Is Purdue’s Swanigan the nation’s best player?

Is Caleb Swanigan the nation’s best college basketball player?

Purdue’s sophomore forward makes a compelling case.

“There are a lot of guys out there who are really good players,” coach Matt Painter says. “I’m not saying Biggie is the best player in the country. He is playing the best. That’s what it’s about. There are a lot of guys who can really play, but no one is putting up numbers like him and no one is as consistent as him.”

Some of those numbers haven’t been seen in decades from players such as Tim Duncan and Blake Griffin. Swanigan rebounds (12.9), scores (18.6), passes (81 assists) and defends at an impressively consistent high level. His effort on every play is as good as anyone’s in the country. And with three regular-season games remaining, he already has the school single-season rebound record at 361.

His improvement this season in nearly every category is almost ridiculously good. He went from a 29 percent three-point shooter to nearly 50-percent (46.8). He shoots 54.1 percent from the field and 78.3 percent from the line.

He’s had four games of at least 20 points and 20 rebounds. He’s scored as many as 32 points and grabbed as many as 22 rebounds. His 23 double-doubles lead the nation.

Swanigan, a former Indiana Mr. Basketball out of Homestead High School, might have played his worst game of the season in Tuesday’s 74-70 overtime win at Penn State and still finished with 10 points and nine rebounds. He has failed to rebound in double figures just four times in 28 games, with a season low of eight.

He’s won five Big Ten player-of-the-week awards, a national player-of-the-week honor and is a finalist for the Wooden and Naismith awards, given annually to the nation’s best player.

And for those focused on the bottom line, he’s a big reason why the No. 14 Boilers are 23-5 with a six-game winning streak, and lead the Big Ten with a 12-3 record.

Next up – a Saturday trip to Michigan (18-10, 8-7).

Swanigan also does the job in the classroom with a 3.30 grade point average. He recently was named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District first team, which makes him eligible for academic All-America honors.

“Besides rebounding, his ability to pass is his best attribute,” Painter says. “It will really come out down the road. He’s a very good passer from the high post. He’s good out of the low post. When he keeps things simple and just takes what the defense gives him, teams are at his mercy. When he tries to squeeze through a couple of people or force some things, that’s where his turnovers start to accumulate.

“He’s a very unselfish guy. He’s very intelligent. He understands the game and knows what’s going on. Sometimes guys like that who can really pass see some things that aren’t there. That’s the thing for him. When he’s really simple and really unselfish, he’s really good.”

Purdue has a website devoted to promoting Swanigan’s accomplishments,

Only two Boilers have won national player of the year — Glenn Robinson in 1994 and John Wooden in 1932.

Swanigan down plays all of this.

“Right now, we’re just trying to win a Big Ten championship,” he says.

Who else is in the running for national player of the year honors? The list includes Kansas guard Frank Mason, Maryland guard Melo Trimble, Villanova guard Josh Hart, UCLA guard Lonzo Ball, Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss, Baylor forward Johnathan Motley, Kansas forward Josh Jackson, Duke guard Luke Kennard, North Carolina forward Justin Jackson, Central Michigan guard Marcus Keene and Notre Dame forward Bonzie Colson.

Probably the main competition comes from Hart and Mason, whose teams rank No. 2 and No. 3 in the country. Mason averages 20.3 points, 5.0 assists and 4.2 rebounds. He also averages 50.4 percent from three-point range. Hart averages 18.8 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He shoots 50.8 percent from the field.

The 5-9 Keene is an intriguing candidate. He averages 30.7 points. No player has averaged more than 30 points in 20 years.

Still, Painter likes his guy.

“I think you get punished a little bit when you’re a big guy. You just do. Look at the other candidates, and they’re all good players, but there aren’t a bunch of good big guys out there.

“(Swanigan is) the best, most productive big guy in the country, but he’s also been the most productive player. I’m biased. We’ve played against some good guys. Josh Hart is great. He’s a warrior. He’s fabulous.

“But you look at (Swanigan’s) numbers and production, it’s been pretty special.” <br>

<i> For more on college basketball follow Pete DiPrimio on Twitter at pdiprimio and on Facebook at Pete DiPrimio </i><br>

<center> Up next </center><br>

Tip-off: Purdue at Michigan, 4 p.m., Saturday