Michigan coach John Beilein (left) and guard Nik Stauskas could collect individual Big Ten awards, in addition to the Wolverines' banner season. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)
Michigan guaranteed itself a championship banner with its win over Minnesota on Saturday. The Wolverines have at least a share of the Big Ten title — their second in the last three years — but likely will add some hardware to their haul after the regular season ends next Sunday.
The Big Ten Player of the Year and Coach of the Year will be announced next week and Michigan could have both of those awards as it looks to lock up an outright conference title for the first time in 28 years and the top seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament.
With a win at Illinois on Tuesday or home against Indiana on Saturday, Michigan can clinch sole possession of the conference title.
“We have two remaining games and we’re going to have to really stay focused. Everybody’s patting you on the back and that can be your enemy,” coach John Beilein said Saturday. “We have to handle this really well because we want that outright championship.”
Coach of the year is maybe an easier choice with Beilein getting the nod. Michigan had to replace NBA draft picks Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. in the lineup this year and when preseason All-American Mitch McGary was lost to a back injury, the Wolverines didn’t seem to lose a step, running off a 10-game win streak after McGary went out.
What raises Beilein’s resume is that he led Michigan to seven road wins, including victories at Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State. Michigan also dealt Nebraska its only loss at home.
After making it to the title game last season, the Wolverines’ expectations were a bit lower this year. In the preseason, the Wolverines were picked to finish second, but Beilein has gotten maybe more than expected with the development of Nik Stauskas into one of the league’s leading scorers and Caris LeVert into a viable second — and often primary — option on offense.
Besides Beilein, another interesting choice would be Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan. With the Badgers’ win over Penn State on Sunday, the Badgers guaranteed finishing in the top four in the conference for the 13th consecutive season.
Nebraska’s Tim Miles will get some consideration as well, pushing the Cornhuskers to a guaranteed .500 record in a difficult Big Ten and on the brink of a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998.
Player of the Year
Picking the player of the year is a big tougher, with four solid candidates vying for the award.
Voters for the award might have different criteria on which they base their decisions. In some cases, it’s the best player on any team, but in many cases, it goes to a player on one of the better teams. That puts Michigan’s Nik Stauskas, Michigan State’s Gary Harris, Iowa’s Roy Devyn Marble (Southfield Lathrup) and Nebraska’s Terran Petteway as my top four.
Marble, the only senior in the quartet, has scored in double figures in each Big Ten game and has scored 20 or more points in five of his last six games, including 26 against Michigan. He’s been the Hawkeyes’ go-to scorer, but their recent lull, with three straight losses, likely will deter many voters from giving him their votes.
Harris was the preseason pick for Player of the Year and has had another terrific season, averaging 17.9 points and 4.3 rebounds. He’s certainly the best two-way defender of any of the four, but that sometimes comes at the expense of his offensive production. With so many injuries and an unexpected loss to Illinois, Harris’ chances might suffer, especially given the preseason expectations.
Petteway is an intriguing choice, because he might have the best across-the-board numbers (17.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, 43 percent on field goals). Nebraska probably has been the biggest surprise in the league this year, with a chance to finish in the top half of the standings and a possible NCAA Tournament appearance.
Petteway sat out last season after transferring from Texas Tech and has become a premier scorer and a surprising star for the Huskers. With two more years of eligibility, he’ll be one of the best players in the league next year, without question.
Stauskas has the advantage of playing for the first-place team, which will get some votes — with or without merit. His numbers show that he’s worthy (17.1 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 48 percent FG).
Stauskas had 21 points in Saturday’s win over Minnesota, for his 11th game of 20-plus points. He’s had a few subpar games but came up big in Michigan’s toughest stretch of the year, averaging 23 points in a three-game gauntlet at Wisconsin, against Iowa and at Michigan State.
Comparing the candidates
Nik Stauskas, Michigan
17.1 pts, 3.4 rebs, 3.5 assts, 48% FG
Gary Harris, Michigan State
17.9 pts, 4.3 rebs, 2.7 assts, 42% FG
Terran Petteway, Nebraska
17.9 pts, 4.8 rebs, 1.7 assts, 43% FG
Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa
17.0 pts, 3.5 rebs, 3.4 assts, 42% FG