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.
--Drew Crawford and John Shurna, Northwestern.
Crawford, a 6-5 junior, and Shurna, a 6-9 senior, took over on their way to a Charleston Classic title this past weekend. Shurna’s career-high 37 points (and seven rebounds and four assists) in an 88-82 win Nov. 17 against LSU propelled the Wildcats’ offense, while Crawford scored all of his 17 points in the second half and added eight rebounds. The next day against Tulsa, Crawford’s 28 points, including five threes, led to a 69-65 win. To grab the title Sunday against Seton Hall and the tournament’s MVP award, Crawford shot 11-of-15, including four threes, for 27 points. Shurna added 19 and seven rebounds. Can the 4-0 Wildcats make this the year they finally get to the Big Dance? “It’s November 20th. Come on,” coach Bill Carmody told a reporter who asked afterward.
-- Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Yes, it does seem like this NBA-ready sophomore forward could be on the list every week. But it’s worth noting his performance this week against two inferior opponents, nonetheless. He posted back-to-back double-doubles, going for 27 points and 14 rebounds Monday against North Florida and 17/12 Wednesday against VMI.
Melsahn Basabe, Iowa.
Ah, the sophomore slump — a failure to reach the bar set in a stellar debut season. Many have tried to avoid it, plenty have failed. It’s too early to stick that label on the Hawkeyes’ 6-foot-7 forward, but in two games this past week, he put up a combined four points, six rebounds, six fouls, and shot 1-for-8 from the field. This came after a freshman season in which he was the Hawkeyes’ second-leading scorer (11 points per game) and leading rebounder (6.8 per game, seventh in Big Ten) after following coach Fran McCaffery from Siena.
Basabe was one of the Hawkeyes’ lone bright spots, along with point guard Bryce Cartwright, whose 5.9 assists per game ranked third in the conference. But both struggled last week in two embarrassing losses — an 82-59 laugher against Creighton and breakout sophomore Doug McDermott (25 points, nine rebounds, no turnovers), and a 77-61 loss at home against Campbell — Iowa’s most lopsided non-conference loss at home ever.
There’s plenty of time for Basabe to turn it around — he started the season by averaging 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in the team’s first two games, but those were against Chicago State and North Carolina A&T. He only has one block in four games this season after ranking seventh in the Big Ten last season at 1.32 per game.
Top 5 games to look forward to this week
1. Duke at Ohio State, 9:30 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN
This is the Big Ten’s marquee non-conference game of the season. The conference took the Big Ten-ACC Challenge for the first time last season, and the Buckeyes helped by going to Florida State for a 58-44 win. The No. 3 Buckeyes (5-0 through Thursday) get their second big test of the season if they want to try to match last season’s 24-0 start. They passed their first one, beating No. 10 Florida 81-74 at home on Nov. 15. They won their other four games by an average of 36 points. Ohio State still is looking for its 3-point touch in the absence of Jon Diebler, the Big Ten’s all-time leading 3-point shooter. Senior William Buford is its best bet, but has made 6-of-16 (37.5 percent) this season after shooting a solid 44.2 percent from that range last season. If the Buckeyes get down early, can they rely on Buford’s shooting to bring them back? We could find out Tuesday.
No. 6 Duke will be a bit more of a challenge than Florida. The Maui Invitational champions have a youthful backcourt of Seth Curry and Austin Rivers, neither of whom were rattled on the big stage at Maui. Down low, a bulkier Jared Sullinger (19.8 points, 10.2 rebounds per game) must contend with 6-11 Ryan Kelly and 6-10 Mason Plumlee (Who’s averaging 11.4 points and 10 rebounds). All five starters for the Blue Devils (7-0) are averaging double figures.
2. Wisconsin at North Carolina, 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN
Finally, the No. 11 Badgers play somebody. The leading defensive team in the country by far (opponents are averaging 34 points per game, 10 less than the next closest defense) has won by an average of 41 points. Something tells me that won’t be the case against the No. 1 North Carolina. Senior Jordan Taylor will need to contribute more offensively than he has for Wisconsin to have a chance. 6-10 junior Jared Berggren leads the Badgers in scoring right now, but he likely won’t have the same success down low against 7-foot Tyler Zeller and 6-10 John Henson. The Badgers will have to rely on their 3-point shooting (48 percent through four games) to keep up.
