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Making the case for E.J. Liddell as Big Ten Player of the Year

In a loaded conference, where does the Ohio State standout stand right now?

NCAA Basketball: Ohio State at Rutgers Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

After the Ohio State men’s basketball team’s big win over Michigan on Saturday, head coach Chris Holtmann had one message: E.J. Liddell for Big Ten Player of the Year needs more print.

Liddell has been sensational all year, even dealing with numerous pauses based on COVID-19 and weather and some small injuries that he has played through.

Liddell has been great through the duration of his Buckeye career, but he has taken the next step into a top 25 player in the nation this season. He is averaging 20.1 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 2.8 APG. He also averages 2.5 blocks and 0.5 steals per game. According to Jeff Goodman and Evan Miya, this is a stat line that hasn’t been recorded in over a decade.

Especially recently, Liddell has been on an absolute tear. He recorded 23 points, 15 rebounds and five assists against Minnesota, followed by 24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists against Maryland and then 28 points, five rebounds and three blocks against Michigan. All of these games were Buckeye wins.

Despite of all these stats and records thus far, as coach Holtmann stated, there is not too much smoke around Liddell’s name right now for the top player in the conference. Much of the talk has been around other players and Liddell has been skipped over, as Andy Katz did a couple of weeks ago in his top players in the conference list.

Liddell has been one of the best players in the country on both ends of the basketball, becoming a formidable threat scoring, on the boards and as a defender down low. Liddell has recorded three or more blocks in nine of the Buckeyes 21 games, with a career-high eight blocks against Xavier earlier in the season.

Here are the last 10 winners of the Big Ten Player of the Year and their stats that season.

2011-12 - Draymond Green, Michigan State - 16.2 PPG, 10.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.5 SPG
2012-13 - Trey Burke, Michigan - 18.6 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 6.7 APG, 1.6 SPG
2013-14 - Nik Stauskas, Michigan - 17.5 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.3 APG
2014-15 - Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin - 18.8 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.5 BPG
2015-16 - Denzel Valentine, Michigan State - 19.2 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 7.8 APG
2016-17 - Caleb Swanigan, Purdue - 18.5 PPG, 12.5 RPG, 3.1 APG
2017-18 - Keita Bates-Diop, Ohio State - 19.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.6 APG, 1.6 BPG
2018-19 - Cassius Winston, Michigan State - 18.6 PPG, 2.5 RPG, 5.9 APG, 1.2 SPG
2019-20 - Luka Garza, Iowa - 23.9 PPG, 9.8 RPG, 1.2 APG, 1.8 BPG
2020-21 - Luka Garza, Iowa - 24.1 PPG, 8.7 RPG, 1.7 APG, 1.8 BPG

It pretty much goes without saying, but the Big Ten is the deepest conference in terms of star players, and there is no lack of POY candidates.

So where does Liddell actually stack up against the conferences best this season? Let’s dive in.

Kofi Cockburn, Illinois – 21.5 PPG, 11.4 RPG

Illinois v Purdue Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Cockburn right now is the frontrunner for this award in most people’s eyes, including my own. With the loss of Ayo Dosunmu to the Chicago Bulls and Andre Curbelo dealing with an injury for the majority of the season, the centerstage has been there for the taking for Cockburn at Illinois, and he has delivered.

Not only one of the top rebounders in the country, Cockburn has done a good job of working on his fundamentals and his footwork in the paint on both sides of the ball. Last season, he put up solid numbers but did not impact games as much as he has this season, and that is how he has taken the next step into conference and national player of the year candidacy.

Johnny Davis, Wisconsin – 20.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG, 2.5 APG

Rutgers v Wisconsin Photo by John Fisher/Getty Images

Davis has been the breakout player of the year by far in the Big Ten and has solidified himself as one of the top players in the conference. After a good freshman season, Davis burst onto the scene this season and has consistently been one of the top performers, not only in the conference but nationally.

A big reason for Davis being in this position is not only his great production, but the fact that Wisconsin right now is a top 15 team in the country. The Badgers were a major question mark coming into the season, and Davis has stepped into the role as the superstar that many people did not know they had. He has also led them to multiple big wins, with 37 points and 14 rebounds against Purdue, 30 points against Houston, 26 points against Iowa, 27 points against Northwestern and 25 points against Michigan State.

It is hard to imagine Wisconsin as a tournament team without Johnny Davis, much less a top ten team in the country at one time.

Jaden Ivey, Purdue – 17.4 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.1 APG

Illinois v Purdue Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Probably the most gifted and talented plater in the conference, Ivey has put himself in the conversation as a top five pick in the NBA draft. Ivey is fast, athletic, can shoot and guard multiple positions. He can get moving too fast sometimes and get out of control, but when he is playing within himself, there is nobody better.

The problem with Ivey is the same problem that Zach Edey and Trevion Williams have down the list. They are three of the top players on the same team, so there are only going to be so many stats to go around. Everyone else on this list is the only player on their team on the list, but the three from Purdue have to spread the wealth and this is an award that is very based on statistics. If this was most talented player in the conference, it would very likely be Ivey’s.

Keegan Murray, Iowa – 23.3 PPG, 8.4 RPG

Nebraska v Iowa Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images

Murray is someone who was expected to break onto the scene in a big way this season with the Hawkeyes losing Luka Garza and Joe Wieskamp, but has still managed to exceed those expectations. The conference’s leading scorer, Murray has willed Iowa to many victories this season and can make up for a lackluster roster that doesn’t have that much depth.

Murray can sometimes be a little too passive on the offensive end in trying to get others involved, but when he is aggressive, he is as good as anyone. He is first in the conference in win shares and offensive win shares, which will factor into this award.

Trayce Jackson-Davis, Indiana – 17.5 PPG, 8.3 RPG

Indiana v Northwestern Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Jackson-Davis has been an interesting player this season, sometimes showing that he is one of the top players in the conference, but sometimes he can get in foul trouble and not be as impactful as a player of his caliber should be.

Case in point, there have been nine games this season that he been held to less than 15 points, but also seven games that he surpassed the 20 point mark. Even with the slight lack of consistency, Jackson-Davis has had more good than bad and deserves to be mentioned on this list for the season he has had and for helping to make the Hoosiers a very relevant team in the conference in their first season under Mike Woodson.

Zach Edey, Purdue – 14.5 PPG, 7.6 RPG

Illinois v Purdue Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Edey is the 7-foot-4, 300 pound gentle giant for the Boilermakers that affects the game with simply his presence in it. He doesn’t block shots at a crazy rate like Liddell, but he affects so many just by being on the floor. He has also really been a better scorer this season for Matt Painter and company.

An issue with Edey and Trevion Williams is they cannot be on the floor together. Edey only plays just over 18 minutes for Purdue and has played less than that in some games due to foul trouble. 14 and 7 is admirable, but it could be closer to 20 and 10.

Trevion Williams, Purdue – 12.3 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 3.0 APG

Maryland v Purdue Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

Williams is immensely talented as can go for a double-double or even a triple-double in any game. He can do it all on the offensive end, including score at all three levels and pass at a higher rate than any big man.

I won’t beat a dead horse, but the things working against him are the things that I have already mentioned. Plus, it is hard to imagine the conference POY going to a player that comes off the bench every game.