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Big Ten Blog

Player of the Week

Cody Zeller, Indiana

Cody ZellerCody ZellerZeller put on a clinic on running the floor as a big man Tuesday night in an 83-59 dismantling of No. 14 North Carolina. The host Hoosiers got out on the fast break early and often, killing the spirit of the young Tar Heels with an attack that resembled a track meet at times. Zeller showed his incredible awareness and body control around the rim, and was unstoppable if he got position in the lane on the break. Teammate Jordan Hulls found him several times with great lob passes, but other times Zeller had to adjust around defenders to get a shot up. He finished with 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and seven of those makes came on layups or dunks. The 7-foot sophomore also did it on the glass (eight rebounds) and on the defensive end (four blocks) when North Carolina tried to score inside 10 feet.

Zeller also had 15 points and eight rebounds in just 20 minutes Sunday in a 101-53 blowout of in-state opponent Ball State. Three of his five field goals in that game came on layups or dunks. Zeller hasn’t turned the ball over in three straight games, either – a sign he’s being strong and decisive with the ball. The Hoosiers have five games before Big Ten play begins at Iowa, starting Saturday against Coppin State. The team’s only remaining test in that span comes Dec. 15 against Butler, which also handed the Tar Heels a beatdown earlier in November.

Who’s Hot

Andre Hollins, Minnesota

Hollins had quite the week for the Gophers. After going off for 41 points in a victory against hometown Memphis in the Bahamas, the sophomore hit three free throws with 0.4 seconds left the next day to give Minnesota a 66-63 win against Stanford. The 6-1 guard’s outburst against the Tigers was the highest-scoring game by a Gophers player in 41 years, and one point short of a school record. He also bested his career high by a mere 16 points. Minnesota then won its third consecutive game Tuesday at Florida State, where Hollins scored 12 points along with five assists and five rebounds.

Hollins, whose 4.1 assists per game rank seventh in the conference, is a big reason the Gophers have entered the Top 25 and look like they’ll be around awhile.

Tyler Griffey, Illinois

Griffey hit a long 3-pointer with 0.4 seconds left Sunday to salvage a 63-62 win against Gardner-Webb, then shot 5-for-7 while hitting three 3-pointers in a 75-62 win against Georgia Tech on Wednesday. The 6-9 junior is finally finding his shooting touch after posting a .431 clip last year. He’s at .550 this season, and already has made more 3-pointers in 26 less attempts than last year.

Joseph Bertrand, Illinois

Whenever you go on a 10-0 individual run in the second half of a big game, it’s worth a mention. That’s what the 6-6 junior bench player did for the Illini in their win against Georgia Tech on Wednesday. The 10 straight points gave Illinois a 64-58 lead with 4:51 left, and the Yellow Jackets didn’t get closer than four the rest of the way.

Trey Burke, Michigan

Burke is showing early on that he can turn on the scoring whenever his team needs it. He didn’t score in the first half Tuesday against No. 18 N.C. State, posting nine assists, before exploding for 18 points in the second half as the No. 3 Wolverines remained unbeaten with a 79-72 win. He finished with 11 assists and shot 5-for-9 from the field. He also displayed his defensive tenacity on one play, poking the ball away at the top of the key and racing down the court to throw it down on the other end.

Burke has 10 more assists than any other Big Ten player in just six games. He’s averaging 7.5 per game, 2.5 more than second-place Yogi Ferrell of Indiana. Burke’s assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.6 ranks seventh in the conference.

Nik Stauskas, Michigan

Stauskas doesn’t look anything like a freshman on the court or in the statbook. Stauskas was anything but heralded coming out of Mississauga, Ontario, but already has shown his worth as yet another scorer for the ultra-deep Wolverines. He’s scored in double figures in every game besides the opener, and his performance Tuesday against N.C. State was simply entertaining. He buried three first-half 3-pointers to help Michigan build a big lead — all while playing to the crowd — and finished with 20 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He also displayed an ability to get to the rim, driving into the teeth of the Wolfpack defense for a pretty layup and Michigan’s second basket after starter Matt Vogrich went out with two fouls. Don’t expect Stauskas to come off the bench much longer. He’s a solid scoring option if Tim Hardaway, Glenn Robinson or Trey Burke can’t find open looks.

Who’s Not

Tracy Abrams, Illinois

The 6-1 sophomore point guard has struggled to find an offensive rhythm and has five assists to eight turnovers in the past two games combined. Abram also shot just 2-for-9 from the field in the last two for a total of six points. The good news is that Illinois was able to win both games, but this can’t become a trend for Abrams, who has shown flashes of being one of the team’s top playmakers. Since he averaged better than 15 points and five assists in the team’s first four games, his production has dropped to 7.8 and 1.8.

