Player of the Week
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
Thomas, a 6-foot-7 small forward, has made huge strides so far during his second year in Columbus. A lot can be said about the way he’s already stepped up in Jared Sullinger’s absence multiple times, but it’s the way he plays with Sullinger in the lineup that might be even more impressive. It’s not likely Thomas will post many 30-point performances like he did at South Carolina last Saturday, but the Buckeyes don’t need that with all their weapons.
Thomas, who averaged 20.3 points in three wins this week, is an ideal complement to Sullinger. He’s always available on the win for a three or can swoop in and keep a possession alive with a tip or rebound for an easy bucket. He’s shooting an impressive 54.7 percent this season, including 37.8 percent from beyond the arc and has made at least one 3-pointer in five straight games.
Thomas has a definite scorer’s mentality, and has only 13 assists in the Buckeyes’ 13 games after totaling just 17 all of last season. He sometimes takes it upon himself to score on the break rather than look for a teammate, but hey, but if it works for coach Thad Motta and No. 2 Ohio State, he must be doing something right. And you can’t argue with the results most of the time.
Evan Smotrycz, Michigan
A week and two games later, nothing much has changed for the Wolverines’ 6-9 sophomore forward, who averaged 18.5 points in two wins this past week. Smotrycz continues to light it up from everywhere, but he’s also upped his rebounding, posting double-doubles in both games. He didn’t grab more than seven in a game his entire freshman season. He’s not a real physical guy at 235 pounds but looks to be heading into the scrums down low a bit more this year. He needs to stay out of foul trouble, though. He’s fouled out of three games and leads the conference in fouls per game at more than three per game.
The Reading, Mass., native nailed 8-of-10 3-pointers and 11-of-16 shots overall this week. He’s now 15-of-19 in the past four games. 78.9 percent. That’s almost unheard of, but it did come against four opponents that came into last week ranking Nos. 163 (Bradley), 217 (Alabama A&M), 220 (Oakland) and 327 (Ark.-Pine Bluff) in 3-point percentage defense.
Smotrycz ranked just outside the Big Ten’s top 10 in 3-point field goal percentage at 38.1 last season. He’s hit 17-of-31 this season for 54.8 percent, nearly matching his overall field goal percentage of 56.2. More than 40 percent of his shots come from behind the arc.
Meyers Leonard, Illinois
The 7-1 sophomore is starting to get in a groove despite being double- and triple-teamed nearly every game. He’s posted double-doubles in three of his past four games, including a 14-point, 13-rebound performance Thursday as the Illini nearly knocked off No. 9 Missouri after trailing by 13 in the second half.
Devyn Marble, Iowa
The Hawkeyes quietly closed their non-conference slate with three straight wins this past week, and Marble was a big reason why. The 6-5 sophomore guard and son of Roy Marble, Iowa’s all-time leading scorer, has started the past five games for Iowa. He might stay there after a largely ineffective Bryce Cartwright was briefly sidelined with a hamstring injury. Marble’s reent play prompted coach Fran McCaffery to comment, “he’s becoming the complete player he can be.”
Marble has a knack for getting to the free-throw line. He went 21-of-25 from the line and averaged 15.7 points and 5.3 assists in this week’s trio of games. He’s not a long-range shooter, making just 3-of-12 3s this year, but is good off the dribble and a solid distributor for a team that desperately needs one.
Jacob Lawson, Purdue
Lawson’s just a freshman so it’s hard to nitpick too much, but a lot more was expected out of the 6-8 forward from Reidsville, N.C. The three-star recruit ranked the No. 25 power forward by ESPN has shown glimpses of a solid offensive game but just can’t stay in the game — he’s been whistled for at least three fouls in each of the past five games and has been called for 41 (more than three per game) in the Boilermakers’ 13 games through Thursday.
Lawson got his first start on Thursday night and fouled out after playing just 14 minutes and scoring five points. He’s already fouled out of three games despite averaging just more than 15 minutes a game and is averaging more whistles per game than rebounds (2.8). He ranks only behind Smotrycz in the Big Ten in fouls per game.
Top five conference matchups before the new year
1. Ohio State at Indiana, 6 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 31 (ESPN2)
Can Indiana take down both a No. 1 and No. 2 in the same month? Assembly Hall will be rocking again — especially if Indiana wins its opener at Michigan State — when the second-ranked Buckeyes come to Bloomington. Will the Hoosiers need some more last-second magic or will freshman Cody Zeller be able to handle Jared Sullinger in the post?
2) Indiana at Michigan State, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 28 (BTN)
This is a defining moment for the undefeated Hoosiers, who didn’t win a single road game last season. They might have come closest at the Breslin Center, though, taking the Spartans to overtime before losing 84-83. It would be a statement win in the conference opener for coach Tom Crean, who already is well on his way to placing his program back on the map.
3. Illinois at Purdue, 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 31 (ESPN2)
It will be nearly three years to the day since the Illini last won in West Lafayette, in a conference opener. These teams are picked in the middle of the pack, and this game could give us a glimpse of which one has more to look forward to. Then there are the 25 straight games Purdue has won on its home floor for Illinois to contend with. Purdue hasn’t lost in West Lafayette since Feb. 28, 2010 vs. Michigan State.
4) Minnesota at Illinois, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27 (BTN)
The Gophers won the last time they visited Champaign, in 2009. Can they strike again despite the absence of Trevor Mbakwe? The Illini have been hot and cold thus far. This opener could spike them one way or the other.
5) Wisconsin at Nebraska, 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 27 (ESPN2)
It’s the Huskers’ first Big Ten Conference game, so we have to care, right? Well, with a strong showing Nebraska could at least temporarily shut up the critics (like me) who believe they’ll finish in the conference’s cellar. Wisconsin’s defense might have something to say about that, however.
Indiana (12-0) was the only Big Ten team to make it through its non-conference schedule unscathed. The Hoosiers are off to their best start since the 1975-76 team won all 32 games on its way to the national championship. … Assuming Wisconsin beats Mississippi Valley State on Friday, Big Ten teams went 123-28 against non-conference foes, a .814 winning percentage. … Illinois isn’t finding much success at the United Center lately. The Illini are 0-3 in their past three games there, and Saturday’s 16-point loss to UNLV was their second-worst loss there based on point differential.