Player of the Week
Christian Watford, Indiana
The 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.
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.
Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
In three games this past week, Taylor shot 10-for-33, including an 0-for-10 performance in the Badgers’ win against UNLV on Saturday. He had six assists in that game, but had just a six-to-five assist-to-turnover ratio in the next two wins (at Milwaukee and at home vs. Savannah State) despite averaging 13 points in those games.
Top 5 Big Ten Juniors
Rodney Williams, Minnesota
Still a work in progress, Williams has showed he can get it done inside the paint this season. He still struggles at times when teams key in on him, but is able to get his teammates involved. He’s second on the team with 30 assists.
The Minneapolis native is third in the conference in blocked shots (1.8 per game), fourth in field goal percentage (61.3), fourth in steals (1.8 per game). He’s not a long-range shooter (3-fo-9 from 3) but makes the right decisions down low and is a candidate for all-Big Ten honors this season. His athleticism allows for more margin of error.
D.J. Richardson, Illinois
He’s 6-3, but not really a point guard. Richardson just loves to shoot — and he’s pretty successful at that. Of his 105 field goal attempts, 66 came from beyond the arc. He’s third in the conference, making 2.6 3-pointers per game at 39.4 percent. The Peoria, Ill., native leads the Illini and ranks 12th in the Big Ten with 13.7 points per game, but has just 17 assists after Illinois 10-0 start. You can trust him with the ball, as he’s only turned it over eight times. He also boasts some athleticism on the fast break.
Christian Watford, Indiana
The 6-9 forward from Alabama is showing some real scoring ability once he gets into the paint, using some impressive one-on-one skills to find shots. He can also shoot the 3 — he’s 13-of-27 for 48.1 percent, which ranks fourth in the Big Ten. He’s fourth on the Hoosiers at 11.4 points per game and second in rebounding at five per contest. He needs to work on getting teammates more involved, though, as he has more turnovers (17) than assists (11).
Jared Berggren, Wisconsin
Bo Ryan just keeps churning them out. The Princeton, Minn., native is the Badgers coach’s latest project — you know, one of those guys who is redshirted coming in, mainly sits for the next two years, then flourishes in his system. Berggren is a 6-10, 235-pound center, but you’d better guard him on the perimeter, too. He’s hit 40.9 so far this season (18-of-44) and is pretty good from inside the arc, too (54.2 percent, ninth in the Big Ten). He’s grabbing five rebounds per game, which could improve, but also does it well on the defensive end, collecting 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks. Not really a passer (11 assists to 17 turnovers), but hey, the Badgers have Jordan Taylor. If he can stay out of foul trouble, guarding Berggren will prove challenging for Big Ten teams.
Brandon Paul, Illinois
The 6-4 native of Gurnee, Ill., averages 10.6 points per game but can take over a game in a hurry as he showed against St. Bonaventure the week before last. Paul’s talent is undeniable but he’s still a work in progress and needs to develop his own game rather than following Richardson’s lead and jacking up 3-pointers. He’s not as good of a shooter and his shot selection could get much better as he’s shooting just 35.9 percent and 25 percent (9-of-36) from 3. Paul or coach Bruce Weber need to find ways to get Paul into the lane for easy opportunities, where he can display his athleticism. He gets to loose balls as shown by his 3.9 rebounds per game. He has a decent 1.5 assist-to-turnover ratio. It’ll be interesting to see how much Paul has developed once Big Ten play begins.
Tim Frazier, Penn State
If it was about stats, Frazier would be a shoe-in for the above list. But with Penn State lacking any other options, Frazier collects most of the Nittany Lions’ numbers. He’s no doubt a solid player, though, and his 7.2 assists per game, which rank seventh in the nation, shouldn’t be overlooked. He’s played a conference-leading 35.3 minutes per game and is seventh in the Big Ten with a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio. He’s fourth in the Big Ten in scoring at 17.4 per game and ninth in rebounding at 5.6. His 2.3 steals per game rank third.
The Hoosiers’ well-balanced offense ranks second in 3-point percentage at 45.8 percent, seventh in the nation at 83.7 points per game and eighth in field goal percentage at 51.2. … Michigan State is tied with Marshall for 10th in the country in rebounding at 41.9 per game. … Purdue’s Ryne Smith’s 34 3-pointers are second in the nation. … Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser has hit 60 percent of his 3-pointers (18-of-30) and is tied for third in that category nationally. Wisconsin’s Ben Brust hit all seven 3-pointers he attempted Saturday in a 62-51 win against UNLV for 25 points. … 9-0 Indiana (18th) and 8-2 Michigan State (21st) joined No. 2 Ohio State (8-1), No. 14 Wisconsin (8-2), No. 19 Illinois (10-0) and No. 20 Michigan (7-2) in the AP Top 25. 8-1 Northwestern (2) also got votes.