Player of the Week: Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor
Wisconsin had what appeared to be a challenging week on their hands with two games against Purdue and Michigan State, but exited it looking like a team ready to give Ohio State its toughest battle when the Buckeyes bring their undefeated record into the Kohl Center next Saturday. The one-two punch of Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor has the defensively focused Badgers capable of putting up big numbers on offense as well. The duo has scored an incredible 58 percent of Wisconsin’s points in Big Ten play, but that only is half the story. The two are playing at incredibly efficient rate for rate at which they are used offensively. Leuer has a true shooting percentage of 57.3 percent and Taylor is trumping him with a 3:1 assist-to-turnover rate to go with a true shooting percentage of 63.2 percent. In addition to being second in the Big Ten in scoring, Taylor is sixth in assists. This past week, the Badger leading men had to labor more than usual against Purdue. Leuer scored a game-high 24 points on 8-18 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds. Taylor had 15 points and 5 assists but was 4-13 shooting. They made up for it against Michigan State where they were tremendous. Taylor finished with 30 points on 9-13 shooting and added 6 assists. Leuer was 7-14 from the field and had 20 points and 6 rebounds.
Before the season, most basketball followers were well aware of the kind of player the Badgers had in Leuer, but Jordan Taylor was a bit of a question mark. He had a solid but unspectacular sophomore season and had to step into a bigger role to replace Trevon Hughes. Former Badger and Nets starting point guard Devin Harris suggested in an interview with the Wisconsin State journal last summer that Taylor would emerge as a point guard in the same way he did in his junior season, "He'll be able to do more things, when I was a sophomore and playing with Kirk (Penney) I couldn't do everything I wanted to do. By the time my junior year came around, it was my team and I relished the freedom." With the kind of season Taylor has put up, there is little doubt that he has made the same leap as a college point guard. His development has allowed this Badger team, which did not come into the year with especially high expectations on a national level, to be a real threat to go deep into March. If that happens, NBA scouts will have themselves a good extended look at a strong, skilled, and intelligent point guard who has flown completely under the radar despite playing at as high a level as any point guard since the calendar turned.
Bryce Cartwright leading Iowa to a pair of wins
Before last week, Iowa had not won back-to-back Big Ten games since February of 2007. It has been a rough run for the Hawkeyes, and while they are still a long way from being good they might have emerged from the bottom. The week started with a complete manhandling of Michigan State. Bryce Cartwright led the early onslaught. While the Hawkeyes jumped out to a 30-8 lead in the first half, Cartwright scored 4 points and amassed 7 assists in that 12 minute run. He finished with 12 points and 10 assists on the game. Against Indiana, Bryce Cartwright hit a step back jumper with 1:28 remaining to give Iowa the lead for good to beat Indiana on the road. On the game, he had 15 points and 8 assists.
Sullinger’s surprising struggles from the line
Finding fault in Jared Sullinger and the 23-0 Ohio State Buckeyes is near impossible, but there is a concerning trend with Sullinger at the line. After beginning the season hitting 74 percent of his free throws through the team’s first twenty games, Sullinger has had games of 2-5, 7-10, 5-11, and 2-8 in the last four. While this is probably a blip on the radar and nothing more, his excellent shooting from the line has swung a few games for Ohio State this year. It is certainly something to follow as the Buckeyes head into the stretch run of their still undefeated season.
Top 5: Big Ten teams falling at a bad time
1. Michigan State- Coming into this year, it would have been a stretch for anyone to argue that a team with Kalin Lucas, Draymond Green, Durrell Summers, and highly thought of freshmen Keith Appling and Adreian Payne would struggle so much to put points on the board. It would be unimaginable to think they could not stop anyone. At this point, they are simply a mediocre team. In conference play, they are 9th in scoring at 65.5 points per game and shooting a league worst 41.5 field goal percentage. They are allowing opponents to score 70.3 points and allowing opponents to shoot 46.9 percent from the field and 42.9 from three. Better than two-thirds of the Spartan scoring in conference play are coming from Lucas, Green, or Summers (472 points of 720). In as much as Purdue is viewed as a two-player attack, [JaJuan Johnson] and [Player: E’Twaun Moore], they are getting more support from Ryne Smith, Lewis Jackson, and D.J. Byrd than the Spartans are getting from their much more acclaimed cast. The Spartans have not won a game in regulation since January 3, and are facing an uphill battle to stay in contention for a tournament bid.
2. Minnesota- The decline of the Gophers is not entirely their fault. Nobody could control the injuries to Al Nolen or Maurice Walker, and the decision of Devoe Joseph to transfer was not expected. They entered the year with two very good point guards, and are now using Blake Hoffarber and Chip Armelin at the spot despite the fact the freshman was not even a point guard in high school and Hoffarber has been a shooting guard his entire college career. Also, while Hoffarber is still in the lineup, he has been battling through a bad knee as well. They just are not the same team that jumped out to an 11-1 start, and the three straight losses are in part due to the attrition of their roster.
3. Illinois- The struggles of the Illini are probably the most confusing of anyone in the conference because they still can look good. Whereas the early season success led to the hope that the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act that has been the Illini for the past several seasons was over with, the team is simply no different from past years. Demetri McCamey has nights where he looks like a no doubt NBA point guard on the floor, and others where he disappears. As a team, they will have nights where they will look as good as anyone in the country and capable of beating anyone. Most of those nights are in Champaign, and the problem for them is that they also have to play games outside Assembly Hall. They have now lost five of their last seven games, and face a huge road game on Tuesday night in Minnesota. With road games left with Michigan State, Purdue, and Ohio State, the beaten up Gophers might be their best chance to get a road win.
4. Northwestern- After sneaking past a sloppy Illinois team that was given multiple lives due to some odd officiating, the Wildcats finally got a win over a team ahead of them in standings. The team had lost four of five conference games and played themselves put themselves into a difficult spot. With their next two weeks of games coming against Michigan, Penn State twice, Iowa, and Indiana, a strong stretch of play could have them at 18-9 and in a reasonable spot to compete for a tournament bid but anything less might not be enough.
5. Penn State- A week ago, the Nittany Lions appeared be playing themselves into the tournament picture, but a 0-2 week including a home loss to Michigan has left them at 12-10 overall and 5-6 in the Big Ten. With four more road games and a home game against Ohio State, the home loss to Michigan might have been a misstep they could not afford.
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