Player of the Week
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana
After several recent slip-ups and the loss of O.G. Anunoby to a torn ACL, the Hoosiers needed a pair of wins this week, with one game at home and another against Penn State, and James Blackmon made sure they got those two wins. The Penn State game was a little too close for comfort, but Blackmon hit the game-winning three to put it away. He then matched his career high in scoring with 33 against Michigan State as the Hoosiers held off the Spartans. This week, he shot 17/30 (57%) from the field and 11/21 (52%) from outside. With 18.3 PPG, the junior sits at third in the conference in scoring, and overall, has had an excellent comeback season after missing most of Big Ten play last season due to injury. The Hoosiers are on their way back to the top of the conference rankings, it would seem, but it will take more of Blackmon’s hot shooting to seal up their tournament spot in the final month and a half of the regular season.
Zak Irvin, Michigan
This Michigan team was looking awful mediocre coming into this week, and would’ve liked to get a signature win on the road against Wisconsin. They couldn’t get it, but they did play the Badgers awful close thanks to the heroics of star guard Zak Irvin, who put up 20 against the Badgers. He added 15 more as the Wolverines bounced back against the Illini to bring their record to 13-7 overall. This is still very much a bubble team, but Irvin is a good bet for all-Big Ten honors. He sits at 9th in the conference in scoring and is the leader of a Wolverines team that has a lot of experience and can really make the conference elite sweat on any given night.
Robert Johnson, Indiana
James Blackmon had an excellent week, but right there with him leading the charge was his backcourt mate Robert Johnson. Johnson scored 17 in each of the Hoosiers’ matchups this week, on a combined 13/26 (50%) from the field and 6/11 (55%) from outside. He will be expected to pick up a lot of the slack following the Anunoby injury, and he’s more than capable of doing so. While Blackmon and Thomas Bryant may grab the headlines, Johnson is one of the more unsung guards in the Big Ten.
Isaac Haas, Purdue
Last year, it was A.J. Hammons getting all the recognition among Purdue big men, and this year, it’s Caleb Swanigan receiving all the accolades. For a 7’2” guy, Isaac Haas has sometimes gone overlooked. And to be fair, he’s had his struggles, even in his junior season, with turnovers and finishing around the rim. But this week was a dominant one for the Purdue big man, putting up a career-high 24 against Illinois, then putting in some good minutes against Penn State, scoring 8 on 3/3 shooting. He’s one of the nation’s best in earning trips to the line, where he shoots a solid 71%, and he’s been an excellent complement to Swanigan ever since Haas began coming off the bench.
Tracy Abrams, Illinois
After a strong start to the year in which he looked like he would be the 2nd option to Malcolm Hill, Tracy Abrams seems to have lost his way. The 24-year-old senior has shot under 34% in each of his past 5 games, totaling a mere 12 points TOTAL in that span and shooting 4/24 (17%), as well as 0/9 from outside. Since December 17th, Abrams has only hit more than 1 field goal in a game one time, despite averaging over 20 minutes a game in that span. Abrams’ struggles are quite perplexing, but he is still an experienced veteran and he still averages 9.3 PPG, so this team is going to need his production if they are going to climb into NCAA tournament conversation.
Top 5 Coaches
1) Tom Izzo, Michigan State
Until he retires or another coach wins a national championship, he’s probably gonna hold this title. He’s the king of winning a lot with only above-average talent, and this year, he’s got some amazing talent, but it’s young talent, so if he can bring this team together in time to make another deep tournament run, it will be one of his best coaching jobs yet in the wake of Denzel valentine’s graduation.
2) Matt Painter, Purdue
For a coach whose teams have always found their identity in being tough defensively, it’s been fascinating to see this year’s Purdue team win games with efficient, unselfish offense and high scores. They are currently 24th in points per game out of over 350 Division I teams, and they are shooting the lights out and getting assists on an enormous percentage of their baskets. Matt Painter generally seems to turn lower-end top 100 recruits into stars, or at least very serviceable supporting players, and he has one of his best teams ever this year, led by one of his best recruits ever in Caleb Swanigan. Now all he needs to do is win in the postseason.
3) John Beilein, Michigan
His team isn’t really standing out from the pack this season, but even without a Nik Stauskas or a Trey Burke or a Caris LeVert, they are having a solid year and are a good bet to make the tournament once again. Beilein doesn’t always have huge or athletic guys, but his teams always rain threes and win a lot of games and even have postseason success. He’s one of few coaches in the conference with a Final 4 appearance, and that run was hardly an outlier.
4) Greg Gard, Wisconsin
Gard was very unproven when he took over for Bo Ryan in the middle of last season, but rather than allowing the team to continue to sink into mediocrity, he turned things around, got them into the tournament, and made a run to the Sweet Sixteen once there. This season, he does have a pretty stacked starting 5, but he also is doing a great job of keeping his team focused and not losing games they shouldn’t lose. Wisconsin still has just as strong a chance as anybody to win a tight Big Ten race this year, and he’s a large part of that.
5) Tom Crean, Indiana
With an honorable mention going to Richard Pitino, Fran McCaffery, Chris Collins, and Mark Turgeon, Tom Crean has been to a Final Four way back when, and has architected several other teams that made their way into the Top 5 at some point. Though his teams don’t always perform in the postseason, and though Crean is often labeled as more of a good recruiter than a good X’s and O’s coach, his teams are consistently pretty great, and he helped turned an ailing IU program around very quickly after he arrived. This season has been a little rough for the Hoosiers, but that same struggling team was able to raise their game enough to beat Kansas and UNC, and a big part of that is due to their coach.