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Big Ten Blog

Player of the Week

Draymond Green, Michigan State

Big Ten Blog

Player of the Week

John Shurna, Northwestern

John ShurnaJohn ShurnaThe Big Ten’s leading scorer put up 28 points on 9-of-13 shooting to keep the Wildcats away from a fourth straight loss on Thursday night against Nebraska. We all know he can go off like this at any given time, but this was his first game scoring more than 22 points since Dec. 18 against Eastern Illinois and his third this season (the Wildcats are 3-0 in those games). He had scored more than 22 eight times at the same point in last season’s schedule. Since the start of last season, Northwestern is 11-2 when Shurna scores above that mark. He also scored 15 points Saturday in a 58-56 heartbreaker against Purdue.

But it was more about how Shurna scored those points that matters. He went 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. Northwestern is 5-0 this season when Shurna makes at least five free throws, a sign of him not totally relying on his 3-point shot (which ranks seventh in the Big Ten at 42.7 percent). He’s attempted the fourth-most 3-pointers (131) in the conference, behind Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr., Purdue’s Ryne Smith and Illinois’ D.J. Richardson — with good reason. But when he starts getting to the basket like he did Thursday against Nebraska, good things happen. He had several nice drives that helped put the Huskers away, and maneuvered his way down low for an offensive rebound and tip-in late in the game.

Coach Bill Carmody knows Northwestern (13-8, 3-6 Big Ten, 10th place) can’t afford to sit Shurna, who has played an average 39.3 minutes per game in Big Ten games, and is on the floor for 96.9 percent of the time, both tops in the conference. Shurna stays out of foul trouble and doesn’t turn the ball over — hard to do when you’re the go-to guy. In the past five games, he’s only turned the ball over four times, while dishing out 12 assists.

Big Ten Blog

Player of the Week

Draymond GreenDraymond GreenDraymond Green, Michigan State

The Spartans’ leader shook off a rough outing Jan. 17 at Michigan by spurring his team to consecutive home wins the past week: 83-58 against Purdue and 68-52 vs. Minnesota. The latter earned coach Tom Izzo his 400th win, 86 of which Green has been around for during his four seasons.

The 6-7, 235-pound, agile bruiser put up 22 points, 14 rebounds and six assists on 9-of-11 shooting against the Gophers. It got Green back on the double-double track after his first two-game stretch of single-digit points. It was his first 20-point outburst since Jan. 10 vs. Iowa and fourth of the season. He collected double-digit rebounds for the sixth consecutive game. Green, who averages 10.4 per game, is nearing Trevor Mbakwe’s 10.5 average last season – the highest in the Big Ten since Reggie Evans’ monstrous 11.1 per game in 2001-02 for Iowa.

As Green goes, so goes the Spartans. They’re an undefeated 9-0 when Green scores more than 14 points.

Who’s Hot

Brandon Richardson, Nebraska

The Huskers senior was flat-out deadly on Thursday night in Iowa City, hitting 6-of-7 from downtown and 9-of-10 shots overall, pretty much single-handily leading Nebraska to a 79-73 win against the Hawkeyes. Along with a career-high 25 points, Richardson, a 6-foot senior guard from Los Angeles, added six rebounds, five assists, two steals and just one turnover for a highly-efficient outing.

Iowa’s lethargic defense probably had a bit to do with his offensive explosion, but Richardson took advantage for one of the most impressive performances in the league thus far. It came just four games after he was held scoreless Jan. 15 at Wisconsin in an ugly 50-45 loss. Richardson hadn’t scored in double figures since Jan. 7 at Illinois, and was averaging just 4.8 points in his previous four outings. Even more surprising was his 3-point proficiency, as he came in shooting just 12-of-40 (30 percent) from beyond the arc this season and was only a 29.4 percent shooter from there for his career. He had only hit the 20-point plateau only once before, and his six rebounds also tied a season high.

Big Ten Blog

Player of the Week

Trey Burke, Michigan

Big Ten Blog

Player of the Week

Brandon Paul, Illinois

Brandon PaulBrandon PaulThis was a strange yet wonderful week in the Big Ten, highlighted by Paul’s ridiculous 43-point output Tuesday in a crucial 79-74 home win for the Illini against No. 6 Ohio State. It began a string of head-scratching results, including Minnesota beating No. 7 Indiana at Assembly Hall and Wisconsin getting back on track at Purdue. Illinois’ win put it at a somewhat-surprising 4-1 conference clip while Ohio State fell to 3-2.

