College basketball: Purdue's Caleb Swanigan the biggest thing going in Big Ten
On the first day of 2017, Caleb Swanigan was exhausted after his 28-point, 22-rebound effort wasn't enough in Purdue's overtime loss to Minnesota in West Lafayette, Indiana.
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The rest of the Big Ten hasn't been as amused trying to slow down Swanigan, who is the frontrunner for conference player of the year honors and at the top of the national discussion, too.
His story isn't just about him being a former McDonald's All-America who returned to school this season to try to lead the Boilermakers to their first Big Ten title since 2010.
The 19-year-old Indianapolis native nicknamed "Biggie" battled weight problems and poverty growing up. He went from a 6-foot-2, near 400-pound eighth-grader who frequented homeless shelters because of his family's lack of financial stability to the 6-foot-9, 250-pound NBA prospect you see today.
Tough losses like the one to the Gophers earlier this month and hostile crowds like the one he saw at Michigan State on Tuesday don't compare one bit to the adversity he has already faced and overcome.
Swanigan led Purdue to an 84-73 victory Tuesday with 25 points and 17 rebounds, his NCAA-high 17th double-double. He is averaging 18.8 points and a Big Ten-best 12.7 rebounds this season for the Boilermakers (17-4, 6-2 Big Ten).
"He is getting better all the time," Purdue coach Matt Painter said after Tuesday's victory. "He showed a lot of poise, and he showed a lot of maturity for a young guy and really played well."
Unless Purdue drops off the map for conference title contention, Swanigan seems almost a lock for Big Ten Player of the Year honors. There are a couple players who are currently fighting for the runner-up spot in the conference MVP race: Maryland's Melo Trimble and Iowa's Peter Jok.
Trimble, whom the Gophers will see Saturday at Williams Arena, shook off a disappointing sophomore season to lead the Terrapins to a Top 25 ranking and a first-place tie with Wisconsin at 6-1 in the Big Ten standings as Friday. The 6-foot-3 Baltimore native is averaging 17.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game for 18-2 Maryland.
In a matchup between two of the nation's best guards, Trimble outplayed Jok (14 points on 4-of-12 shooting) with 20 points on 5-of-9 shooting from 3-point range in an 84-76 victory in Iowa City on Jan. 19.
Jok leads the Big Ten in scoring with 21 points per game. He got the best of Swanigan with 29 points in an 83-78 victory over Purdue on Jan. 12. But the 6-foot-6 senior from West Des Moines, Iowa, has struggled with only 28 points combined on 9-of-30 shooting in three consecutive Hawkeyes losses since the upset of the Boilermakers.
The Big Ten title race gets harder to figure out by the week, even as midseason in conference play approaches. But so far Swanigan is pulling away from Jok and Trimble in the player of the year competition.
It's up to Swanigan from here on out how high he wants to set his sights. Biggie might soon be known as the best player in college basketball — period.
This article is written by Marcus Fuller from Star Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.