Player of the Week
Nate Mason, Minnesota
Though they couldn’t quite pull out their conference opener against Michigan State, Minnesota got a big upset victory on the road over #15 Purdue, and in that game, they were spurred on by star guard Nate Mason. Mason scored 18 against Michigan State, one off his season high to that point, but that was just a taste of what he would do against the Boilermakers, when he dropped 31, along with an incredible 11 assists.
With that performance, the Gophers earned votes in the latest AP poll and has established itself as one of the biggest surprises of the Big Ten conference this season. Minnesota ended last season with a mass dismissal or suspension of several rotation players (including Mason, who was suspended for his involvement in a sex tape incident) that had them looking arguably worse than an atrocious Rutgers team by the time the Big Ten tournament rolled around. But now, the Gophers are now off to a 13-2 start, and their leading scorer is none other than Mason, with 14.7 PPG. He hasn’t necessarily taken over any games until the Purdue contest, but he’s the best scorer on a team full of solid perimeter scorers and has this team currently on the right side of the tournament bubble.
Glynn Watson Jr. and Tai Webster, Nebraska
Coming into this week, Nebraska looked like a strong contender for the cellar dweller of the Big Ten, with the most notable moment of their season being a loss to Gardner-Webb. But they followed up a seemingly-inexplicable road win over Indiana with a suddenly-not-so-seemingly-inexplicable come-from-behind win at Maryland, knocking off perhaps two top five Big Ten teams on the road. And both performances were total team efforts, with Ed Morrow and Michael Jacobsen contributing inside, but it was the combined efforts of star guards Tai Webster and Glynn Watson Jr., who combined for 47 against Indiana and 35 against Maryland. What looked like a potentially disastrous season for the Huskers that might cost Tim Miles his job now looks like, if this pace can be kept, a season full of promise for a Nebraska team that will now be a tough out anywhere you play them.
Scottie Lindsey, Northwestern
Results were mixed for the Wildcats this week, as they did lost on Friday to Michigan State, with leading scorer Scottie Lindsey only putting up 11, but what a game he has against Penn State in the team’s conference opener. 31 points to match Nate Mason’s effort on 9/14 (64%) shooting, including 5/8 (63%) from outside. Northwestern is off to a hot start at 12-3, although as we’ve seen with other recent Wildcats teams, it’s very possible that they rung up several wins against inferior competition in the non-conference slate to bloat their win total, only to eventually lose their way in conference play. But the trio of Bryant McIntosh, Lindsey, and an emergent Vic Law is one of the most talented they’ve ever had, so this might just FINALLY be the year for them to break through into the Dance. But first, they need to beat a conference for besides Penn State. Lindsey will no doubt be a huge part of that.
Alvin Ellis III and Nick Ward, Michigan State
After an extremely disheartening non-conference schedule, in which the Spartans were hindered by inexperience, a tough schedule, and an injury to star freshman Miles Bridges, the Spartans are one of only two teams to start 2-0 (with Wisconsin at 1-0 prior to their contest with Indiana tonight). This team’s story arc is already looking like a classic Tom Izzo performance. But they were carried to their two wins this week by another duo in combining for 42 in a huge 1-point overtime road win over Minnesota, then recorded 27 points and 17 rebounds in an easy win over Northwestern. It was a shocking week for Ellis, who came into the week averaging 4 PPG with a season high of 8, and it was a sign of the continued emergence of the burly freshman forward Ward, who now has recorded 9 straight double-digit scoring outings. When Bridges comes back, this Spartans team could really be dangerous once again.
Corey Sanders, Rutgers
The “Rutgers is so much better!” storyline was a fun one while it lasted. Granted, they ARE vastly improved from last season as they have already improved their win total by 4 games in early January, but they predictably lost to Wisconsin, then fell to lowly Penn State at home by double digits. Last year’s star freshman guard Corey Sanders’ performance is a microcosm of the team’s continued struggles. His scoring has dropped 5.7 PPG (15.9 to 10.2) and he is only connecting on 38% from the floor and 14% from the arc while seeing his minutes decrease and his starting role removed. He needs to regain his scoring stroke if the Scarlet Knights are going to avoid becoming the conference laughingstock once more.
Top 5 Non-Conference Wins
Many have said that the Big Ten is in a “down year” and perhaps the best argument for that is the weak-ish collection of non-conference victories by the conference this season. Especially when you take away the Indiana Hoosiers. But here are the best of an admittedly mediocre bunch as conference play gets rolling:
1) Indiana vs. Kansas
In a supremely masterful performance, the Hoosiers opened their season with a high-scoring 103-99 overtime victory over #3 Kansas at the Armed Forces Classic in Honolulu. Kansas continues to hang around the top 5, and, even though the Hoosiers are losing their way a tiny bit, this win will do wonders for them in March.
2) Indiana vs. UNC
Speaking of superb Indiana wins, here’s another. North Carolina has slipped to #14 but on this night, they came into Assembly Hall ranked 3rd in the nation. They left as losers, as the Hoosiers got the 9-point victory in one of the marquee matchups fo the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
3) Purdue vs. Notre Dame
We now look to another school in the state of Indiana. Well, two, actually. After narrow misses against Villanova and Louisville, Purdue stormed back from 17 points down to finally get a good win on their resume and shake off the curse of the Hoosier Crossroads Classic and get their first win in the event.
4) Iowa vs. Iowa St.
Though this season has been mostly disappointing, a thorough manhandling of state rival Iowa State was a great moment for a young Hawkeyes team. Iowa St. has since fallen out of the Top 25, but they are still on track to be a strong tournament-worthy team.
5) Maryland vs. OK St.
Though Oklahoma State is no Duke or Kentucky this season, it was a gutsy performance by Maryland to get this solid win, outlasting the Cowboys and winning by one thanks to Melo Trimble’s two made free throws with nine seconds left.