D.J. White answered all the questions about whether possible ligament damage would keep him out of last night's key game against Purdue. With a 15-rebound effort that keyed a huge Indiana win (perhaps the last win in the career of Kelvin Sampson), White also obliterated all remaining questions about who the Big Ten MVP is going to be. He's now getting mentioned on broadcasts and in the print media as a lock for the honor. Since Big Ten Country readily faces up to the numerous times its insights prove to be off the deep end, I think I can justly point out that readers of this blog were being told that White--and not his more heralded freshman teammate--was the true MVP, well in advance of it becoming a standard storyline. But my immodest gloating aside, let's look at how the rest of the race for individual honors shapes up. Who is likely to join White on the all-conference team?
You can lock up a spot for Eric Gordon, as the inside-outside punch of Indiana should also finish 1-2 in the MVP balloting. Beyond that, the race for the other three spots are open, with several good candidates, but all of whom have shown a tendency to disappear more then you'd like. Most notably I would put Wisconsin guard Trevon Hughes and Minnesota forward Dan Coleman in this category. If the voting were today, I think they should be on. But both have slumped at a key point in the season and they could still play themselves onto second team or honorable mention status if they don't turn it around.
With two guards and two inside players picked, there's room to make the fifth player whomever we want, and still have a valid lineup. I agree with Dick Vitale that an all-conference (or All-America) team should be a true team, and not just the best five players regardless of position. As Vitale points out, that would be like picking a baseball team with nine shortstops.
Drew Neitzel and Raymar Morgan from Michigan State are choices that come quickly to mind, but the Spartan inconsistency in conference play has been primarily because these two stars have come and gone. Center Goran Suton can also make a case, although being primarily a rebounder, he's a little too one-dimensional to be first string.
Across the state, Manny Harris is a rising star in Ann Arbor. Not quite ready for first string all-Big Ten, but this is a name we'll be hearing a lot more of in the future. We also need to give a nod to Geary Claxton at Penn State. A knee injury cut his season short, but if Claxton were healthy our fifth spot would be filled.
The best candidate for the fifth spot is Jamar Butler at Ohio State. The senior has given consistency to Thad Matta's team and helped a squad that struggled mightily in December become a solid contender for an NCAA berth and in position to be a spoiler in the conference race. The Buckeyes won't win a third straight Big Ten crown, but they've outperformed every expectation that could have been reasonably put upon them. Butler's the biggest reason why, and for that reason he fills out my team.
There's still several games left, and a lot can change. In addition to the names above, players like E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummell at Purdue can make a push, as can Kosta Koufous at Ohio State. And lingering away from the spotlight of the league and tournament races are Tony Freeman at Iowa and Northwestern's trio of Kevin Coble, Craig Moore and Michael Thompson.
Picking the All-Big Ten team is about the only drama there will be in the individual races. Because as last night in Bloomington made clear, the race of the biggest individual prize is all but sealed.