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Emotional Rescue

Player of the Week

Dez Wells, G, Maryland

Dez WellsDez WellsThat’s a way to come back after four weeks off, isn’t it? Trailing by three at the Breslin Center, Wells nailed a game-tying three-pointer at the end of regulation which led to Maryland getting a big conference road win at Michigan State. With the Spartan inexplicably not fouling, while up three with less than eight seconds left, Wells got a clear look from the left arc and buried the long jumper. That propelled the Terrapins into overtime, who still had to overcome a Mark Turgeon technical to get the win. After the game, Wells shed a tear in an emotional post game interview.

It’s no secret that Wells has the body and makeup to continually punish opposing guards in conference play. There seem to be no signs of weakness, both in his conditioning and in the strength of his wrist, after missing the last four weeks. One of the first things to look for after a player has been injured for a significant time is how quickly he is able to adjust to in-game speed. It’s very hard to mirror the intensity and quick decision-making necessary in practice. Wells looks like he hasn’t lost a step. In conference play so far, Wells is only shooting 37.5% from the field. However, he’s averaging 7 boards, 4.5 assists per game, and 2.5 steals per game. The guy just has such a large impact on every game he plays in. Opponents should just hope to contain him. With other threats like Jake Layman and Melo Trimble, Big Ten teams look like they’re in for a nightmare when playing Maryland.

Who's Hot

Marc Loving, F, Ohio State

He’s continuing to see an uptick in minutes played, and it’s well deserved. It really has been a shock how much zone defense Thad Matta has been playing so far this year. It’s becoming more and more justified with the emergence of the 6’7”, 215-pound Loving. Loving’s size and athleticism gives an added, disruptive dimension to Ohio State’s zone defense. He’s starting to cause more ball pressure, more deflections and, in turn, more run-outs for easy layups and dunks. Loving’s also been a boss on the boards – he’s grabbed 15 over his last two Big Ten games. When you talk about Loving’s recent offensive game, do you start with phenomenal put-back dunk at Minnesota in the first half, or that phenomenal game-winner at Minnesota to win it?

Loving does a great job eluding block-outs and makes his presence known on the offensive glass. Even if he’s not grabbing the rock, he’s tipping it or making it difficult for the opponent to secure a board. On the game-winner, Loving does a great job using a down screen. He squared up nicely and rose over what was great on-ball defense. Those were two tremendous plays. He’s found great ways to get his offensive within the flow of Ohio State’s offense. It always helps when you have a guy like D’Angelo Russell on your team that commands so much attention. Loving is cutting down on the amount of three-pointers attempted, and it’s helped alter his game to excel inside the arc. He’s shown signs of fantastic athleticism, including a couple mid-post moves that are very impressive for a sophomore. Marc Loving has become another athletic cog in the wheel that is Ohio State basketball.

Kendall Stephens, G, Purdue

What a difference a week makes. After I slammed him & A.J. Hammons for some severe lack of production and purpose, the Boilermakers win their first two conference games with home wins against Michigan or Minnesota. Outside of Wisconsin and Maryland being a cut above the rest, the Big Ten generally is a crapshoot from night to night. My favorite thing about the Boilers’ two wins so far is the different style they used to win each and how effective Stephens was in different ways during the second half. Against Michigan, Purdue played defense for 20 minutes as well as you possibly could. I do think Raphael Davis deserves high praise for containing Caris LaVert. But if you think about that first half, Spike Albrecht was on fire. Stephens shifted over to Albrecht a bit in the second half. When he wasn’t guarding Albrecht, Stephens was with Zak Irvin, who went 2-12 from the field for 8 points. It was a matchup of guards that are relatively the same size and build. Credit goes to Stephens for winning that battle.

Against Minnesota, Stephens went 6-10 from the field and scored 16 of his team-high 19 points in the second half. He shot 50% from deep for the game as well. To me, Matt Painter believes Purdue has the best chance to win games ugly by slugging it out on the defensive end and controlling the boards – very similar to the Michigan game. However, Purdue won’t be able to play that style every game in conference play. When they can’t, Kendall Stephens must step up offensively. He was able to against Minnesota, and the Boilers are now sitting tied atop the Big Ten standing.

Who’s Not

Andre Hollins, G, Minnesota

There’s a fear percolating in the Yooper State that the year Andre Hollins had in 2012-2013 was an anomaly. That year, he shot 41% from both the field and from deep. In his first three conference games this year, Hollins is shooting 18% from the field, or 6 makes on 33 attempts. In general, no matter where Hollins is firing from, the ball isn’t going in. Further, he’s inflating the problem by still averaging more than 10 shot attempts per game. A poor performance one night is understandable. I would have been okay if Hollins had a rough night against a good Maryland team with above average perimeter defenders.

That Saturday, Hollins went 1-9 from the field, 0-6 from deep, and had just 2 assists. But coupling that performance against a weak Purdue team three days prior (2-10 from the field) and another doozy at home against a better Ohio State team (3-13 from the field), and Hollins’ poor performance is reality as opposed to an outlier. I want to see the ball thrown more into Maurice Walker. I want the gap between the amount of three-pointers attempted between Hollins (85 attempts), Carlos Morris (53), and Nate Mason (53) to shrink. I really want Andre Hollins to stop being a large cause of Minnesota’s current turbulence.

Nnanna Egwu, C, Illinois

What is his identity at Illinois as a basketball player? To me, an undisputed leader of a team should be an extension of his head coach. The way he prepares, executes, and communicates is vital for the betterment of the team as a whole. Ideally, a basketball team would like this leader to be their point guard. Illinois had that model before Tracy Abrams went down for the year. Naturally, the other senior, Egwu, took the responsibility of filling in the leadership role. How has it gone? That’s a tough question. But in a results-oriented business, it has not gone well for Illinois in conference play.

His record-setting heart rates during practice are well chronicled. His hustle and determination cannot be questioned. He’s currently sixth in the conference averaging 1.7 blocks per game. But how’s his mental makeup and skill level? Quite poor. He remains far too foul prone. His game and strengths in his game are not conducive to banging in the post. But something other than the ball being flung over his right shoulder would be refreshing.

Top 5 New Names in Big Ten

1. Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman, Michigan – MAMA SAID KNOCK YOU OUT.

2. Dezmine Wells, Maryland – a killer first name AND a highly productive player? Yes.

3. Shaquille Doorson, Rutgers – freshman from Amsterdam makes me think of watching Shazam! in a coffee house and I can’t stop laughing.

4. Myles Mack, Rutgers – the point guard that makes Rutgers tick gets bonus points for his initials.

5. B.J. Day, Nebraska – the freshman from Lincoln has his rhyme game on point.

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