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Big Ten Blog

Player of the Week

Trey Burke, Michigan

Trey BurkeTrey BurkeThe stellar sophomore might’ve solidified his front-runner status for national player of the year this past week with two memorable performances. The first came last Sunday against Michigan State, an instant-classic and a must-win for a Wolverines team that had just lost to conference cellar-dweller Penn State. With the score tied and Michigan State looking to take the last shot, Burke made the play of the year for Michigan with a clean steal of Michigan State’s Keith Appling, then raced to the other end for a dunk. The Spartans had a chance to tie or win on the next possession and there was Burke again, stepping in front of a Gary Harris pass and swiping the game away to keep Michigan in the Big Ten title race. He finished with 21 points, eight assists and five assists.

Three days later, he scored 22 of his 26 points in the final 12:10 of a comeback win at Purdue. And then who was there to grab an errant pass that deflected off Purdue’s Terone Johnson with 5 seconds left and Michigan up three? You should know by now — the same guy who led the Wolverines back from a 12-point deficit. When Burke wants to take a game over, he does. Looks like Michigan will need a new point guard next year. The sophomore has played himself into the early first round of this year’s NBA Draft, in my opinion. In conference games, Burke leads all players in scoring (20.2 ppg), assists (6.6 apg) and assist-to-turnover ratio (3.5). Burke and the Wolverines can earn a share of the Big Ten title with a win Sunday against Indiana at the Crisler Center.

Who’s Hot

Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft, Ohio State

This duo led the Buckeyes to a stunning win Tuesday against Indiana in Bloomington, scoring the first nine of a decisive 11-2 run with less than 7 minutes left. They scored from everywhere — Thomas hitting a clutch 3-pointer and Craft even hitting turn-around jumpers from the post area to stun an Indiana crowd looking to celebrate its first sole Big Ten title since 1993. With Michigan State and Wisconsin losses on Sunday, the Hoosiers still celebrated a shared title after the senior night loss, but it put a damper on the festivities. Craft hit 7-of-10 from the field, looking every bit a scorer compared to any guard in the country. Uncharacteristically, Ohio State only attemped eight 3-pointers, relying more on getting easy buckets. It paid off. The Buckeyes have won four straight games and now there’s a chance for a four-way tie atop the conference hinging on Sunday’s game in Ann Arbor.

Adreian Payne, Michigan State

The sophomore has earned some deserved praise from coach Tom Izzo recently because of his hard-nosed play. Thursday against Wisconsin, he missed a dunk and fell on his back under the basket. But instead of writhing in pain, he collected the ball and called timeout. It earned Payne a big hug from his coach on the sideline and a standing ovation from the Breslin Center crowd. “He would’ve never done that as a freshman,” Izzo told reporters afterward. But in addition to his increased toughness, Payne also is putting up solid numbers and seems to be coming into his own. He’s collected double-digit rebounds in four of the past five games, averaging 14 ppg and 11.8 boards per game in that span.

Terone Johnson, Purdue

The 6-2 junior guard put the Boilermakers in great position for an upset Wednesday against Michigan, pouring in 32 points on 12-of-17 shooting. But the team’s defense down the stretch let it down. Since going scoreless Feb. 27 at Iowa, Johnson has shot 19-of-32 (59.3 percent) scored 16 and 32 in two games. He also grabbed seven rebounds apiece in each of those. His main strength is getting to the rim for easy buckets. Michigan fell asleep defensively on multiple occasions Wednesday, letting Johnson along the baseline and into the middle for easy scores off the dribble.

Who’s not

Branden Dawson, Michigan State

Dawson is just 2-of-10 from the field in the past two games, scoring just two points in each of those games. He had three turnovers last Sunday in a loss at Michigan. He was averaging 10.4 points per game before the last pair. He now sits at 9.8 ppg and 6.0 rpg.

Derrick Nix, Michigan State

The senior is just 4-of-19 from the field in the past two games, averaging 6.0 ppg and 3.0 turnovers. He had six turnovers to two assists with seven points and eight rebounds last Sunday in the loss to Michigan, as the Wolverines made it a point to harass him in the post after he dropped 14 in the last meeting. Expect Nix to bounce back on senior day against Northwestern, though.

Rodney Williams, Minnesota

Wiliams just hasn’t been right since returning from a left shoulder injury Feb. 14. He’s averaged just 4.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in six games and has been held scoreless in three of those. He’s also shooting just 33.3 percent (11 of 33) since missing the Feb. 10 Illinois game. He had a solid effort last Saturday in a blowout of Penn State (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehrkN0NWm68), throwing down maybe the dunk of his career on an alley-oop from Julian Welch. But he went scoreless at Nebraska on Wednesday, getting in foul trouble and going 0-for-4 from the field.

