Player of the Week: Jon Leuer
Some weeks there are going to be an abundance of candidates; this was not really one of them. Much of the league played inferior competition, and those that did were not overly impressive in doing so. Kalin Lucas and Draymond Green had their moments in Maui, but they also played a big role in the sloppiness of the team’s play. Eric May’s 10-14 shooting over two games makes for a great week, but it came against SIU-Edwardsville and Long Beach State. Wisconsin went down to Florida for the Old Spice Classic and for the most part ruined the rims. While Jon Leuer’s 20-44 shooting is not majestic, it is Jordanesque in comparison to the 47-128 shooting put forth by his Badger teammates. With Jordan Taylor’s shot still not being as consistent on a night-in-night-out basis and Josh Gasser experiencing the typical ups and downs of a freshman, Wisconsin does not have the consistent second and third scoring threats yet. Even a strong defensive team that wants to play games in the 50s and 60s needs to find a way to score 50 or 60 points. In this tournament, Leuer was left shouldering a heavy load offensively, and ended up having about a third of the team’s points in games where scoring was at a premium. The fact that Wisconsin came within two minutes of winning that tournament is a testament to the typically strong team defense and the consistent performance of Leuer in all of the games. He ended up averaging 17.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 2 assists per for the week.
Hot Performance: John Shurna and Michael Thompson
Northwestern only had one game on the week, but it was their first legitimate opponent of the season. Creighton has been one of the stronger mid-major programs for the past decade, and their profile as a three-point reliant team that is very efficient with its possessions matched that of the Wildcats on paper. The game did not play out that way largely due to Northwestern’s stifling defense (Creighton had only two points in an eight minute stretch in the second half where the lead was extended from five to sixteen) and the tremendous play of John Shurna and Michael Thompson. The duo scored 41 of the Wildcats 65 points on 15-23 shooting, and accounted for another 10 points on the assists they had to their other teammates.
Cold Effort: Michigan State against Tennessee Tech
It is understandable a team coming back from Maui for a short layover at home before a Tuesday night game against the top ranked team in Durham would overlook a winless Tennessee Tech team. It really would, and it is probably not something to worry about, but the Spartans could not have looked less impressive in a blowout win. The game was incredibly sloppy, and the Spartans had ten turnovers in the first fifteen minutes and change of the game. At that point, Michigan State led the game by two points, 18-16. Draymond Green then led the Spartans on a half ending 14-4 run to end any doubt of who was going to win the game, but for a team that should contend for a national title are looking underwhelming. The team is turning the ball over 17 times per game, which is three more per game than last year. It is not going to be a problem that is going to be cured with one good performance, but it is concerning when the problem cannot at least be masked when playing the less talented opponent.
Top 5: Games in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge
1. Michigan State at Duke- The premier game of the challenge. Duke has not lost a non-conference home game in ten years, but the Big Ten is sending its best candidate to try to knock them off. The Spartans got Kemba’d in Maui and as mentioned earlier in the blog have not been clicking on all cylinders, but they can still bring it defensively and cause the Blue Devils turn the ball over. Even if they can get the Duke guards to throw the ball all over the gym, it might not be enough in that building.
2. North Carolina at Illinois- Even with North Carolina playing like a young and inexperienced team, it is still a measurement game for Illinois. The Tar Heels struggled to score in the half court against Minnesota and Vanderbilt, but both of those teams are stronger defensively. The Illini also had trouble keeping Texas and Maryland off the offensive glass, which could let the Heels off the hook even if their jump shots are not falling. During Roy Williams’ time at North Carolina, the Heels are at their best when the games are up and down with games being played in the 80s. Illinois has also thrived playing that style this year, so it should be worth watching to see how their strengths match that of North Carolina.
3. Ohio State at Florida State- The Buckeyes have about as close to perfect a resume that a can have early in the year. They are getting excellent all-around production from their upperclassmen wings David Lighty, William Buford, and Jon Diebler, and the four freshmen in their rotation are not playing like it. The one nitpick aspect of the team that could cause some concern would be that they are not especially lengthy as a team. Much of the reason this game is so intriguing is because of the length and athleticism Florida State has with Chris Singleton. Xavier Gibson, and Bernard James and then seeing how the front line of Ohio State, especially Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale responds to it.
4. Purdue at Virginia Tech- Coming off a sloppy loss to Richmond, Purdue will be facing a similarly constructed Hokie team with a point guard in Malcolm Delaney who is just as capable as Kevin Anderson of lighting up the scoreboard and a defense that slowed Oklahoma State and gave Kansas State fits for the first thirty minutes of that game. It is not a must-win game for Purdue by any stretch of the imagination, but the Boilers do not have a particularly impressive non-conference schedule and their tournament resume might be a bit puny if they will have to hold up a game against Oakland.
5. Indiana at Boston College- The first real test for Hoosiers will come against a respectable BC team. They are 6-0 and winning by an average of 21 points, but they have done so by buying wins against low major programs. For players like Christian Watford and Verdell Jones who have gotten off to solid starts, they can really raise the bar in which they and the team are held with a good showing in Chestnut Hill.
North Carolina at Illinois- Even with North Carolina playing like a young and inexperienced team, it is still a measurement game for Illinois. The Tar Heels struggled to score in the half court against Minnesota and Vanderbilt, but both of those teams are stronger defensively. The Illini also had trouble keeping Texas and Maryland off the offensive glass, which could let the Heels off the hook even if their jump shots are not falling. During Roy Williams’ time at North Carolina, the Heels are at their best when the games are up and down with games being played in the 80s. Illinois has also thrived playing that style this year, so it should be worth watching to see how their strengths match that of North Carolina.