2021-22 Tradition midseason Big Ten basketball superlatives
There were some COVID and weather-related hiccups along the way, but every team in the Big Ten has finally reached the halfway point of the 2021-22 conference basketball schedule.
Though the second half of the season is when it’s time to start thinking about March, let’s first take a pause and look back at how we got here.
Here’s a look at the players, coaches, teams and games that caught our eye in the first half of the conference schedule.
Midseason All-Big Ten team
Kofi Cockburn, Illinois
Stats: 21.8 ppg, 11.4 rpg, .603 FG%
Best game: 37 points, 12 rebounds in 80-67 win over Wisconsin
Big men are back in vogue in the Big Ten this season, and none is playing better than Cockburn. He hasn’t been held in single figures by a single opponent this season.
Cockburn, who tested both the transfer portal and NBA waters before deciding to return to Illinois this season, made the right choice. He has a shot at national player of the year.
Johnny Davis, Wisconsin
Stats: 20.6 ppg, 8.3 rpg, .782 FT%
Best game: 37 points, 14 rebounds in 74-69 win at Purdue
Davis was a solid if unspectacular freshman a year ago, with his lone flash of brilliance being a then career-high of 17 points against Penn State. This season, that would be a below-average effort for the sophomore small forward.
Davis’ NBA-friendly game and build have him likely to become the first B1G player selected in this summer’s NBA Draft.
Jaden Ivey, Purdue
Stats: 17.3 ppg, 3.2 apg, .477 FG%
Best game: 23 points, 7 assists, 6 steals in 82-76 win over Michigan
Purdue has the nation’s most potent offense behind Gonzaga, and Ivey is the primary catalyst for that explosiveness. He’s scored at least 21 points in each of Purdue’s past 3 games, so it appears his best basketball will be played down the homestretch — and potentially deep into March.
Of the players on the midseason first team, Ivey is the furthest from his ceiling.
EJ Liddell, Ohio State
Stats: 19.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 2.6 bpg
Best game: 34 points (5 of 7 3-pointers), 5 blocks, 4 rebounds, 2 assists in 95-87 win over Northwestern
Liddell is Mr. Everything for the Buckeyes, who are in the thick of the Big Ten championship race.
Seriously, how many times have you seen a guy hit 5 3s and block 5 shots in the same game, as he did against Northwestern on Jan. 9? Liddell has an uphill climb for Big Ten player of the year honors, but he arguably possesses the most well-rounded game of any player in the conference.
Keegan Murray, Iowa
Stats: 22.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg, 2.1 bpg
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Best game: 35 points (5 of 6 3-pointers), 8 rebounds, 3 blocks in 80-75 win over Maryland
But few could have foreseen how brilliantly Murray would step up to fill the shoes of departed back-to-back Big Ten player of the year Luka Garza. Murray is 4th in the nation in scoring, but his game isn’t just offense. He’s also 4th in the Big Ten with 2.1 blocks per game.
Hunter Dickinson, Michigan
Stats: 18.1 ppg, 7.9 rpg, .603 FG%
Best game: 25 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists in 80-62 win at Indiana
The Wolverines have not come close to meeting expectations, but don’t blame Dickinson, who could clearly use a little more help.
Zach Edey, Purdue
Stats: 14.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, .685 FG%
Best game: 24 points, 10 rebounds in 74-69 loss to Wisconsin
Edey’s numbers don’t leap out as extraordinary until you realize he isn’t even averaging 19 minutes a game. Purdue’s ability to rotate Edey with Trevion Williams creates a unique monster that allows Matt Painter flexibility based on foul trouble and matchups.
Edey is the nation’s leader in field-goal percentage.
Trent Frazier, Illinois
Stats: 13.3 ppg, 3.8 apg, 1.4 spg
Best game: 27 points, 5 steals, 4 rebounds in 83-79 loss to Arizona
The numbers don’t tell the story with Frazier, who requires you to actually watch the Fighting Illini play to fully appreciate his importance to the team. Simply put, Frazier is the reason things happen. His performance in a win over Michigan State with Cockburn and Andre Curbelo out of the lineup was the best example of his leadership.
Illinois wouldn’t be in first place without him.
Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana
Stats: 17.8 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 2.6 bpg
Best game: 27 points, 12 rebounds, 5 blocks in 67-51 win over Ohio State
Jackson-Davis is the best player on the second team, with his recent penchant for foul trouble keeping him just behind Ivey and Liddell for first-team honors. We’re guessing Jackson-Davis is perfectly content with Indiana beating both of them head-to-head as the Hoosiers seek their first NCAA bid since 2016.
Trevion Williams, Purdue
Stats: 12.4 ppg, 8.2 rpg, .569 FG%
Best game: 19 points, 8 rebounds, 4 steals in 82-76 win over Michigan
Williams is 6th in the B1G in rebounding despite playing 20.2 minutes per game as a result of his timeshare with Edey, who is the stronger offensive option of the duo. Considering that Williams is shooting nearly 57% from the field, that tells you how good of an offensive option Edey is.
The split minutes might make it tough for Williams to maintain all-Big Ten status at the end of the year, but to this point, he’s certainly one of the 10 best players in the league when he’s on the floor.
Midseason player of the year
Kofi Cockburn, Illinois
The Illinois-Wisconsin game felt like it was going to produce the favorite for Big Ten player of the year, and Cockburn’s 37-point, 12-rebound performance settled that debate in resounding fashion. For now.
Midseason freshman of the year
Bryce McGowens, Nebraska
The bright spot in a blight of a Cornhusker basketball season. McGowens is the top-scoring freshman in the B1G with 16.7 points per game.
Midseason Sixth Man of the year
Trevion Williams, Purdue
As the lone non-starter on our all-Big Ten team, this one’s easy enough.
Midseason defensive player of the year
Trent Frazier, Illinois
Illinois leads the Big Ten in defensive efficiency and effective field-goal percentage on defense. Having Cockburn as an interior eraser helps, but Frazier’s play on the perimeter embodies why that’s the case.
Midseason coach of the year
Brad Underwood, Illinois
This was tough.
Prior to Michigan State’s loss at Rutgers, I would have given it to Tom Izzo, who had the Spartans tied for first without an all-Big Ten player. Greg Gard also deserves consideration as Wisconsin is playing at an offensive tempo rarely before seen in Madison.
But the Illini are alone in first place despite being without 2 standout players in Cockburn and Curbelo for multiple games, and that’s on Underwood.
Most pleasant midseason surprise
Johnny Davis and the medium-flying Badgers
Wisconsin is 195th in the nation in offensive tempo, which may not seem like a big deal. But the Badgers have only been in the top 200 in that category once in the past 25 years. A year ago, they were 328th. It says a lot that a veteran coach like Gard recognized the ability to make that adjustment.
Davis, who wasn’t one of the whopping 11 players named to the preseason all-Big Ten team, is at worst the No. 2 player in the conference now.
Few would have seen either coming.
Biggest midseason disappointment
Picked to win the Big Ten and ranked No. 6 in the preseason Top 25, Michigan isn’t even going to make the NCAA Tournament barring an unlikely late-season push.
The Wolverines are the biggest disappointment not just in the Big Ten, but all of college basketball.
Midseason game of the year
Purdue 96, Illinois 88 (2OT)
Played in front of a national TV audience on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, this thriller lived up to the billing. You got the feeling that you were watching the 2 best teams in the Big Ten.
Fortunately, we’ll get a rematch in West Lafayette on Tuesday. And if we’re lucky, another bout in Indianapolis mid-March.