Justifiably so. The University of Illinois men's basketball team (29-0 overall, 15-0 Big Ten) is clearly the most dominant squad in the country, let alone the Big Ten. Illinois' backcourt has ravaged opponents throughout their undefeated campaign and the three seasoned veterans – senior Luther Head and juniors Dee Brown and Deron Williams – are the tri-favorites for Big Ten Player of the Year.
Weber, the Illini's second-year head coach, is not sure who of his talented guards should be the league's Player of the Year.
"I know this," he said, "when we have our banquet they're all three going to be MVPs. We already decided that. I don't even think there should be a vote."
There will be votes among conference coaches and media, however, the results of which will be made public when the all-conference teams are announced next week. While it is readily acknowledged that one of the Illini guards will win player of the year, another intriguing question is whether all three should make first-team All-Big Ten. No school has had three players make a first team since Indiana had four in 1975 (Steve Green, Quinn Buckner, Scott May and Kent Benson).
Not that historical precedent should stand in the way. Brown, Williams and Head have shared the spotlight in remarkable fashion this season. Combined they are averaging 42.4 points, 13.7 assists, 5.3 steals and 9.4 rebounds per game in 15 conference games. Head leads the team in scoring (16.2 points per game in conference games), Williams in assists (6.9 per game) and Brown, arguably, in heroics. And they have all shared a leadership role on a team that has been ranked No. 1 for 13 straight weeks.
"It's very tough. I would have said a couple weeks ago because of Luther's numbers and maybe his consistency with the numbers that that might have given him an edge," Weber said. "But the way Dee has played the last two weeks, not only continuing to give us the energy he always does, but his shooting and steals and just exciting play has been very positive. Deron, of course, is kind our heart and soul of our team. It's a difficult thing. I hope all three of them make the first-team all-conference. I think they're deserving of making that."
But if Illinois' guard trio decorates the first team that leaves two spots for a strong cadre of deserving candidates, which includes Wisconsin forward Mike Wilkinson, Ohio State forward Terence Dials, Minnesota guard Vincent Grier, Michigan State guard/forward Alan Anderson, Purdue forward Carl Landry and Indiana guard Bracey Wright.
Consider that group's respective résumés:
- Wilkinson is the heart and soul of the league's third-best team. The Badgers' best player, he is sixth in the conference in league-only scoring (16.5 points per game) and third in rebounding (8.1).
- Anderson is the best player on the league's second-best team. The Big Ten's most versatile player, and one of its least selfish, he is 15th in the conference in scoring (13.9 points per game) and 12th in rebounding (5.9).
- Perhaps no player has been more valuable to his team's success than Grier, a junior college transfer who has sparked an incredible revival for what was a moribund Minnesota program just last season. Grier is third in scoring at 18.0 points per game and 14th in rebounding at 5.6 per game.
- Landry may be the league's best post player and would probably be a favorite for first-team honors if Purdue was not suffering through its worst season in more than 50 years and if he had not recently suffered a season-ending knee-injury. Landry is second in league scoring (18.1 points per game) and ninth in rebounding (6.4).
- Dials has developed in leaps and bounds from last season in leading OSU to respectability. He is seventh in scoring (16.1) and fifth in rebounding (7.7).
- Wright, who leads the league in scoring at 18.7 points per game, has helped turn a young Indiana team into a potential NCAA Tournament team. He is also 15th in rebounding (5.3) and eighth in assists (3.4).
"I think Bracey definitely should be on there," IU coach Mike Davis said. "If we can win 10 games in the conference you've got to give Bracey a lot of credit for that. Because who would have picked us to win 10 games in conference play?
"You go over to Alan Anderson at Michigan State who I think is a fantastic player. He may play the ‘4' position for them but he's really a guard. And Dee Brown and (Deron) Williams and Luther Head speak for themselves."
"I'd pick Vincent Grier because he's my guy," Monson said. "Obviously I'm partial in this thing."
Said Weber: "You've got some pretty good players in the league, obviously. Wilkinson is a veteran… Michigan State has some pretty good guys between [Paul] Davis and [Maurice] Ager and Anderson and [Kelvin] Torbert. You've got a Bracey Wright and [Iowa's Greg] Brunner."
Said Michigan State coach Tom Izzo: "I think there are six or seven guys right now that are probably capable of first-team all selection with those three [Illinois] guards and you have to look at Landry, though he's fallen off because of injury lately. You've got to look at the Grier kid. I think you have to look at Dials. I'm sure Alan Anderson, for us, has had a very good Big Ten season."
As Weber's list alludes to even picking a second team will be difficult, particularly due to the balance exhibited by the league's top two teams. Michigan State could have as many as six players – Anderson, Davis, Ager, Torbert, Chris Hill and Shannon Brown – up for some kind of league honors. In addition to the guard trio, Illinois' starting forwards – James Augustine and Roger Powell – will likely end up on the second or third team.
While Landry should find a home on the first or second team, other solid players on struggling teams will not be so fortunate. Aaron Johnson, for instance, is the league's leading rebounder (9.1 per game), but he is likely destined for honorable mention status. Ditto Northwestern's Vedran Vukusic, who is fourth in the league in scoring (16.9), and Michigan's Dion Harris, who is tied for 15th with MSU's Anderson (13.9).
"There's so many guys, it's going to be tough," Weber said.