Player of the Week
So far this season, Ohio State looks to be playing with the deck stacked in their favor. Not only is the team playing tremendous defense, operating with the favorite to win national freshman player of the year in Jared Sullinger, but their upperclassmen make it nearly impossible to successfully zone them and the team’s two other freshmen in Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas playing at a level beyond their years. William Buford is the team’s top returning scorer from last year and has been in double digits for the past six games. Jon Diebler has already had a couple big nights, including a high game of 29. Aaron Craft is averaging 4.7 assists per game (good for sixth in the Big Ten) despite only playing 26 minutes per game. Deshaun Thomas has led the team in scoring three times. This week was senior David Lighty’s time to shine. Lighty was incredible against UNC-Ashville putting in 29 points on 11-16 shooting. He also had three triples against Oakland en route to 13 points to cap a week where he was 10-14 from behind the arc. Everyone in their rotation is getting in on the act, and with the depth of talent that they have makes them near impossible to game plan. To single team Sullinger is asking for a parade to the free throw line and possibly a 30 point outburst. Doubling and tripling him simply exposes the defense to his ability to pass out of trouble. Zoning them invites their upperclassmen to take over the game from behind the arc. With each passing game, it is becoming harder and harder to imagine how this team is going to lose on a neutral site. Such tends to be the case when a team is winning by an average by 26 points per game, but, then again, there is a reason the Buckeyes have the best scoring differential in the country.
The Continuous Hot Hand of John Shurna
Last week, the blog chronicled the incredible pace that John Shurna has bee on to open the season, and he continued his marvelous ways this week. Northwestern went to New York for the Holiday Festival at Madison Square Garden. Shurna led the Wildcats to an easy victory over St. Francis University with 28 points on 10-14 shooting. In the final against St. John’s, the team struggled to score down the stretch. The team was only able to muster seven field goals in their final twenty-five shots, and Shurna was held scoreless for the final 12:49. The team ended up going fro being in the lead by one to losing by sixteen. He still finished with 26 points. Unfortunately, an injury might be the thing that keeps Shurna from lighting up a gym. John Shurna left Northwestern’s game last Thursday against Mount St. Mary's after suffering a sprained left ankle midway through the second half of Northwestern's 70-47 victory. There was no immediate prognosis on Shurna's injury and has been no substantive update as to whether he will be ready for next Friday's Big Ten opener at Purdue.
Michigan State’s Shooting
Michigan State lost their first non-conference home game in a decade, and the reason is not surprising. For as talented as the Spartans are, they sometimes labor to put the ball in the basket. Before the loss to Texas, the team, at least, had found at least one hot hand to carry the offense for the day. Wednesday night in East Lansing saw nobody able to buy a hoop. Draymond Green and Delvon Roe were both 1-8 shooting. Korie Lucious and Keith Appling were both 1-6 shooting. Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers were the only source of offense scoring 17 and 11 respectively but even those two were a combined 9-24 shooting. The brickfest was not simply confined to the putrid 3-16 from three, but also quite a few missed lay ups.
The advantage of college basketball – at least for the major programs- is that it is forgiving in that now 68 teams get to play for the championship at the end of the year. As bad as Michigan State has been in several of their premier games, they still have plenty of time to get things right. Following the loss, Izzo stated that he believes the team can improve significantly between Dec. 26 - when players return to campus following a holiday break - and the New Year’s Eve conference opener with Minnesota. If it does not happen, it will not be for a lack of effort, the team will run two-a-day practices.
Top 5 Things to watch in the first week of Big Ten play
1. Minnesota begins with big road games- It has been more than a month since the Gophers forced their way into the top twenty-five with wins over Siena, Western Kentucky, North Carolina, and West Virginia, and Tubby Smith’s 11-1 team will have to enter league play by going into two of the toughest venues around with a Tuesday night date in Madison followed up by Friday afternoon in East Lansing. Rarely would a split be an impressive accomplishment for the sixteenth ranked team in the nation, but wins on the road against the elite of the conference are going to be hard to come by.
2. Darius Morris taking a step up in competition- Morris has quietly had the kind of emergent sophomore season that Evan Turner had a couple years ago. He is doing a bit of everything for a Wolverine team that is a surprising 10-2. While his four double-doubles and stat line of 15.8 points, 7.5 assists, 3.7 rebounds, and 1.7 steals is impressive, Purdue is a big step up from Gardner Webb, Bryant, and Concordia.
3. Early pecking order game in Champaign- Illinois has lost their last two games against Illinois-Chicago and Missouri, but have the opportunity to start the conference season strong with one of the relatively easy road games at Iowa and then with Wisconsin coming to play them on the road. The Illini lost to the Badgers by fifteen at home last year at the end of the regular season amidst a run where they closed by losing five of six. If they want to re-establish themselves as a premier team in the league, they cannot be dropping home games. If Wisconsin wants to stay at the top, they will need to be a threat to beat the best outside of Kohl.
4. Forgetting Vegas- Indiana dropped a pair of games in Las Vegas to Northern Iowa and Colorado to finish their non-conference slate 9-4 and without a win against a major conference opponent. Wins for the Hoosiers are likely going to be hard to come by, but at home against Penn State would appear to be one that could pull out.
5. Northwestern visiting the defending co-Big Ten champ- While the injury to Shurna might deflate the potential of this game a bit, it is a matchup that features a pair of tough defensive teams and three of the Big Ten’s five leading scorers. Shurna is currently the leading scorer among Big Ten players and [Player: E'Twaun Moore] and JaJuan Johnson are both over 19 points per game. A win on the road against Purdue would probably be enough to get Northwestern into the top 25 next week.