Player of the Week
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
There’s the Ethan Happ we have been waiting to see! The one that is so dominant that it doesn’t matter if all the guys around him are talented but young and inexperienced and unable to help him in the way that Nigel Hayes and Bronson Koenig did last season. The competition wasn’t great in the Badgers’ last couple weeks, but following easy wins over Chicago State and UMass-Lowell, they handled Indiana in what was Happ’s signature performance of the season as he put in 28 points. Since our last blog post, Happ has averaged 21.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 4.3 APG, and 2 SPG with 66% shooting. Some things never change as he shot just over 50% on free throws in that span, but he was truly dominant and went out and got the Badgers wins when they were desperately in need of them. The record is back to a respectable 9-7 but there’s still a long ways to go for these Badgers.
Charles Matthews, Michigan
Quite possibly the most important transfer to the Big Ten this season, Matthews has been getting buckets of late. His breakout performance came against lowly Alabama A&M, as Matthews just has his way with them on his way to 31 points off of 12/15 shooting. He followed it up with 9/15 shooting for 18 points along with 7 rebounds in another easy win over Jacksonville. Finally, playing their first significant opponent since Texas on the 12/12, Matthews scored 14 in the road win over Iowa. He has been remarkably efficient, shooting the ball at a 56% clip this season and getting it done from the inside and the outside. The 54% mark from the free throw stripe is unsightly, but Matthews looks like one of the best guards in the Big Ten, especially when you back up his 16 PPG with impressive rebounding and assist totals and elite perimeter defense.
Carsen Edwards, Purdue
The 6’0” sophomore has been phenomenal this season, especially against the weak competition at the back half of Purdue’s non-conference schedule. He’s a wizard with the ball and creates looks for himself with ease. Purdue has won two games by an average of 40.5 points since the last edition of this blog, and in that time, Edwards has led the way with 22 PPG on 63% shooting. Incredibly, Edwards has been just as efficient from inside the arc (63%) as 7’2” all-conference hopeful Isaac Haas has as a back-to-the-basket center. Meanwhile, his three-point shooting has been a robust 37%. And while he doesn’t have a lot of length and still shows his inexperience defensively, his quickness allows him to shadow opposing ballhandlers pretty tightly. Somehow, the flashy leading scorer is getting overshadowed by some of his teammates, but Edwards is the real deal.
Tyler Cook, Iowa
Cook has been the lead guy for Iowa since the day Peter Jok left campus but he hasn’t always looked comfortable in that star player role. But in the past few weeks, the offense has been running through him, and he has been thriving. He is averaging 19 PPG on 69% shooting in his last three games. They dropped one to Michigan, which is understandable, but also took down respectable Northern Illinois and Colorado teams in that span, both of which were good tests for an inexperienced Hawkeyes team. The NCAA Tournament is a long shot for Iowa at this point, but there is plenty of room for optimism as they build around young stars like Cook.
Tony Carr, Penn State
Carr is putting up gaudy scoring totals as he has done all season. But they aren’t exactly translating into wins, and his inefficeinecy as a scorer has told the story. Though he shot the ball well (7/9) en route to 21 points in 18 minutes of action in an easy win against Coppin State, he made a combined 9/37 (24%) in his other two games since our last post, and you can’t tell this writer that other options wouldn’t have put the ball in the basket at a more efficient rate. As a pretty direct result of those two performances, the Nittany Lions fell in a tough and probably expected road loss to Maryland, but also dropped a home game by one point to Rider of the MAAC conference. Carr’s 18.7 PPG this season are impressive but his shooting has dipped to 42%, and the defenses are only going to get longer and more athletic. He brings shot creating ability in a way that no one else on this roster does, but he also needs to learn to be a little more discerning in what shots to take to carry this offense.
Devonte Green, Indiana
Coming into the year, Green, a key bench contributor last season, had the opportunity to step up and help fill the void left by the departure of James Blackmon Jr. as a big-time perimeter scorer. He showed flashes of being that guy against Seton Hall and Arkansas State early in the year. But inconsistent shooting has coincided with a slight dip in playing time, seeing 22, 18, and 10 minutes in his three games since the last edition of this blog. In that span, he shot 3/20 (15%) and hit 1 of 10 three’s. He hasn’t hit over 50% of his shots in a game all season and is currently shooting 34% from the field and 29% from outside while also averaging 2 turnovers a game in 22 minutes of action. The Hoosiers backcourt is full of streaky gunners so there will be plenty of chances for Green to regain his minutes, but right now, his production isn’t helping solve any of the Hoosiers’ myriad issues.
Top 5 NBA Prospects
1) Jaren Jackson Jr., Michigan State
Finding himself in our latest mock lottery with teammate Miles Bridges is the freshman Jaren Jackson Jr. He’s long (7’4” wingspan), he’s athletic, and he can stretch the floor when necessary with his range. He has only had a couple months to prove himself, but continued improvement and strong supporting play in the coming months could cement his status as a 2018 lottery pick and see him leaving for the pros this summer.
2) Miles Bridges, Michigan State
Unsurprisingly, the athletic small forward continues to be one of the premiere draft prospects in the league. His play has done nothing to worsen his status, and he is probaly the most sure-fire lottery pick in the Big Ten.
3) Bruno Fernando, Maryland
He’s big and powerful, shows touch on his shot and he’s only 19. Bruno Fernando is already an imposing inside presence for a Terrapins team that desperately needed one, and he is improving with seemingly every game. His minutes and confidence keep rising, and with more chances to prove himself, he could leave this year, although right now, that would be a move very much based on upside and not what he’s been able to produce on the court so far.
4) Charles Matthews, Michigan
We’ve touched on Matthews already in terms of his importance to the Michigan team, but as far as his NBA prospects, his skills translate well to the pros. He’s a big, strong shooting guard who has the body and the composure to succeed at the next level. He’s not a great shooter yet but all in all, he makes a difference on both ends of the floor and will continue to lead Michigan to great things and may build his rep for the 2019 draft when he graduates.
5) Moritz Wagner, Michigan
Wagner is another interesting Wolverines prospect. He might be a little more likely to make the jump to the pros this season than Matthews due to his unique skillset. He’s got good power forward size with consistent range that stretches out beyond the arc, as well as a decent array of post moves, though his rebounding and athleticism might limit his chances. It’s likely we will see both Michigan stars back next year but it’s also very possible we see each in an NBA jersey someday.