisconsin was projected to finish between ninth and 12th in the Big Ten, according to ESPN. Tyler Wahl more than doubled his scoring average from last season, and Steven Crowl went from taking just eight shots last year to averaging 9.1 ppg and 4.6 rpg while matching up with some of the best forwards in the country. Brad Davison went from a role player to a leader and Chucky Hepburn started every game, averaging 8.1 points as a freshman who was ranked 127th in his class. 

Honorable mentions: Iowa Hawkeyes

Most Disappointing Team of the Year: Michigan Wolverines

Michigan was picked to win the Big Ten by four of five ESPN analysts but finished the regular season in eighth place. The Wolverines lost three starters and its most productive bench player, but replaced them with the Big Ten’s highest-ranked recruiting class. This led to a 7-7 start midway through January that now has the Wolverines squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Freshmen Caleb Houstan (10.5 ppg, 4 rpg) and Moussa Diabate (9.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg) have had solid seasons, but Michigan has been wildly inconsistent, alternating between wins and losses each game since Feb. 10. 

Honorable mention: Maryland Terrapins 

Who will make the deepest NCAA Tournament run?

Illinois. I laughed when people said Illinois would be better this year after losing Ayo Dosunmu, but I’ll happily eat my words if the Illini make a deep run in March. After losing in the round of 32 to Loyola-Chicago last season, I think Brad Underwood’s group is hungry to erase that feeling. The Illini have everything it takes for a Final Four run – a dominant big man in Kofi Cockburn, a sharpshooter in Alfonso Plummer, a veteran guard that won’t get rattled in Trent Frazier, depth off the bench and a physical defense that ranks 29th in the country in defensive efficiency.

I give Illinois a slight advantage over Wisconsin because one off night from Johnny Davis could lead to an upset, and although Purdue has the conference’s best offense and its roster is similar to Illinois, the Boilermakers look disinterested on the defensive end too often for me to feel confident in them making it further than Illinois. 

Honorable mentions: Purdue, Wisconsin

My name is Jack Ankony and I am a senior from Mount Prospect, Illinois. I have covered the Indiana football team the last two seasons, and my work with HN started on the baseball and women's basketball beats. I love to write and talk about sports.

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