A lot has been made over the last couple of days about how good Ayo Dosunmu has been in crunch time in his Illini career.
Big Ten Network dropped a tweet that probably made some Illini fans late for work, as they marveled at his magic in the game’s closing minutes.
Ayo Dosunmu: The Closer— NCAA March Madness (@marchmadness) February 17, 2021
The @IlliniMBB star has delivered in the clutch his entire career. ❄️ @BigTenNetwork pic.twitter.com/vjvGmPTt1e
But what deserves just as much attention is how good Dosunmu has been all season long, because he is having a phenomenal junior campaign.
Dosunmu came into the season as an underdog for the Big Ten Player of the Year to Iowa’s Luke Garza — the odds on favorite for National Player of the Year, as well — but has, in the eyes of many, taken a leap past him over the last couple of weeks.
For the longest time it was Garza’s award in a slam dunk, then it slowly became up for grabs, and Dosunmu’s recent surge has pushed him past the talented Hawkeye.
Dosunmu, a preseason All-American, is averaging 21.3 points per game, six rebounds per game and 5.1 assists per game.
But since the Illini played Iowa on Jan. 29, Dosunmu’s numbers have been otherworldly. His 25 points against Iowa were a game high, six more than Garza — plus the Illini won. Dosunmu later became only the third Illini ever to record a triple-double in their game against Wisconsin — the only such triple-double of the year by a player against a ranked team — and the first in the Big Ten since MSU’s Denzel Valentine in 2017.
The Chicago native didn’t stop there, putting up his fourth 30-point game of the season with a 31-point effort against Nebraska — that included 15 straight and 17 of the Illini’s 21 points over the game’s last 7:48 and overtime.
And then we all remember his performance most recently, icing the Illini’s sixth straight win with a longggg three-pointer nearly from the logo.
For your looped viewing pleasure pic.twitter.com/yOjeVxT9NR— Naomi Osaka & Serena Williams Supporters Club (@itsallG_O_O_D) February 17, 2021
And this isn't just biased talk saying Dosunmu has made his case for both Big Ten and National Player of the Year.
The Athletic pointed out that his Big Ten stats compared to Garza’s have been even more close.
DOSUNMU: 20.3 ppg / 5.5 rpg / 6 apg / 40% 3-fg / 81.8% ft
GARZA: 22.1 ppg / 8.1 rpg / 2.1 apg / 34% 3-fg / 70.8% ft
That doesn't even delve into the defensive prowess of Dosunmu, who averages nearly a steal per game in the Big Ten, and is averaging almost three steals per game in February — it’s a category in which he has a clear advantage over Garza.
On Feb. 10, BTN shared this graphic, hinting that Dosunmu has even made this a debate.
Luka or Ayo? pic.twitter.com/2RoTI5UrQf— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) February 10, 2021
This, of course, before Dosunmu’s 31-point performance against Nebraska, and before Garza’s 8-point game against Michigan State, snapping his streak of over 40 games with 10 or more points. (Editor’s Note: Yes, Garza put up 30 points against Wisconsin on the road on Thursday night. No, the Badgers aren’t all that good and Iowa won by 15, mostly because the Hawkeyes kept making threes in the second half.)
Dosunmu is the more complete player, no doubt. Dosunmu remains the only guard in the nation to average over 20 points, six rebounds and five assists on the season — which should give him the edge over the likes of Baylor’s Jared Butler, Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham or Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs for National Player of the Year.
Dosunmu’s head coach Brad Underwood firmly believes in his guard’s candidacy.
“There’s no doubt Ayo is a National Player of the Year candidate,” Underwood said after Tuesday’s win against Northwestern. “In my opinion, he should be leading in that area.”
There is some recency bias here, sure, but the fact Dosunmu has made this a conversation is telling of his excellence this season. Not to mention, all awards involve some recency bias. Plus, everyone knows the team on a roll is the scariest to play come March — that goes for those teams’ best players.
But if you still think Garza has the edge for either or both awards, let the rest of the season play out. Give Dosunmu a chance to do what he has done his entire career — close.