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.
Robbie Hummel, Purdue
The senior forward is well on his way to making a statement about his health status. He averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and two blocks this past week, including 17 in a big 76-65 home win against Miami in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. He scored 17 of his 24 points in the second half last Saturday in a 78-57 win against Coppin State.
John Shurna, Northwestern
The conference’s leading scorer continues to dominate for the 6-0 Wildcats, which begs the annual, “Is this Northwestern’s year to make the tourney?” question. Well, barring any unforeseen injuries, it certainly looks promising. Shurna’s 21.8 points per game average ranks 11th nationally. He averaged 22.5 in two wins this past week, including 25, eight rebounds, two assists, three blocks and three steals Wednesday in a 76-60 win over Georgia Tech in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The guy can do it all — inside, outside, defensively — and with a supporting scorer such as Drew Crawford, the Wildcats could make a run at the upper half of the Big Ten.
Top 5 Three Point Threats
1. Ryne Smith, Purdue
The Purdue senior guard is 28-of-55 on 3-pointers (50.9 percent) through Thursday and is still atop that category nationally, now tied with Penn’s Zack Rosen. Rosen (28-of-49, 57.1 percent) has made a higher percentage, though. Smith has shot just five shots inside the arc, making three. Purdue leads the nation with 74 3-pointers made. Smith was fifth in the conference last season at 44.1 percent from three but is scoring at a higher pace with an increased role this season.
2. William Buford, Ohio State
Buford started somewhat slowly for him (4-of-14, 28.5 percent) from behind the arc but has drilled 8-of-9 (88.8 percent) since. The senior has ranked among the top shooters in the Big Ten (38.3 percent as sophomore, 44.2 percent as junior) the past two seasons and is right up there again. He and Aaron Craft are the Buckeyes’ main threats.
3. John Shurna, Northwestern
Shurna has made just 13-of-33 (39.3 percent) from three this season but ranked sixth in the conference last season at 43.4 percent, making 75. He hasn’t needed this weapon much with the undefeated Wildcats mostly leading games, but it might come out in full force once the conference slate begins.
4. Ben Brust, Wisconsin
The sophomore hit 7-of-10 from downtown — tying a school record — in the Badgers’ 73-56 win against BYU on Nov. 26. There have been a lot of great shooters at Wisconsin, so that alone says something. He’s second in the conference with 20 makes and eighth at 46.5 percent. The sixth man also has taken some of the shooting burden off teammate Jordan Taylor, who made 2.21 per game last year to rank sixth.
5. Jordan Hulls, Indiana
The junior was fifth in the conference as a freshman at 40.2 percent and ninth last year at 41.4. He started 2-of-6 this season but is 5-of-7 in the undefeated Hoosiers’ past two games.
This can’t be good sign for Nebraska. After his Cornhuskers lost 55-53 Wednesday night on a last-second layup by Wake Forest’s C.J. Harris, coach Doc Sadler had this to say about his team’s decision-making on offense:
“I put the most selfish offensive basketball team on the court that I have in a long time. As I told the team at several timeouts and at halftime, I don’t even recognize what we’re doing. So if I don’t, teammates surely can’t.”
Sadler was referring to his team making a measly 3-of-4 free throws, all of which came in the first half. Wake Forest came in sending opponents to the strip 20 times per game.
Minnesota could be in dire straits down the conference schedule without All-American candidate and leading scorer and rebounder Trevor Mbakwe. He’ll miss the season with a torn ACL, which he suffered Nov. 27 against Dayton in the title game of the Old Spice Classic in Orlando. He was averaging 14 points and nine rebounds in seven games before the injury. His teammates responded, however, with a gutsy 58-55 win against Virginia Tech. How much consistency they get from the crazy-athletic Rodney Williams will decided the Gophers’ prospects.
Illinois ranks ninth in the nation in free-throw percentage, sinking 107-of-138 for 77.5 percent. 6-5 sophomore guard Joseph Bertrand (10-of-11, 90.9 percent) leads the team in percentage among players who have attempted at least 10.
Michigan State is tied for ninth in the country in rebounding (42.3 per game). Senior forward Draymond Green leads the Spartans at 10.7 per game, which leads the Big Ten and ranks 20th nationally.
Green became the 42nd Michigan State player to eclipse 1,000 career points during the Spartans’ 65-49 win against visiting Florida State on Wednesday. He put up 16 points, eight rebounds, three steals and three blocks in the victory.
Ohio State had done a great job of sharing the ball, averaging 20 assists per game, which ranks fourth in the nation. The Buckeyes’ 1.77 assist-to-turnover ratio also ranks fourth among Division I teams.
Indiana is averaging 85.1 points per game through seven games (all wins) this season. The Hoosiers finished tied for 146th nationally at 69.6 per game last season. After going 6-1 in their first seven games last year, they had averaged 77.3.
Ohio State will gain another weapon starting Dec. 9 when 6-foot-8 freshman forward LaQuinton Ross becomes academically eligible. It’s not clear when Ross, from Jackson, Miss., could first see game action, but he adds another dimension to the Buckeyes on the wing and could help the Buckeyes’ depth if he’s able to get up to speed. Of Ohio State’s four freshmen, only 6-1 guard Shannon Scott (11.4 minutes, 2.4 points, 2.3 assists) is averaging more than 10 minutes per game.