Player of the Week
Branden Dawson, Michigan State
Dawson is attracted to the rim. That’s where he plays, and that’s where he gets his points. It’s no wonder, then, that six of his seven field goals Thursday at Iowa came on layups. The other one? A breakaway dunk off his steal with less than a minute left that gave the No. 22 Spartans the lead for good and a solid road win in Iowa City. Dawson anticipated freshman Mike Gesell’s pass to the left wing, poked it away from Zach McCabe to himself and threw it down with one hand on the other end for a 58-56 lead. It allowed him to finish with a career-high 17 points in the 62-59 win. Ten of his points came after halftime, including a lay-in with 3:15 remaining after he flashed into the lane, caught a pass from teammate Keith Appling and scored over Melsahn Basabe to tie the score at 51. Dawson also had 14 points and 11 rebounds Saturday for his fifth career double-double.
Since coming off knee surgery in the offseason, the 6-6, still-crazy-athletic Dawson has performed admirably. But he’s struggled to get back to 100 percent game-shape and his offensive numbers have shown that after a solid start. He scored in double figures in seven of the Spartans’ first nine games, but then just one of the next five before turning it up a notch this past week. His defensive game has shown big improvement, but his offense — particularly his shot — is still one of Tom Izzo’s projects. Still, he’s shown that when he plays around the cylinder, even against taller defenders, he’s one of the conference’s best.
AJ Hammons, Purdue
The 7-foot freshman from Carmel, Ind., had a breakout week on the offensive end despite two losses for the Boilermakers, tying a career high with 20 against Michigan State and 13 against Ohio State. He also had a combined 15 rebounds. He shot a combined 12-of-21 from the field in those two games. Hammons hasn’t yet collected double-digit rebounds in a game, but that seems to be coming. Through three games, his 3.0 offensive rebounds rank third in the conference.
Joe Coleman, Minnesota
The Gophers boast some big-time scorers in their starting lineup, and Coleman is one of them. He usually doesn’t throw down 29 points against a top-15 team, but that’s what he did Wednesday against No. 12 Illinois. The sophomore from Minneapolis is a key cog in the Gophers’ fastbreak attack, usually posting a few assists per night after finding Rodney Williams or Austin Hollins for a dunk. But he can sky as well, and showed that in Champaign, as well as his improved shooting ability. Coleman threw down four dunks, hit two 3-pointers, and drilled 7-of-8 free throws. When the Illini cut an 11-point deficit to two with 12:38 left, Coleman scored seven points -- including two on a fast-break jam -- that ignited a 14-2 run that put the game out of reach.
Coleman’s field goal percentage is up by 7.5 points this season (.515 from .440) and already has attempted for 3-pointers for a higher percentage (5-of-15 to 2-of-8 last year). Minnesota will be tested starting Saturday at No. 5 Indiana before hosting No. 2 Michigan.
Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State
After three games, Thomas leads all scorers in the Big Ten by nearly three points. He’s averaging 22.7 per game, has shot 7-for-16 from 3-point range, and 26-for-50 from the field overall as the Buckeyes started 2-1. He’s a challenge to defend from almost everywhere on the court.
The freshman averaged 17 points and eight rebounds the past two games, above his season average of 12.6 and 6.1. As Big Ten opponents key in on the multitude of Wolverine scorers, Robinson can become the beneficiary of some easy buckets.
Tyler Griffey, Illinois
Griffey, one of the Illini’s go-to guys on the perimeter, hasn’t hit a 3-pointer in six of last nine games and has missed his last seven attempts. He totaled two points against Ohio State on 1-of-7 shooting on Saturday, and none against Minnesota on Wednesday on 0-for-2 shooting. Even more troublesome, Griffey’s confidence seems to be shaken as he passed up open shots multiple times against Minnesota. Since a 4-of-7 performance from long range Dec. 22 against Missouri, Griffey is just 2-for-11 and has averaged only 4.5 points per game. Griffey’s just part of the problem, though. Illinois seems rattled from long range in the Big Ten thus far, shown by a 3-for-24 performance against the Gophers.
Lenzelle Smith Jr., Ohio State
The 6-4 Smith continues to rebound well, averaging 8.5 in the past two games. But he’s made just 4-of-15 shots for a combined 10 points, well below his 10.7 average.
Ben Brust, Wisconsin
Brust is shooting just 6-of-20 from the field in two Big Ten games, including 3-of-13 from three. Had just three points, two assists, two turnovers and shot 1 of 6. He needs to find his way into the lane more, as five of those misses came from long range. Brust is averaging 11.3 points per game this season.
Top five sophomores
1. Cody Zeller, Indiana
His points and rebounds are up, but maybe not as much as expected. He’s still among the nation’s best in field-goal percentage. He already has three double-doubles despite being defenses main concern every night.
2. Trey Burke, Michigan
Burke has only helped his reputation as one of the nation’s premier points guards in year two, taking on more scoring responsibility and showing his passing aptitude nearly every night. He’s averaging 18.2 points per game and 7.3 assists, and his shooting and 3-point percentages have increased significantly (.533 from .433; .392 from .348).
3. Andre Hollins, Minnesota
Hollins set the tone early this season with a 41-point effort against Memphis, but also defers when the matchups call for it. He’s selecting shots more carefully and creating space more effectively, shooting more than 7 percent better from the field and almost 6 percent better from three. His assists are up nearly two per game (3.7 from 1.8) and he’s emerged as a strong defender (1.3 steals per game).
4. Branden Dawson, Michigan State
Dawson is one of the conference’s best defenders, and is coming around offensively as well. He ranks fourth in steals at 1.9 per game and 13th in blocks at 1.2.
5. Sam Thompson, Ohio State
A 36-inch vertical leap makes Thompson one of the conference’s top athletes. He’s produced some dunk of the year nominees, but still is getting a feel for his jumper. He’s done a better job getting into the scrums down low, averaging 3.7 rebounds per game.