As Penn State gets set to go for the NIT title tomorrow night in New York and Michigan State aims at the biggest prize of all this weekend, it's time to clean up a big loose end. In the rush of the postseason tournament coverage, Big Ten Country hasn't gotten around to naming its All-Conference team. Here's the picks for the 2009 season:
Guards: Kalin Lucas (Michigan State), Talor Battle (Penn State) & E'Twaun Moore (Purdue). This is a guard-oriented league, so I set up the all-conference team with three of them. Lucas was a model of consistency, hitting double-digits 17 times in 18 league games (regular season only) and ran the show for the conference champs. Battle had more off-days than Lucas did, but not by much and he made up for it with the ability to explode and also to hit the glass well for a backcourt player. Moore was one who played his best basketball down the stretch, coming out strong each game from February 11 forward.
Notably missing from the list is Manny Harris at Michigan and Jake Kelly from Iowa. Harris is surely the Big Ten's most enigmatic player. When we was on, no one in the conference was better. But there were way too many nights when he was persona non-grata. He was the polar opposite of in-state rival Lucas, and I'll use a self-serving way of illustrating it. At the end of each run of games (weekend or midweek), I'd name my Player of the Sequence. Lucas never won it, and rarely was high on my list. Harris won it three times. But on the flip side, I never remember going through box scores and thinking that such-and-such a team really shut down Lucas. There were several times I saw Harris MIA.
In the case of Jake Kelly, he just took a little too long to get going. From mid-February on, he was not only all-conference, he was the best player in the league. Kudos for a strong finish, but the all-conference team has to be about the entire body of work in Big Ten play.
Frontcourt: Evan Turner (Ohio State) & Jamelle Cornley (Penn State)
Turner was a no-brainer pick. He posted six double-doubles in Big Ten games and carried Ohio State into the tournament. Cornley was a tougher call. He had the Manny Harris Syndrome, with an uncomfortably large number of games where he pulled a disappearing act. But there wasn't as much competition for these spots as there were in the backcourt. Goran Suton had a good year for Michigan State, but lacked Cornley's explosiveness. Mike Anderson hit the boards hard at Illinois, but needs more offensive punch. JaJuan Johnson was another one who showed flashes of genuine stardom, but never got on the kind of sustained run you need to be 1st-team All-Conference. So Cornley held off the field and made Penn State the only team with two players named.
MVP: I go with Evan Turner. He gets the nod over Lucas, because Turner had less support around him and was singlehandedly responsible for getting the Buckeyes into the NCAA. And I go his way over Battle, because he was more consistent. Turner was also versatile, and routinely dished out 4-5 assists a game from his forward spot.
Coach Of The Year: A surprise call, but I like Bruce Weber. I didn't think Illinois had great talent, but they stayed in contention for the Big Ten championship all season. Honorable mention to Tom Izzo, who deserves credit for making sure a talented team met expectations, in spite of hitting adversity with the early-season injury to Suton and the season-long illness involving Raymar Morgan. Ed DeChellis at Penn State has gotten a lot of favorable ink for the award. I give the PSU coach a major nod for getting talent in there at a place where recruiting hoops stars hasn't been easy. But he did have two elite players in his starting five and came up short of the NCAA. He still gets his due for rebuilding the program, but that is more of a multi-season acknowledgement than anything that happened this year. Weber is the complete package--he overachieved and stayed in the championship hunt all season long.
Good luck to Penn State against Baylor on Thursday night! We'll be back here Friday to recap the NIT and of course look ahead to the Showdown In Motown on Saturday.