Striking Gold

Player of the Week

Jordan Murphy, Minnesota

Jordan MurphyJordan MurphyIt’s been an up-and-down couple of seasons for the Minnesota Golden Gophers the last couple of years, but the one constant through it all has been the steady production of double-double machine Jordan Murphy. The junior power forward has always proven to be a capable scorer, but this year, he’s been downright unstoppable. His 24.8 PPG through Minnesota’s four wins paces the conference by nearly 5 points, and he also leads the Big Ten with 12.8 rebounds per game. He has take it upon himself to carry this team, and through four games, including a strong road win over Providence, he has looked like not only an all-conference player but a potential all-American. No Gopher win has been closer than 12 points. Murphy’s squad will face its first big tests in the coming weeks when they take on a pair of ranked opponents in Alabama and Miami.

He’s a 6’6” power forward, which limits his pro potential, but continued production like this will likely have Murphy on NBA radars by the end of the year. The 61% shooting from the field may not hold but it seems very possble that Murphy can continue to lead the league in scoring from wire to wire.

Who's Hot

Miles Bridges, Michigan State

As to be expected, Bridges has been the class of the Big Ten so far. It’s early but his shooting numbers are currently on the mythical 50-40-90 pace. His 19.7 PPG sit him at third in the conference. His 7 RPG and 2.7 BPG are numbers that most big men would be very content with. And the success on the court has been...MOSTLY there. Two easy wins sandwiched a tough loss to #2 Duke in Chicago. This Duke team has been hyped as being head and shoulders above the rest of the college basketball landscape, so it was a gritty and impressive performance from the Spartans, but a full statline from Bridges (19 points, 5 3’s, 5 boards, 4 assists, 4 blocks) left no doubt he can play with the best. He is the most likely person on this list to continue this kind of production and will face another test in Notre Dame next week.

Keita Bates Diop, Ohio State

The once-highly touted freshman is now a breakout senior, becoming the star he came to Columbus expected to be after three years as a supporting cast member. Though the schedule has been easy for the Buckeyes, they look like a much better team this season, and it has all started with the 6’7” forward. He’s scoring 19.3 PPG to go with 10 RPG and has recorded double-doubles in three out of four games. He’s blocking shots, making threes (40% in all four games; 45% on the year), and taking care of the basketball, and it’s worked out great for the Buckeyes with him as the new focal point of the offense. They are yet to lose in the Chris Holtmann era, and they look like a different team than the one that barely hit .500 last season.

Dakota Mathias, Purdue

8/8. 6/6 from three-point land. These are the kind of mythical numbers few players ever replicate in-game but they were the reality for Mathias in an easy win for Purdue over Fairfield. Mathias, who received recognition as one of the league’s best defenders last season, is also a premier sharpshooter, not only in the conference but also nation-wide. Is an 81% 3-point rate a realistic pace for the rest of the year? Absolutely not. But it’s a pace that, after four whole games, is so mind-boggling that there is no way you could characterize Mathias’ shooting as anything but “hot”. His 17.3 PPG are accompanied by 4 RPG and 4 APG, and his 72% shooting from the field ranks third in the conference among qualified players and is 13 points higher than the next-closest guard, teammate Carsen Edwards. If he can continue at even HALF his current shooting pace from outside, he will cement his place among the Jon Diebler’s and Robbie Hummel’s of the world as one of the Big Ten’s best shooters this century.

Anthony Cowan, Maryland

What seems like 18 years after he arrived...Melo Trimble’s time at Maryland is at an end. But filling the Melo-shaped void 5 wins into the year has been the breakout sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan. His 14 points, 4 assists, and 6 rebounds a game (quite the feat considering he’s 6’0”) have led a young, energetic Maryland team to victory after victory, including a nice 14-point win over Butler.

Who's Not

Wisconsin Badgers

The Badgers have suffered two straight losses at the hands of Xavier and Baylor, running their record to 2-2. They continue to run Bo Ryan's highly effective defensive oriented system, but just don't have the same level of talent as in past years, particularly in the back court. They also suffered a tough blow in recruiting, losing top 30 nationally ranked 6-foot-5 shooting guard Tyler Herro, who de-committed and committed to Kentucky. Expect them to get back on track, but they may struggle to make the same noise in the postseason that fans have become accostomed to.

Top 5 Player of the Year Candidates

1) Miles Bridges, Michigan State

This has never been a question. The potential NATIONAL player of the year is putting up the kind of numbers we expected from him, and he has the talent, coach, and supporting cast to continue to do so.

2) Ethan Happ, Wisconsin

Another huge favorite from preseason on, Happ was incredible last year on both offense and defense. His main weakness, free throw shooting, has only increased marginally in the early goings but he’s been just as good this year as last in all other areas. The Badgers have lost to a couple ranked teams but Happ is clearly a guy who can lead them to victory over just about anyone, with or without the now-departed Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes.

3) Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern

The struggles of Northwestern so far have been well-documented, particularly after a lifeless 36-point loss to Texas A&M, but Bryant McIntosh has otherwise looked like the real deal. One of the nation’s best pure point guards, McIntosh has an excellent sense of when to defer to his talented teammates and when to put the ball in the hoop himself. His 16.6 PPG and 5.8 APG demonstrates this, as well as the general efficiency of the Wildcats offense on most nights. The Wildcats will rebound, and McIntosh will lead the way back on track.

4) Vince Edwards, Purdue

While playing alongside highly-acclaimed teammates such as AJ Hammons and Caleb Swanigan throughout his career, the senior small forward has always been sort of an ultra-role player, putting up solid scoring and rebounding and passing and shooting numbers and doing all sorts of little things this team has needed. But this year, he is just as much The Guy in West Lafayette as anybody. It’s his team and thus far, in four relatively easy wins for the Boilermakers, he’s shooting at an amazing 52-46-92 clip, along with 15 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 assists a game. Purdue fans have been waiting for Vince to really be assertive and DOMINATE out there and that dominant Vince Edwards might be the one we finally get to see.

5) Jordan Murphy, Minnesota

The sheer numbers Murphy has accumulated so far are phenomenal. Regardless of the competition, 24 and 12 is incredible. Murphy is a bad man when he’s in the zone, and he has been consistently in the zone each night he’s taken the court this season. He finds himself on this list almost entirely due to his performance so far but people who have followed the first two years of his career aren’t all that surprised at what he’s shown us so far.

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