What a great way to end the college basketball regular season Sunday: No. 2 Indiana at No. 7 Michigan with the Big Ten title on the line and likely a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament as well for the winner. The Hoosiers will clinch their first outright conference title in 20 seasons with a victory, while a U-M victory would create anywhere from a two-way on up to a four-way tie for the regular-season championship.
Also on the line Sunday is probably the Big Ten and National Player of the Year awards with Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke and Indiana junior swingman Victor Oladipo the two Bovada favorites for each. Burke is even-money for the Associated Press national award with Oladipo at 9/4; the only other player in shouting distance is Georgetown's Otto Porter at 4/1. For the conference honor, Burke is 1/2 and Oladipo at 2/1. IU's Cody Zeller, the preseason national and Big Ten favorite, is 16/1 and 6/1, respectively.
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Burke had this to say about the Big Ten award following Michigan's 80-75 escape at Purdue on Wednesday: "I don't want to sound like a guy who says 'I should be player of the year.' ... But I definitely think I should be in consideration. I think it'll just come down to Sunday, honestly."
Ohio State fans have to cringe every time Burke has a big game because Michigan somehow lured him from Columbus; OSU coach Thad Matta didn't recruit him. Burke, who originally verbally committed to Penn State, has pulled away from the POY field a bit in U-M's past two games. Last Sunday, he had an epic steal off MSU star Keith Appling and scored on a layup to break a tie and put Michigan ahead to stay with around 20 seconds remaining. On Wednesday, Burke had 26 points, 22 in the second half, to go with seven assists, five rebounds and three steals in holding off the Boilermakers. Burke averages 19.1 points (second in Big Ten) and 6.9 assists (leads conference).
Oladipo's stats aren't as gaudy: He averages 13.7 points (63.1 percent from the field), 6.0 rebounds and 2.3 steals (tops in Big Ten) for what many still consider the nation's top team. Oladipo is also considered the Big Ten's top defensive player, if not the nation's. The giant leap Oladipo has taken from last year to this is incredible as he's now probably a Top-5 pick in the 2013 draft if he comes out (Burke should be lower in the lottery if he does declare as expected).
The Associated Press ballots are due on Selection Sunday. For what it's worth, ESPN did a straw poll and Burke easily beat out Porter and Oladipo for the National Player of the Year honors. Oladipo probably needs a truly monstrous game Sunday to catch Burke. The Hoosier had 15 points, two rebounds and two steals in IU's 81-73 home win over then-No. 1 Michigan on Feb. 2. Burke was way better in a losing cause with 25 points, eight assists and five steals. Burke will win both.
Let's switch to odds from BetOnline for a look at three other conference players of the year props.
ACC: Duke senior Mason Plumlee is the -215 favorite, followed by Miami's Shane Larkin (son of MLB Hall of Famer Barry Larkin) at +210 and Virginia Tech's Erick Green, the nation's leading scorer, at +400. I thought Larkin had a real chance to steal this award until recently. The Canes have lost three of their past four and now have to beat Clemson at home Saturday and have Duke lose at North Carolina to clinch the outright ACC title. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, have won four of five to give themselves a chance. Plumlee has two things going for him: He plays for ultra-popular Duke, which in itself is an edge with voters, and is a senior. Voters almost always will lean toward the "career" player in a close call. Take Plumlee.
Big 12: A freshman will win this conference's player of the year award for the first time in five years. If Oklahoma State hadn't lost at Iowa State on Wednesday night to end the Cowboys' chances of at least tying for the Big 12 title, I might have recommended OSU's Marcus Smart (+300). But, really, his chances probably were lost when OSU lost 68-67 in double overtime to Kansas on Feb. 20. KU frosh Ben McLemore (+100) should take this home. He essentially wrapped it up with a Kansas freshman-record 36 points, breaking Danny Manning's mark, in a March 2 win over West Virginia. Smart has outplayed McLemore in the two head-to-head games but will have to settle for those bragging rights. McLemore also might be the No. 1 pick in this summer's draft. Smart could be No. 2.
Big East: Porter will win this award, no question. He's the -600 favorite.
SEC (back to Bovada): This one is totally wide open because no player from the league's two most high-profile teams, Florida and Kentucky, have stood out. Tennessee's Jordan McRae and Georgia's Kentavious Caldwell-Pope are 11/4 favorites, followed by Ole Miss' Marshall Henderson at 13/4. Henderson leads the conference in scoring, with Caldwell-Pope No. 2 and McRae fourth. None of those guys excite me, but I would lean toward Henderson because Ole Miss has been a big surprise and should get an NCAA bid with a win at LSU this weekend (no sure thing). Georgia for sure won't make it and UT is on the bubble. Henderson is averaging around 23 points in the Rebels' 11 conference wins but 16 in the six losses. He's a great story, not having played major college ball the past two years after transferring from Utah to Texas Tech (sat out a year and then left when Pat Knight was canned) and then to South Plains Junior College last year, where Henderson was the National Player of the Year.
Neither site has Pac-12 Player of the Year odds available, perhaps because it would be a crapshoot between Cal's Allen Crabbe, UCLA's Shabazz Muhammad and Arizona's Mark Lyons/Solomon Hill.
Read more articles by Alan Matthews