Player of the Week
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
The Buckeyes sophomore certainly looked like the Big Ten’s top point guard in an 85-63 blowout win Tuesday against No. 3 Duke that sort of summed up the Big Ten’s dominance (8-4 record) over the ACC in the Conference's annual challenge. Craft totaled 17 points, eight assists, five rebounds and a steal for No. 2 Ohio State, but his contributions far outweighed his stat line. Craft was everywhere — setting up the offense, finding seams in the Duke defense to drive and dish down low for easy baskets, hitting key shots, diving for loose balls … you name it, Craft did it Tuesday. He was a big reason the Buckeyes had three other players (Jared Sullinger, 21; William Buford 20; Deshaun Thomas 18) score in double figures.
Somebody has to initiate the offense for coach Thad Matta, and Craft seems to make all the right decisions. Only a sophomore, every once in a while he does throw a bad pass, but more often than not it’s a quality look. His 2.7 (41-15) assist-to-turnover ratio ranks fourth in the Big Ten, as it did last year at 2.24. The first-year starter (he backed up Jon Diebler last season) averaged 6.9 points per game last season but is up to 10.3 this year.
His defense is also a key reason the Buckeyes are the favorite to basically run away with the Big Ten. Craft marginalized Duke junior Seth Curry to just seven points (his lowest output of the season), five of which came when Craft was trailing another guard. Curry finished just 3-of-8 (37.5 percent) from the field and 1-of-6 from long range. Curry came in shooting 51.6 percent, but had a tough time even being able to call for a pass with Craft shadowing him.
Craft also had 15 points, eight assists, four steals and three rebounds last Friday, Nov. 25 in an 80-47 win against Valparaiso, making his average stat line for the week: 16 points, eight assists, 2.5 steals, four rebounds per game.
William Buford and Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Buford, a senior guard, and Sullinger, a sophomore forward, continue to score mostly at will for the Buckeyes. Sure, against Duke, Sullinger didn’t collect double-digit rebounds for the first time since Nov. 15 against Florida, but no worries. He just grabbed eight, plus put up 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting. His defense still needs some work (Duke’s Mason Plumlee and brother Miles combined for 22 points Tuesday), but he stayed out of foul trouble in the process. The 6-9 NBA prospect played smart for a team that needed him to remain on the court to keep the Blue Devils at bay. Last Friday, Nov. 25, Sullinger put up his fourth double-double of the season against Valparaiso by scoring 14 points and tallying 14 rebounds.
Meanwhile, William Buford played a team-high 39 minutes while scoring 20 points and dishing out four assists. This came four days after he put up 25 while hitting four threes against Valparaiso.
Why not just include the entire Buckeyes team after a dominating performance? You could throw sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas in here too for his performance against Duke (18 points, five rebounds, 8-of-12 shooting) but he hasn’t shown that type of flair consistently. Buford and Sullinger are offensive weapons that just don’t come around very often on the same collegiate team. Simply put, it’ll be entertaining to watch how teams go about defending the Buckeyes.
Player of the week
Tim Hardaway Jr, Michigan
The sophomore guard helped his NBA stock tremendously this week in front of a packed crowd at the Lahaina Civic Center that included NBA scouts, GMs, coaches and players who had the free time to take in one of the best Maui Invitationals ever. Hardaway led No. 15 Michigan to a 2-1 tournament, starting with his 21 points, five assists and seven rebounds Monday in a 73-61 win against No. 8 Memphis. He averaged 20 points in the three-game tournament as the Wolverines nearly came back from a 16-point deficit in an 82-75 loss against eventual champion and No. 6 Duke on Tuesday, then dismantled UCLA 79-63 Wednesday in the third-place game.
There’s been some questions raised about the versatility of Hardaway — nearly half of his field goals last season came from behind the 3-point line — but he’s nearly put that to rest in the Wolverines’ first five games. Just nine of his 36 field goals this season are threes, and he’s shooting 61.3 percent from inside the arc. His new-found explosiveness was on display in the second half of the UCLA game, when he came off a screen at the top of the key, caught a pass, then needed just one dribble to get the rim for a jam that put Michigan ahead by double digits.
Player of the week
Tim Frazier, Penn State.
The basketball team in State College is understandably an afterthought these days with the scandal centered on the football team. But maybe it shouldn’t be. After three wins in three games, it’s clear who has taken the reins after standout Talor Battle’s departure. Not only has 6-foot-1 junior point guard Tim Frazier put up 16, 19 and 26 points (20.7 avg.) his first three games to lead the Big Ten, he also heads the class in assists (8.7 per game) and steals (3.3). Penn State’s only returning starter has a 2.4 assist-to-turnover ratio so far, consistent with last year’s (2.11, sixth in the Big Ten), and he’s shot 51.2 percent from the field. Last season, Frazier only averaged 6.3 points, but led the team with 5.1 assists per game. Now, wins over Hartford, Radford and Long Island aren’t exactly signs of first-year coach Patrick Chambers leading the Nittany Lions to the promised land, but good things might be in store. Penn State also has freshman Trey Lewis to look forward to, who has shot 6-of-13 from 3-point range and is averaging 9.7 points in three starts.
Ben Brust, Wisconsin. The sophomore reserve guard, who scored all of 10 points in 15 games last season, put up career highs in back-to-back games, scoring 14 Nov. 12 against Kennesaw State and 17 Wednesday against Colgate. The 3-point specialist drilled all four attempts in the Badgers’ opening win, then hit four of his first five in the 68-41 win on Wednesday. He’s 8-of-16 from beyond the arc through two games. Look for this to be a trend for the Badgers, who hit double-digit 3-pointers in both games (15 and 10, respectively).
Draymond Green, Michigan State. It’s hard to call someone out after two games, especially this big-bodied senior forward who is one of the top NBA prospects in the Big Ten. But Green but has looked flat-out sloppy in the Spartans’ two tough opening games. He has 10 turnovers, just four assists and has shot just 10-of-34 (29.4 percent) thus far. Green missed a 3-pointer Tuesday against Duke that could have brought the Spartans within two after they fell into a 20-point hole. He still came out of the first pair of games averaging a double-double (11.5 points, 12.5 rebounds) while playing 15 more minutes than his next-closest teammate. He had an impressive 18 rebounds in the opener against North Carolina, then seven against Duke. He was expected to lead this team after averaging 12.6 points and 4.1 assists per game last year, and still has ample time to get it going. He has hoisted up too many shots, though, and the assist-to-turnover ratio must improve. That shouldn’t be a problem as the Spartans start play against teams not ranked in the national top 10.