Player of the week
DJ Richardson, Illinois
The 6-3 Illini senior exploded for a career-high 30 points Tuesday in a 71-51 dismantling of Nebraska in Lincoln. He made 9-of-14 from the field, 6-of-9 from behind the arc, and it resulted in him scoring 20 more than his average coming in and 10 more than his previous career high. The Illini, who came in with a three-game losing streak and who had dropped four of its past five games, needed this one – and Richardson delivered. He also hit all six of his free-throw attempts and according to all accounts, played outstanding defense in locking down leading Huskers scorer Ray Gallegos (five points Tuesday, averaging 12.8).
The thing about Richardson is this: you take the good with the bad. And there was a lot of bad heading into Tuesday’s game. The Huskers performance was only the second time Richardson hit 50 percent or more of his 3-point attempts, and the fourth time this season he made more than 50 percent of his field goals. Richardson’s a volume shooter – he still ranks fifth in Big Ten 3-pointers made per game despite shooting 32.6 percent on the season. He had scored in double figures in only three of the Illini’s past nine games and had some horrendous shooting nights. Is this a flash in the pan, or will this boost Richardson’s confidence to be more of the sidekick Brandon Paul needs? That’s the big question, because Paul can’t do it all.
Jared Swopshire, Northwestern
The Wildcats are making some noise in the conference, surprising a lot of people in the absence of leading scorer Drew Crawford, who’s injured. Swopshire doesn’t light the statbook on fire, but he’s one of those guys who has been key to Northwestern’s 3-4 Big Ten start, with wins over Penn State, then-No. 23 Illinois and No. 12 Minnesota. He’s scored in double figures in the last three games – a first for him this season – and has averaged 7.3 rebounds per game in that span. He’s been a reliable shooter from deep –draining 6-of-12, and a solid defender in the Wildcats’ stingy 1-3-1 zone.
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
His five-game streak of scoring 20 points or more was snapped Tuesday against Iowa, but that was partly because he had to sit out for a spell to attend to a cut above his eye. Thomas continues to keep a firm hold on the top of the scoring list in the conference at 20.5 per game. He put up 28 in a loss at Michigan State on Saturday, and has grabbed seven rebounds apiece in last two games. Oh, and 8-of-16 from long range isn’t bad, either.
AJ Hammons, Purdue
The freshman 7-foot center has scored a combined six points in the past two games, including a two-point effort Thursday night at Michigan. He also had just two rebounds in 24 minutes during the 68-53 loss in Ann Arbor. In a 79-52 blowout of West Virginia on Saturday, Hammons played just 18 minutes and scored only four points. This recent two-game slide came after a four-game span during which he averaged 14.8 points and 8.3 rebounds per game as the Boilermakers went 3-1.
Of course what didn’t help Hammons get settled in the post Thursday at Michigan was an extra helping of 3-pointers launched by the Boilermakers – 22 if you’re counting at home. But Hammons is a freshman big man starting in the Big Ten. He’ll be prone to these stretches for a while until he gets more comfortable.
Andre Hollins, Minnesota
The sophomore might’ve had his worst game in his short career for the Gophers on Wednesday at Northwestern, going 2-for-9 from the field and turning the ball over seven times. Minnesota has lacked a certain swagger during its three-game losing streak, and a lot of that can be reflected in the play at the point. He’s 15-for-40 from the field during the losing streak, with 13 turnovers and just 11 assists.
Adam Woodbury, Iowa
Another 7-foot freshman enduring growing pains in the tough Big Ten. Woodbury has scored exactly two points in the past four games for the Hawkeyes, including Tuesday at Ohio State, when he played just 7 minutes and wasn’t a part of Iowa’s near-comeback. Woodbury has posted just 20 points in six Big Ten games, shooting just 10-of-28. He has grabbed a combined five rebounds in the past two games.
Top five distributors
Trey Burke, Michigan
This one isn’t even close. Just looking at the assists numbers will tell you that – he averages 7.2 overall and 6.8 in the Big Ten – 2.1 more per game than anyone else in conference games and 2.5 more in all games. He has a knack for making the right play either on the perimeter or once his quickness get him into the lane.
Keith Appling, Michigan State
Appling’s taken a more leadership role this season off the court and it’s shown during games, too. The junior’s assist average has risen the past two seasons (now up to 4.3 per game), while his turnover average has remained stagnant. During his recent shooting struggles, the rest of the team has benefitted from his unselfishness.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Craft’s mission mostly is to find ways for Deshaun Thomas to utilize his elite scoring ability, and while he does tally a lot of assists – 4.7 per game – he creates many more transition opportunities that don’t result in assists for him, whether it be a steal and kick to a wing or a solid or just creating tough shots for the opponent that result in misses.
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
The freshman is getting more comfortable running the point for the talented and up-tempo Hoosiers, but he’s not there yet. Ferrell has averaged 4.6 assists per game overall, but just 2.8 in Big Ten play.
Anthony Clemmons, Iowa
Clemmons has been a pleasant surprise in Iowa City. He’s switches at the point with fellow freshman Mike Gesell, but Clemmons might be better suited to play there all the time. He’s got solid ball-handling skills and can create a lot of offense off the dribble. He averages 4.1 assists per game and 4.7 in Big Ten play.
Illinois had more offensive rebounds (12) at halftime than Nebraska had total rebounds (10). The Illini outrebounded the Huskers by a 40-28 final margin. Nebraska went the final 8:50 of the first half without a field goal.