Player of the Week
John Shurna, Northwestern
The Big Ten’s leading scorer put up 28 points on 9-of-13 shooting to keep the Wildcats away from a fourth straight loss on Thursday night against Nebraska. We all know he can go off like this at any given time, but this was his first game scoring more than 22 points since Dec. 18 against Eastern Illinois and his third this season (the Wildcats are 3-0 in those games). He had scored more than 22 eight times at the same point in last season’s schedule. Since the start of last season, Northwestern is 11-2 when Shurna scores above that mark. He also scored 15 points Saturday in a 58-56 heartbreaker against Purdue.
But it was more about how Shurna scored those points that matters. He went 7-of-8 from the free-throw line. Northwestern is 5-0 this season when Shurna makes at least five free throws, a sign of him not totally relying on his 3-point shot (which ranks seventh in the Big Ten at 42.7 percent). He’s attempted the fourth-most 3-pointers (131) in the conference, behind Michigan’s Tim Hardaway Jr., Purdue’s Ryne Smith and Illinois’ D.J. Richardson — with good reason. But when he starts getting to the basket like he did Thursday against Nebraska, good things happen. He had several nice drives that helped put the Huskers away, and maneuvered his way down low for an offensive rebound and tip-in late in the game.
Coach Bill Carmody knows Northwestern (13-8, 3-6 Big Ten, 10th place) can’t afford to sit Shurna, who has played an average 39.3 minutes per game in Big Ten games, and is on the floor for 96.9 percent of the time, both tops in the conference. Shurna stays out of foul trouble and doesn’t turn the ball over — hard to do when you’re the go-to guy. In the past five games, he’s only turned the ball over four times, while dishing out 12 assists.
Cody Zeller, Indiana
The freshman had a career-high 26 points on 11-of-12 shooting, including eight dunks, in a 103-89 rout of Iowa on Sunday in which the Hoosiers eclipsed the century mark in a Big Ten game for the first time since March 12, 1995, also against the Hawkeyes. Zeller also added his first double-double since Indiana’s season opener by scoring 11 points and grabbing 12 rebounds Wednesday in a loss at Michigan. However, he also had a career-high four turnovers in Ann Arbor.
Drew Crawford, Northwestern
The senior and Big Ten’s third-leading scorer at 17.3 per game had a big week for the Wildcats, who went 1-1 at home. He led his team with 23 points in a heartbreaking 58-56 loss against Purdue on Saturday, then had 21 in an 84-74 victory over Nebraska on Thursday that supplemented teammate John Shurna’s 28-point performance. Crawford bounced back from a season-low, five-point performance at Minnesota in which he shot 2-of-10 to make 16 of his next 31 shots in those two performances. This included an 8-for-14 performance from beyond the arc.
Minnesota team leader Rodney Williams grabbed just three rebounds in two games this past week, a 77-72 win over Illinois and the other a 63-59 loss at Iowa. Williams has picked up the slack for Trevor Mbakwe on the boards all season, coming into the week leading the Gophers at 5.8 per game. The Hawkeyes outrebounded the Gophers 37-34 despite ranking 10th in the Big Ten in rebounding margin this season. He also averaged seven points in the pair of games, shooting 6-of-13 despite entering the week at a 58.4 percent clip.
Will Sheehey, Indiana
He’s averaging four points in his past three games on just 3-of-12 shooting despite getting his first two starts of the season in the Hoosiers’ pair of games this past week. He put up a goose egg in Indiana’s loss at Michigan on Wednesday and also had no rebounds in just 10 minutes — and only 2 in the second half. The 6-6 sophomore forward from Stuart, Fla., is now averaging 9.5 points and 3.1 rebounds.
Top 5 most improved players
1. Meyers Leonard, Illinois
Leonard hardly got off the bench last season as a 7-foot-1 freshman, but he’s now in the conversation as a legitimate lottery pick whose stock can only get higher the longer he develops at Illinois. He averaged just 2.1 points per game last season in 8.2 minutes per game but is now at 13 points and eight rebounds (third in the conference), and defensively he’s no slouch either. He gets more than two blocks per game, a Big Ten best.
2. DeShaun Thomas, Ohio State
Thomas looked like he was trying to do too much last year as a freshman, and it resulted in a mediocre 7.5 points on 47.9 percent shooting in about 14 minutes per game. This season, he’s been much smarter with the ball, shooting 54 percent and grabbing more than a rebound more per game. He’s up to 14.6 points per game (12th in the Big Ten) and is crashing the offensive boards a lot more, getting 2.1 on the that glass per game, eighth in the league.
3. Devyn Marble, Iowa
Marble came to Iowa last season as a freshman as a 6-foot-6 work in progress. The son of Iowa’s all-time leading scorer, Roy Marble, Devyn is now third in assist-to-turnover ratio in the league at 2.6 and grabbed ahold of a starting spot earlier this season when Bryce Cartwright went down with an injury. He hasn’t let it go. Marble is a big reason the Hawkeyes are no longer the laughing stock of the Big Ten anymore. After averaging 5.7 points and shooting just 37.8 percent from the field last season, Marble is up to 11.4 per game and is shooting 43.8 percent. His assists per game have increased by two per game and his rebounds are up by more than one. On the defensive end, he gets 1.5 per game, which ranks seventh in the Big Ten. He’s scored in double figures 15 times this season after doing that in just five games last season.
4. Derrick Nix, Michigan State
It’s never been about talent with Nix, it’s been about his will to improve himself. He’s been overweight often in his career, but put in the work in the offseason and it’s paying off for the 6-foot-9 junior. His minutes have increased by more than 10 per game, his points by five, and his rebounds by two. He supplements Draymond Green’s rebounding prowess nicely off the bench, and he’s scored in double figures eight times this season after doing it just twice the previous two seasons of his career in East Lansing.
5. Keith Appling, Michigan State
Appling didn’t have a bad freshman season by any means, but he definitely had room for improvement, especially when it came to being more assertive on offense. Despite struggles in the Spartans’ past two games, Appling has gotten the memo. He attempts more than four more field goals per game and scores more than five more points per game than last season. His assists have increased by more than two per game as well. He’s eighth in the conference in assists and one of the Big Ten’s best free-throw shooters.
Since Tom Crean took over at Indiana in 2008, the Hoosiers are 2-31 on the road in Big Ten games, with the only two wins coming at Penn State. They’re 1-5 this season with games at Purdue (Saturday), Iowa (Feb. 19) and Minnesota (Feb. 25) remaining. … Minnesota freshman Joe Coleman had scored in seven straight games, starting six of them, for an average of 12.4 before going scoreless Wednesday in a 63-59 loss at Iowa. He attempted just two field goals and didn’t get to the line, where he had averaged 7.3 makes per game in the same span.