Player of the Week
Rodney Williams, Minnesota
If the Golden Gophers go anywhere this season, it will be behind 6-foot-7 forward Rodney Williams and his unparalleled athleticism.
Williams is embracing the challenge. The junior has led the Gophers (9-1) to three wins since double-double machine and team leader Trevor Mbakwe tore his ACL Nov. 27 against Dayton to likely end his Gophers career. Williams took his spot at the No. 4 position and went to work — he’s averaged 14.7 points and 7.7 rebounds since Mbakwe was lost. Williams put up just 6.3 and 2.7, respectively, in the Gophers’ first seven. The move down low also helps him use his ‘hops’ to block more shots — he’s had 10 in the past three games after getting just seven to start the year.
“Right now I’m feeling really comfortable at the four position,” Williams told reporters after a 55-40 win against USC on Saturday. “I feel like I’ve got a lot of mismatches because I can use my speed to get around the bigger guys.”
Williams was a consensus four-star recruit out of Robbinsdale Cooper High School in Minneapolis. He came in raw but made strides each season and could be starting to figure things out. He’s shooting 63.5 percent from the field this season (third in the Big Ten) and ranks third in blocks (1.7 per game) and sixth in steals (1.8 per game).
He made people — including SportsCenter — notice him Saturday during a 55-40 win against USC. With his team up 22-15 late in the first half, Williams collected the ball at midcourt after stealing it from USC’s Maurice Jones, took two dribbles with his left hand and took off. He planted both his feet then spun around counterclockwise and dunked the ball with two hands for another addition to his already-sizeable highlight reel. (Link to dunk here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m2Ie5aYTBzY)
He could see his scoring dip a bit once center Ralph Sampson III (10 points in 19 minutes during return Tuesday vs. Appalachian State) gets his ankle back to form, but for now, Williams is the Gophers’ go-to guy. His ability to throw it down is reason enough to keep tuning into Minnesota games.
Brandon Paul, Illinois
Paul finally took over a sluggish game Wednesday, scoring 11 points in the final four minutes for the No. 24 Illini, who staved off an upset against St. Bonaventure. Illinois (9-0) won 48-43 despite shooting just 31.9 percent and trailed until less than a minute was left. Paul, a 6-4 junior who finished with 17 points, is an athletic specimen but his shot selection needs to improve. He’s shooting just 34.9 percent from the field and 19.4 percent (6-of-31) from 3-point range this season. He ranks fourth on the team in scoring at 10.4 per game but is averaging 15.7 in his past three. He’s also fourth in the team in rebounding at 3.7 per game, but has averaged 5.3 in the last trio, wins over Maryland, No. 23 Gonzaga and St. Bonaventure.
Tim Frazier, Penn State
Frazier still leads the Big Ten in assists by a wide margin (7.3 per game — next closest is Jordan Taylor’s 5.7) and is fourth in scoring, but whenever you shoot 0-for-12 from the field, you’re cold. That’s what the junior did Wednesday while scoring three points in a 61-57 loss against Lafayette and its 2-3 zone. He came in as the conference’s leading scorer at 19.2 per game and ends this week fourth at 17.6. He also turned the ball over 10 times the past week and shot a combined 5-for-28 in the two losses against Lafayette and Ole Miss.
John Shurna and his Northwestern teammates
A week ago, these guys were shooting the lights out and undefeated at 7-0. One reality check later in the form of a 69-41 home drubbing against No. 8 Baylor, and there could be an issue at hand. Baylor’s athleticism accentuated one nagging Wildcats weakness: the athletes just aren’t there. John Shurna, a guy who worked out with NBA prospects the past few summers, looked shook by rangy, smothering Bears defense. He shot 4-for-19 and 0-for-7 from 3-point range. His teammates? Not much better. Second leading scorer Drew Crawford shot 5-of-16. The grand total? 14-of-58. 24.1 percent. Even worse: 4-of-26 from beyond the 3-point line. 15.4 percent.
When shots don’t fall, Northwestern’s half-court offense goes stagnant. They had 13 assists to 11 turnovers a game after dishing out 30 assists to eight turnovers against Mississippi Valley State. Coach Bill Carmody’s Princeton-style offense was made for swift execution and solid shooting, threading open spaces in the defense. That’s a little trickier, though, when the opposition is as quick and athletic as Baylor. That’s why Carmody has stocked up on shooters, and why shots must fall against more athletic teams for a competitive game.
Top 5 seniors
1. William Buford, Ohio State
What really sets the 6-foot-5 senior guard from Toledo, Ohio, apart is his shooting ability. He’s consistently at the top of the Big Ten’s 3-point shooting charts, and that’s without mentioning his explosiveness off the dribble, passing ability and methodical ball-handling.
2. Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota
The 6-foot-8 forward is out for the rest of the year with a knee injury, but he could be the best rebounder to come out of the conference in years. His 7-foot-4 wingspan doesn’t hurt the 6-8 Mbakwe in that area. He can also score down low and has bulked up a bit since his early days with the Gophers. If he’s able to get healthy in time for the draft, his stock will recover from the setback.
3. Draymond Green, Michigan State
The 6-7, 230-pound Green gives some fans quasi-flashbacks to when Magic Johnson donned the green and white. Green’s more comfortable down low, though, despite his solid ball-handling ability and is a great rebounder despite being borderline undersized. He’s a solid defender and distributor, totaling a lot of steals and blocks. Green, Magic and Charlie Bell are the only Spartans to record triple-doubles. But Green also can play reckless at times and turns the ball over more than desired.
4. Jordan Taylor, Wisconsin
He’s cool, calm and collected. The 6-1 point guard had 15 points, 10 assists and no turnovers Wednesday , recovering from a game where gasp! He turned the ball over five times in a loss against Marquette. His 3.25 career assist-to-turnover ratio is on pace to set an NCAA record. He’s a solid shooter and can get in the lane to dish or score. The Badgers are average at best without him at the helm.
5. John Shurna, Northwestern
He’s a 6-9 forward who can shoot the lights out — a European-style player who can muscle down low as well.
Best win this week was Illinois’ 82-75 win over No. 23 Gonzaga last Saturday as Meyers Leonard scored 17 of his 21 points in the second half… Worst loss this week was Purdue blowing a 19-point second half lead to fall 66-63 against Tu Holloway and Xavier on Saturday. Purdue star Robbie Hummel spent the game’s final moments on the sideline writhing in pain from cramps. Honorable mention to Northwestern against Baylor, Penn State to Lafayette and Iowa’s 80-60 loss to Northern Iowa. … No. 16 Marquette snapped No. 14 Wisconsin’s 23-game winning streak Saturday at the Kohl Center. … Purdue’s home winning streak now is at 23 games after it beat Western Carolina on Wednesday. … Illinois (24th) joined No. 2 Ohio State (8-0), No. 14 Wisconsin (6-2), No. 20 Michigan (6-2) in the latest AP Top 25 poll. Michigan State (135), Purdue (12), and Indiana (4) also got votes.