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Claws Out

Player of the Week

Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan

Derrick Walton Jr.Derrick Walton Jr.The senior point guard for the Wolverines is on an incredible run. He has always been more of a pass-first point guard with an ability to score, but now he is taking over games with his ability to put the ball in the hoop. He has scored 20+ points in five straight games, and the Wolverines have won four of their last 6. This week, Walton led Michigan to a pair of wins over fellow bubble teams in Michigan State and Indiana, averaging 22.5 PPG, 6 APG, and 5 RPG, along with 14/23 (61%) shooting, 5/6 (83%) shooting from deep, and a perfect 12/12 from the free throw stripe.

During Walton’s amazing 5-game streak, he’s averaging 23 PPG, 5 APG, 6.4 RPG, and 1 SPG with 56% shooting and 54% shooting from deep. The Wolverines are suddenly looking like the bubble team to watch from the Big Ten and, with how they are playing, could have their bid wrapped up well before Selection Sunday. Walton now finds himself in the conference’s top 10 in points, assists, free throw percentage, and outside shooting percentage.

Who’s Hot?

Lamar Stevens, Penn State

Just a couple weeks ago, I was discussing the recent struggles of Penn State freshman forward Lamar Stevens and how the rigors of conference play may be getting to him. Not so fast, past self! Stevens averaged 23 PPG in a rare pair of consecutive Big Ten victories for the Nittany Lions this week. In his past four games since I wrote about his struggles on this very blog, he has averaged 19.5 PPG and 6.8 RPG along with 54% shooting along with 50% shooting from deep. The win over a ranked Maryland team was one of the program’s biggest in the Pat Chambers era, and Stevens led all scorers in that game. He’s perhaps THE crown jewel of a talented freshman class in Happy Valley and currently sits third among Big Ten freshmen in scoring. He must have read this blog for motivation!

Jordan Murphy, Minnesota

Another team on a fine run of late is Minnesota. Though it only consists of victories over Illinois, Iowa (in double OT), and Rutgers, it’s a nice way to bounce back from a recent five-game losing streak and solidify their spot in the tournament. This week, hard-nosed power forward Jordan Murphy led the way for the Gophers with 21 PPG, 15 RPG, and 2 BPG, along with 18/28 (64%) shooting. He is currently in the conference top 10 for both rebounds and blocks.

Who’s Not?

Zak Irvin, Michigan

This is one of the worst slumps I have seen in my four years covering hoops for this site. Zak Irvin, once an All-Big Ten selection shoe-in and undisputed star player of this Wolverine team, has completely fallen off the map of late, scoring 13 points in his last four games combined on 4/31 (13%) shooting. He has played 32+ minutes in each of those contests but scored only one made field goal every 34 minutes of game action. Even so, the Wolverines won two games without him this week; if he can get back into something resembling his normal form, the Wolverines could be a surprise spoiler in the NCAAs with the way Derrick Walton Jr. has been playing.

Melo Trimble, Maryland

The Terrapins were looking to rebound from a tough one-point home loss against Purdue with a win over a generally-hapless Penn State team. They did not get it. An inspired young Nittany Lions team beat the Terrapins and held star guard Melo Trimble to 11 points, his lowest scoring effort since mid-December. He followed that up with a measly 10 in a win over Ohio State. Beyond just the low scoring outputs, Trimble only shot 7/24 (29%) this week, and only got to the free throw line, oftentimes his bread and butter, 7 times total, where he only hit 5 attempts. The Terrapins did manage to pull one of two out this week, but in order for them to capitalize on Wisconsin’s recent struggles and potentially win the Big Ten, they will need peak performance Melo Trimble to keep winning games.

Indiana’s guards

This week’s edition is taking on a bit more of a negative tone, with three Who’s Not? entries, but there have been some notable struggles throughout the conferment this week. Namely that of the Indiana basketball team in general, as injuries (mostly) have caused them to freefall from their once-lofty position in the college basketball world. They dropped two more games this week, and in those, their three starting guards, [Player: James Blackmon Jr.], Robert Johnson, and Josh Newkirk averaged a combined 24.5 PPG, well below their season average of 39.5, a figure which includes several games of OG Anunoby stealing points from them. The trio also shot a combined 17/58 (29%) this week, along with 7/28 (25%) from outside. Granted, James Blackmon, the perceived star of this team, is just coming back from an extended injury, but on the whole, the Hoosier backcourt is missing all kinds of shots, and on top of that, their perimeter defense has been very poor, allowing all kinds of looks at the rim and from deep. The Hoosiers’ NCAA hopes are quickly fading, and they look like they miss OG Anunoby now more than ever.

Projected Bracketology

Purdue – 4 seed
Wisconsin – 5 seed
Maryland – 6 seed
Northwestern – 8 seed
Minnesota – 8 seed
Michigan – 10 seed
Michigan State – 11 seed

Indiana – NIT
Ohio State – NIT
Penn State – NIT

Iowa, Nebraska, Rutgers, Illinois – CBI/CIT/Outside Looking In

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