Player of the Week: Glenn Robinson III

With a tough non-conference week for the Big Ten, four-loss Michigan’s performance against Arizona reaffirms how deep and talented the Big Ten Conference is.

On a more personal level, Glenn Robinson III was smoking Saturday afternoon (or morning for you Pacific coasters). GRIII finished with 20 points on 8-9 shooting and grabbed 4 defensive rebounds. It’s worthy to note his efficiency – he was a perfect 7-7 from the field in the first half and gave Michigan a 9-point lead.  Saturday’s game allowed us to take a deep breath. Glenn Robinson III’s game is just as good as we thought it could be.

Early in the first half, GRIII initiated his offensive game in the midrange area. On one possession, he gave Aaron Gordon (read: Blake Griffin Jr.) a shot fake, then made a tremendously quick first step with his right foot, one of GRIII’s best attributes, and laid the ball in on the right side with his right hand. He became somewhat of a mismatch for Gordon as the half continued because GRIII kept extending himself from the basket to create more space for the dribble drive.

Once a smaller defender was assigned to GRIII, he drew the defender completely away from the basket, opened up driving lanes for Nik Stauskas and Derrick Walton Jr., and spot up behind the arc to bury threes. His 2nd and final three of the game came from GRIII at the top of the key, taking two hard dribbles to his right inside the arc, stepping back a foot behind the arc, setting his feet, pulling up, and draining one with a taller defender in his face as time expired in the first half.

Playing defense against GRIII is becoming more “Pick your Poison” as he continues to fill it up from deep. Early in the game if he establishes his midrange game and can keep attacking the paint, he’s able to build his foundation and expand the offensive repertoire in the second half.

Who’s Hot

Aaron White, Iowa

In a game that arguably ends up being the “Best Non-Conference Game Between Two Ranked, In-State Schools” for 2013, White finished with a monstrous 25 points (on 11-15 shooting from the field, including one from deep) and 17 rebounds. It’s no surprise the game the final score was 85-82 with Iowa State prevailing because Iowa State is first in the nation in points per game while Iowa is 5th.

White was the main contributor to the Hawkeyes’ interior scoring but did a tremendous job establishing position early in defensive possession to haul in defensive boards. Fred Hoiberg-coached teams like to use the brute strength of their frontcourt players and establish control in the paint. White continuously scraped and clawed with the bigger bodies around him. White is quicker and more athletic than what meets the eye. Coupling those traits with a good feel for the game possession-by-possession, White’s fantastic performance almost helped Iowa pull out a big victory in Ames.

Tim Frazier, Penn State

Penn State kicked it old school this past week when they hosted Princeton at Rec Hall in Happy Valley. For you (basketball) junkies, the history behind the bandbox is worth learning about. Having never seen it in any capacity before, I scrolled through pictures of the “Return to Rec.” I’ll never know how that place passes any OSHA inspection with that many kids so close to the court.

Anyways, Tim Frazier, Penn State’s basketball heart and soul, was unable to lead the Nittany Lions to a win against Princeton in Rec Hall. Despite the team’s lack of success, Frazier went 8-11 from the follow line, finishing with 24 points and 6 assists. Earlier in the week against in-stater DuQuesne, Frazier posted his third double-double of the year, scoring 11 points and dishing out 13 assists. Frazier’s current rankings in the Big Ten prove his necessity: Minutes Played (1st), Assists (1st) Free Throw Attempts (1st), Offensive Win Shares (1st), Points (2nd), Steals (3rd), and Field Goal % (8th). As the year progresses, Frazier’s rankings will only continue to increase.

Who’s Not

Ronnie Johnson, Purdue

In Purdue’s loss to Butler, the entire Boilermakers team struggled shooting. But besides Terone Johnson’s dominant performance scoring 20 points, Ronnie Johnson played the most minutes in Purdue’s backcourt and finished 1-7 from the field with 1 assist and 4 personal fouls. Johnson followed up that performance going 1-9 from the field against Maryland-Eastern Shore. Yikes.

