Player of the WeekJordan Taylor
With 13:21 left in Saturday’s big game, Wisconsin was down 15 points at home to top team in the country. The Badgers had scored 32 points in close to 27 minutes, and defensively had no answer for Jared Sullinger. Jordan Taylor then led a run left no doubt about the caliber of player he has become and the potential of the 2011 Wisconsin team. Over the next ten minutes, the Badgers outscored Ohio State 32-12. During that time, Taylor had 18 points on 6-6 shooting with 3 assists that led to another 8 points. His only missed shot during that time was a free throw, and in true Jordan Taylor form was turnover free over the span. Ever since Big Ten play started, Taylor has played at an All-American level. In conference play, he is now averaging 20.8 PPG (2nd in the league), 4.9 APG (5th in the league), and 4.5 RPG with incredible efficiency statistics. He is shooting 46 percent from the floor, 43 percent from 3, and 84 percent from the line to give him a true field goal percentage of 62.5 percent and an efficiency field goal percentage of 55.2 percent. Taylor led the Big Ten in assist-to-turnover ratio last season with a 2.8:1 mark, and this year is at an unbelievable 4.2:1 ratio.
While the loss takes perfection off the table for Ohio State, it does not alter their position as the top team in the Big Ten and clear #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. They are also still the favorites to win it, because they still have the most dominant big man in the country with shooters all around him. They simply got out-starred on Saturday when Taylor went on that run. The win for Wisconsin, however, highlights the point made in last week’s blog about his development being the catalyst behind this Badger team being capable of going deep in March. Taylor’s extremely productive and efficient scoring and playmaking has Wisconsin at the top of several impressive categories. The team is currently ranked as the most efficient offensive team in the country with Ken Pomeroy recording that on average they score 123.2 points per 100 possessions. Connected to that statistic is that there is also no team that is turning the ball over on fewer possessions than Wisconsin’s 13.6 percent. It cannot be understated how valuable a point guard is who can be so involved in the offense and simply not make mistakes. In many ways, the only thing separating the play of Jordan Taylor and Jimmer Fredette is the pace at which their teams play. The pace of play does matter to perception, because Fredette is now a national sensation (and frankly deservedly so) but Taylor did not even get named as a finalist for the Cousy Award. If nothing else, the win over Ohio State was a nationally televised announcement of how great he and Wisconsin can be.
Michigan trying to make a late run
While it appeared that a six game losing streak in January would effectively end the Michigan season, the Wolverines have put together a string where they have won five of six to now put them at 16-10 and 6-7 in league play. It gives them a ray of hope for an NCAA and at least a likely place in the NIT. Darius Morris and Tim Hardaway Jr. have fueled the latest run with stellar play. Morris has averaged 13.2 PPG, 5.8 RPG, and 6.3 APG over the last six games. Hardaway has put in 16.7 PPG on 47.9 percent shooting and 18-38 from three. This past week, Michigan took care of two home games in mostly dominating but also frustrating fashion. In both games, they jumped out to big, comfortable leads and allowed the opponent back late. In the Northwestern game, they held a 67-52 lead with five minutes to go. The combination of bad defensive play and turnovers allowed the Wildcats to go on a 14-0 run to cut the lead to one in less than three minutes. The Wolverines were able to right the ship and held on to win 75-66. Indiana posted a late run after the Wolverines put together a 66-44 lead with 5:26 to go, but even with the miserable foul shooting of the team (Tim Hardaway Jr. remarkably was 9-11 from the field, 4-6 from three, but 4-9 from the line) never allowed Indiana to have the ball with a chance to tie. In as much as the late collapses would signal the vulnerability of the team, they have showed signs of life at a time when many Big Ten teams are falling off.
The continued decline of the Big Ten middle
Michigan is the only Big Ten team from the middle of the pack that is clearly headed in the right direction. Illinois, Michigan State, Minnesota, Penn State, and Northwestern have stumbled of late. Illinois had a 1-1 week with a costly home loss to Purdue, and have lost six of their last nine games. Michigan State had their best overall performance in over a month against Penn State, but has a road game at Ohio State on Tuesday and a bubble battle with Illinois on Saturday. Minnesota broke its four game losing streak with a road win at Iowa, but that came when Rodney Williams showed up and had a big game logging 13 points, 5 assists, and 7 rebounds. The Gophers are now 6-0 this season when Williams scores in double figures. With no true point guard left in their mix, they need all the creators they can find to aid their big men. The team certainly cannot have one of their most talented players struggle the way he did over the previous four games. The hot and cold Nittany Lions sealed their fate during their recent three game slide, and have work to do in order to finish the regular season with a winning record. Northwestern has all but assured itself of being an NIT team with a 0-2 week against the Wolverines and Penn State. They are now 4-9 in league play.
Draymond Green became only the third Michigan State player to record a triple-double, joining Magic Johnson and Charlie Bell. Green had 15 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists against Penn State on Thursday night.
Illinois Head Coach Bruce Weber benched seniors Demetri McCamey and Mike Tisdale for the start of their Thursday night game with Minnesota. McCamey had been 20-69 from the field in the month prior to the game and the Illini. He responded well with 17 points on 6-11 shooting and added 4 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals to get Illinois a big road win. The good play did not carry over to Sunday when he once again struggled with his shot making only one of his ten shot attempts.
Trevor Mbakwe extended his run of soli play with two good games this week. He had 17 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, and a steal in a loss to Illinois. He followed it up with a dominant second half of basketball scoring 22 of his game high 24 after half time. The conference’s leading rebounder also added 5 rebounds, 2 assists, and a steal in the game.