As little as two weeks ago, it looked like Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan was about ready to lap the field in the Big Ten Player of the Year race.
Swanigan has been a double-double machine, is a matchup nightmare for almost any defense and is a bona fide Naismith Trophy candidate. This is a guy who has notched 20 double-doubles (he’s already broke the Purdue single-season record) in 24 games played this season. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he’s already tied for the third-most double-doubles recorded by any Big Ten player in the last 20 years, and he still has seven more regular-season games and the postseason to add to that.
He is averaging 19.1 points and 12.3 rebounds per game, while shooting 54.7 percent from the field and nearly 80 percent from the free-throw line. He ranks highly among Big Ten players in a whole host of statistical categories—first in defensive and total rebound percentage, second in points per game, second in player efficiency rating, third in usage percentage, third in field goal percentage, fourth in effective field-goal percentage, fourth in defensive rating, sixth in offensive rebound percentage and 11th in offensive rating, just to name a handful.
Swanigan has been superb and his play hasn’t dipped, but Ethan Happ has thrown his hat in the race with his phenomenal play over the past two weeks or so.
In recent games, the Badgers have frequently looked out of sorts on offense and have gone long stretches where they’ve been ice cold from 3-point range. Despite this, Wisconsin has now won seven games in a row and hasn’t fallen victim to the upset bug that’s running rampant over all of college basketball. It’s not a stretch to say that Ethan Happ is the biggest reason for that.
Happ’s numbers for the year have been great, but what he has done over the past five games is downright absurd: 21.6 points per game, 9.2 rebounds per game, 2.6 assists per game and 2.6 steals per game while shooting 64.2 percent from the field. While most of his teammates have struggled with their shots during prolonged stretches, Happ has been Wisconsin’s Mr. Reliable, the guy they can count on the most when they need a basket. He’s emerged as the sort of go-to scorer that most teams would die for.
His efforts have earned him back-to-back Big Ten Player of the Week honors, but his season stats back up his case as well. Here’s where Happ stands among Big Ten players in several statistical categories (rankings through Saturday’s games)—first in field goal percentage, first in defensive rating, first in player efficiency rating (by a wide margin), second in effective field goal percentage, second in steal percentage, third in offensive, defensive and total rebound percentage, sixth in usage percentage, seventh in offensive rating, 10th in block percentage and 11th in assist percentage.
Swanigan is obviously a more versatile shooter than Happ, who remains almost entirely confined to the paint and struggles mightily at the free-throw line, but he also coughs up the ball at a higher rate than Happ. The ridiculous number of double-doubles Swanigan posts is, rightfully, grabbing plenty of headlines, but he and Happ are closer in overall production and efficiency ratings than one might expect.
At this point, Swanigan would probably have the edge if Big Ten Player of the Year voting was held today, and he’s probably still the slight favorite going forward. But Happ has come flying in like a bat out of hell and to turn what once looked like a forgone conclusion into an interesting race. With roughly one month left in the regular season, the battle for the Big Ten Player of the Year is shaping up to be the most fascinating in all of college basketball.