Player of the Week

Keith Appling, Michigan State

It was almost a preconceived notion that whichever team won between #3 Ohio State and #5 Michigan State would also be awarded POTW.

Keith Appling made the decision much easier with his clutch three-pointer in overtime to send the Spartans to victory and avoid a disastrous, gut-wrenching loss. MSU opened up a 17 point lead early in the 2nd half. They were dictating tempo, hitting open shots and forcing turnovers. Yet Ohio State is too skilled, smart, and defensively sound to keel over and not mount a comeback. In a blink, the game was tied at the end of regulation.

Appling took control in the extra session, getting Michigan State into better scoring opportunities earlier in the shot clock. Too often during the second half, the Spartans settled for a high ball screen with under 10 seconds on the shot clock, forcing Appling to heave one up or dish the ball to a teammate with few seconds to spare. Appling sealed the victory with a top-of-the-key three pointer with no high ball screen. The set almost looked like a designed isolation play, and Appling nailed it.

The senior guard and Detroit native played 43 minutes, shooting 6-11 from the field along with 6 rebounds and 7 assists. Appling’s presence on the floor creates a sense of security and comfort for Spartan fans. He correctly decides how to attack certain obstacles because of his experience. No situation that is thrown his way comes as a surprise due to his basketball IQ and Tom Izzo’s coaching and reliance on his point guard. Make no mistake about it: Michigan State is LOADED with talent. But far too many people underestimate the importance of having the proper captain to direct and lead the ship. Keith Appling does that night in and night out. Non-statistically, he’s a superstar. The same can be said of Keith Appling Tuesday night against Ohio State.

Who’s Hot

Sam Thompson, Ohio State

If you were fortunate enough to watch the Top 5 clash on ESPN Tuesday night, Dan Dakich correctly classified Thompson. Thompson doesn’t do one particular thing well; he’s just a solid basketball player. That, and the Whitney Young product can throw it down with the best of them.

Thompson had a wonderfully efficient game Tuesday night, going 7-10 from the field to finish with 18 points and 8 rebounds. Unquestionably, Aaron Craft dictates the aggressive, relentless and hellacious defense that Ohio State plays, particularly in their ball pressure and denying one pass away. Thompson had great success forcing tough possessions for Michigan State and was rewarded by registering 2 steals.

Offensively, Thompson is explosive in the open court due to his athleticism. His offensive game in the half-court flourishes more when he’s determined to get to the hole and use his great jumping ability to adjust mid-air and create chances.  He also seems to be another “glue” guy just like Appling, and Thompson’s offensive output was key to Ohio State’s comeback when Aaron Craft struggled from the field and was visibly frustrated.

Ben Brust, Wisconsin

Is there a more consistent performer during Big Ten play? Brust has a quick trigger and above-average range from deep. He always seems like a Wisconsin player that gets lost in the shuffle behind guys like Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky. A heady player who does a great job getting to the basket, Brust leads the Big Ten in three-pointers attempted and made. He takes care of the basketball better than any Badger, ranking 2nd in the conference in turnover percentage.

On the week, Brust went 11-20 from the field, including 7-14 from deep. He also recorded 10 rebounds, 4 assists and, in typical Badger fashion, zero turnovers. While Traveon Jackson handles most of the play-calling and ball handling, Brust is the guy barking out directions during timeouts and in huddles before free throws. He’s got a bit of attitude about him; it shows in his style of play and seems to be rubbing off on other players like freshman Nigel Hayes and Kaminsky. As a team, Wisconsin shoots tremendously from deep. But if I had to pick one guy on the Badgers to shooter a game-winner, I’d pick Brust.

Andre Hollins, Minnesota

Hollins’ offensive game is the quintessential formular for Big Ten success. First, shoot the ball well from deep to put added pressure on the defense. Hollins is 4th in the conference with 31 three-pointers made. Second, get to the basket and draw contact to shoot the easiest shot in basketball. It is free, after all. Hollins is 3rd in free throws attempted and 2nd in free throws made. In total, he scored 31 points, grabbed 7 rebounds 8 assists in Minnesota’s wins over Purdue and Penn State.

Who’s Not

Sherman Dillard, Andrew Francis, Kirk Speraw, Iowa Assistant Coaches

The inactions of these three individuals need to be discussed and chronicled. All the attention has been placed on Fran McCaffery losing his cool and somehow not spontaneously combusting. Any 9-year old watching that game probably stood up and applauded Fran’s tantrum, which from now on will be called a Frantrum.

The first mistake by Dillard, Francis, and Speraw was letting Fran get that close to an official during a timeout, and thus that far away from Iowa’s bench. The assistants have to know the boundaries better than a head coach, as the latter usually gets more emotionally wrapped up in poor officiating than the assistants. A point can be proven just as effectively from 12 feet away. All three referees could have heard Fran’s screaming if he was near the Hawkeyes’ huddle.

