Although the 2014-15 basketball season is painfully far away, it's never too early to look at the candidates for Big Ten Player of the Year. This past year's recipient, Nik Stauskas, has moved onto the NBA, so there's no threat for anyone to defend their crown. Even though plenty of studs have graduated or entered the draft, the Big Ten will be filled to the brim with talent. Here's my 5 most likely candidates for B1G POY.
Before I begin, I want to qualify this list by acknowledging that the winners of this award generally correlate with the best teams in the conference. Therefore, the voters are often biased towards players on the best teams. It may be possible that the "best player" isn't on one of the strongest teams in the conference, but voters won't necessarily appreciate that. So keep that in mind as you read on.
5. Branden Dawson, Michigan State
Michigan State is losing plenty of firepower with Keith Appling and Adreian Payne leaving, opening the door for a guy like Dawson to take control of the offense. He doesn't have the sexiest game: he attempted a grand total of 1 three-pointer during the entire 2013-14 campaign (he missed) and spends a lot of his time barreling down low for high percentage shots. But during the NCAA tournament against Harvard and Virginia, he dominated. He was unstoppable offensively, scoring 26 and 24 points respectively.
What makes him also stand out is his rebounding. He's one of the best in the country, and demonstrated that during the NCAA Tournament. With a bigger role next year, his regular season production could drastically increase. If he becomes "the guy" for Michigan State next year, he'll definitely contend for the B1G POY. But sadly, his style may hold him back from that hardware.
4. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
Last season, Yogi became an offensive force. He averaged 17.3 points and shot 40% from behind the arc, compared to 7.6 points and 30% from three in his freshman year. His shooting wasn't always the most efficient, but when he was on, few could stop him from getting a clutch bucket. One can reasonably predict that he'll continue to improve his offensive game next season. I don't think anyone expects him to increase his scoring load by 10 points again, but he'll bring improved discipline and experience to Indiana's backcourt. You'll see fewer 4-14 shooting performances, as he'll gave a greater understanding of how the game flows.
The problem is that Indiana is kind of a mess. They've suffered the loss of Noah Vonleh to the NBA and a whole gaggle of transfers. No one has more than NIT expectations for the Hoosiers. Therefore, if they struggle, Yogi won't be given much credence for POY. Voters will view his stats as inflated, since he's the only one that can score on a bad team. But the Hoosiers have plenty of talent, and a mature Yogi could help translate that talent to wins. He plays a glamorous enough style that voters could dig him if the Hoosiers succeed.
3. Caris LeVert, Michigan
I may have ranked him higher before his foot surgery that will keep him out 8-10 weeks, but he's in a great position next year. Michigan is losing 5 super important players for next season: Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary are all entering the draft, Jon Horford is transferring, and Jordan Morgan is graduating. That's a lot of production to make up for. Obviously, LeVert won't have to take on all of that, but he's going to be in the spotlight next season. John Beilein has done a great job with player development throughout his tenure at Michigan, and LeVert's explosion last season proves it. He averaged 12.9 points and was a perfect compliment to Stauskas.
Voters will really appreciate LeVert's linear progression as a player. He was solid off the bench as a freshman, was a solid contributor last season, and if he can become a star next year, he'll stand out. It'll be the perfect fairy tale ending. He plays the perfect position to get lots of attention around the conference as well, and his game is very conducive to recognition. If Michigan does well, LeVert will get tons of credit, and could be rewarded with a POY.
2. Terran Petteway, Nebraska
Is the world ready for a Big Ten POY to come from Nebraska? Obviously, no one from Nebraska has won this award in the Big Ten, since they've only been in the conference for a hot second, but they do have one Big 12 POY - the immortal Venson Hamilton. Could Petteway be the next Venson Hamilton?
Petteway led the B1G in scoring with 18.1 points a game, and did so both inside and outside. That prolific scoring will only improve next season because the Hoosiers aren't losing any real contributors. His buddy Shavon Shields will support him, and Tim Miles could be creating something special for next season. But again, will voters respond to Petteway's success? You could make the argument that he's the most important player in the Big Ten, and very well may be the best player. But part of me feels like voters won't respect him unless Nebraska is competing for a Big Ten title. Luckily for Petteway, they'll be up there. If Petteway singlehandedly proves that Nebraska deserves to be up there with Wisconsin and Michigan and Michigan State, I think voters will really appreciate that.
1. Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin
The best player on the best team. You saw what he did the tournament against some really impressive big men. The Big Ten doesn't have a Kaleb Tarczewski or an Isaiah Austin. Although opponents will scheme the hell around him, he could have a field day against smaller opponents. Wisconsin kept the crux of their Final Four team, and is unequivocally the favorite to win the Big Ten next season. They will meet those expectations if Kaminsky succeeds. I expect him to be on another level next year, and bring the POY award back to Madison.
All of this is very much in flux. I mean, no one expected someone from Nebraska to lead the Big Ten in scoring last year. Maybe someone from Rutgers will sneak up on us and bring the Player of the Year award back to its rightful home in Piscataway, New Jersey.