The 6’0” sophomore guard is surprisingly shooting better from the field so far compare to last year (38.5% to 40.2%) but he’s attempting less shots per game while not contributing as much in both rebounds and steals. Granted, he is a point guard and has done a better job distributing the ball to Terone Johnson and A.J. Hammons. Should a point guard like Johnson be 4th in the conference with 91 field goals attempted on the year? That’s the exact same number as Illinois’ Rayvonte Rice. It all depends on whether Matt Painter wants to mold Johnson as a scoring-first point guard or a distributor and facilitator.

Top 5 Gift-Givers

Santa is coming this week. My mandatory Holiday movies: Christmas Vacation, Home Alone, It’s A Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story, Jingle All The Way, and The Muppet Family Christmas.

What Big Ten players personify Russ Griswold and assist the best?

1. Aaron Craft, Ohio State: Although I’m not qualified to assume this, but Craft may be the best bounce-passer in the nation. He’s money with it on backdoor cuts, post entries, and drop-offs after a drive. The best facilitators are those that have the mental capacity and ability to truly understand the game. Craft watches film differently than others because he’s just an intelligent human being. From a mental perspective, Craft is one of the best at reading defenses, anticipating the next move, and using physical attributes to put the ball in the best spot for a teammate. It’s borderline robotic and an absolute joy to watch when Craft is dialed in.

2. Keith Appling, Michigan State: Tom Izzo has always demanded so much of Keith Appling. In Appling’s early years, Izzo would drape his arm around Appling during free throws or squat down and have animated conversations with the young point guard. Appling understands those moments have helped him become the elite point guard he is today.

A bit more non-traditional and unconventional than Craft’s style of passing, Appling still nearly always puts the ball in the perfect pocket for his teammates. Today, he’s less risk averse in the open court because he’s personally more comfortable making those plays and has better athletes around him.

Since 2011, Appling has finished in the Top 10 in assists. He’s currently ranked 5th in the conference in total assists and 3rd in assists per game. He’s got the highest assist percentage for a point guard in the Big Ten, ranking 4th at 27.7%.

3. Traevon Jackson, Wisconsin: “Wait, who’s this gut that’s Wisconsin’s point guard?” That was a common contention during the beginning of last year’s Big Ten play for many Wisconsin opponents. Jackson quickly become known in many Midwestern households for his lefty bounce passes on backdoors and understanding how important it is to value the basketball.

Blessed with top-notch basketball genes, the son of former Ohio State guard Jim Jackson is currently 2nd in the Big Ten with 55 assists and 9th in the Big Ten in turnovers. What’s most amazing is Jackson’s ability to pile up the assists while working within the flow of Bo Ryan’ Flex offense. The offense does not require a true point guard to create opportunities for himself and his teammates. Through the system, Jackson is still able to dish it out to a plethora of talented basketball players.

4. Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: Does playing with Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls inflate your assist statistics or accelerate a point guard’s expectations to properly distribute the basketball? I’d say it’s a little bit of both, and Yogi Ferrell is still one of the best in the Big Ten. He does such a good job of beating his defender off the dribble, creating numbers in the offense’s favor and locating the open man after defensive rotations. He’s extremely strong for his size and loves to put some zip on the ball. He’ll become sloppy at time, especially in the fast break and his decision-making on ball-screen passing. But Ferrell currently sits in the Top 10 for assists per game and assist percentage.

5. DeAndre Mathieu, Minnesota: The former Morehead State point guard has truly impressed so far this year. Mathieu is 3rd in the Big Ten with 54 assists. The Hollins brothers combined have 64 assists. What’s reassuring so far is that Mathieu can perform solidly against good competition. In Minnesota’s three marquee matchups so far (Syracuse, Arkansas, and Florida State), Mathieu has 14 assists and 5 turnovers. His ability to take some ball handling pressure off the Hollins brothers makes Mathieu a guy to keep an eye on for Big Ten play.