An unimpressive start to the season for much of the Big Ten has made it hard for some of the league's emerging talent to stand out. That might not be the case for much longer.
Michigan State's Miles Bridges is one of two players from the Big Ten to make the 25-player midseason Wooden Award watch list released last week. The Spartans have been prohibitive favorites to win the conference since the preseason, but after a rough week in which they lost two of three games, other teams have made it clear that there are legitimate threats to contend for the title. It's time to give the players who are leading that charge their due.
No. 3 Purdue replaced last year's conference player of the year, Caleb Swanigan, with a lineup that features four players averaging at least 12 points per game. Carsen Edwards (17 ppg, 4 rpg) is the leader of that well-balanced pack. Edwards and head coach Matt Painter seem to be finding the balance between the sophomore guard working too hard to create his own look and Painter reeling him in too much and preventing some great individual efforts.
Next Thursday, the Boilermakers will take on No. 23 Michigan and the Wolverines' catalyst, Moritz Wagner. The big German has become a fan favorite in the past year thanks to his fiery personality on the court and his propensity to step up in big moments. He knocked down a pair of crucial 3s and crossed up a couple of reputable defenders in the Wolverines' upset win at Michigan State last week. After battling an ankle injury earlier in the season, Wagner is hitting his stride for a Wolverines team that needed someone to take over as a leader.
No list of Big Ten emerging stars would be complete without Ohio State's Keita Bates-Diop, who has helped the Buckeyes climb into the top 25 under first-year coach Chris Holtmann. The 6-foot-7 versatile scorer, who was recently named the league's player of the week for third time this season, went into Wednesday's game against Northwestern needing only 14 points to pass the 1,000-point mark in his career.
Bates-Diop, Edwards and Wagner have all made a case to challenge the lottery picks in East Lansing as the Big Ten's Player of the Year. It might be difficult for any of them to build up the momentum they would need to reach the top of the Wooden Award voting by season's end. However, if their teams continue on current trajectories and they continue leading them in that direction, they all have a shot to at least land on the list of finalists in late February.
Until then, let's take a look at how some of those players already on the voters' watch list fared in the past week.
Bagley can rap, he can repair his own injuries, and he can score a whole lot of points. What can't the towering Duke star do?
The top prospect of this year's freshman class has continued this January in taking control of the floor he shares with several other talented Blue Devils. He has scored 30 points or more in three of his past five games and hit double digits in rebounds in all five of them. Bagley's worst performance in that span came Monday, when he scored 13 points and added 12 rebounds in a win over No. 25 Miami.
The catch? Bagley put up those numbers after dislocating a shoulder early in the game. He popped it back into place himself. That type of toughness ought to serve him well as Duke grinds through the rest of its ACC schedule.
Let's be immediately clear: Young's stock dipping is the equivalent of Google or Apple having a flat day in the financial markets. The Sooners' rookie sensation is still at the top of the list for Wooden Award contenders, but there might be some growing room for others to have a say in the race.
Young had a Big 12-record 12 turnovers in a loss to Kansas State on Tuesday and eight turnovers in a loss to West Virginia on Jan. 6. So, he's human after all. It's worth noting, though, that Young scored 43 points to lead the Sooners to an overtime win over then-No. 16 TCU last weekend, yet he still takes a slight step back in player of the year discussion. That's the height at which he has set the bar in his freshman season.
Big week ahead
The 6-foot-11 senior continuing the Gaels' fine tradition of Aussie imports is averaging a double-double (21.7 ppg, 10.3 rpg). He'll have perhaps his best chance to date to prove the type of dominant player he can be Thursday night against No. 13 Gonzaga in the first of two regular-season meetings with the Bulldogs, which is the only time Landale will benefit from the spotlight of playing a ranked opponent. Saint Mary's (17-2) could play its way into the Top 25 with a win against the Zags, which would help bring a bit more attention to the fantastic season Landale is having.
Others to watch: Wichita State's Landry Shamet, Alabama's Collin Sexton, Arizona State's Tra Holder, Michigan State's Miles Bridges, North Carolina's Luke Maye, Villanova's Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges, Arizona's Deandre Ayton and Allonzo Trier, Xavier's Trevon Bluiett, West Virginia's Jevon Carter