Player of the Week
Cody Zeller, Indiana
It’s hard to single out the most important player on such a well-rounded team like Indiana, but Zeller is the proverbial straw that stirs the Hoosiers’ drink. Zeller and the Hoosiers responded to a letdown at Illinois in a big way with two impressive wins during the week. He was a force Sunday at Ohio State, scoring 24 points and grabbing eight rebounds, then fought through early foul trouble to score 13 of his 16 points in the second half in a blowout of Nebraska on Wednesday. Eleven of those points against the Huskers came in a 14-9 run in the second half, highlighted by a steal near midcourt after cutting off Dylan Talley that led to an easy breakaway dunk. At Ohio State, you could see Zeller was playing with a bit of an edge — something that might have been lacking earlier in the season. He took the ball to the basket with authority a few times and didn’t hesitate when he found an open shot. He’s looking a lot more in tune with the game’s flow and has the Hoosiers rolling toward a Big Ten title. Make sure to tune in Tuesday when Zeller and Co. play at fellow first-place Michigan State.
Victor Oladipo, Indiana
Oladipo’s career-high 26 points provided a big spark Sunday at Ohio State. He had three layups and one momentum-altering dunk on eight field goals in the 81-68 win, while also collecting eight rebounds and two steals. The dunk came on an offensive rebound that bounced out to the top of the key. Oladipo streaked toward the basket and jammed it with two hands near the end of the first half. Oladipo also added 13 points, eight rebounds and three steals in the win against Nebraska. The guy is simply a force to be reckoned with.
Derrick Nix, Michigan State
He’s been more of a contributor offensively for the rolling Spartans the past two games, going for 17 points in a win against Purdue and 14 Tuesday in a blowout of rival Michigan. He’s finding a rhythm in the post and clearly has an advantage when he’s able to find a shot when turning to his left. He’s 12-of-20 in the past pair and has five assists to just one turnover in that span. He’s also grabbed nine rebounds.
Gary Harris, Michigan State
When Harris doesn’t get into foul trouble, he’s as consistent as it gets for a Big Ten freshman. He just continues to knock down outside shots while also developing into a solid defender who hassles the opposition into bad decisions — a la Keith Appling. He’s hit at least half of his 3-point attempts in the Spartans’ past five games, making a total of 19 in 35 attempts (54.2 percent). He’s a big reason why Michigan State has won its past four games and is in position for another Big Ten title.
Terone Johnson, Purdue
Coming into Saturday, Johnson was averaging 19 points his last two games, both Purdue losses, while hitting 12-of-23 from the field. Turnovers are a concern though, as he’s averaging three per game in the last five. He bounced back nicely from a horrid three-game stretch in which he shot 7-for-29 from the field.
Christian Watford, Indiana
The senior had 20 points and six rebounds against Ohio State on Sunday, then chipped in 13 and 11 against Nebraska on Wednesday, both Hoosiers wins. He shot a combined 9-of-17 from the field in the pair, including 5-of-7 from long range. For all the grief Watford sometimes gets from Indiana fans about inconsistency, he’s scored in double figures 15 straight games heading into Saturday and continues to be one of Indiana’s top rebounders.
Ryan Evans, Wisconsin
Since going 5-of-7 Feb. 6 against Iowa, Evans is 3-for-13 from the free-throw line for the Badgers. It basically cost Wisconsin Thursday’s game at Minnesota, as he went 0-for-5 down the stretch, and it could’ve cost them Saturday’s game at Michigan, as he went 1-for-5. It was so bad against the Gophers that coach Bo Ryan called him out after the game, saying “He just makes his free throws, we're out of here. We're on the plane already. Come on. What am I going to do with the guy? You knew it was going to (cost) us one game. Hopefully not two.” Evans’ season average fell to 40.3 percent (48-of-119), an inexplicable decrease for the career 133-of-187 (71.1 percent) shooter coming into this season. Evans also is just 7-of-22 from the field in the past two games despite averaging 10 rebounds. He turned the ball over three times at Minnesota.
