COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio State lost Big Ten and National Player of the Year Evan Turner last season. It's hard to imagine the Buckeyes, now the top-ranked team in college basketball, have yet another player up for the same awards just a season later.
But with the Buckeyes just one win away from clinching the outright Big Ten title, its fourth conference crown in six years, Ohio State has been bolstered by freshman big man Jared Sullinger along the way.
Has Sullinger - apparently a sure-fire case to be Ohio State's next 1-and-done - done enough to be named the best player in the conference?
Below we break down the cases for and against the players currently viewed as the front-runners to win the award:
Jared Sullinger, Fr., Ohio State:
The case for: The simple argument for Sullinger is that he's the best player on the best team. Ohio State, currently ranked No. 1 in the nation, has turned to the freshman forward repeatedly this season for big buckets inside, key rebounds, and a never-ending motor to wear out the oppositions front court, both energy and foul-wise. He is an incredible finisher around the basket and often has a knack for getting buckets after being fouled. And though the Buckeyes boast perhaps the best starting five in the nation, without Sullinger the solid stock of perimeter players wouldn't be as effective and the Buckeyes likely would have more than two losses on its record.
"Obviously I think Jared," Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said on a conference call Thursday. "I think what Jared has meant to this team this year, the fact that he is a freshman, the impact that he's had on the league has been tremendous."
The case against: The biggest case against Sullinger is just the fact that he is surrounded by great talent all over the floor, especially with veterans along the perimeter. With guys like David Lighty, Jon Diebler and William Buford providing an ample amount of scoring on a nightly basis, Sullinger hasn't always been in the spotlight when analyzing the success of this team. Because of this, Sullinger's numbers haven't been the best in the conference. Even so, Matta explains Sullinger has meant everything to an Ohio State squad looking to gain the outright Big Ten title on Sunday against Wisconsin.
"If you look at basketball and really understand, you look at the plays he's made when he's had to make them and I think from the Penn State game where he had the two and-1s to end the game. We haven't needed him all the time to put up the great numbers."
The numbers: 17.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 0.5 bpg, and 1 spg
JaJuan Johnson, Sr., Purdue:
The case for: Johnson is the prototypical guy you'd want to be considered for such an honor. Simply put, he is a senior that has put in the time over years at Purdue to continually progress and at the end of his illustrious career, Johnson is playing the best basketball he's ever played. What's even more impressive is Johnson has Purdue in the hunt for its second Big Ten title in as many years, even after an injury to Robbie Hummel hurt the Boilermakers chances of repeating as champions. Johnson has put up incredible numbers this season and has become an automatic double-double. Perhaps one of the best forwards in the country that has a knack for knocking down tough shots, Johnson has really gained steam as of late in the player of the year race.
"If you look at what he's contributing to that basketball team night in, night out, you see a great player," Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo said. "Johnson has been so consistent with his scoring, his shot blocking and his rebounding. He's been phenomenal and he's been doing it on a team without all that many stars."
The case against: The biggest case against Johnson was that he may not be the best player on the best team. With the Buckeyes one win away from clinching the outright conference title, you cannot underestimate the value of being the best player on the best team, which right now seems to go in Sullinger's favor. Also, Johnson's numbers are going to be better because he is always needed in all facets of the game for Purdue to compete as a team. Aside from E'Twaun Moore - who most believe is also a candidate - Purdue has only one other player that averages eight points per game. With that said, Purdue must rely on Johnson to put up the numbers. If the award was for most valuable player, Johnson would be the winner hands down. As it stands now, the current race is neck-and-neck.
The numbers: 20.5 ppg, 8 rpg, 2.4 bpg, and 0.9 spg
Jordan Taylor, Jr., Wisconsin:
The case for: Anybody who tuned in to watch Taylor's performance against Indiana last night understands why he is in the conversation. After dropping a career-high 39 points, including 14-straight in the second half while helping Wisconsin bury the Hoosiers, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see Taylor is about as electric of a player as there is out there right now. What's so impressive about the numbers Taylor has consistently put up is that Wisconsin averages only 58 possessions per game, which is the fewest in all of college basketball. However, he scores nearly 20 points per game and has become one of the most efficient players in the conference.
"Jordan Taylor flat out had a great performance," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "He made some incredibly challenging shots. He took advantage of us when we missed some assignments, and the biggest thing about a kid like that is he rises up."
The case against: The case against Taylor isn't really anything to do specifically with him, but the two listed above of him who have stolen the show. Taylor certainly deserves to be considered for the award, but it is hard to believe that the Big Ten Player of the Year won't be either Johnson or Sullinger. Taylor, though has been an integral part of Wisconsin's success, has really stormed onto the scene after Sullinger and Johnson already stole the show.
The numbers: 18.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg, and 0.7 spg
Buckeye Grove members: Who do you think should be Big Ten Player of the Year?
Ari Wasserman is a staff writer for BuckeyeGrove.com. He can be reached at Ari@BuckeyeGrove.com.