The Big Ten Conference released the annual All-Big Ten teams this evening live on the Big Ten Network and several Indiana players were among the honorees.
Michigan’s Trey Burke was named the conference’s player of the year, edging Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller. But Oladipo was named the defensive player of the year and was also on the all-Big Ten first team, along with Zeller, Burke, Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr. and Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas. On the media’s first team, Ohio State’s Aaron Craft replaced Hardaway Jr.
Oladipo and Burke were unanimous picks for the all-conference first team. Oladipo and Craft were unanimous selections on the all-defensive team.
Indiana’s Will Sheehey was named the sixth man of the year, Christian Watford was on the all-Big Ten third team, and Yogi Ferrell was on the all-conference freshman team and also an all-Big Ten honorable selection by the media. Jordan Hulls was named all-Big Ten honorable mention by the coaches.
Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan was named the league’s coach of the year by both the coaches and media.
Derek Elston was IU’s Big Ten Sportsmanship Award honoree.
Everything was assembled for Indiana to have the party of the year on Tuesday night. The Hoosiers were playing for sole possession of a Big Ten title — one they hadn’t won since 1993 — and against the very team they manhandled just weeks ago at Ohio State. Plus, they were prepared to honor their three seniors, a class of guys responsible for bringing the Indiana program back.
Indiana still honored those seniors after Tuesday night’s game, and the Hoosiers can still win a conference title outright by beating Michigan on Sunday. But the celebration was mostly ruined by Aaron Craft and the Buckeyes on Tuesday night.
Ohio State 67, Indiana 58. And suddenly, the Hoosiers aren’t a lock for a No. 1 seed any longer.
“This is the epitome of bittersweet tonight,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean. “We’re trying to celebrate what these guys have earned, and at the same time, we didn’t earn it tonight.”
Added senior forward Derek Elston: “It felt like too many mental errors were stacking on top of each other. When you dwell on one of those, you’re just not playing your game anymore. I think that’s what happened tonight.”
The Buckeyes are a very good defensive team, but they sometimes struggle because their lack of consistent scorers behind Fort Wayne native Deshaun Thomas. When they get other guys to score, though, they are capable of being one of the nation’s top 10 teams.
On Tuesday night, it wasn’t just Thomas (who finished with 18 points on 17 shots). Craft, Ohio State’s pesky point guard, played well offensively and very much dominated whoever was matched up against him. Craft had 16 points on an efficient 7-of-10 shooting, four rebounds, four assists and four steals.
“We wanted to keep the lane covered on Craft, and he made some tough shots,” Crean said. “Those are the same shots he didn’t make against us [before]. He’s so good because he’s really looking for two things. He’s looking for an open lane, and then if you converge, he’s looking to hit somebody.”
Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson also made solid offensive contributions, combining for 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
“There were some stretches there where we would play really good ‘D’ for the whole shot clock, and they’d get a bucket right at the end,” said senior guard Jordan Hulls. “Whether Craft hit one off the backboard or a pull-up jumper or whatever the case was, offensive rebound, we just didn’t play with that edge that we need to have.”
Christian Watford’s path to Indiana wasn’t at all similar to that of the two guys who will be honored with him at Tuesday’s Senior Night at Assembly Hall. Unlike Jordan Hulls and Derek Elston, Watford didn’t grow up in the state. He joined the Hoosiers from Birmingham, Ala. and wasn’t a household name when he stepped on campus for the first time.
So when Indiana struggled through the first two years of Watford’s career, there wasn’t as much pressure for him to stay. It was unlike the situation of Hulls and Elston, who would be abandoning their state school if they bolted during the program’s turmoil.
Watford could have transferred. Other out-of-state recruits did. And he admits now that the thought crossed his mind at some point.
But Watford didn’t leave. Despite the external pressure to do so and the occasional questions from his family, Watford decided to stick it out. He and his family believed in the process.
“Well, it definitely comes to your mind, but you don’t wanna be one of those guys when the going gets tough, you just run,” Watford said. “I ain’t never been like that. I wasn’t fittin to leave because of no losing season or anything like that. If I woulda left, it woulda been because of something totally different.
“Of course, of course, of course [you get questions], that’s just part of it. But you gotta know you’re here for a reason. You gotta stick it out if that’s what you felt like from the beginning, and that’s how I felt. I had a good understanding of the coaching staff, so I felt like I was here for a reason.”