Player of the Week:
Braden Smith, Purdue Boilermakers
While Purdue once again had a close contest with Northwestern, a team that’s become somewhat of a rival for Purdue over the last 2 seasons, Braden Smith and Zach Edey played phenomenal. Edey finished with 30 and 15, an average score for Zach Edey, but Smith had one of the best games of his college career that couldn’t have come at a better time. Just a few days removed from being left off of the finalist list for the Bob Cousy award, Smith went out and dished out 16 assists, making great pass after great pass. Just like Bob Cousy, none of it was too flashy. He just kept making the right decisions time and time again. Purdue coach Matt Painter said after the game: “If you think he’s the 11th best point guard in the country, I hope you get a job in the BIG10. That’s two more wins for us.”
I’m convinced that if the Huskers played in Lincoln, they could beat the 2018 Golden State Warriors. They are far and away the winningest team at home in the conference so far this season, with a record of 14-1. The next closest teams have 11 home wins this season. It certainly is to the benefit of Nebraska that they’ve played more home games than most other teams this season but it’s unfair to accredit their success just to being at home a lot. This team is resilient, and Keisei Tominaga seems like one of those guys that can scorch earth during March Madness and become a college household name. As a whole team, they shoot the three well, they have a plethora of options to score the ball, they play together and they don’t back down from any challenges. If they start to get wins on the road to end the regular season out, I don’t see how they don’t finish with a seed somewhere in the 6-8 range.
As February arrives, Purdue is getting closer and closer to crunch time. This season is absolutely make or break for this team. They’ve gotten the transfers, they have the elite guards, they have Edey for one final year and they’ve even managed to pick up the tough wins in the regular season that always elude them in March. Right now, they’ve won 6 straight after a nail-biting win again Northwestern. But that game against Northwestern is the key: do they have what it takes to win games against teams that want it more? I don’t think that anything will come down to numbers with Purdue this postseason, it’ll come down to if they’re properly prepared. Last season, we saw them almost lose the BIG10 championship to Penn State and then sputter out to FDU in historic fashion. But this year they have Lance Jones, and Braden Smith is playing so good, and Zach Edey is on a historic run, right? It’s all true, now we must wait and see.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Rutgers has followed up a pretty good 2022-23 season with a crap 2023-24 season, and they just hit their lowest point against Penn State. Coming into New Brunswick, the Nittany Lions had not gotten a road win the entire season. Then they waltzed into Jersey Mike’s Arena and held the Knights to 46 points. Rutgers scored 22 points at home in the second half of a game against one of their biggest rival schools. This has kinda been the story for Rutgers this season; slow, sloppy and ugly basketball until somebody walks out of there with a win. It’s important to note that the Nittany Lions were missing their best scorer in Kanye Cleary and one of their big men in Nick Kern Junior, both of whom are excellent defenders, and Penn State still held them to 46 points the whole game on SIX PERCENT SHOOTING FROM THREE. Rutgers fans are just hoping to get to next season to see the new class come in and get them something exciting to watch.
Ohio State Buckeyes
In their last 7 they’re 1-6, and January continues to haunt Buckeye fans everywhere. Shooting has dipped for the entire roster over the entire month and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Their elite backcourt from the first half of the season has floundered as the shooting around them has plummeted. They continue to play poorly in January year after year, and after a great start to the season it’ll be interesting to see if Holtmann’s job gets into jeopardy as it was at the end of last season. The recruiting portal had been a great success for the Buckeyes, but the wins haven’t been piling up as high as they looked that they would be in 2023. If the Buckeyes get their shooting on track they have enough talent to pick it back up but it hasn’t looked pretty this year and there hasn’t been many signs of life.
5. Northwestern Wildcats
Despite the loss to Purdue, the Cats loom large and can make a run this season if they play at their best.
4. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Home dogs are made for sleeping in. The Huskers rake in a lot of wins at home and are the best story in the conference this season.
3. Wisconsin Badgers
Despite the loss, Wisconsin continues to provethey’re resilient and are going to be a top 3 seed this March.
2. Illinois Fighting Illini
With TSJ back, the Illini are set to be a top contender in the tournament and have played great while adjusting to his return.
1. Purdue Boilermakers
Arguably the best team in the country.