Christian Watford, Indiana

Watford shot just 1-for-9 Tuesday and scored two points in his team’s rout of North Carolina, and didn’t even start the second half because of the strong play of Will Sheehey. Watford, a 6-9 senior, has been prone to a cold game every now and then, so it’s probably not too negative of a sign moving forward. Watford had five games last season in which he failed to reach five points. But it was his first real setback this season besides a six-point effort against North Dakota State on Nov. 12.

Mike Gesell, Iowa

The freshman point guard hasn’t done much since a 19-point performance Nov. 20 against Western Kentucky. In the Hawkeyes’ past two games, Gesell is 2-for-10 and has two assists to five turnovers. He also hasn’t hit a 3-pointer since going 3-for-5 against the Hilltoppers, while trying just three. Gesell got in foul trouble in a loss against senior Malcolm Armstead and Wichita State last week and played just 12 minutes. Then, he was on the floor only 19 minutes at Virginia Tech on Tuesday while having trouble with senior Erick Green. He came into the last two games averaging 29.8 minutes and might just be going through some growing pains at the college level.

Top five seniors

Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota

A super-super senior in his sixth year, the 6-8 Mbakwe is still getting into game shape after a year off with a knee injury, but look for him to re-establish himself as a force in the Big Ten once the conference schedule gets going. He’s still not starting and is averaging more than 10 minutes less per game than he has in past seasons, but still has shown flashes of his highlight-reel younger self at times. Mbakwe still possesses a knack for finding loose balls and is an athletic force down low when he gets going. He could have a solid place in the NBA if he stays out of trouble and his body holds up.

Brandon Paul, Illinois

Paul has upped his game as a senior. He hasn’t scored less than 13 points in a game thus far, and is posting loads of assists and rebounds. His 18.3 points per game ranks second in the Big Ten through eight games. Paul’s shot is looking a lot better, and still has the athleticism to get into the lane and score. He’s becoming a lot more consistent. He might not score 43 this season, but will bring a more balanced, under-control offensive effort every night.

Rodney Williams, Minnesota

Williams has flourished in the frontcourt, but is undersized for an NBA spot. But he can get up a little bit, shown by his dunk numbers and his 1.6 blocks per game — seventh in the conference. He’s not a great shooter, but has improved around the basket — he gets most of his points just by being in the right spot at the right time, then uses his athleticism to finish the job. With the amount of dunks Williams throws down, he has a good chance to finish at the top of the field goal percentage leaders — he ranked fifth at 62.7 percent through Wednesday.

Christian Watford, Indiana

He’s the No. 1 team in the nation’s No. 2 returning scorer and despite being somewhat streaky at times, the 6-9 Watford is a solid go-to guy on the offensive end. He also has turned into a versatile lock down defender.

Drew Crawford, Northwestern

Crawford is a streaky shooter, but also one of the best leaders in the Big Ten. He’s normally under control with the ball and often times is tasked with getting the Wildcats on track offensively. Surprisingly, with John Shurna gone, Crawford’s scoring has decreased this season (13.1 from 16.1). Some of that is due to Reggie Hearn’s emergence on the offensive end (14.4 ppg), but Crawford’s shooting hasn’t been great, either, at 40.2 percent so far compared to 48.4 last season. But look for him to get it going as the games continue to increase in importance.

Notes

-- Big Ten teams were 63-17 through Wednesday (.788) and Indiana (No. 1), Michigan (No. 3), Ohio State (No. 4), Michigan State (No. 13), Minnesota (No. 21) and Illinois (No. 22) were ranked in the AP Top 25.

-- The Big Ten split the ACC-Big Ten Challenge 6-6 this past week, going 4-2 on Tuesday and 2-4 on Wednesday. The biggest margin of victory was Indiana’s 24-point win over North Carolina on Tuesday. The ACC’s biggest win was Maryland’s 20-point defeat of Northwestern on Tuesday. The closest margin of victory was Duke’s 73-68 win over Ohio State on Wednesday.

-- The Buckeyes’ Deshaun Thomas leads the Big Ten and ranks 10th in the nation in points per game at 22.4. … Indiana’s Jordan Hulls and Illinois’ Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson lead the conference and are tied for 13th nationally with 22 made 3-pointers. … Michigan’s Trey Burke is eighth in the country with 7.5 assists per game.

-- Guards Gary Harris (left shoulder) and Travis Trice (concussion) returned from injuries Wednesday for Michigan State. Both came off the bench, with Harris posting 12 points and eight rebounds in 25 minutes and Trice nine in 12 minutes.

-- D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall have combined for 61.1 percent of Penn State’s scoring in two games since leading scorer Tim Frazier was lost for the season. The pair combined for 47 of the Nittany Lions’ 61 points in a 12-point loss against Boston College on Wednesday.

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