EAST LANSING, MICH. — The matchup between No. 7 Maryland and No. 11 Michigan State at the Breslin Center on Saturday will not only help determine the outcome of the Big Ten regular-season championship.
It could also be one of the games that ultimately figures into the Big Ten Player of the Year voting, and if you listen to ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, the national Player of the Year voting as well.
Both Maryland's Melo Trimble and Michigan State's Denzel Valentine have been mentioned in the conversation for each honor, though neither is considered the front runner right now.
Trimble, who was voted the Big Ten's preseason Player of the Year, has redefined his game from his freshman to sophomore seasons, and his numbers are not nearly as impressive as his overall performance.
Having a showcase performance such as the one Saturday – replete with the pregame hype of ESPN's "College GameDay" morning telecast – certainly doesn't hurt.
"If you're on one of the top-10 teams, when football ends, you're going to have more eyeballs on you, then all of sudden you see who has the best performances without your stats being eye-popping," Bilas said. "I think [Trimble] is absolutely still a Player of the Year candidate. He's still a top-five point guard and his team's winning."
Valentine, who emerged as an early season candidate for both awards after putting up a triple-double in an upset of then-No. 4 Kansas in Chicago, has seen his campaign slowed by injury and his team's recent losing streak.
Still, Bilas believes that both players are still in the hunt for both honors.
"Trimble is so different from last year to this," Bilas said Friday. "Last year he scored more and got to the free-throw line more. This year he's more of a distributor and he's got more weapons, and more weapons that are ready to fire than last year. He can still have a tremendous impact on the game and maybe be the player of the game without scoring as many points. Valentine's got to do more."
Currently, the favorite for national Player of the Year appears to be Oklahoma shooting guard Buddy Hield because he is scoring and the Sooners shot up to No. 1 despite Hield's 46-point explosion in a triple-overtime loss at Kansas. Oklahoma will likely go down after losing this week at Iowa State.
If that happens, and North Carolina moves back to No. 1 after starting as a co-No. 1 with Kentucky, then senior forward Brice Johnson will get even more POY notice after some of the big games he has had recently, including a 39-point, 23-rebound performance against Florida State.
Valentine was an early season favorite for national Player of the Year, but has seen his candidacy stall because Michigan State is currently riding a three-game losing streak. The same thing has happened to LSU forward Ben Simmons, expected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2016 draft, for playing on an up-and-down Tigers team.
"If we were just talking about players, we'd probably be talking about Ben Simmons the most," Bilas said. "His team is not winning, so he's further down in the Player of the Year conversation even though he's probably the best player."
As for Big Ten Player of the Year, the new favorite to emerge is Iowa's Jarrod Uthoff. The 6-foor-9 senior forward, who played in the shadow of Roy Marble and then Aaron White, is averaging 19.7 points per a game in league play and has been in double figures every game this season for the surprising No. 9 Hawkeyes, who are unbeaten in the Big Ten.
There is also Indiana's Yogi Ferrell. After a sluggish start for both Ferrell and the Hoosiers, the senior guard has turned the Hoosiers into a legitimate contender for the Big Ten regular-season title and himself into a possible POY candidate in the league.
"Winning is a huge component in that," Bilas said.
Asked if Trimble still has a chance to be the Big Ten's Player of the Year as well as a contender for national Player of the Year honors, Bilas said, "I think so, but that's going to be dependent on what other guys do."
"When you have someone going for 46 and if Hield consistently averages 26, it will be like Doug McDermott a couple of years ago. I think most players would tell you they'd rather play on the championship team than say they have a Player of the Year on their team."