A year ago at this time we were talking about how Jordan Murphy might make third-team All-B1G, whether Richard Pitino would even have a job this year, and how many points Stephon Sharp would score against the Rutgers in a rematch. Boy, how time flies, huh?
But this is 2017, where literally anything is possible. I mean, the Gophers now actually have 100:1 odds on Bovada to win the national championship. THAT IS A REAL THING.
More importantly, now that awards season has rolled around, we can actually legitimately discuss scenarios where Gopher personnel grab some Major Awards.
Richard Pitino - Big Ten Coach of the Year
Who’d have thought that after such a miserable year like the one Pitino and Co. trudged through just a season ago that he’d even be in the discussion for Coach of the Year? Add in the fact that last year was the culmination of a downward trend of bad years and the spike to frontrunner of the COTY race is even more deserving of a standing ovation.
That’s right, frontrunner. I mean, who else could it really be? Matt Painter is largely doing less with more at Purdue, Greg Gard and Bucky are entering a late-season swoon, ditto for Mark Turgeon and friends in Maryland. Really it comes down to Pitino and Northwestern’s Chris Collins, who is navigating the Wildcats through another late-season heart attack in Evanston. Collins is a fun story if and when Northwestern mercifully enters the NCAA Tournament for the first time, but just because they sneak in as a bubble team and break a dubious streak does not a coach of the year make.
Pitino is at the helm of perhaps the hottest team in the nation, one that is setting records for the heft of its turnaround and one that is in position to succeed for years to come. He has a lone senior on the team (and a grad transfer at that), relying instead on a bunch of juniors and underclassmen to make hay in the conference. It’s a crazy story and one that should make him a shoe-in for a much-deserved award.
Nate Mason - First Team All-Big Ten
Nate Mason? Nate Mason. Not since Vincent Grier have the Gophers had representation on the first team. Trevor Mbakwe made the media’s second team once, but that’s about it. If we’re being honest, there’s almost no way Melo Trimble isn’t the pick here, but if Moonlight can upend La La Land in the Oscars then Mason has a shot against Trimble. After all, it’s 2017 right?
He really does have superior overall numbers to Melo, though. Sure, his Maryland counterpart scores almost two points more per game, but that’s where it ends. Both are in the top 10 in scoring in the B1G, separated by just three spots.
Unpacking it a little more, Mason is better at the free throw line, is third in the conference in assists (two tenths from the lead), ahead in steals, and plays substantially more minutes. Oh, and my favorite? Mason is third in the conference in assist-to-turnover ration. Trimble? Not even in the top 10. ISN’T TAKING CARE OF THE BALL WHAT WE LOOK FOR IN A POINT GUARD?
We all know Mason will never be named to the first team, mostly because he plays at Minnesota and that pretty much discredits him in the eyes of anyone with a vote, which is a shame. Trimble is going to the NBA and plays on a higher-profile team that was in the Top 25 all year. He’s had more screen time and he’s the easy pick if you’re a voter.
Still, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that Mason isn’t the right choice, combining on-court performance with his importance to the team. The Gophers are a 5-win squad without Mason and that should count for something. Nate Mason deserves serious consideration for for a spot on the first team.
Amir Coffey - Big Ten Freshman of the Year
Oh Amir Coffey, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Coffey has been as good, if not better than advertised this season. He’s second on the team in scoring, is one of the better playmakers on the team already, and hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down as the season wears on. He’s been simply fantastic.
Miles Bridges and Nick Ward of Michigan State, and Tony Carr are obvious competition, and Justin Jackson at Maryland is a sneaky pick, though he’s regressed as the year has gone on. But you’d be hard pressed to find a better all-around player in their first year than Coffey. He’s a true play maker, makes his teammates better and can almost literally do it all. He’s on the B1G leaderboard for points per game and is in the top 10 in assists per game. He scores, dishes, rebounds, steals, shoots threes, hits free throws and is a key reason the Gophers are one of the best three-point defenders in the nation. The kid does it all. Oh, and he’s 8th in the conference in minutes per game.
Bridges is probably the clear-cut favorite, but he missed a significant chunk of time in the middle of the season due to injury, which muddies things a bit. Ward is great but is fairly two dimensional and a mess on defense. He’s also never on the court, averaging a paltry 19 minutes per game (compared to Coffey’s 33). He was even benched by Tom Izzo down the stretch in the game against Illinois. That should mean something.
If we’re talking about a freshman who has been great from the day he stepped on the court, then Coffey is your guy. And if you’re pairing his outputs with the fact that he’s a go-to weapon for one of the top teams in the conference, then in my eyes he’s the most deserving.
Reggie Lynch - Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year
If there is a more dominant, game-changing defensive player than Reggie Lynch in NCAA basketball right now I’m open to hearing about them. Lynch is a one-man defensive wrecking crew, capable of turning opponents to mush in the paint and almost literally blocking everything in sight. It’s amazing to watch him work and I’m thankful that he’s only a junior. His brutality was on full display against Penn State, who could only flail as he swatted his way into the record books. 11 blocks! Should have been 12, but my goodness.
The Gophers are the top defensive team in the conference, and a big part of that is Lynch’s ability to put a huge wrench in the opposing team’s game plans. When he’s out of the game (which is frequently), the Gophers are a different team, and it’s not pretty. When he’s on the court, opponents have a very difficult time scoring. It’s that simple. He leads the conference in blocks by a wide margin and is second in the nation at 3.4 per game. He has 17 more blocks than the dude in second place (in two fewer games) and 47 (!) more than the guy in third.
Lynch should be a shoe-in for this award if any of the voters have watched a minute of Gopher basketball. I swear to God if some schmuck like Ethan Happ wins this award I’m going to turn some tables over.
Lynch is a game-changer, and it really is that simple.