Player of the Week
Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
This isn’t your first-term Barack Obama Wisconsin Badgers.
During those years, Wisconsin’s style of basketball was predictable. Opponents never created turnovers, as high ball pressure and half-court traps were useless. A bad shot was nearly fatal, as Bo’s flex offense ate up 90% of the shot clock to limit opponent’s possessions. Playing at the Kohl Center planted a big, bold, red “L” in every visitor’s mind. Wisconsin would fundamentally grind you into the ground.
Your Second-Term Barack Obama Badgers? They’re just damn good at basketball.
Leading the way is Dekker, the 6’7” sophomore combo forward who is rightfully gaining attention on the national level. Dekker filled up the stat sheet against Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Wednesday night with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Wisconsin’s game against Marquette showed how tough of a matchup Dekker is for an opponent. When Marquette put a bigger body on Dekker, he uncomfortably put that defender near the perimeter and either used his deep 3-point range to nail a jumper or used his quickness advantage to put the ball on the floor and go to the hoop. Dekker notched a double-double, finishing with 20 points on 7-11 shooting from the field and 3-5 from deep and 10 rebounds. He’ll cause headaches on defense too which had led to this new brand of Wisconsin basketball: “We can score 108 or 48, but either way, we’ll beat you!” Wisconsin basketball scoring in the triple-digits was as likely as Kanye being humble.
Dekker’s a stretch forward and a perfect fit for Bo Ryan’s system, but there is much more to his game that meets the eye. He’s quicker in two distinct ways – he gets his feet set to shoot better than nearly anyone in the Big Ten, and his first two dribbles off the bounce are surprisingly efficient. His midrange game gets overlooked because he contributes more from the outside. By far the most underrated or unknown aspect of his game is his elevation. Whether it’s off one or two feet, he can get up and throw it down. He is Top-10 in the conference in point, total rebounds and field goal percentage. Dekker’s ability to play within the offense yet expose his personal athleticism in the proper spots makes this Wisconsin team heavy favorite to contend for a Big Ten title.
Deandre Mathieu, Minnesota
Deandre Mathieu is listed at 5’9” and 165 pounds. Santa is also real. What has been real is Mathieu’s backcourt play this week for Minnesota. The junior guard scored 26 points on 9-15 shooting while adding 7 assists and 5 steals in wins over New Orleans and South Dakota State. Mathieu has both great body control and strength which allows him to finish with contact in the paint. He’ll have to cut down on the bulk turnovers before Richard Pitino increases Mathieu’s playing time, as the guard had 4 turnovers against Arkansas and New Orleans. He’s able to hit the deep ball to keep defenders honest. With a pep in his step and his shifty, strong statute, Mathieu’s style is reminiscent of Nate Robinson.
Lenzelle Smith Jr, Ohio State
Now at five consecutive games of scoring in the double-digits, Smith Jr. has really emerged as a consistent defensive and offensive presence that Thad Matta is able to rely on. He’s always been big enough to guard three positions on the floor, creating flexibility on switching ball-screens. Offensively, he’s shooting 10% better from the field than last year while averaging the same number of shot attempts. He’s improved at the free-throw line to allow himself to stay in end-of-game situations. Smith Jr. has always found garbage points by hitting the offensive glass hard, but his outside shooting has really improved. Many things that Lenzelle Smith Jr. does goes unnoticed. We take his consistency for granted because our expectations of him are high. He’s proven to be a stabilizing for on an Ohio State team that needed someone other than Aaron Craft to provide on-the-court leadership.
Branden Dawson, Michigan State
This was a year where many expected Branden Dawson to take his game to the next level. He’s yet to prove that on the offensive end, and for someone with his athleticism and ability, it’s a bit concerning. Michigan State needs another frontcourt presence to compliment Adrreian Payne, or else Payne will be continuously double-teamed in the post. Dawson needs to become much more assertive on the offensive end.
In Michigan State’s two toughest matchups this year (then #1 Kentucky and North Carolina), Dawson is 5-11 from the field with zero free throw attempts. What’s really odd is that Dawson averages 8.9 rebounds per game. There is not an issue with Dawson’s toughness or effort; he needs to focus on becoming integral within Michigan State’s offense. Again, the most frustrating thing about Dawson is that he has every basketball skill imaginable to be one of the best players in the Big Ten. Whether he is not wired in a hyper-competitive way remains to be seen. But when Keith Appling goes down with an injury, others like Gary Harris and Payne stepped up. Dawson must do the same.
Top 5 Wooden Award Candidates
College football hardware will be passed out in New York City on Saturday for the Heisman Trophy presentation. Who’s got the best shot of being basketball’s Jameis Winston?
1. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin
Riding the national wave is key to bringing home hardware, and nothing has surfaced for Wisconsin not to be a Top 10 team all year. As previously stated, he’s got a great feel for the game and may be the most versatile offensive player in the conference. Will the Badgers’ offensive system allow Dekker to produce at a Wooden Award level? Yes, because Dekker is wildly efficient.
2. Aaron Craft, Ohio State
The heart and soul of Ohio State basketball, Craft’s leadership ability puts him in the conversation. He has and will do anything necessary for a win, like hitting game-winners, pulling a player to the side and discussing issues one-on-one, dictating tempo, diving for loose balls, and forming the huddle in between free throws. His consistency on the defensive end and Ohio State’s trek to 30+ wins puts Craft in the mix.
3. Keith Appling, Michigan State
Penn State (Tim Frazier), Ohio State (Craft) and Northwestern (Drew Crawford) fans saw what could happen to their teams when your leader is wounded. Keith Appling left the North Carolina game with an injury, and Michigan State just didn’t seem the same. Appling’s ability to facilitate has always been his forte, but he’s really produced points in every conceivable way. If he keeps hitting the 3 ball, watch for Appling to be in the mix for hardware come March.
4. Nik Stauskas, Michigan
Stauskas in the top 5 nationally in three-point percentage and three-pointers made by the end of conference play. His minutes may increase during Big Ten season because he has above-average handles and look for Derrick Walton Jr. to hit a wall in January due to the increased level of play and the rigorous conference schedule. One can question Stauskas’ consistency, but it would be no surprise to see him put up 30+ three of four times this season.
5. Gary Harris, Michigan State
Harris can catch fire and stay hot longer than most. It’s mostly due to his outside shooting ability, as Harris can save his body from vicious contact in the paint and keep the floor stretched. With players like Appling and Adreian Payne, his numbers might not be equivalent to other Wooden Award finalists from other teams, but if he helps lead Michigan State to a Big Ten regular season title or Big Ten Tournament title, he’ll be in the conversation.