Dienhart: Time for midseason Big Ten honors

We are halfway through the Big Ten season, and the conference hasn’t disappointed. All of that preseason hype about being the top conference has proven to be true, with Indiana and Michigan already haven taken turns sitting atop the national polls.

And Michigan State, Minnesota and Wisconsin all have impressed to varying degrees. Here’s how I size up the conference at midseason.

FIRST TEAM
G Trey Burke, Michigan
G Victor Oladipo, Indiana
F Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
F/C Adreian Payne, Michigan State
C Cody Zeller, Indiana

SECOND TEAM
G Keith Appling, Michigan State
G Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan
G Aaron Craft, Ohio State
F Aaron White, Iowa
F Christian Watford, Indiana

THIRD TEAM
G Andre Hollins, Minnesota
G Brandon Paul, Illinois
G Reggie Hearn, Northwestern
F Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
F/C Jared Berggren, Wisconsin

[ RELATED: See Brent Yarina's midseason All-Big Ten teams ]

Player of the Year: Trey Burke, Michigan
Freshman of the Year: Gary Harris, Michigan State
Defensive Player of the Year: Victor Oladipo, Indiana
Coach of the Year: John Beilein, Michigan

Biggest surprise, team: Michigan State. I thought the Spartans would be good, but I wasn’t sure if they could legitimately compete for the Big Ten title. Well, here they are, 18-4 overall and 7-2 in the Big Ten, sitting pretty just a game behind Indiana. And two games remain vs. Michigan, along with a visit from the Hoosiers. MSU just may win this thing.

Biggest surprise, player: Adreian Payne, Michigan State. The 6-10 junior didn’t appear on any of my three preseason All-Big Ten teams. Well, he’s on my first-team midseason all-conference team. Few Big Ten big men are playing better than Payne, who’s averaging 9.4 points and 6.9 rebounds.

NCAA teams: Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Minnesota, Wisconsin.

NIT teams: Illinois, Iowa, Northwestern.

Eight best remaining games:
Ohio State at Michigan, Feb. 5
Indiana at Ohio State, Feb. Feb. 10
Michigan at Michigan State, Feb. 12
Indiana at Michigan State, Feb. 19
Michigan State at Ohio State, Feb. 24
Indiana at Minnesota, Feb. 26
Michigan State at Michigan, March 2-3
Indiana at Michigan, March 10

Toughest remaining schedule among contenders: Indiana. The Hoosiers have a lot of heavy lifting to do with games left at Minnesota, at Michigan State, at Michigan and at Ohio State. Can the Hoosiers forge a split? Oh, there also is a visit to Illinois that could be perilous.

Easiest remaining schedule among contenders: Michigan. The Wolverines already have played at Ohio State, at Minnesota, at Indiana and at Illinois. Games at Michigan State at Wisconsin loom, but all of the other “big boys” must come to Ann Arbor—Ohio State; Michigan State and Indiana. Things look good for Michigan down the stretch.

And now, it’s time to take a quick look back. Before the season started, I predicted the Big Ten standings and various award winners while at Big Ten media days. Read those here.

My order of finish back in October:
1. Indiana
2. Michigan
3. Ohio State
4. Michigan State
5. Wisconsin
6. Minnesota
7. Iowa
8. Purdue
9. Illinois
10. Northwestern
11. Penn State
12. Nebraska

My picks for player of the year (Cody Zeller), freshman of the year (Gary Harris) and coach of the year (Tom Crean) also look good.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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