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December 30th

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.

December 29th

Mid Major Blog

Player of the Week

Alex Young, IUPUI, SG, Senior, 6-6 212 lbs.

Alex YoungAlex YoungThis hopeful first round NBA Draft prospect has led IUPUI (6-8) to four consecutive victories, including a 97-88 win over Valparaiso (8-5) this past week. In that game, Young finished with 27 points (8-19 shooting), 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. He played efficiently and took good shots throughout the contest. For the season, Young sits at 20.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 2.0 APG, 1.3 SPG and 1.0 BPG on 42.0 FG% and 82.8 FT%. His three-point shooting ability could use some improvement (33.3 3P%), but Young is playing excellent basketball right now.

Who’s Cold?


Wesley Witherspoon, Memphis, F, Senior, 6-9 210 lbs.

Witherspoon has found his name under this label twice so far this season, mainly due to his tendency to disappear in games and not live up to his potential. Entering the season Witherspoon was widely viewed as a potential second round NBA Draft prospect, but his draft stock has plummeted significantly through 11 games this season as he is producing 5.7 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.0 APG, 1.0 SPG and 40.9 FG% for Memphis (6-5). As a sophomore in 2009-10, Witherspoon scored 12.5 PPG and as a junior his scoring declined to 9.0 PPG. This year his scoring has declined further to 5.7 PPG. There is no doubting his athletic ability or his potential to affect opponents on the defensive end of the court; however, his most recent performances have left scouts asking for more. In Memphis’ past four games, Witherspoon has averaged 2.3 PPG and 2.5 RPG.

December 27th

ACC Blog

Player of the Week

Mike Scott

Mike ScottMike ScottI don't know how many of you foresaw the Virginia Cavaliers cracking the top-25 AP rankings this season, but it actually happened last week. Point guard Jontel Evans, sophomore Joe Harris and sharp-shooter Sammy Zeglinski are all doing their part in this unexpectedly strong start to the season, and deserve their due credit. However, there is little doubt that the MVP of the 11-1 Cavaliers (currently the best record among ACC teams) is super-senior Mike Scott. The star power forward for Virginia has been particularly hot as of late, averaging 22.3 points per game over the last week, including a 33 point outburst against Seattle on Wednesday. In fact, he's scored a total of 50 points in his last two games, in a combined 52 minutes. More impressive than that, however, is his efficiency over his last five games. Scott is shooting 81.0% from the floor in the month of December. That is not a typo. He's made 34 of the 42 shots he's taken this month. He's also made both of his three-point attempts and 84.8% of his free-throws. With these kind of numbers, it's no wonder the Cavs are surging. While he can't play like this forever, Virginia seems like they could be just as competitive of a team in conference play this year. They have great size, good depth and a ridiculously efficient double-double machine in Mike Scott. They'll play at home against Miami on January 7th, and then get tested at Duke on the 12th.

Hot

Glen Rice Jr

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets won't be very intimidating to anybody in the ACC, but Glen Rice Jr. is quietly having season that teams should be taking note of. The 6'5" guard (and son of former NBA all-star, Glen Rice) is averaging 20.0 points on 56.5% shooting with 10.5 rebounds in his last two games. He's primarily been known as a defender during his career at Georgia Tech, but with Iman Shumpert having left for the NBA, we're getting to see Rice take on more scoring responsibility. What's really impressive is that this new role hasn't changed the way he approaches the game. He hustles, plays hard, attacks the glass and is a dynamic defender regardless of whether he's the first option on offense (like this season) or just a role-player off the bench (like in his freshman campaign). So regardless of how successful his team is over the next two seasons, you should expect to hear Rice's name in NBA draft discussions. There will always be room for players like him on a roster.

December 26th

SEC Blog

Player of the Week

Brad Beal, Florida

Brad BealBrad BealBeal has often been the best player on the court for the 11th ranked Gators, despite relatively unspectacular shooting for his standards. His versatility at 6'3, strength and defensive aptitude have been early season calling cards. He's now starting to heat up from the perimeter- a scary proposition for Florida's SEC opponents. Beal connected on 11/22 from the field and 7/12 three-pointers last week in wins over Mississippi Valley State and in-state rival Florida State for 17 PPG. He continues to rebound the rock at a fever pace, adding two more 6 board efforts to his 6.3 season clip. The thievery has not halted either with a 3-steal game versus FSU. His 36% from deep and 70% from the FT line will assuredly take an upwards spike as the year progresses. Thursday at Rutgers is the next test for Beal and the Gators.

