Big 10 Blog
Player of the Week
Northwestern has been a tough team to gauge so far this season because they are a competitive Big Ten team that should battle for the school’s first tournament bid but they are playing the kind of non-conference schedule bottom feeders assemble to guarantee themselves some wins. While the quality of competition is very much in question, the dominating way in which Northwestern is rolling is not. They are winning by an average of 16 points per game, and John Shurna is having a comically perfect season shooting the ball. It is incredible by any standard and against any competition. He is averaging just shy of 24 points per game on 64 percent shooting and 62 percent from behind the arc. This is not a small sample size 62 percent, close to half his field goal attempts (44 to be specific) are from three. Through 37 attempts, Shurna is shooting from three what Iowa and Minnesota are shooting from the free throw line. This past week, he was 19-25 shooting and 5-8 from three averaging 27 points per game in their two wins over Long Island and American. On top of that, Shurna is contributing in all facets of the game. He also leads the team in blocks (albeit 1.0 per game) and is second on the team in assists (3.1), rebounds (4.7), and steals (1.4). He has a complete game, and does not have a history of simply being a guy who simply dominates weaker competition. Some of his best scoring performances last year were against the Big Ten’s best on the road (29 at Michigan State, 26 at Wisconsin, 27 at Illinois, and 22 at Ohio State. None of those games were labored efforts from taking a lot of shots. If Northwestern was not the historic doormat that it is and Shurna did not look like someone who is exceptional at frisbee golf, this kind of start get Shurna be in the Wooden Award discussion and Northwestern in the top 25 (they received 5 total votes in the AP and 15 in the coaches poll last week). The pace at which Shurna is playing right now is impossible to sustain, but what he is doing is something to behold.
Ohio State’s Defense
Much of the talk around Ohio State’s early season success is centered around Jared Sullinger. Every bit of the praised placed on him is deserved as he has been great, but the defense the team is playing right now is at a championship level. In the first half against Florida Gulf Coast, the Buckeyes turned them over fourteen times and held them to 6-19 shooting while holding them to 16 points. The game was over at the half when they were up 44-16. Florida Gulf Coast is not anything special, but South Carolina is a solid team. They turned it over nine times and shot 8-30 from the floor and went into the half being doubled up 42-21. In the past month, Ohio State is holding opponents to 51 points per game, and 21 on average in the opening half. Opponents are not getting anything to come easy against Ohio State, and that makes it really difficult for anyone to stay in the game when Sullinger can get so many easy buckets on the other end.
Illinois has letdown effort in Chicago
Over the past few weeks in previous blogs, the likelihood of a team struggling in their games in and around the end of the semester was raised. Ohio State got off to a horrible start against Western Carolina before eventually letting Jared Sullinger take the game over. Illinois similarly got off to a slow start at the United Center against Illinois-Chicago, but did not have the dominant big man in the middle capable of pulling the game out. After falling behind by 10 in the first ten minutes of the game, the team seemed to right itself by tying the game right before the half and opening up an eight-point lead with 7:32 to go. At that point, however, the offense went cold and the team struggled to keep the Flames’ junior college transfer center Darrin Williams off the offensive glass. The Illini did not have a field goal in the final five minutes of the game, and the kindly listed 270 lbs. big man wrecked havoc in the paint scoring five of his nine points down the stretch and pulling in two big offensive rebounds. The loss does not greatly alter the standing in which Illinois should be held, but the one major problem the team has was brought to the forefront again. Illinois keeps having problems with opponents getting on the offensive glass. This week’s game against Missouri features a pair of really good big men, Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe. Those two can cause a lot of havoc if Illinois is not careful.
Candidates for Conference POY
1. Jared Sullinger- The odds on favorite due to the fact that there probably is not any team in the conference that will guard him without multiple help defenders collapsing onto him. Ohio State has the look of a team that might be the favorite to win not only the conference but it all, and their dominant force in the low post is a big reason why.
2. John Shurna- As mentioned earlier, he is playing at a level that does not seem real. With Northwestern having the real chance of making the NCAA tournament for the first time in the school’s history, the league might choose to reward the player who will be most responsible for the team doing so.
3. Demetri McCamey- Illinois is operating on at its best when McCamey is operating in a spread floor with his shooters spotted up in the corners and the bigs diving to the basket. If the Illini are successful in contending with Ohio State and Michigan State for the conference title, it will be because McCamey is able to take advantage of the Illini’s abundance of scorers.
4. [Player: E’Twaun Moore]- It is hard to separate Moore from JaJuan Johnson. The two seniors have been joined in their growth and success for four years, and that connection works against them winning individual awards. The fact remains though that Moore is the best scoring guard in the conference and along with Johnson is keeping the Boilermakers among the conference’s elite despite the loss of Robbie Hummel
5. Kalin Lucas- Much like with Purdue, it is difficult to single out one player for the Spartans. Lucas has won a pair of preseason player of the year awards because he has been a returning player on a winner with a great resume, but when watching Michigan State the play of Draymond Green and Durrell Summers is just as valuable as that of Lucas. It is a great problem for Michigan State to have that they have the three tremendous performers they do, but it will probably guarantee none of them win player of the year even if the win the league.