But back to Paul. All he did was score 20 more points than his career high and 30 more than his season average coming in (12.1). He outscored Ohio State 15-8 in the game’s final 2:40. It was third-most points ever scored by an Illinois player, and most by any player against Ohio State since 1987. But nearly equally impressive about Paul was his effort on the defensive end. He totaled four blocks, including one late in the second half on Jared Sullinger that had Sullinger staring into the stands in disbelief.

11-of-15 from the field. 8-of-10 from three. 13-of-15 from the free-throw line. He also had seven turnovers, but hey, the Illini won the game. Everybody knew Paul had the talent and athleticism to go off like this, but it’s been missing in his first two seasons. His shots haven’t been falling — he came into Tuesday’s game making just 28.4 of his 3-point shots but wasn’t afraid to keep shooting. He attempts nearly five per game. Will he go 8-of-10 every game? No, but he seems to think it’s possible every time out.

In one game, Paul became Illinois’ leading scorer. He went from ranking third at 12.1 to 13.8. The big question moving forward is if this is a flash-in-the-pan moment or if it will give him the confidence to take over this team.

Who’s Hot

Draymond Green, Michigan State

The entire Spartans team probably deserves to be on this list, but Green has just been lights-out lately. With two double-double performances this past week, he averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds, dishing out seven assists and turning the ball over just two times. He’s almost averaging a double-double this season at 15.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game as his team won its first four conference games.

Big Ten Blog

Player of the Week

Cody Zeller, Indiana freshman

Cody ZellerCody ZellerZeller looked like a freshman in his Big Ten debut at Michigan State, looking lost the majority of 40 minutes with a few exceptions. The Hoosiers bounced back with two impressive home wins since then, knocking off No. 2 Ohio State 74-70 on Saturday and No. 16 Michigan 73-71 on Thursday. Both games displayed the Hoosiers’ tendency to allow games to become too close at the end, and Assembly Hall won’t be around to bail them out all season. But Zeller looked good in both games, making all the right moves down low to get open, high-percentage shots. He averaged 16 points and four rebounds in the Hoosiers’ two wins, making 14-of-19 shots from the field despite fouling out of the Ohio State game.

Who’s Hot

Aaron White, Iowa freshman

The 6-foot-8 freshman forward certainly helped the Hawkeyes to one of their best weeks in years. It started Saturday in Madison, Wis., when White came off the bench to score 16 of his 18 points in the second half as Iowa took down No. 11 Wisconsin 72-65 on the Badgers’ home floor, breaking a 23-game winning streak against unranked teams. White’s dunking and spot-up shooting abilities remained on display Wednesday in a 64-62 victory at Minnesota, when he put up 10 points including a dunk down the stretch that extended the Hawkeyes’ lead to five. He’s a mismatch for slower forwards but still can go down low, averaging five rebounds in the two games. He shot 10-of-14 (71.4 percent) from the field in the pair of games, including 2-of-3 from long range. White, from Strongsville, Ohio, now is firmly in the discussion for Big Ten freshman of the year.

Matt Gatens, Iowa senior

The senior leader put up 19 points, six rebounds, three assists and three steals at Minnesota on 7-of-11 shooting. The 6-5 Iowa City native is one of the Big Ten’s leading rebounding guards at 4.3 per game this season; this week he more than doubled that at nine per game, including 12 at Wisconsin. He shot just 2-of-9 against the Badgers for six points but was key defensively along with Devyn Marble on the perimeter against Jordan Taylor and the Badgers.

Big Ten Blog

Player of the Week

Keith Appling, Michigan State

Keith ApplingKeith ApplingAppling, the Spartans’ 6-foot-1 point guard, was told by coach Tom Izzo to be more assertive offensively before Wednesday’s game against Indiana. It paid off in a big way as Appling took over in the second half during a 20-0 Michigan State run that gave the Hoosiers their first loss, 80-65. Of Appling’s career-high 25 points, 19 came in the second half.

Appling has always been given high marks for his defense, and he brought that side of his game Wednesday as well, making a highlight-reel block on Victor Oladipo’s fast-break layup with 1:56 remaining that kept the Hoosiers from coming within seven. (Watch the block here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GYlY4CN6Uok)

The Detroit native out of Pershing High School has started to understand what Izzo demands from his point guards. He’s nearly tripled his assists, (3.6 to 1.3 last year), doubled his point output (12.1 to 6.4 last year) and is his shot attempts per game have nearly doubled. He’s already surpassed his assist total from last year despite averaging just five more minutes per game this season.