Austin Hollins, Minnesota

The 6-4 junior has really scuffled in the Gophers’ past four games, averaging 4.3 ppg and shooting 5-of-28 from the field (17.8 percent). He was averaging 11.8 ppg before the last five, but now sits at 10.4. He went scoreless Wednesday in the Gophers’ loss at Nebraska, missing all five of his shot attempts. It was Hollins’ first game without a point since a Feb. 18, 2012 loss at Northwestern.

Top 3 player of the year candidates

Trey Burke, Michigan 19.1 ppg, 6.9 apg, 3.2 rpg, .492 FG%

This clearly is a two-man race between Burke and Oladipo. But I give the edge to Burke — he’s been the more consistent player. He hasn’t scored less than 15 points since Dec. 12 and hasn’t finished in single-digits in any game. A win Sunday against Indiana might be what it takes to put him over the top. He’s a distributor first and scoring guard when he needs to — which is a lot with some of the inconsistency Michigan’s other young players have had — and still has managed to rank 12th in the conference in field-goal percentage (.462). Burke has only had less than four assists in a game once this season and as led Michigan in scoring in 19 of 30 games. And statistics aside, he just presents problem after problem for opponents trying to defend the Wolverines. Key on Burke? He’ll find a way to get teammates involved in a big way. Leave him for a minute? Instant points. He’s the premier player in the nation.

Victor Oladipo, Indiana 13.7 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 2.1 apg, .631 FG%

The emergence of the defensive stalwart has rightfully turned a lot of heads as Indiana already is at least a co-Big Ten champion. His shot has improved dramatically and is a nightmare on the fastbreak. A lot of his candidacy hinges on his overall presence, not necessarily what kind of numbers he puts up. That’s fine — but he’s 12th in scoring in conference games at 13.9 per game and has led the Hoosiers in scoring just eight times. Oladipo’s 59.6 percent field-goal percentage in league games ranks first, and his overall mark of 63.1 is ninth the nation. But his team doesn’t depend on him as much as Burke. Great story? Yep. Great player? Absolutely. Player of the year? A close second.

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State 19.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.3 apg, .442 FG%

Thomas is a volume scorer and ranks second in league scoring at 19.8 ppg. He has a 0.7 ppg lead over Burke in overall scoring with the same mark. He hasn’t scored less than 11 points in any game this season and has led the Buckeyes in scoring in 22 of 29 games.

Top 3 coach of the year candidates

Bo Ryan, Wisconsin

Lost his top player (Josh Gasser) before the season and still had his team in the midst of the title race with two games left.

Tom Crean, Indiana

The Hoosiers finished fifth in the conference last season and have clinched at least a share of the regular-season title.

John Beilein, Michigan

Has kept his team in the top 10 all season despite the loss of some key seniors and his team is mostly freshmen and sophomores.

Top 3 freshman of the year candidates

1. Gary Harris, Michigan State

The clear favorite here. He’s led the Spartans in scoring in 10 of 30 games and ranks second in league play at a 47.1 percent clip from 3-point range. At 13.2 ppg, the Indiana native averages just 0.2 points per game less than team leader Keith Appling.

2. AJ Hammons, Purdue

He’s led Purdue in scoring in five games and rebounding in 11. He’s sixth in rebounding in conference play at 6.6 per game and first in blocks with a 2.3 average. The 7-foot Carmel, Ind., native scores 10.6 points per game and has shot 48.8 percent from the field.

3. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin

Has led the Badgers in scoring in five games and rebounding once. He ranks third in conference play in 3-point shooting at 44.3 percent. The Sheboygan, Wis., native ranks fourth on the team in scoring at 9.5 per game.

Notes

Keith Appling scored more points Thursday night in a 58-43 win against Wisconsin (19) than he had in the previous three games combined (18). The Spartans broke the game open with a 16-0 run in the second half, capped by Appling’s three-point play for a 21-point lead.

Wisconsin finished with 17 turnovers Thursday against Michigan State. They came into the game leading the nation with only 9.4 per game. The Badgers shot just 29.4 percent, their lowest mark since a 29.3 performance on March 6, 1999 in a 56-41 loss against Michigan State. Ben Brust (10 points) was the only Wisconsin player in double figures, and he shot 2-of-7 from the field.

Standings (through Thursday)

1. Indiana 13-4 (25-5)

2. Michigan 12-5 (25-5)

2. Michigan State 12-5 (23-7)

2. Ohio State 12-5 (22-7)

5. Wisconsin 11-6 (20-10)

6. Illinois 8-9 (21-10)

6. Minnesota 8-9 (20-10)

6. Iowa 8-9 (19-11)

9. Purdue 7-10 (14-16)

10. Nebraska 5-12 (14-16)

11. Northwestern 4-13 (13-17)

12. Penn State 2-15 (10-19)

Follow Dan on Twitter @DanMonson

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