Player of the Week
Brandon Paul, Illinois
This was a strange yet wonderful week in the Big Ten, highlighted by Paul’s ridiculous 43-point output Tuesday in a crucial 79-74 home win for the Illini against No. 6 Ohio State. It began a string of head-scratching results, including Minnesota beating No. 7 Indiana at Assembly Hall and Wisconsin getting back on track at Purdue. Illinois’ win put it at a somewhat-surprising 4-1 conference clip while Ohio State fell to 3-2.
But back to Paul. All he did was score 20 more points than his career high and 30 more than his season average coming in (12.1). He outscored Ohio State 15-8 in the game’s final 2:40. It was third-most points ever scored by an Illinois player, and most by any player against Ohio State since 1987. But nearly equally impressive about Paul was his effort on the defensive end. He totaled four blocks, including one late in the second half on Jared Sullinger that had Sullinger staring into the stands in disbelief.
11-of-15 from the field. 8-of-10 from three. 13-of-15 from the free-throw line. He also had seven turnovers, but hey, the Illini won the game. Everybody knew Paul had the talent and athleticism to go off like this, but it’s been missing in his first two seasons. His shots haven’t been falling — he came into Tuesday’s game making just 28.4 of his 3-point shots but wasn’t afraid to keep shooting. He attempts nearly five per game. Will he go 8-of-10 every game? No, but he seems to think it’s possible every time out.
In one game, Paul became Illinois’ leading scorer. He went from ranking third at 12.1 to 13.8. The big question moving forward is if this is a flash-in-the-pan moment or if it will give him the confidence to take over this team.
Draymond Green, Michigan State
The entire Spartans team probably deserves to be on this list, but Green has just been lights-out lately. With two double-double performances this past week, he averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds, dishing out seven assists and turning the ball over just two times. He’s almost averaging a double-double this season at 15.9 points and 9.8 rebounds per game as his team won its first four conference games.
Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
He averaged 24.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game as the Buckeyes went 1-1 the past two games. He also shot 22-of-34 (64.7 percent). Not bad despite the Buckeyes falling to 3-2 in the conference (I think they’ll be OK with how everyone’s lost — besides MSU — thus far).
Matt Roth, Indiana
The senior 3-point specialist has nailed six of his last seven 3-pointers and made all seven free-throw attempts on his way to 22 points in Indiana’s 88-82 win at Penn State on Sunday. He also had a career-high 22 points in that game. For the season, Roth has hit 20-of-34 (58.8 percent) of his long-range attempts, which leads the conference. His teammate Jordan Hulls is second on that list at 55.6 percent.
John Shurna, Northwestern
The Wildcats endured two heartbreaking losses this week (57-56 vs. Illinois and 66-64 in overtime at Michigan), but it wasn’t because Shurna fell down on the job. The 6-9 senior forward posted back-to-back 20-point efforts (20 vs. Illinois; 21 vs. Michigan), had a combined 13 rebounds and six blocks, and shot 17-of-32 (53.1 percent) from the field, including 5-of-10 from three. Shurna needs more help from teammates not named Drew Crawford. The Big Ten’s No. 1 and No. 3 scorers handle 51.4 percent of the Wildcats’ points. It doesn’t get much easier, either. The Wildcats host Michigan State on Saturday and travel to Wisconsin on Tuesday.
Tim Frazier, Penn State
The do-everything junior guard for the Nittany Lions had a career-high 30 points Wednesday at Nebraska on 10-of-14 shooting. He also had six rebounds and assists and four assists. But he also had five turnovers, probably because he had the ball 75 percent of the time for Penn State. He also had 21 points and seven assists Sunday in a four-point loss at home to Purdue. The rest of Penn State’s starters had a combined 10 points at Nebraska. He now ranks second in conference scoring behind Shurna at 18.1 per game.
Verdell Jones, Indiana
He had a combined five points and six turnovers in the last two games as the Hoosiers survived Penn State 88-82 on the road and dropped a home game 77-74 against unranked Minnesota. He had six assists against the Nittany Lions, but just one Thursday against the Gophers. He’s 1-for-8 from the field in that span. For the season, the senior guard is averaging 8.2 points and 3.5 assists per game. He’s also turning the ball over nearly three times per game.
Christian Watford, Indiana
The junior forward has been key all season for the surprising Hoosiers, but made just three of his past 17 shots the past week, including a 1-for-7 effort in the loss against Minnesota. He also was kept off the glass with only three rebounds and turned the ball over four times.
Evan Smotrycz, Michigan
His team won both its games the past week, but the sophomore forward’s shooting is cooling down. Smotrycz got just two of his 13 shots through the basket in those games, including 1-of-8 from long range. He’s now shooting 49.1 percent on threes (27-of-55) and 50 percent from the field while averaging 9.9 points and 6.5 rebounds.
Top 5 Big Ten rebounders
1. Draymond Green, Michigan State
He’s just 6-7, but also the Big Ten’s most physical player. He also is a master at keeping a play alive by tipping the ball to himself or a teammate. He has the most offensive rebounds in the conference (42; 2.5 per game) and leads the conference in total rebounding at 9.8. He has 18 more rebounds (167) than the next-closest player (Sullinger with 149). He’s ranked in the top three in Big Ten rebounding per game the past three seasons. He was third in the conference in 2010-11 at 8.6 and third his sophomore year at 7.7.
2. Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Sullinger’s rebounding numbers this season (9.3 per game) are down a bit from his stellar freshman season in which he ranked second in the Big Ten at 10.2. But through five Big Ten games, Sullinger is at 9.6 rebounds per game compared to a 9.2 clip in last year’s first five — and he still ranks second, so there’s no reason to worry his slimmer frame is hurting him down low.
3. Cody Zeller, Indiana
The 6-11 freshman has shown he’s Big Ten ready down low, but also still developing. He ranks fifth in the conference at 6.5 rebounds per game. He’s very solid on the offensive glass, lots of times swooping in and then finding a way to score. He’s grabbed 38 on the offensive side.
4. Rodney Williams, Minnesota
Williams has found his calling on the boards. The 6-7 forward averaged just 3.5 per game last year and only 2.7 before Trevor Mbakwe went down seven games into this season. Since then, he’s grabbed an average of 7.9 per game and has come on strong in Big Ten play — averaging 8.8 and getting into double figures on the boards twice (14 vs. Purdue; 12 vs. Iowa). He’s got a knack for keeping possessions alive on the offensive end and skying against larger forwards for the ball on the defensive end.
5. Meyers Leonard, Illinois
At 7-1, Leonard has a little bit of advantage on the boards. His rebounding positioning is a work in progress, though. Since opening the Big Ten with 11 rebounds against Minnesota, he grabbed an average of 6.25 in the next four. He ranks third in the conference at 7.8.
WISCONSIN GETS IT DONE: With a 67-62 Thursday triumph, the Badgers ended Purdue’s 26-game winning streak at Mackey Arena, which was the fifth-longest active streak in the country. It was Purdue’s first home loss since Feb. 28, 2010 vs. Michigan State. Wisconsin had lost seven in a row at Purdue. It ended a three-game losing streak in the Big Ten.
SO DOES MINNESOTA: The Gophers avoided an 0-5 conference start by knocking off No. 7 Indiana 77-74 on Thursday. The Hoosiers were previously undefeated in 12 games on its home floor this season. Austin Hollins’ career-high 18 points led the Gophers, who controlled the offensive glass by grabbing 16. It was Hollins’ first double-digit scoring game since Dec. 13 against Central Michigan. Freshman Joe Coleman also added four key free throws down the stretch. The victory was Minnesota’s first against a top 10 team on the road since 1981.