One of the best on-ball defenders in the Big Ten is suddenly a legitimate threat to run you out of the gym. He’s not afraid to drive to the basket and gets to the free-throw line nearly five times per game. He’s 21-of-22 in the past two games and 29-of-33 (87.8 percent) in the past five.

Who’s Hot

Meyers Leonard, Illinois

The 7-foot-1 sophomore center has posted double-doubles in the past three games, including a 20-point, 11-rebound performance Tuesday in the Illini’s 81-72 win in double overtime against Minnesota. He now has five double-doubles this season after not having one in his first 36 college games. He’s looked impressive going to the hoop on the dribble and being available for ridiculous alley-oops near the basket. He still needs to cut down on the turnovers, though, as he’s given the ball away more than three times per game in the past four, including five against the Gophers.

William Buford and Jared Sullinger, Ohio State

Sullinger had 17 points and 14 rebounds as the Buckeyes might have seriously damaged Northwestern’s psyche with a 87-54 blowout on Wednesday. Sullinger went 7-of-11 from field and hit his third 3-pointer of the season. He only played 22 minutes because of foul trouble. Him and Deshaun Thomas each had four offensive rebounds as Ohio State posted a 48-28 rebounding edge.

Buford went off for 28 points and nine rebounds against Northwestern, hitting 5-of-7 3-pointers and 5-of-5 on free throws. The ultimate lead-by-example senior hasn’t missed a free throw since Nov. 25, making his last 21. He’s the conference’s fifth-leading scorer at 16.6 points per game, has scored in double figures in 12 of 14 games and is third at 86.3 percent from the free-throw line. His 2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio can’t be overlooked, either.

Big Ten Blog

Player of the Week

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State

Deshaun ThomasDeshaun ThomasThomas, a 6-foot-7 small forward, has made huge strides so far during his second year in Columbus. A lot can be said about the way he’s already stepped up in Jared Sullinger’s absence multiple times, but it’s the way he plays with Sullinger in the lineup that might be even more impressive. It’s not likely Thomas will post many 30-point performances like he did at South Carolina last Saturday, but the Buckeyes don’t need that with all their weapons.

Thomas, who averaged 20.3 points in three wins this week, is an ideal complement to Sullinger. He’s always available on the win for a three or can swoop in and keep a possession alive with a tip or rebound for an easy bucket. He’s shooting an impressive 54.7 percent this season, including 37.8 percent from beyond the arc and has made at least one 3-pointer in five straight games.

Thomas has a definite scorer’s mentality, and has only 13 assists in the Buckeyes’ 13 games after totaling just 17 all of last season. He sometimes takes it upon himself to score on the break rather than look for a teammate, but hey, but if it works for coach Thad Motta and No. 2 Ohio State, he must be doing something right. And you can’t argue with the results most of the time.

Who’s Hot

Evan Smotrycz, Michigan

A week and two games later, nothing much has changed for the Wolverines’ 6-9 sophomore forward, who averaged 18.5 points in two wins this past week. Smotrycz continues to light it up from everywhere, but he’s also upped his rebounding, posting double-doubles in both games. He didn’t grab more than seven in a game his entire freshman season. He’s not a real physical guy at 235 pounds but looks to be heading into the scrums down low a bit more this year. He needs to stay out of foul trouble, though. He’s fouled out of three games and leads the conference in fouls per game at more than three per game.

The Reading, Mass., native nailed 8-of-10 3-pointers and 11-of-16 shots overall this week. He’s now 15-of-19 in the past four games. 78.9 percent. That’s almost unheard of, but it did come against four opponents that came into last week ranking Nos. 163 (Bradley), 217 (Alabama A&M), 220 (Oakland) and 327 (Ark.-Pine Bluff) in 3-point percentage defense.

Smotrycz ranked just outside the Big Ten’s top 10 in 3-point field goal percentage at 38.1 last season. He’s hit 17-of-31 this season for 54.8 percent, nearly matching his overall field goal percentage of 56.2. More than 40 percent of his shots come from behind the arc.

Meyers Leonard, Illinois

The 7-1 sophomore is starting to get in a groove despite being double- and triple-teamed nearly every game. He’s posted double-doubles in three of his past four games, including a 14-point, 13-rebound performance Thursday as the Illini nearly knocked off No. 9 Missouri after trailing by 13 in the second half.

Devyn Marble, Iowa

The Hawkeyes quietly closed their non-conference slate with three straight wins this past week, and Marble was a big reason why. The 6-5 sophomore guard and son of Roy Marble, Iowa’s all-time leading scorer, has started the past five games for Iowa. He might stay there after a largely ineffective Bryce Cartwright was briefly sidelined with a hamstring injury. Marble’s reent play prompted coach Fran McCaffery to comment, “he’s becoming the complete player he can be.”

