Dienhart: Big Ten's early MVP? It's Wisconsin's Ethan Happ
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Let me be the first to apologize to Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan. Also, no offense to Iowa’s Peter Jok. And, I hope Maryland’s Melo Trimble understands. But as the calendar is about to flip to February, there is no Big Ten player more valuable, versatile and dynamic than Wisconsin’s Ethan Happ. Yep, not even Northwestern’s Scottie Lindsey, Indiana’s James Blackmon, Jr., or Nebraska’s Tai Webster.
No doubt, the Big Ten has players who are more athletically gifted. And there are better shooters, rebounders, ball-handlers and passers. But no Big Ten player has a package of skills as complete as the 6-9, 235-pound Happ, a native of Milan, Illinois, who is a major reason why the Badgers are 18-3 overall and 7-1 in the Big Ten and tied for first with Maryland as they take on Illinois tonight.
Happ’s impressive array of skills was on full display in Wisconsin’s OT win vs. Rutgers on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. With the Badgers floundering and flirting with a potentially disastrous loss to the last-place Scarlet Knights, Happ figuratively put the team on his shoulders and carried it to victory. That’s what big-time players do. And no Big Ten player is more big-time than Happ.
The sophomore scored 32 of Wisconsin’s 61 points in a grind-it-out triumph. No way was Happ going to let his team lose. He scored seven of his career-high total in overtime and tallied eight of Wisconsin’s points in the 13-4 flurry to close regulation, including the hoop that tied it at 45 with two seconds left.
“No one could throw it in the ocean for most of the game,” Wisconsin’s Bronson Koenig said afterward. “But we keep battling when things aren’t going our way. We get in the post to Ethan and he’s a great player and made the right reads.”
Happ’s heroics elicited a curtain call in the “The World’s Most Famous Arena.”
“It’s always special to play in MSG but once you get going it turns into a basketball game,” said Happ. “But when you get a curtain call in Madison Square Garden, you’re not going to turn it down.”
For his efforts, Happ was tabbed Big Ten Player of the Week for a second time in a row. He is the first Wisconsin player to win the award in consecutive weeks since Mike Wilkinson in the 2004-05 season.
More fuel for the “Ethan Happ is the best player in the Big Ten” argument: He is the only player in the NCAA averaging at least 13.0 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.5 spg and 1.0 bpg. Happ is trying to become the first major conference player in over 20 years to reach those marks for an entire season.
Want more? Happ currently ranks No. 3 on Ken Pomeroy’s National Player of the Year rankings behind Villanova’s Josh Hart and Saint Mary’s Jock Landale. Since debuting in 2011, Pomeroy’s POY rankings have been a reliable indicator of All-America accolades.
We got a glimpse of Happ’s ample skills last season when he earned Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors, also garnering a spot on the Big Ten All-Defensive Team en route to being third-team All-Big Ten by the media. Happ became just the second Big Ten freshman in over 20 years to average at least 11.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.0 spg and 0.5 bpg. And Happ set UW freshman records for points (434), rebounds (278), steals (63) and double-doubles (10).
There is still plenty of basketball to be played this season, with the halfway point in the season at our doorstep. The Badgers still have home games vs. Northwestern and Maryland, along with a trip to Michigan State, among other key games remaining on the slate. A lot can happen. But for now, no Big Ten player has been more impactful and valuable than Happ, my Big Ten MVP for now.
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