Player of the Week
Gary Harris, Michigan State
We are officially one-third of the way through Big Ten conference play. Crazy, right? It’s not a coincidence that this week’s POTW is the best player on a team undefeated in conference play.
With Keith Appling hobbled by a sore wrist, Harris continued to light it up, scoring 47 points while shooting a blistering 69% from the field in wins over Illinois and Indiana. Harris is currently 2nd in the conference in points per game (18.3) and third in the conference in steals per game (2.1). Harris has always been lethal from deep off the catch-and-shoot. What he’s improved lots on is his decision-making off the ball screen. He’s even become more crafty getting to the hole. In the last 4 games, Harris has twice attempted more than 10 free throws in a game.
Defensively is where Harris must become more consistent and allow Michigan State to continue progressing towards March, where they always perform phenomenally. It was a typical week at the office for Harris, but his next-level ability should never be ignored.
Nik Stauskas, Michigan
I think out of all the players in the Big Ten, Gary Harris and Nik Stauskas will be the two guys consistently duking it out for POTW honors. But currently, Stauskas is “Beyonce is currently blowing up my Instagram with half-naked pictures” hot. In his last two game at Wisconsin and against Iowa, Stauskas scored 49 points along with 9 assists and 9 rebounds. He’s exactly 44-100 from the three-point line on the year and still takes a majority of his shot attempts from beyond the arc. Somehow, the Michigan offense has found a way to continue producing from the outside even though Mitch McGary isn’t in the post to attract double teams.
As already stated here in this blog, it’s amazing to see Stauskas’ production stay consistent compared to last year when he’s averages 4 more minutes per game and must handle some ball handling responsibility. He’s helped himself this year by getting to the line 3 times as often as last year. Michigan is 6-0 heading into East Lansing Saturday night. Stauskas will need to keep playing at this high level to give the Wolverines a chance.
Maurice Walker, Minnesota
Richard Pitino’s game plan to beat Wisconsin even before tip-off was to get the Gopher big men involved early. When Andre Hollins rolled his ankle on the first possession of the game, Pitino definitely knew controlling the paint and rebounding would give Minnesota their best chance.
Coming into the Wisconsin game, Maurice Walker averaged just a little more than 13 minutes per game. He didn’t play in the first 6 games of Minnesota’s season. The junior from Scarborough, Ontario played 24 minutes, scoring 28 points on 6-11 shooting and grabbing 9 rebounds. Walker helped the Gophers obtain a 32-22 rebounding advantage, using his bulky frame against Frank Kaminski and Nigel Hayes to grab boards. Two big conclusions come from this game for Minnesota basketball. First, they again protected their home floor and got a signature win against a top 10 team. The tone and attitude for Minnesota was excellent in the Wisconsin game after getting whacked by Iowa just three days before. Second, the makeup of Minnesota’s roster depends on role players like Maurice Walker to step in, play big minutes and produce in larger roles than they are normally used to. The basketball IQ of the Gophers has grown dramatically. Give Richard Pitino all the credit in the world for getting guys like Walker to commit and achieve excellence, keep grinding in practice during the winter months and reap the rewards.
Nnanna Egwu, Illinois
A combined 0-10 from the field and ending with a goose egg in back-to-back conference games at home? It seems like Nnanna Egwu has hit rock bottom. The junior was supposed to be making the next step in his progression as a viable face-up threat in the post and an improved back-to-the-basket game. Instead, Egwu gets to the three point line to set ball screens, but too often floats toward the arc instead of rolling hard to the basket. His usually consistent 15-footer is in hibernation.
For someone who works so hard and expends so much energy, it’s hard to see this slump lasting for some time. Egwu’s lack of productivity has started to alter his attitude. He’s become much more boisterous and demonstrative on the court. Getting back to the basics for Egwu will be key. The Illinois coaching staff must get in his ear about his offensive abilities to try and regain Egwu’s confidence. Illinois shoots a ton of threes. Having no presence in the post with Egwu’s struggles have allowed teams to play tight on-ball defense and run shooters off the line. Things better change quickly for Egwu and the Illini or else this season may be heading into a tailspin.
Top 5 NBA Street Players
The iconic video game includes dirty crossovers, behind-the-back passes of the backboard and men who can jump 45 feet in the air. Which guys would be the most fun to play with in the Big Ten’s version?
1. Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Anything over half-court has a 85% chance of going in. Stauskas is also one of those guys who loves to “style dribble” – he dribbles with a pep in his step, cocks the ball in one hand pre-crossover, dribble extremely fast and then stops on a dime. I also think he’d be a good trash talker, as the Canadian has some swagger to his game, emotions and facial expressions on the court. Playing with Stauskas, just think about a basketball on fire. For the entire game.
2. Deandre Mathieu, Minnesota
The ball would never be stolen from him in Big Ten Street Volume 1. The video game character portraying Mathieu would be purposefully minute to get the full effect of being a basketball player at 5’9”. His passing ability would be well above-average too, with Mathieu taking every chance he can to throw a no-look dart for a dunk.
3. Branden Dawson, Michigan State
Of course, I’m talking about pre-“Hey Coach Izzo I Um Accidentally Broke My Hand On A Desk Because I Was Mad While Watching Film” Branden Dawson. He’s good for one or two boneheaded plays, like performing a ridiculously athletic dunk on his own hoop. He’d definitely be the anchor in the Double Alley-Oop, also known as my one and only set play run at least 10 times.
4. Noah Vonleh, Indiana
His best attribute would be his super-stretch arms that can block any weak attempt at the basket within 12 feet. He’d also be a monster on the offensive glass and put-back slams. Vonleh would likely be the highest rated offensive and defensive rebounder in the game.
5. Tim Frazier, Penn State
This guy would be so much fun to play with. I see him as a guy who can fill it up much like Stauskas, but in a lot more different ways. He’ll keep you honest from deep and sprinkle in some ankle-breakers. I see Frazier converting many George Gervin-like finger rolls, with the Big Ten Street additive that the ball would hang in the air for an extra 3 seconds before dropping in.