Rutgers’ Caleb McConnell named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year

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Caleb McConnell achieved the individual goal he set for himself this season.

The senior Rutgers guard was named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year by league coaches, the conference announced Tuesday, becoming the first player in program history to win a major Big Ten individual award. . The school joined the league before the 2014–15 season.

He is the first Scarlet Knight to win a league-wide individual honor since Hamady N’Diaye was named Big East Defensive Player of the Year in 2010. They are the only two players to have won the award. Defensive Player of the Year in program history. .

McConnell was also named to the league’s defensive team, alongside Trent Frazier of Illinois, Eric Hunter Jr. of Purdue, EJ Liddell of Ohio State and Trayce Jackson-Davis of Illinois. ‘Indiana.

McConnell led the Big Ten in interceptions in conference play by a wide margin, collecting 43 in 20 games. That’s 2.2 swipes per contest; Northwestern’s Chase Audige, who ranked second in the league in steals, averaged 1.8 per game. He also led the league in steal percentage – the percentage of defensive possessions he gets a steal on while on the field – and ranks seventh nationally in the category at 4.9%.

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McConnell is the fourth Big Ten player in the past decade to average two steals per game over an entire season, joining Ohio State’s Aaron Craft (2013-14) and Shannon Scott (2013-14) and Josh Penn State Reaves (2015-16, 2016-17, 2017-18). Craft and Reaves (2017-18) were also named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year.

McConnell leads the Big Ten and ranks 17th nationally in steal percentage — the percentage of defensive possessions he gets stolen on while on the ground — at 4.6% on the season. He’s a good rebounder for his position, possessing a 16.9 percent defensive rebound rate in conference play that ranks 5th among league wings, according to Bart Torvik.

He ranks well in advanced stats like Defensive Plus-Minus Box and Adjusted Defensive Rating as well. Put them together on a chart and McConnell lands in a different stratosphere than most in the league. Michigan State center Marcus Bingham is the only close, but he only plays 41% of his team’s minutes; for comparison, McConnell plays 74% of Rutgers minutes

A graph showing where Big Ten defensemen rank in the defensive plus-minus box and adjusted defensive rating during conference play. Note: The Michigan State logo is the Marcus Bingham Center. (Graphic via Bart Torvik).

McConnell’s defense was crucial during Rutgers’ unprecedented season-saving streak in early February. He had 21 interceptions in five games, including four against the top six teams in the conference standings. He’s been intercepted in multiple ways: throwing balls from behind, peddling passes as a free safety, slipping them out of an opponent’s hand, ripping loose balls, dropping his body.

Watch these 21 flights here.

More impressively, McConnell held Wisconsin guard Johnny Davis – one of the nation’s top scorers – to 30 points on 11-of-29 shooting and forced him to commit five turnovers in 70 minutes in their two games. this season.

“Caleb McConnell is a very good defender,” Davis said after the game. “He is definitely the toughest guy to face. He was on me the whole game and it was really hard for me to get buckets. He uses his hands and his athleticism very well. He can keep the one to four very well. He’s definitely the key to their defense and in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year. Every time he walks out of the game I have a little sigh of relief knowing I don’t need to have someone like that following me.

McConnell is a Naismith National Defensive Player of the Year semi-finalist, the only Big Ten player to make the 10-man list.

McConnell enters the Big Ten Tournament 10 steals away from tying Rick Dadika for fourth-most single-season steals in program history (77), and 12 away from tying Dadika for seventh-most career thefts in program history (159).

McConnell has another year of eligibility, so he can come back next year and try to move up the ranks. But he said he hasn’t made up his mind, choosing instead to focus on what history Rutgers can still make as a team this season.

“Right now I really want to focus on this year and finish it,” he said. “Who knows what will happen? I feel like a lot of good things have happened this season, so we’ll just have to see. Right now I feel like I’m playing for something more than myself. I think it would be selfish of me to think too much about my future. Right now I really want to focus on winning and moving our season forward.

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Brian Fonseca can be reached at [email protected].

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