As the calendar turns to March, every college basketball fan is coming out of hibernation and gearing up for the tournament. Before all the Madness can commence, the conference regular season and tournament have to finish up, and with that comes recognition of the conference’s top players. In the Big Ten, the race for Player of the Year will come down to the wire, as much like the teams, no one has separated themselves from the pack. Here are some of the candidates and the case to be made for them.
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
The man they call Biggie has made his presence known throughout the season and is currently the leader in the clubhouse as teams hit the home stretch. Swanigan has elevated his game after a disappointing freshman year, averaging 18.2 points per game and 12.6 rebounds per game. Swanigan uses a mix of bruising post moves and soft touch away from the hoop to pace the Purdue offense and free up space for guards like freshman standout Carsen Edwards. He is a compelling candidate not only for his on court exploits, but his incredible journey to even get to Purdue. Swanigan has been one of the conference’s most consistent performers, so seeing him take home the POTY hardware would not come as a surprise.
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
The big man in the middle for Wisconsin did not come into the season with as much fanfare as teammates Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes, but he has been nothing short of outstanding. His impact goes beyond the box score (where his numbers are nothing to sneeze at) as he has carried the Badgers’ offense at times. His performance in Madison Square Garden against Rutgers and against Nebraska on the road standout as some of his most dominant. Even when Happ is not lighting up the scoreboard, his defensive prowess and ability to clean the glass have garnered him notoriety around the country. A late swoon may have hurt his chances as bringing home the POTY honors, but Happ elevated himself to one of the best big men in the conference, if not the country.
Melo Trimble, Maryland
Despite an incredibly youthful squad, the Terrapins have once again found themselves near the top of the conference thanks in large part to their veteran point guard. Trimble’s game is understated; he uses great body control and patience to exploit defenders and get his shot off. He has upped his scoring to 17.1 points per game and shouldered a heavier load offensively, while helping mentor his younger teammates. Trimble’s signature performance came against Northwestern, when he dropped 32 points on just 17 shots. Trimble has flown under the radar all season, but if he can lead Maryland to a late season surge he could get his name in the mix for POTY.
Dark Horse: Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern
It is highly unlikely that McIntosh will get the nod, but his exploits this season leading the upstart Northwestern Wildcats are worth noting. His 25 points in the Kohl Center were nothing short of spectacular, and he is hoping to get the Wildcats to the dance for the first time in school history.