Michigan State’s Denzel Valentine leads CBS Sports Big Ten awards

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Now that the college basketball regular season has ended, it’s time to hand out some conference awards. At CBS Sports, we had our group of college basketball writers (Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander, Sam Vecenie, Chip Patterson, Jon Rothstein, Doug Gottlieb, and Jerry Palm) vote on honors for each of the six major conferences. The awards handed out are Player of the Year, Freshman of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and two all-conference teams.

Here are the Big Ten Awards.

Big Ten Player of the Year: Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

This, along with the Big 12 Player of the Year race, was the easiest vote. And much like that award, this vote was unanimous. Valentine is doing things that no one else in the country is capable of. He’s averaging 19.6 points, 7.6 rebounds and 7.2 assists, and he’d be the first player to do that in 30 years. That basically says all that needs to be said about his game at this point.

He’s leading Michigan State right now to a potential No. 1 seed, and could end up leading them to a national title by the time things are done. Before then though, he might be add a Wooden Award to his trophy collection after adding what will assuredly be first-team All-America honors. Just an absolutely perfect season from Valentine outside of the games he missed due to injury.

Denzel Valentine comes up big vs. Wisconsin with his 15th career double-double. (USATSI)
Denzel Valentine might win the Wooden Award at the end of the season. (USATSI)

Big Ten Coach of the Year: Tom Crean, Indiana

There are a lot of different ways our panel could have gone with this. Fran McCaffery at Iowa has likely exceeded expectations the most this season, but his team has really faltered down the stretch. Tom Izzo doesn’t exactly have one of his most-talented groups, but he might have built one of the best teams in the country. Thad Matta has also done a marvelous job with an Ohio State team that is one of the five youngest in college basketball in leading it to 11 Big Ten wins.

However, this one came down to Greg Gard at Wisconsin and Crean at Indiana, the only two coaches to get votes from our panel. Gard was put in a nearly impossible situation with Bo Ryan retiring mid-season, and all Gard has done is turn around their season from 7-5 with a soft schedule to 19-10 with a tough schedule. However, Crean’s situation was nearly as difficult, both coming into the season and in the middle of it. At the start of the year, he entered firmly on the hot seat following a couple of down seasons. Then, he was saddled with an injury to James Blackmon and a defense in the mid-200s nationally in efficiency. Not only has he turned that group around and gotten them to the tournament, he’s turned them around to the tune of an outright Big Ten title. And almost more impressively, he’s done it by improving their weaknesses in tangible ways. A fantastic season from Crean, and he’s well-deserving of the honor.

Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year: A.J. Hammons, Purdue

Lot of options here, too. On Hammons’ own team, Rapheal Davis is the reigning winner. Michigan State’s Matt Costello could have an argument. Rasheed Sulaimon has embraced this end of the floor for Maryland, the second-best team in the league on defense. Nigel Hayes does a lot of versatile stuff for Wisconsin on that end. But in the end, Hammons is the biggest difference maker.

Nobody wants to go inside against Purdue when he’s on the floor, pure and simple. It’s why the Boilermakers are one of the best teams in the country at defending inside the arc. His 10.7 percent block rate is in the top-20 nationally, but he’s no longer just a shot blocker. Hammons contests more shots around the rim now, and he does a better job of moving his feet to contest jumpers and contain pick-and-rolls. The 7-foot-1 big man is finally what everyone wanted him to become on defense in his first three years at Purdue, and that development and dominance is worthy of this award.

A.J. Hammons has developed into the best defender in the Big Ten. (USATSI)

Big Ten Freshman of the Year: Diamond Stone, Maryland

This is the toughest one to judge in the conference. Heck, the winner didn’t even get my vote. Ethan Happ was great this season in replacing Frank Kaminsky to the tune of 12 points, eight rebounds, and leading the Big Ten in steals. Caleb Swanigan led the league in rebounding. Deyonta Davis was a nice defensive compliment and a solid finisher on offense. Corey Sanders had the biggest role of any freshman in the conference.

In the end though, the panel voted for Stone. The five-star recruit has averaged nearly 13 points and over five rebounds per game to go with 1.7 blocks too. He’s been a great option for Melo Trimble in the pick-and-roll or in dump-offs around the basket, using his soft hands and touch to finish looks efficiently. His rebounding hasn’t been great, but defensively he has been a very good rim protector for a player his age. Not a bad choice by any means given the deep field.

CBS SPORTS ALL-BIG TEN TEAM

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

Denzel Valentine, Michigan State

Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin

Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa

A.J. Hammons, Purdue

Second Team

Melo Trimble, Maryland

Bryn Forbes, Michigan State

Malcolm Hill, Illinois

Peter Jok, Iowa

Matt Costello, Michigan State

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