The second mistake these three made was their severe omission of acting in any way to get Fran away from the referees after the first technical happened. Sure, some will argue that both T’s happened in a split second, there was nothing anybody could do during the Frantrum because Fran was so off-the-wall. I still point the finger at those three for not stepping in between Fran and the middle ref, pulling Fran backwards, building a wall between with all three assistants to avoid any contact, or literally grabbing Fran by the collar and telling him to STFU.

The bottom line? A Top-25 team was left without their head coach playing in arguably the toughest arena in America. Three assistant coaches scrambled for the remaining 11 minutes to try to establish communication and leadership with their players on the floor. Wisconsin was awarded 4 free throws and scored (I believe) 3 free points from the free throws. The Kohl Center awoke from their evening slumber and started to generate ample noise. Wisconsin seized all the momentum of a game they never looked comfortable in. The night concluded with Iowa being robbed of the chance to win a potentially season-altering game because of adults acting like children.

Maybe Fran isn’t as seasoned or aware as Jon Beilein, who went on the record this week and said that he always remembers to keep his emotions in check because he doesn’t want to give the opposing team any free points. I also think that how severe this outburst was as well as the in-game and post-game punishments handed out will prevent another one happening for quite some time.

College basketball fans were treated to another bewildered head coach, as Tom Izzo almost lost it at the end of the first half Tuesday night. Dwayne Stephens, MSU’s associate head coach, pushed Izzo away from the refs and in the direction of his halftime interview. A quick shove prevented an altercation and left Izzo far enough away for the situation not to escalate.

Hey Dillard, Francis, and Speraw: how hard was that?

Kendall Stephens, Purdue

It’s safe to say that any Big Ten fan should understand how difficult it is for a freshman to transition from non-conference play to conference play. Scouting reports are detailed, teams know virtually every tendency of the opponent, and the talent level dramatically increases. It’s safe to say that Stephens, a top 60 recruit nationally coming out of high school, has hit the freshman wall.

Stephens and fellow freshman guard Bryson Scott were relied on by Matt Painter to try and kick-start Purdue during a sluggish first half at Minnesota. Stephens and Scott were both unable to contribute. But Stephens still is not shooting over 40% for the year despite being somewhat productive the previous 2 weeks. He didn’t shoot well this week, but his overall lack of production is making it hard for Painter to keep Stephens on the floor for more than 15 minutes per game.

Tre Demps, Northwestern

It’s almost becoming a waste to spend words typing about Northwestern basketball. How bad is it in Evanston? Tre Demps played 26 minutes against Wisconsin, went 1-7 from the field in a blowout, and 3 days later played 27 minutes, went 2-10 from the field in another 20+-point loss for the Wildcats.

Top 5 Sophomores

There is plenty of talent in the Big Ten Sophomore Class. Some of these guys became late bloomers during their Freshman year, making it unwise for them to declare for the NBA Draft. So far, Big Ten fans have been treated to a high level of basketball, thanks in large part to these 5:

1. Gary Harris, Michigan State

How smooth is that jumper? His movements are so fluid, he’s great at attacking the rim with either hand, and has great awareness in finding open teammates. Harris has shown he can play at the next level from how intricate he is using ball screens. He’s refined the old-school midrange game, and that has proven to be a solid compliment and buffer if the defense is packing the lane with big men.

2. Glenn Robinson III, Michigan

Arguably the best athlete in the Big Ten, GRIII likely won’t fall out of the lottery in this year’s draft. More pressure has been put on him offensively after Mitch McGary’s season-ending injury, but Robinson III has elite skill and all the tools to contribute significantly on offense.

3. Sam Dekker, Wisconsin

A versatile threat offensively, Dekker still amazes people with how athletic he is for his size and his build. He’s the go-to guy for Wisconsin in transition. Although that doesn’t occur frequently, Dekker is a threat in the open court. He’s a vastly underrated rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. Dekker’s efficiency and ability to stay out of foul trouble makes it hard for Bo Ryan to ever pull him out of the game.

4. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana

Besides Tim Frazier of Penn State, Yogi is heavily relied on for Indiana to win any basketball game. He’s basically Indiana’s only ballhandler, ignites the transition game and is the best on-ball defender for the Hoosiers. He’s relied on to create and score when Tom Crean’s offense becomes stagnant. For only being a Sophomore and taking on a much larger role compared to last year, Yogi has shown he’s one of the best of the Sophomore class.

5. Nik Stauskas, Michigan

Most likely the best three-point shooter in the Big Ten, Stauskas has helped alleviate the pressure from freshman Derrick Walton Jr. by taking on ball handling responsibility. He’s still prone to turn over the basketball, but his game off-the-dribble has improved steadily. Many don’t realize how tall Stauskas is for a guard, making it even more difficult to defend him at the arc.