Who's Hot

Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State

The Bulldogs have reeled off 11-straight W's and stand atop the SEC at 12-1. Moultrie has been the catalyst. He notched his 4th consecutive double-double in impressive fashion during an 82-67 win over Northwestern State, scoring 24 points (8/11 FG & 8/8 FT), grabbing 14 rebounds (a ridiculous 11 offensive boards) and handing out 4 helpers. Other than block shots, the UTEP transfer has done EVERYTHING. He's no longer playing in a hurry, and as a result his athleticism and motor on the interior have been accompanied by efficiency: 18 PPG, 12 RPG, 58% FG, 88% FT and 1 SPG. Dee Bost is the Bulldogs engine, but Moultrie is the anchor.

Gerald Robinson, Georgia

Georgia's number one playmaker continues to play solid ball. In home triumphs over Mercer and Furman he averaged 16.5 points on 52% FG (11/21) and 9/10 FT makes. He dished out 9 assists against 4 turnovers, a ratio far superior to his 3.4:2.8 season mark. Robinson shoots 80% from the free throw stripe and is clearly at his best when attacking, yet for whatever reason phases in and out of aggression. The Bulldogs and their inept offense would greatly benefit from more opportunities at free points.

December 25th

Big East Blog

Player of the Week:

Kevin Jones 6'8 PF, West Virginia

Kevin JonesKevin JonesWhat a turnaround for Jones, who underachieved as a junior despite having the table set for him with the departure of Devin Ebanks and Da’Sean Butler.

Averaging just a shade under 23 points and 13 rebounds over his last four games, Jones has been connecting on all cylinders, both as a scorer and on the glass. He’s settling for less jumpers, while simultaneously increasing his efficiency on the perimeter in the process.

Jones finished with 28 points, 17 rebounds and 1 turnover in a hard fought overtime loss to a much more talented Baylor team last week. He’s put his name in the running for conference player of the year as we approach league play, currently leading the Big East in scoring at 21 per game.

Heatin’ up

Jordan Theodore

Last four games: 26 points, 6 assists… 14 points, 8 assists and 4 rebounds… 16 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds… 14 points, 4 assists… 11 points, 11 assists. Theo has increased his assist average by 3 as a senior, and currently leads the Big East in dishing at over 7 a game.

Brandon Young

Shadily a great year for Young, who’s averaging 18 points and 5.7 assists over his last four. Young gets to dominate the ball for DePaul, and has put up impressive numbers as a result.

December 23rd

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

December 21st

ACC Blog

Player of the Week

Tyler Zeller

Tyler ZellerTyler ZellerPerhaps feeling a little overshadowed by his younger brother (who's making a lot of noise in Indiana); Tyler Zeller took it upon himself to explode Saturday against Appalachian State for 31 points. Granted, that's not exactly the best competition, but this performance is noteworthy nonetheless, and I've been meaning to give Zeller his due on this blog for a while now. The mobile 7-footer has a number of well-known weaknesses, but lately, there appears to have been a little progression. When describing Zeller, most of his critics will tell you that he lacks the toughness and aggressiveness to be a good defensive rebounder, and... this is still true. But Zeller has upped his rebounding average per 40 minutes from 10.3 a year ago to 11.7 this season. This is partially due to the added weight he's put on over the summer. Another improvement of Zeller’s has been his passing ability. I've always felt that Tyler was too skilled to not be at least an average passer, and it looks like he's finally becoming a bit more comfortable kicking the ball out when he gets double-teamed. In the 318 minutes he’s played this season, Zeller has recorded 15 assists. That's already half of the 30 assists he dished out in his previous 1,511 minutes of playing time (his entire junior and sophomore seasons combined). Oddly enough, 13 of his 15 assists this season have been in his last five games. He only had two assists in the previous seven. Hm. I don't know what caused this sudden bout of generosity (might be Christmas related), but I'm sure his teammates appreciate it. Regardless, it's nice to see Zeller starting to round out his game. Passing is a very underrated skill for offensive-minded bigs, and hopefully he can keep it up.