Marble has a knack for getting to the free-throw line. He went 21-of-25 from the line and averaged 15.7 points and 5.3 assists in this week’s trio of games. He’s not a long-range shooter, making just 3-of-12 3s this year, but is good off the dribble and a solid distributor for a team that desperately needs one.

Who’s Not

Big Ten Blog

Player of the Week

Christian Watford, Indiana

Christian WatfordChristian WatfordThe Hoosiers played only one game this past week, but that’s all junior forward Christian Watford needed to make Indiana history. Watford’s 3-pointer from the left wing Saturday off a brilliant pass by Verdell Jones III hit nothing but net at the buzzer, and Indiana basketball jettisoned back to prominence with a 73-72 win over No. 1 Kentucky. Relive the shot here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPXImXAMStc

Watford scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half as Indiana staved off the Wildcats after blowing a 10-point lead in the second hald. The 6-9 junior who has endured the Hoosiers’ painful rebuilding process under coach Tom Crean took it inside as well as hitting four 3-pointers.

It likely will end up being the game of the Big Ten non-conference season, and Watford displayed the conference’s depth and talent level. He’s the Hoosiers’ fourth-leading scorer after nine games, but one of five on the team averaging double figures. Watford is a well-rounded player and a team leader who could help the Hoosiers into the NCAA Tournament.

Who’s Hot

Evan Smotrycz and Trey Burke, Michigan

The Wolverines have won three straight games since their puzzling loss at Virginia, and mostly have been led by 6-9 sophomore Evan Smotrycz. He’s hit 7-of-9 from long range the past two games and 11-of-14 overall while averaging 18 points per game. He’s not the most physical player down low but presents match-up problems on the perimeter. He had 20 points and nine rebounds against a dangerous Oakland team on Saturday in Auburn Hills, then 16 and eight in a 63-50 home win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Tuesday. He’s also stepped up on the defensive end, totaling five steals in the two wins.

Burke simply has anchored the Wolverines’ backcourt. The freshman from Columbus, Ohio, has led the team in minutes the past two games, and has averaged 17.5 points and eight assists while playing a team-high 37.5 minutes. He’s been able to get into the lane while also stroking it from the 3-point line (6-of-11 in his past two games).

Draymond Green, Michigan State

Green’s 34-point performance in a 74-67 win at Gonzaga this past Saturday was the conference’s second-highest scoring output this season behind Northwestern forward John Shurna’s 37. Green shot 11-of-13, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range. He didn’t get his usual rebounding numbers but had three steals as the Spartans got an impressive road win to get the attention of AP voters.

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State

Deshaun Thomas did his best to fill in for fellow sophomore Jared Sullinger on Saturday at Kansas. The 6-7 forward averaged 21 points in the past two games, in the Buckeyes’ loss against the Jayhawks and win against South Carolina Upstate. He’s shot a combined 17-of-29 from the field, including 5-for-12 from 3. He’s also turned it over just twice in that span while dishing out four assists and collecting seven rebounds. Thomas needs to get to the free-throw line more often, though. He went 3-of-3 in the past week.

Big Ten Blog

Player of the Week

Rodney WilliamsRodney WilliamsRodney Williams, Minnesota

If the Golden Gophers go anywhere this season, it will be behind 6-foot-7 forward Rodney Williams and his unparalleled athleticism.

Williams is embracing the challenge. The junior has led the Gophers (9-1) to three wins since double-double machine and team leader Trevor Mbakwe tore his ACL Nov. 27 against Dayton to likely end his Gophers career. Williams took his spot at the No. 4 position and went to work — he’s averaged 14.7 points and 7.7 rebounds since Mbakwe was lost. Williams put up just 6.3 and 2.7, respectively, in the Gophers’ first seven. The move down low also helps him use his ‘hops’ to block more shots — he’s had 10 in the past three games after getting just seven to start the year.
“Right now I’m feeling really comfortable at the four position,” Williams told reporters after a 55-40 win against USC on Saturday. “I feel like I’ve got a lot of mismatches because I can use my speed to get around the bigger guys.”

Williams was a consensus four-star recruit out of Robbinsdale Cooper High School in Minneapolis. He came in raw but made strides each season and could be starting to figure things out. He’s shooting 63.5 percent from the field this season (third in the Big Ten) and ranks third in blocks (1.7 per game) and sixth in steals (1.8 per game).

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