Player of the Week
Derrick Nix, Michigan State
Nix had a career game last Saturday in a 67-56 win against Texas. The 6-foot-9, 270-pound senior had career bests of 25 points and four steals, and also grabbed 11 rebounds for the Spartans. He pretty much owned Longhorns freshman Cameron Ridley in the post, able to get around him for baby hooks and easy lay-ins. Nix also got to the free-throw line 13 times, making 11 — highlighting his significant improvement from 27.1 percent his freshman year to 70 percent so far this season.
Nix is the Big Ten’s second leading rebounder at 7.8 per game and is tied for most defensive boards at 5.7. He’s trying to fill the big void left in the post by Draymond Green, who led the Big Ten at 10.6 rebounds per game last season. Nix has had his share of issues in his four seasons, dealing with weight issues and a marijuana arrest this past offseason. But he’s lost 70 pounds and coach Tom Izzo named him a team captain this season.
“Nix and I have a love-hate relationship; I love to hate him sometimes,” Izzo told reporters after the Texas game. “He gets frustrated with himself sometimes, too. One of the hardest things to do is take criticism. But he has grown up a lot.”
Ryan Evans, Wisconsin
Evans scored a season-high 19 points on 8-for-16 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds against in-state opponent Milwaukee on Saturday. The Big Ten’s seventh leading rebounder at 7.0 per game also collected seven boards last Wednesday against Green Bay and also tallied a combined seven assists in both games. The 19 points was well over his season average of 11.3 per game.
Jermaine Marshall, Penn State
Marshall continues to lead Penn State’s offensive charge alongside D.J. Newbill. Marshall has scored 15 points or more in seven consecutive games and hit at least one 3-pointer in each of the Nittany Lions’ game. Penn State has won three consecutive games, including 72-45 Sunday against New Hampshire, a game in which Marshall scored 15 points in just 24 minutes, hitting 6-of-12 from the field and making five steals. He ranks fourth in the steals category at 2.3 per game and is tied for seventh in scoring with teammate D.J. Newbill at 15.1.
Ray Gallegos, Nebraska
The 6-2 junior shot 9-for-15 and had a career-high 22 points Sunday in 68-52 loss against UTEP. He also tallied 19 on 6-of-12 shooting in an 89-75 win against Central Michigan the previous day, including 11 in the first 4 minutes. Gallegos, a Salt Lake City native, had scored just 20 combined points in the Huskers’ three previous games. Gallegos redshirted last season to “add strength and refine his offensive game,” according to Nebraska’s website. He leads the Big Ten in minutes played at 35.8 per game and ranks fourth in the conference in 3-pointers per game (2.5), but has made just 34.1 percent.
Lenzelle Smith Jr., Ohio State
Smith has made just one of his last 12 3-point shots and is a combined 8-for-24 from the field in the Buckeyes’ past two games. Smith had just six points, going 0-for-7 from long range in a 74-66 loss against Kansas on Saturday. He also committed four fouls and finished just 3-of-13 overall from the field.
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
Craft continues to struggle with his shot. He’s shooting just 36 percent from the field, a marked decrease from his 50 percent mark last season. He’s also hit just 33.3 percent of his 3-point attempts, which is down 2.6 percent from last year. Craft hasn’t scored in double figures since a Nov. 28 loss against Duke, a string of six consecutive games. That’s the longest span for Craft since Nov. 30 to Dec. 21, 2010 – his freshman year. He scored in single digits in five straight games last year, including one Big Ten game, but went on to score in double figures in 10 of 21 games.
On Saturday against Kansas, Craft played 37 minutes and scored just seven points, going 2-of-9 from the field and 2-of-6 from 3-point range. He also committed four turnovers to just three assists, and picked up four fouls. Craft still ranks third in assists per game in the Big Ten at 4.6 alongside teammate Shannon Scott, and fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio. But his shooting slump could cost Ohio State down the line if it continues long into Big Ten play.
