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Could D'Angelo Russell Challenge Frank Kaminsky For Big Ten Player of the Year?

Frank Kaminsky is having a monster season, and is considered a favorite for National Player of the Year, but is he even the best player in his own conference?

Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports

Because I lead a rollicking, non-stop thrill ride of a life I found myself watching a replay on Big Ten Network of Ohio State's recent game against Rutgers the other day, and I could not take my eyes off of D'Angelo Russell. That kid is a dynamo! Now, I knew he was having a good season for a freshman, but my focus on Wisconsin's team and the fact that the Badgers and Buckeyes haven't played yet meant that I hadn't delved too deeply into Russell's season.

That changed pretty quickly for me after watching Russell's virtuoso triple-double against the Scarlet Knights and hooo baby did I find some amazing stat lines. Besides the 23 point, 11 rebound, 11 assist masterpiece mentioned above, which garnered him this honor.

Russell has scored in double figures in every game this season except one and is second in the conference in points per game. He had 18, 14, and six against Maryland and scored 33 points against Northwestern. He scored 22 points and had 10 assists against Indiana and had 27 points and 14 rebounds against Iowa. All of this is made even more amazing by fact that Russell is one of only four players in the conference that is used on 28% of his team's possessions or more, according to KenPom.

I mean, I'm still not even quite sure what position Russell plays. He has the body of a shooting guard, but he plays enough point guard for me to think about the possibilities of him running an NBA team impeccably. Anyways, this is an odd start to a post ostensibly about Frank Kaminsky being the conference player of the year, but it is important to me for you to know that my Badger hued glasses are not tainting my opinions on this matter.

BTPowerhouse even posted a full length article this week looking at how Russell compared to some of the best freshmen in recent Big Ten memory and Russell was able to hold his own with players like Eric Gordon, Greg Oden, and Jared Sullinger.  That's pretty good company.

Kaminsky is having an excellent season as well. He is fourth in the conference in points per game, second in rebounding, and first in PER (player efficiency rating)...a full five points ahead of second place D'Angelo Russell (surprise, surprise). Like Russell, Kaminsky only has one game all season that he hasn't scored in double figures, and also like Russell he has a number of impressive stat lines.

Frank the Tank dropped 13, 12, and four just last week at Nebraska and in a five game stretch against Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, Iowa again, and Indiana, he scored less than 22 points once and in that game he scored 13, while adding 11 boards and six assists. These assist totals are for a seven foot center by the way, not some pass first point guard.

I think there are two ways to approach this problem. The first way is to look at straight counting stats, so, uhhhh, let's do that first.

Kaminsky vs. Russell Stats
Points per game Rebounds per game Assists per game Steals per game Blocks per game Turnovers per game
Frank Kaminsky 17.3 8.3 2.5 0.8 1.7 1.4
D'Angelo Russell 19.4 5.9 5.5 1.7 0.1 2.7

It looks like Russell would have the advantage here due to scoring more, assisting more, and stealing more while keeping rebounds shockingly close considering the disparate positions the two players occupy.

But let's take a look at some of the advanced stats from KenPom and see who comes out on top. Though traditional statistics are important, advanced statistics can assist in these type of comparisons.

Kaminsky vs. Russell Advanced Stats
ORtg eFG% TS% OR% DR% Assist rate TO rate Block % Steal %
Frank Kaminsky 126.3 58.6 62.4 6.7 26.5 18.3 10.9 5.6 1.7
D'Angelo Russell 120.4 57.1 60.2 4.3 15.5 31.4 16.7 0.4 3.1

It is important to also note the usage of both players: Russell is used on 29.4% of Ohio State's possessions, while Kaminsky is used on 27.5% of Wisconsin's possessions. Kaminsky also gets to the free throw line at a much higher clip than Russell does. When the "rate stats" are brought into play, Kaminsky comes out as the superior player, and by a larger margin than I would have imagined.

Using the Win Shares metric from Sports Reference's college basketball page, Kaminsky and Russell are...exactly even. Kaminsky does come out on top in win shares per 40 minutes though. A point that is proven quite well due to the fact that Wisconsin lost to Rutgers earlier this year with Kaminsky on the bench. He is an extremely important piece of a Final Four caliber team and that should be taken into account when analyzing both players.

There is no doubt in my (or yours, or anyones) mind that Russell is the B1G Freshman of Year (and possibly National Freshman of the Year) and a first team all-conference performer. Similarly, Kaminsky is a lock for first team all-conference and close to a lock for first team All-America.

Even the Naismith Award will have trouble with this!

But, who is the best player in the Big Ten conference this year? While it is way closer than I thought it would be at the beginning of the post, Frank Kaminsky is still the best player in the conference and will be named Big Ten Conference Player of the Year.