D.J. Byrd, Purdue
Byrd, who’s prone to big slumps, is in one right now. He’s 3-of-15 in the past three games, and all of those shot attempts have been 3-pointers. 75.6 of his shots have been 3-pointers this season, and he’s shooting just 35.5 percent from long range. He’s just 21-of-50 from 2-point.
Brandon Paul, Illinois
Paul has been slowed the past two games, scoring just three points against Purdue on Wednesday in a 79-59 win and 10 last Sunday in a 57-53 win against Minnesota. He shot just 4-of-16 in those games, but the Illini managed to get production from others in the lineup.
Tim Hardaway Jr., Michigan
Hardaway’s baffling inconsistency was on display again Tuesday as the Wolverines got destroyed from the outset at rival Michigan State. He couldn’t find a rhythm and finished 1-of-11 from the field. Even the easier shots he got didn’t look like they were comfortable for the junior, who had scored 59 points in his previous three games but had a season-low two in East Lansing. He missed all five shots he took from long range as Michigan lost its third game in four tries.
Glenn Robinson III, Michigan
Robinson looks like he’s hit the “freshman wall” lately. He’s looked confused and hesitant. He’s not attacking. He’s waiting for the defense to close in. All of these things have contributed to Michigan’s recent slide. Coach John Beilein responded Tuesday by playing him a season-low 21 minutes against Michigan State after a few horrible sequences in the first half. Robinson is 7-for-24 from the field in the past four games and is averaging just 4.5 ppg, lowering his season average from 12.1 ppg to 10.9 in the process.
Top five upcoming games
Indiana at Michigan State, 7 p.m. EDT Tuesday
The Hoosiers and Spartans were atop the standings at 10-2 heading into Saturday, so yeah, this is a big game. Michigan State is still undefeated at home, where its student section seemingly surrounds you in a swarm. Indiana is coming off a big road win at Ohio State, so it knows how to perform away from Assembly Hall. Should be a fun one.
Ohio State at Wisconsin, 1 p.m. EDT Sunday
These two likely already have played themselves into the tournament, but can separate themselves in the standings. The methodical Badgers hung with Buckeyes earlier this season in Columbus but have lost twice at the Kohl Center this season (Virginia, Michigan State) and have come close in two overtime wins, so they’re not untouchable there like past seasons.
Minnesota at Ohio State, 7 p.m. EDT Wednesday
Minnesota still should be playing a little desperate depending on what happens in Iowa City on Sunday, but were 1-4 on the road in the Big Ten heading into that game. The Buckeyes will be either deflated or elated after their game against Wisconsin, and Minnesota theoretically could come within a half-game of Ohio State in the standings with a win here.
Michigan State at Ohio State, Feb. 24
Yet another Buckeyes game that will have a big impact on the direction of the title chase.
Indiana at Minnesota, Feb. 26
For the Gophers, this could simply be the biggest game of the season, and a big statement game for coach Tubby Smith amid all of the criticism after a slow start.
--Wisconsin basically had a win at Minnesota on Thursday before Evans couldn’t made a free throw and Mike Bruesewitz traveled out of bounds with 22.6 seconds left in regulation, handing the ball back to the Gophers, who tied the game and forced overtime. In Bruesewitz’s defense, he did draw the charge that gave Wisconsin the ball in that situation in the first place. But it was an uncharacteristic mistake for a player on Bo Ryan’s team.
-- Minnesota’s Rodney Williams missed Sunday’s game against Illinois with a left shoulder injury but had 10 points and five rebounds Thursday in a 58-53 overtime win at home against Wisconsin.
-- Wisconsin apparently loves this overtime thing. The Badgers came into Thursday’s game at Minnesota after winning back-to-back overtime games — 74-70 against Iowa in double OT and 65-62 against Michigan. And Wisconsin did everything it could to have it happen again against the Gophers.
-- Indiana’s Sunday win at Ohio State was its first against a top-10 conference opponent on the road since 1993 at Iowa. The Hoosiers are now 3-0 against teams ranked in the top 10 this season.
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Note: Stats through Thursday, Feb. 14.