D.J. Richardson, Illinois
Richardson continues to be mired in a terrible shooting slump of his own. He’s scored well below his season average (11.2 points per game) in the last two games (five points against Eastern Kentucky, seven against Missouri), going a combined 4-of-18 from field and 2-of-14 from 3. His 35.7 percent field goal percentage is no wonder considering 75.4 percent of his shots have been 3-pointers thus far. This compares to a 60.7 percent mark last year.
His offensive production has also dipped a bit – he hasn’t scored more than 16 points this season, something he had done six times by the new year last season. He also has shot higher than 50 percent in just one game so far – a 4-of-7 effort Dec. 11 against Norfolk State. After shooting just 1-of-9 from 3 Saturday against Missouri, Richardson saw his 3-point total in Braggin’ Rights games fall to 3-for-24 in his career. Coach John Groce wants an up-tempo, shoot-the-3 mentality, but sometimes Richardson takes it too far. He’d be well served to slow it down and use his athleticism to get to the hoop a lot more.
Top five Big Ten openers (All times Eastern)
Michigan State at Minnesota, 2 p.m. Monday
No. 11 Minnesota (12-1) could get a statement win in its opener by knocking off No. 19 Michigan State (11-2). This is the season the Gophers need to get it done, and this is the way you set the tone for a successful run in the Big Ten. The Gophers have a balanced scoring attack, as four starters average double figures led by Rodney Williams (13.0). The backcourt tandem of Gary Harris (12.4 ppg) and Keith Appling (14.9 ppg) look to slow Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins. How Derrick Nix plays coming off a career day vs. Texas could make the difference down low against Trevor Mbakwe, though.
Indiana at Iowa, 4 p.m. Monday
No. 5 Indiana hasn’t won a Big Ten opener on the road since beating Iowa 79-76 on Jan. 2, 2008. Coach Tom Crean still hasn’t won one, so you’d bet he wants this one bad. It’ll be a tough go against a sold-out Carver-Hawkeye Arena and 11-2 Iowa, though. The Hoosiers lost there last season five games after shellacking the Hawkeyes 103-89 at Assembly Hall.
Michigan at Northwestern, 7 p.m. Thursday
Northwestern (9-4) hasn’t won a Big Ten opener since Jan. 4, 2006, though the Wildcats did beat Penn State to win their home opener last season. Michigan (12-0) has lost three of its past four Big Ten openers and looks to establish its place as a conference title contender early and often. Four starters average double figures for the Wolverines, led by Trey Burke’s 17.4 ppg. Reggie Hearn, Dave Sobolewski and Jared Swopshire carry the majority of the scoring load now in the absence of the injured Drew Crawford.
Illinois at Purdue, 8:30 p.m. Wednesday
Illinois has lost seven straight games against Purdue, and hasn’t won in West Lafayette since Dec. 30, 2008. But with the Boilermakers having what seems to be a rebuilding year, that could change. The No. 12 Illini (12-1) have looked great at times, but have slowed down recently because of some backcourt shooting woes. Brandon Paul, the Big Ten’s second leading scorer at 19.2 ppg, should be able to handle Purdue freshman Ronnie Thomas at the point.
Nebraska at Ohio State, 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
It was between this game and Penn State-Wisconsin (8:30 p.m. Thursday) for the final spot, but this won out simply because it will be entertaining. Deshaun Thomas, the conference’s leading scorer at 20.0 points per game, likely will be able to score at will against an athletically-challenged Nebraska team.
Big Ten teams were 115-31 (.787) through Friday. No. 2 Michigan (12-0) is the lone unbeaten.
Michigan State sophomore Brandan Kearney announced his intentions to transfer from the program, citing a desire to be more involved in the offense. Kearney, a 6-foot-5 Detroit native, was averaging just 2.3 points per game in 16.9 minutes this season for the Spartans. He had just just 11-of-37 (.297) from the field.
Indiana continues to lead the nation in scoring by a wide margin, averaging 89.3 points per game after dismantling Jacksonville 93-59 on Friday night. The next closest is Northwestern State at 86.3, then Northern Carolina at 84.0. The next closest Big Ten team is Michigan at 79.4.