And the winner is… The inaugural Big101010 Awards

Purdue forward Vincent Edwards (12) is fouled by Michigan guard Jordan Poole (2) on a dunk during the second half of a game earlier this season in West Lafayette. (By The Associated Press)
Northwestern men's basketball coach Chris Collins signals to his team as it plays Purdue during the second half of a game earlier this season in West Lafayette. (By The Associated Press)
Minnesota men's basketball coach Richard Pitino watches his team in the second half of a recent game against Michigan State in Minneapolis. (By The Associated Press)
Nebraska men's basketball coach Tim Miles gestures during the second half of a recent game against Indiana in Lincoln. (By The Associated Press)
Penn State guard Tony Carr (10) shoots between Purdue guard P.J. Thompson (11) and forward Matt Haarms (32) in the first half of a recent game in West Lafayette. (By The Associated Press)

There are over 20 million people that reside in the New York City metropolitan area and approximately .00049505 percent of them will care enough to take the A line subway train to the 34th Street-Penn Station drop-off and actually walk into Madison Square Garden to watch any of this week’s Big Ten Tournament games.

The interest level for this event among Gotham natives is comparable to venturing to Times Square… ever. However, over the past five months, basketball fans – throughout the Midwest, not New York – endured a lot of angst and appreciation as the 2017-18 Big Ten season unfolded.

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With that said, I (@Tom101010) am unveiling the inaugural “Big 101010 Awards” in a variety of categories to honor (in some cases, that term is being used loosely) those deserving of such.

BEST GAME OF THE YEAR

It wasn’t the most significant game of the Big Ten season, but from a pure entertainment standpoint, it was the most fun to take in.

On Jan. 25, Purdue survived against Michigan 92-88, as both teams shot the bejesus out of the basketball.

“This is why you come to a Big Ten school,” Purdue senior Vince Edwards said after scoring a career-best 30 points to lead his team. “The environment, the atmosphere and just being able to be on this stage is huge.

“That second half was a dream to play basketball in. We all soaked it in. It was a really good game; it was a fun game to play.”

This is how great the game was, it made the 70-69 Boilermaker win in Ann Arbor two weeks earlier appear mundane.

The Wolverines shot 60 percent overall, while Purdue did them better by making 62 percent.

From long range, the two teams connected on 24 of 43 3-pointers (55.8 percent).

“Obviously both teams played well offensively and both teams really didn’t have an answer in terms of stopping the other team,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said afterward.

Who cares? That was a fun night of hoops, as Edwards alluded to.

BIGGEST CHOKE JOB

Northwestern failed to build on its magical momentum of 2017 by plummeting to a truly mediocre 15-16 season (6-12 Big Ten) this year. There was no lower moment than when the Wildcats had eventual Big Ten champion Michigan State down 27 points in the opening half – at home (or at least as much of a home as Northwestern currently has), before playing perhaps the most pathetic 20 minutes of basketball by any team, at any level, or any where.

The Wildcats led 49-27 at the half, but made just three baskets in the second half, while missing 23 (11.5 percent). Yes, it was truly an Upward Basketball-level performance.

BIGGEST LIE TOLD

“Obviously, it was a very difficult loss,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said following the monumental collapse against the Spartans. “I’m just really proud of my team.”

It must have been that third make of the second half that took him from disappointed to “proud.”

BIGGEST LIE TOLD II

Collins entered the postgame media room following the Wildcats’ loss at Purdue in December and he appeared agitated and hurried. As it turned out, he was needed back in the Wildcats’ locker room to assist with a player, who had been injured during the game.

“I’ve got to make it quick,” Collins told the media gathered in the bowels of Mackey Arena for the postgame news conference. “(Northwestern center) Derek Pardon is getting stitches from (Purdue center Isaac Haas) putting his elbow in his face, so I’ve got to get back there.”

It was an incredible story. The only thing that doused the media’s astonishment were the facts that Pardon didn’t get stitches, Collins wasn’t needed to assist the medical personnel in any way, and it even is unclear as to whether Haas ever actually made contact with Pardon during the game.

ROLAIDS RELIEF MAN

The biggest save achieved this season was by Nebraska coach Tim Miles, who was a dead man walking entering this season, and his situation even became worse just prior to the season starting. However, Miles got his team to play well much more often than not and the Huskers battled their way to what easily should be an NCAA Tournament bid (even if the analytic guys dispute that).

This was the sixth season in Lincoln for Miles, who had endured four losing seasons in the pervious five. That placed him squarely in the crosshairs of the athletic director (Shawn Eichorst), who he had worked virtually his entire tenure under. However, Eichorst was fired in September for hiring the wrong football coach (Mike Riley), and Miles is now working under Bill Moos, who has no ties to Miles’ time in Lincoln.

The Huskers are 22-9 (13-5 in the Big Ten) and have wins at Mississippi State, vs. Minnesota (when the Gophers were nationally ranked), vs. Michigan, vs. Maryland, vs. Indiana, and vs. Penn State.

“All I know is, they’re a really good team,” Michigan coach John Beilein told journalstar.com recently. “We’ve got six road wins, five in our league. and that was one of them where we just had to sit everybody down and say, ‘We’re not winning this game; let’s get rest for the next one.'”

Nebraska also played Kansas tough before losing on a last-second shot.

BAD TIMING AWARD

It’s bad enough for Minnesota coach Richard Pitino that he holds a job in a geographic location that endures nine months of winter, but this season was an all-timer in terms of awful, well, timing.

In October, his infamous father, Rick Pitino, was fired from his coaching position at Louisville amid an FBI investigation on college athletes receiving illicit payments. However, the younger Pitino still was able to guide his talented squad to a strong 12-3 start, which included wins at Arkansas, vs. Miami (Fla.), at Providence and over UMass and Alabama in a tournament in New York City.

From that point forward, it was an abysmal season and following the Big Ten Tournament, it is questionable as to whether Pitino will even keep his job.

Sophomore starting guard Amir Coffey injured his shoulder in December and has been limited to 18 games this season, while smack-dab in the middle of the #MeToo movement, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Minnesota center Reggie Lynch was found “responsible” by the university in a pair of sexual assault cases from two separate alleged incidents in April 2016.

He was ruled ineligible to compete and expelled from the university.

The history of Gopher basketball is a grimy one and Pitino has done well to maintain that tradition.

BAD TIMING AWARD II

Penn State has a history of – not having a history. The Nittany Lions haven’t made the NCAA Tournament in seven years, which coincidentally, is how long Pat Chambers has been the coach in State College.

However, in early February, Penn State was riding high.

The Nittany Lions knocked off league runner-up Ohio State by 23 points in State College (it was the second time Penn State had beaten the Buckeyes this season) and the victory was the fourth consecutive for Chambers’ guys and sixth out of seven games.

At 19-9 (9-6 Big Ten), the streak of not earning an NCAA Tournament bid was surely going down. However, the only thing that sank from that point forward was Penn State.

The Nittany Lions have lost three consecutive games to close the regular season and its RPI is currently 85th.

“For all of you (the media) and all the fans and the families, it’s about NCAA tournament and all those distractions and all that noise,” Chambers said after his team recently lost to Michigan. “For me, with this group, it’s one percent better, continue to push, continue to strive, come to practice, come to film, come to lift, come to whatever we’re doing and try to get a little bit better each time.”

The Nittany Lions open the postseason Thursday at 6:30 p.m. against Northwestern and they better hope that they prevail otherwise that ignominious streak will reach eight years.

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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