Who’s standing tall midway to March?

So the conference seasons are about halfway over, and these are the guys who make up my All-Big Ten team thus far. Let me be clear — these aren’t my predictions for the actual team, which will be announced in two or so months but instead are my personal selections. Do I expect a guy or two to rotate in or out based on the next month and a half? Possibly. Do I hope these are the same guys announced when the season comes to a close? You bet.

Midseason All-Big Ten team (in order of importance)

Evan Turner (Ohio State) — The Buckeyes are 12-3 with him and 3-3 without him. Need more? He doesn’t qualify for statistical leaders because of the games he missed, but if we ignored that little obstacle, here are his per-game Big Ten rankings for all games: third in scoring, second in assists, first in rebounds, fourth in field goal percentage, eighth in steals and first in OMGs (that final, unofficial stat is my own — it’s plays made that make you go “OMG”). He’ll be the Big Ten Player of the Year, easily.

Trevon Hughes (Wisconsin) — Have you taken a look at that Badgers roster? The word “unimpressive” doesn’t even do it justice. It’s downright “average.” They spent this week ranked No. 16 but lost to No. 12 Purdue on Thursday night. Two keys have kept Wisconsin not only afloat but thriving: head coach Bo Ryan and senior guard Hughes. Anytime the Badgers need a big shot, everyone knows who’s getting the ball; it’s this guy.

Manny Harris (Michigan) — The Wolverines have two players — Harris and center/forward DeShawn Sims. Luckily for them, these two are as good as it gets in the Big Ten. Unluckily for them, preseason national polls started Michigan with an inflated ranking and oversized expectations. The Wolverines stumbled out of the gate and are recovering, but with guys like Harris and Sims, they’re never out of any game.

E’Twaun Moore (Purdue) — This spot probably could’ve gone to any of three Boilers: Moore, center JaJuan Johnson or forward Robbie Hummel. I chose Moore because he leads Purdue in points and always rises to the occasion. And in their three losses, Moore averaged 22.3 points per game — pretty sure you can’t blame him for those.

Kalin Lucas (Michigan State) — I believe rewarding the best players on the best teams for these spots (which is why Penn State’s Talor Battle is nowhere to be found — they’d be 0-8 in the conference without him as well). While Lucas hasn’t been exceptional thus far, by his standards, his Spartans are the class of the Big Ten, and that should be recognized. He narrowly (and I can’t stress that word enough) edged Demetri McCamey for the final spot on this roster, despite McCamey’s individual efforts being more impressive. I definitely expect Lucas to add to his resume as the year progresses, however.

Eye on the Illini

Well, glad to see the sutures applied and the bleeding stop. The Illini were able to knock off the worst team in the Big Ten, Penn State, on the road Wednesday. As the saying goes, “Any road win is a good win.” Is that a saying? If it’s not, it should be. Especially for these Illini. So they’ll take it.

Spotlight on Richardson

Two consecutive tremendous Big Ten contests for freshman D.J. Richardson. What makes them all the more impressive is that both were on the road (although more Penn State students showed up to Joe Paterno’s last hip surgery than their contest against Illinois) and he impressed on both ends of the floor.

At Northwestern, he had a huge hand in shutting down senior Michael “Juice” Thompson (who scored only four points, 10 less than his season average) while scoring 17 points of his own. Richardson finally seemed to be getting it, only 20 games into his freshman year.

At Penn State, he only solidified that belief.

Richardson played phenomenal defense on Battle, one of the conference’s best players. Battle ended up with 20 points, but that’s a deceptive total. He scored many of those points either 1) when Richardson wasn’t guarding him or 2) on threes after double-screens, which made it impossible for Richardson to get a hand in his face. His one-on-one defense on Battle was extremely encouraging, especially considering he won’t defend a better player the rest of the year (unless Bruce Weber sticks him on Evan Turner, which he better not).

Richardson is getting it, and as I mentioned in Wednesday’s column, he might already be the best all-around player on Illinois. Weber has no problem giving him the challenges of taking on players of the caliber of Thompson and Battle, and more importantly, Richardson has no problem accepting them.

The future

OK, so the Illini settled down and beat a team they should’ve beaten. Encouraging, but I’m not totally sold yet. Their next two games are should and must-wins: Indiana at home Saturday and at Iowa on Wednesday.

If the Illini are truly turning the corner (and again, I’m proceeding with caution), it’s a very good time to be doing so.

They can use the next two contests to continue to grow, before the ceiling falls in: No. 5 Michigan State, at No. 16 Wisconsin, No. 20 Ohio State and at No. 10 Purdue. I think I just peed a little. Let’s hope the Illini don’t.

Rich Mayor is a senior in Media. He can be reached at [email protected]