3. Florida State at Michigan State, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN
Florida State hasn’t won a Big-Ten ACC Challenge game since beating Minnesota in 2007. Michigan State has lost three straight in the challenge, but this is the first year since 2007 it hasn’t played Duke or North Carolina. The Seminoles look to make a statement in East Lansing after a Sweet Sixteen trip in March, while the Spartans look to get their first quality win of the season after dropping their first two to No. 1 North Carolina and No. 6 Duke. The Seminoles lost their two best players from last season, but rebounding could be the key. They rank ninth in the country, averaging 44 per game. The Spartans are 22nd at 42.4 per game. MSU’s Draymond Green is coming around after a slow start. He leads the Big Ten in rebounding at 11 per game. No. 22 Florida State was 5-0 through Thursday but has a quick turnaround from the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas to East Lansing.
4. Butler at Indiana, 7 p.m. Sunday, BTN
So why should anyone outside of Indiana care about this game? It could be a signature win for Indiana coach Tom Crean and the Hoosiers. Sure, the Bulldogs are a different team than the national runner-up we saw in March, but last time I checked, Brad Stevens is still the head coach. The Hoosiers already took down Evansville, an in-state team against which Butler lost in overtime. Indiana (5-0) is out to show it’s a different team than the one that started strong last season then faded miserably in the second half. This is one of those games that could make a statement, no matter Butler’s struggles. Freshman and leading scorer Cody Zeller must stay out of foul trouble (he’s had four in three of five games) for the Hoosiers to get it done.
5. Miami (Fla.) at Purdue, 9 p.m. Tuesday, ESPN2
This one’s intriguing because nobody’s really figured these two teams out yet. This will be a good measuring stick to see just how recovered Robbie Hummel is from his second knee surgery in as many years, and if the Hurricanes’ backcourt of Malcolm Grant and Duran Scott can continue to propel this team without injured center Reggie Johnson. 6-11 Kenny Kadji, a transfer from Florida, has picked up rebounding responsibilities at 6.3 per game. Hummel has looked like the same guy thus far at 18.5 points per game and 4.3 rebounds, but in a loss against No. 16 Alabama shot just 5-of-15. The question is whether Hummel has the supporting cast (especially in the rebounding category: no one is averaging more than 6-5 Kelsey Barlow’s 4.8 a game) to lead the Boilermakers past the talented Hurricanes.
-Big Ten teams were 52-8 through Thursday. … Wisconsin senior guard Jordan Taylor has 21 assists and just two turnovers through four games. His scoring’s also way down thus far, from 18.8 per game last season to 8.3. … Penn State junior guard Tim Frazier continues to basically embody the Nittany Lions’ offense. He had more than half of their points Sunday in a 53-49 win against South Florida, scoring 27 points. He then had 26 points and 11 assists in an 82-71 win against Youngstown State on Wednesday. He’s averaging 21 points and 7.3 assists (10th in nation) on the season. …. Illinois center Meyers Leonard has 18 blocks this season, seven more than the next-closest player in the Big Ten. He had five (along with 22 points and 12 rebounds) in a 70-61 win against Richmond on Tuesday in Cancun. The 7-1 sophomore’s 3.6 block average ranks 10th in the country. … Ohio State sophomore guard Aaron Craft has made some noise on the defensive end as well. After leading the conference with 1.97 steals per game last season, he’s had at least three steals in each of the Buckeyes’ five wins this season, including five Nov. 18 against Jackson State. He leads the Big Ten and ranks 11th in the nation at 3.4 per game. … Purdue senior guard Ryne Smith leads the nation with 22 3-pointers this season. He’s 22-of-40 (55 percent). He’s averaging 12.3 points per game, nearly doubling his 6.2 average from last season. Smith made 56 3-pointers last year, shooting 44.1 percent. Purdue’s 58 3-pointers in six games ranks only behind No. 6 Duke’s 61 nationally in seven games… Indiana freshman forward Cody Zeller ranks second in the nation in field goal percentage, making 25-of-31 shots for 80.6 percent.