The ACC and Big East lovers always seem to bash the Big Ten before March, but it seems that this conference's cream always rises to the top once the Madness starts - this year will be no different.
Here are the ten players whom I consider the best of the best in Big Ten basketball for 2005; along with my MVP, top newcomer, and top coach.
Center: Terence Dials, Ohio State
Forward: Mike Wilkinson, Wisconsin
Forward: Greg Brunner, Iowa
Guard: Dee Brown, Illinois
Guard: Deron Williams, Illinois
Center: Terence Dials was the best in the Big Ten this season at his position, averaging 16.1 ppg and 7.1 rpg for the Buckeyes. No other Center came close to his level this season.
Forward: Mike Wilkinson, my player of the year, was the straw that stirred the Badgers' drink all season. Playing in Iowa, Greg Brunner has gone unnoticed in many circles. He was a true warrior however, picking up the slack after the suspension of teammate Pierre Pierce, finishing second in the conference in rebounds (9.1) and ninth in scoring (15.3).
Guards: Dee Brown and Deron Williams are the backcourt catalysts for the Fighting Illini. Together they combined for 24.7 points, 11.21 assists, and 3.43 steals-per-game in conference play. They also combined to shoot 64-of-140 (.457) from behind the arc. On a team loaded with talent, these are the two guys that must produce for Illinois if they are to make the Final Four.
Forward: Carl Landry, Purdue
Forward: James Augustine, Illinois
Forward: Alan Anderson, Michigan State
Guard: Bracey Wright, Indiana
Guard: Luther Head, Illinois
Forwards: I picked three for the second team because there were no other Centers as good as these three guys. Landry made Gene Keady's last season in West Lafayette a little bit brighter than it would have been otherwise, averaging 18.1 points and 6.4 boards in conference play, while shooting .633 from the field (93-147).
Augustine led the Big Ten in FG percentage (.635) and was second in FT percentage (.868) while averaging 11.0 points and 7.1 boards for the 29-1 Fighting Illini.
Anderson's play over the last month essentially has forced me to include him on this list. Since the Spartans' loss to Illinois back on February 1st, Anderson has been on fire, averaging 16.5 points and 6.5 rebounds over the last nine games. He's averaged 13.9 points, 5.9 rebounds, shot .532 (74-139) from the field and a Big Ten best .927 (51-55) free throw percentage during conference play overall.
Guards: Wright (18.7 ppg) and Head (15.5 ppg) both finished top five in the conference in scoring and would be first teamers in most any other year, but with Brown and Williams also in the mix, I had to bump them down a notch to second-team.
Player of the Year: Mike Wilkinson, Forward – Wisconsin
One of the best Big Ten players of the last decade; Wilkinson finished this conference season in the top ten in scoring (16.5 ppg), rebounding (8.1 rpg), FG percentage (.549), and blocked shots (1.07 bpg). He is the only active Division I player with at least 1,300 points, 700 rebounds, 200 assists, 150 steals and 100 blocked shots in his career. The Badgers would have been a 15 win team at best without him.
Freshman of the Year: Geary Claxton, Forward – Penn State
Claxton averaged 14.3 ppg and 6.2 rpg for the Nittany Lions this season. Also finished in the top ten in blocks (.93 bpg) and in the top three in offensive boards (3.2 pg) behind only his teammate Aaron Johnson and Purdue's Carl Landry. Claxton is a good player with a really bright future; Ed DeChellis has his lynchpin for his rebuilding program.
Coach of the Year: Bruce Weber, Illinois
Yeah, I know the guy's team is loaded with talent, but they won 29-straight folks. This season, Weber wins this honor hands down.