Hot


Austin Rivers

Though he's been a bit more erratic than Duke fans may be comfortable with, Austin Rivers has shown off an incredible amount of talent for the Blue Devils in his first (and possibly only) season. Rivers combines a lightning-quick first step with a super-sweet jump shot to annihilate defenders in one-on-one situations. In his last three games, Rivers has averaged 17.8 points on 47.1% shooting from the field and 47.3% shooting from behind the arc. The star freshman should only continue to improve offensively as the season progresses. But as with any freshman, there are several weaknesses in Rivers' game. His defense could stand to improve, as he was visibly overmatched when trying to guard Tony Wroten Jr. last Saturday. Experience and strength will be the key components to Rivers developing into a better defender, but I guess there's plenty of time for that. In the short-term he'll be more focused on scoring points to help his team win, a skill he’s already quite gifted at.

SEC Blog

Player of the Week

Michael Kidd Gilchrist, Kentucky

Michael Kidd-GilchristMichael Kidd-GilchristThe St. Patrick's product is beginning to erupt with conference play on the horizon. In his last three games Kidd-Gilchrist went for 17 and 11 versus North Carolina, 18 and 9 at Indiana and produced his best all around effort in a thrashing of Tennessee Chattanooga. He scored 17 points, pulled down 8 boards, assisted on 6 baskets, nailed 2 treys, converted on 7/8 at the charity stripe and added a block and a steal. Few players at the collegiate level, if any, possess the offensive and defensive versatility that MKG brings to the floor. Despite a raw offensive canvas, his overwhelming physical advantage over opposing SF's had led to 13 PPG on stellar 52% FG. As he continues to add strength and polish his ball handling, Kidd-Gilchrist is all but assured a spot in the 2012 lottery (currently projected at #10). Fellow freshman teammate Anthony Davis also deserves serious love for his seemingly"routine" 14 point, 18 rebound and 5 block effort versus UTC.

Who's Hot


Dundrecous Nelson, Mississippi

With Jarvis Summers inheriting the starting point guard reigns, Dundrecous Nelson has assumed the role of lightning rod off the bench. The 5'11 gunner scored 40 points in 48 minutes this week (W vs ULL & L at USM), hitting 12/25 shots, 9/15 threes and 7/9 from the FT line. He's averaged 15 points and 2.6 three-point makes per game in seven games since exiting the starting lineup. The results are hit and miss, but when on his game Nelson is a prolific point compiler.

Malik Cooke, South Carolina

Cooke has been the most consistent performer for the youthful Gamecocks. He had a tremendously efficient two-game week, making 11/17 field goals and 12/13 free throws en route to 17.5 PPG. Thanks in large measure to Cooke, SC held a 4-point halftime edge over 2nd ranked Ohio State before relenquishing in the final twenty minutes. While his overall statistics aren't scintilating, he makes contributions in all phases: 47% FG, 78% FT, 2 offensive rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and a block per game. The 6'6 senior is a box score stuffer.

December 20th

Big East Blog

Player of the Week:

Dion Waiters 6'4 G, Syracuse

Dion WaitersDion WaitersWaiters has taken his game to the next level, scoring 19 in a blowout over GW and 22 in a potential trap game at NC State. When he gets going he's really fun to watch, bobbing and weaving between defenders and exploding through the tiniest of openings. He took over the game against NC State, converting at the rim and out to 26 feet away.

Waiters is your classic combo-guard, who can beat his defender off the dribble or spot up off the ball on the perimeter. He's a good ball-handler and a willing passer, and should be capable of handling point guard responsibilities throughout stretches of a game. He's creeping up our draft board, and should begin to generate some more buzz as the most prolific scoring guard on the top team in the country.

Heatin' Up

Herb Pope 6'8 PF, Seton Hall

He's scored at least 23 points in 4 consecutive games, including a 17 rebound game in a win over Mercer and a 14 rebound game in a win against Wake Forest. Pope is this year's Marshon Brooks, having a monster breakout season in his senior year. He's averaging 22 and 11 through 10 games.

Sean Kilpatrick

The 3-ball is starting to fall. He's made 8 from behind the arch in his past two games, in which he scored 20 and 16 back to back. With Yancy Gates out, Kilpatrick has seen his role increase within the offense.

Bryce Cotton, 6'1 G, Providence

Cotton dropped 34 on Saturday, shooting 11-16 from the floor and 10-10 from the line. He's come out of nowhere to become one of the Friar's most dynamic offensive players.

Moe Harkless 6'8 F, St. Johns

Three consecutive double-doubles for the rook. Easily St. John's most promising freshman prospect.

December 18th

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.