Feb 28, 2015; College Park, MD, USA; Maryland Terrapins head coach Mark Turgeon directs his team against the Michigan Wolverines at Xfinity Center. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
The calendar has officially flipped over to March, which means its time for brackets and award races. The 2014-2015 season has been an up and down battle for the Big Ten. During the non-conference, the perceived top teams of the conference struggled against inferior opponents while newcomer Maryland impressed many. Conference play only reinforced the national notion that the Big Ten was Wisconsin and then everyone else. From that group, two surprise teams have emerged and so have two candidates for Big Ten Coach of the Year in Purdue’s Matt Painter and Maryland’s Mark Turgeon.
These awards in conference are similar to the Top 25 rankings that come out every week. Voters take many different forms of interpretation for what they should do with their vote. Is the Big Ten Coach of the Year only for conference performance? Should the non-conference matter? Preseason polls aren’t given much weight during the season, but should they matter for awards? Regardless, both coach Painter and Turgeon have exceed the expectations and risen to the top of the conference.
While neither coach will win the Big Ten conference regular season title, there is a little case to be made for Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan. The Badgers will win the Big Ten regular season, but how is that any different than what was expected of this team? Coach Ryan has done a great job with this year’s Badgers but they also returned many of the players from a Final Four team the previous season. The one argument that could be used for Bo Ryan would be the injury to guard Traevon Jackson, who was the team’s starting point guard and leader in assists. He injured himself in the loss to Rutgers and didn’t play in their only other loss, at Maryland. Wisconsin still has a chance to pick up two tough road wins at Minnesota and at Ohio State, and this could strength the case for coach Ryan. At the end of the day, I still think that the award won’t go to Bo Ryan. Even without Jackson and forward Frank Kaminsky, Wisconsin shouldn’t lose to Rutgers.
Purdue’s non-conference was a mess, which was par for the course in the Big Ten this season. The loss to Kansas State doesn’t look so bad after the week they had, but they are still a .500 team. Then there are the home loses to Gardner-Webb and North Florida, along with a road loss at Vanderbilt. While the non-conference was ugly, coach Painter was able to right the ship and lead Purdue to eleven conference wins and a chance at securing a top four finish. Sunday was an important day for the Boilers, as they had a double-digit lead at Ohio State. Regardless, losing at Ohio State isn’t a bad loss for the Boilermakers, who are currently projected as one of the last four teams into the NCAA Tournament. The biggest case to make for Purdue goes back to the preseason, when the Big Ten beat writers picked them to finish eleventh in the league, with only Graham Couch of LansingStateJournal.com picking them to finish in the middle of the pack at seven.
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As great of a season as Purdue is having, they have also benefitted from their schedule as well. Purdue is currently 2-2 against the preseason top four teams in the Big Ten (Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State, Michigan) and against the current top five in the standings they are 1-3. There is something to be said about winning the games you are supposed to, especially for a team who was picked to finish eleventh. The final two games for Purdue will hold the key to coach Painter’s candidacy. The Boilermakers play at Michigan State and against Illinois, and winning both of those games will strengthen coach Painter’s case a lot. Michigan State and Illinois are bubble teams, and with the Boilers still on the bubble themselves, winning those two games would greatly help Purdue to get into the tournament.
New to the Big Ten, Turgeon had a lot of adjusting to do. Especially when you take into account that five players transferred out of College Park last summer. Turgeon has transitioned a team that was already in transition into a new conference better than anyone expected. The Big Ten beat writers picked Maryland to finish eighth in the conference. The highest vote received by the Terrapins was by Nick Medline (@NickMedline) of Northwestern Scout, who picked them to finish sixth. While the rest of the Big Ten was stumbling through the non-conference, Maryland picked up a neutral court win against #13 Iowa State and a road win at Oklahoma State. The Terrapins’ only non-conference loss came at home to No. 7 Virginia, hardly a bad loss and they were without leading scorer Dez Wells. Turgeon’s team has done their damage in the conference in two ways. Maryland went unbeaten at home and beat up on the top of the league. Against the preseason top four teams and the current top five teams, Maryland went 4-1. Maryland also holds the card of being one of the two teams to beat Wisconsin this season and in the one head to head meeting between Purdue and Maryland, the Terrapins won by nine in West Lafayette.
The one downfall of Turgeon’s case for Big Ten Coach of the Year comes when you look deeper into their conference résumé and see that three of their four loses came by double figures. There is no shame in dropping road games, especially to teams likely bound for an NCAA Tournament appearance, but the way that three of those games went doesn’t look favorable. Maryland also didn’t blow anyone out the way that people expect a top team to do. Maryland’s scoring margin is +0.8, which ranks seventh in the Big Ten. For the most part, Maryland is a mediocre team by an analytic standpoint as they rank in the middle of the Big Ten in most categories. While this hurts Maryland’s perception, it also further strengthens Turgeon case for Big Ten Coach of the Year. Despite being an average team statistically, Maryland has still won twelve games in the Big Ten and has a favorable chance of winning fourteen games. How much of that would be possible for an average team with a bad coach?
Both Matt Painter and Mark Turgeon have a strong case for being the 2015 Big Ten Coach of the Year. With two games left in the season, there will be some separation between the two. Maryland’s favorable schedule makes it likely they will finish with fourteen wins and in second place, something that no one expected in the preseason. Purdue has a better chance of leaving a big final impression on voters as they travel to Michigan State and host Illinois in their final two games. The Boilers look likely for a top four finish, which seemed extremely unlikely after the loses to North Florida and Gardner-Webb.
Since I am a Maryland fan, I have a bias in this race and would vote for Coach Turgeon. Both teams have overachieved, but Maryland had a much better non-conference, has beaten better teams in conference, and won head to head against Purdue. Regardless of who wins, it is important to remember how both of these teams have impact freshman that will make the future brighter for both fanbases.