Player of the Week
Tracy Abrams, Illinois
The situation Tracy Abrams found himself in on the evening of December 21st in St. Louis is a dream many young basketball players in the state of Illinois dream of: down 1 to your biggest non-conference rival, under 10 seconds left, and 2 free throws to win the game for your team.
I know this because I was one of those kids. Growing up in Illinois with 2 Illini graduates, the driveway became Assembly Hall every Saturday morning. Sure, the situation in my head was more to win a Big Ten Title for the Illini than to beat Missouri. But the free throws were always high stakes with everything on the line.
Abrams buried both free throws and willed the Illini to a 65-64 victory over Missouri in the annual Bragging Rights game. The junior point guard surprisingly played 36 of the 44 total minutes between himself and freshman Jaylon Tate, most likely due to Tate’s unfamiliarity with the intensity and nastiness of the Bragging Rights game. Abrams finished with 22 points (7-16 shooting) and 6 rebounds.
Illini fans have every right to believe that the Missouri win was more than just one victory. In last month’s loss at Georgia Tech, Illinois became anemic on offense, both in the amount of total points scored and their ability to execute en route to a head-scratching loss to the Yellow Jackets. Against Missouri, Abrams showed a willingness to get the basketball on the final possession and make a play. He got his defender on his hip and made a tremendous spin move to his strong side, drew contact and got to the foul line.
Possibly the greatest thing about Abrams’ two free throw makes were how they were made. Abrams had complete confidence in himself and his abilities and buried both. That attitude starts at the top. Credit John Groce for instilling the mental toughness to win these games. Groce has always had Abrams’ back, and the point guard delivered in one of Illinois’ best and most exciting non-conference wins to date.
Yogi Ferrell, Indiana
Despite the lower-level competition of Nicholls State and Kennesaw State, Ferrell again proved his value to Indiana this year. In the 79-66 win against Nicholls State, Ferrell did a great job beating his initial defender one-on-one and either getting all the way to the rim or finding other guards cutting to the hoop. Will Sheehey and Jeremy Hollowell combined scored 30 points on 10-17 shooting. Neither player has a great jumper, so credit both of them for getting to the hole and for Ferrell finding them in space.
Ferrell has is now more comfortable both going to his left and beating his on-ball defender as well as finishing with his left near the rim. Again, these were traits of his game that potentially were glossed over when Ferrell played with Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, and Christian Watford. Ferrell knows he must be more of an offensive force than a distributor this year. He proved he can be against weaker competition this week, finishing with 41 points (on 13-22 shooting), 9 rebounds, and 13 assists.
Andreian Payne, Michigan State
This will be game tape that Adreian Payne will send to all 32 NBA teams. In the first half, the senior forward first displayed his powerful inside game. The senior forward went 10-13 from the field, 11-12 from the free throw line and scored 33 points along with 9 rebound in Michigan State’s impressive win at Texas.
Payne has become almost automatically with his right hand from the right block. Texas had enough big bodies to match up with the 6’10”, 245-pound Payne. Payne recognized this, knew he had to log heavy minutes for the Spartans to win, and started to expand his game outside the paint.
Payne went 2-5 from deep, where he’s shooting 46% on the season that requires teams to come out and guard him. But opponents can’t just place the largest body on Payne because he’s too athletic and elusive with or without the basketball. He’s even becoming dangerous in transition because he can either establish position early in the post or be the trail man on the secondary fast break and pull up for a 3. Payne is becoming one of the most difficult matchups in the nation to deal with because of his size, ability to shoot, and his strength.
Chris LeVert, Michigan
LeVert had a rough shooting night against Stanford, as the sophomore guard went 0-7 from the field and 1-4 from the free throw line in 30 minutes of play. LeVert is still shooting the ball much better than last year with almost 8 more shot attempts per game, but his consistency is still a concern. After multiple double-digit point performances, LeVert has really struggled to score. More concerning are the teams that have caused him trouble are Stanford, Florida State and Iowa State. These teams are similar in ability to other Big Ten Teams, and although LeVert did perform well against Duke, he will be relied upon to contribute night in and night out during conference play.
Top 5 Scorers
It’s New Years Eve on Wednesday. Whether it be a midnight kiss, a champagne toast with family, or enjoying delicious hor dourves, every person is trying to score. Who will make Big Ten arenas rock like Dick Clark did back in the day?
1. Tim Frazier, Penn State: It’s unfortunate that Frazier’s performances will likely be overshadowed by Penn State’s lack of competitiveness as a Big Ten team. It’s also a shame that nationally he won’t be recognized for his ability to score, as Frazier is arguably the best guard in the Big Ten. He’s 2nd in the conference in field goals, 7th in field goal percentage, 1st in free throws made, and 2nd in total points. Frazier’s first on this list and ahead of fellow teammate D.J. Newbill because he’s proven that he can perform at a high level in conference play.
2. [Player :D.J. Newbill], Penn State: Newbill is attempting 1 less shot per game this year compared to last year but is shooting more than 11% better from the field. That type of efficiency allows the duo of Tim Frazier and Newbill to become even more dangerous. Compared to previous years, Newbill is shooting more from the arc and taking the ball less to the hole, decreasing his free throw attempts (and easy points) per game. Newbill has scored in double digits every game this year and leads the Big Ten in points per game and field goals made.
3. Roy Devyn Marble, Iowa: He may be the best all-around scoring guard in the Big Ten. He doesn’t shoot the ball at a great percentage from any part of the floor, including the free throw line, but it’s RDM’s ability to score in multiple ways that makes him a great scorer. He moves very well without the basketball, especially when rubbing off down-screens toward the arc. Marble’s game mimics an old-school style before the 3-point line was enacted. Beginning his offense within the 10-15 foot range makes Marble very effective using his large frame to score.
4. Rayvonte Rice, Illinois: Rice has become the go-to offensive player for Illinois this year. He has rage well beyond the three-point line, and with the continuous ball-screens that are set in John Groce’s offense, defenders must continue to go over the top of screens to not let Rice shoot from deep. Almost at will, Rice can get to the bucket going right because he’s stronger and more muscular than almost any guard he has played this year. He is above-average at drawing contact when in the lane, likely because he’s been relied on to get to the free throw line since his days at Drake.
5. Adreian Payne, Michigan State: As discussed earlier in this post, Payne is an excellent athlete for his size. He jumps, dribbles, and shoots in ways that a 6’10” player should not be able to. Because his outside game has progressed to an above-average level, it’s hard to think of a Big Ten center that can come out and continually challenge Payne from the outside. Payne will also overmatch many power forwards in the post. It’s also important to note that between the post and the arc, Payne still has the ability to rise, fire, and score.