Player of the Week
Cassius Winston, Michigan State
Carsen who? Cassius Winston, the electrifying and efficient junior, was profiled last week along with Edwards as being among the league’s top 5 shooters. But, like Edwards who has appeared to be the frontrunner for conference Player of the Year honors all season long with his absurd scoring numbers, Winston is far more than just a shooter. He might be the best pure point guard in the Big Ten and maybe the nation, which he showed with 13 total assists in a pair of stellar wins this week against Maryland and at Nebraska. He also contributed his usual 14 points against Maryland and a massive 29 against Nebraska, a team fresh off a nice win against Indiana. Winston’s outside shooting was surprisingly pedestrian this week, connecting on only 4/12 (33%) but the effect this guy has on his teammates is palpable. The way he gets Nick Ward, Josiah Langford, and the rest of the Spartans involved has gotten them into the national top 5 and in the driver’s seat in the conference race. If you want to find a pure point guard at the collegiate level, look no further than Winston.
Carsen Edwards, Purdue
The conference’s leading scorer continued to put it in the basket this week in a pair of wins against Indiana and Rutgers, giving Purdue six in their last seven. Though he wasn’t the most efficient (40% from the floor including 6/18 against Rutgers), he dropped 39 in total. An ultimately, perhaps the most impressive part of his week was the way in which he played his role as a distributor. Part of why Purdue is rolling the way it is is Edwards’ cool management of the offense. He assisted on 6 baskets against Rutgers and 7 against Indiana, his season-high. Those 13 assists were accompanied by only 3 total turnovers, numbers that demonstrate what a versatile point guard Edwards has morphed into in his first year in the primary point guard role for the Boilermakers. Add in 8/20 shooting (40%) from 3, and it was a pretty good week for the all-American candidate.
Luka Garza, Iowa
The sophomore makes another appearance on our list. He turned back-to-back double-digit scoring performances into back-to-back 20+ point performances this week in the absence of Tyler Cook in another pair of wins against Penn State and Illinois. Though he only grabbed 2 boards against Illinois in a blowout, he put up a strong 22-12 as he cooked Penn State on Wednesday. The only real knock on him this week might be his 0/5 shooting from beyond the arc, and maybe he needs to understand that he is most effective going to work inside, but Garza’s ability to hit his jumpers frees up Tyler Cook to go to work down low. The pair, along with a host of good outside shooters, make Iowa one of Fran McCaffery’s best Hawkeye squads.
Bruno Fernando, Maryland
The loss to Michigan State wasn’t pretty. But teams that can go into East Lansing and come away looking good are few and far between. The big picture of Maryland’s recent rise to the top couple of tiers in the Big Ten shows that big Bruno Fernando, the imposing forward from Angola in his sophomore season, is among the best post players in the Big Ten and one of the primary reasons the Terps find themselves in such good position. This week, he recorded another pair of double-doubles, his 10th and 11th of the season. His scoring doesn’t necessarily jump off the page, although the 9/14 shooting (64%) is exactly what they need from him. But his rebounding (10.2 per game) stands at third in the Big Ten.
Amir Coffey, Minnesota
When Minnesota went on the road to face Illinois on Wednesday, they were traveling to one of the most head-scratching performances in Big Ten play this season. The Gophers, by all accounts a viable NCAA Tournament team currently slated by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi to be solidly on the bubble, dropped one to the Big Ten team that has struggled the most this season. Not only that, but they lost by 27 in a disjointed, dysfunctional performance. Star guard Amir Coffey his just two of his 13 shots (15%) in the loss, then followed that performance up with 3/11 (27%) shooting and 4 turnovers in a squeaker at home against a mediocre Penn State team. The rangy 6’8” guard is averaging 15.7 PPG in his junior year but he needs to get back on track for a Gophers team that is seeing every game count enormously as their tournament hopes hang in the balance.
Top 5 NBA Prospects
1) Romeo Langford, Indiana
At 6’6” with a long, strong frame, the freshman Langford already looks the part of an NBA wing. And with his instinctive and versatile offensive game, he plays the part, too. He’s got a lot of potential as a defender and, all in all, there are not a lot of holes in the freshman phenom’s game. He could stand to improve as a jump-shooter, and consistency is still an issue, but these are the kinds of things that will continue to develop for a 19-year-old guard. One-and-done’s are rare in Big Ten country, especially when you venture beyond the confines of East Lansing, Michigan, but Langford came to school expecting to be one and all indicators show that he is well on his way to being an NBA lottery selection.
2) Jalen Smith, Maryland
Though it’s very possible he doesn’t come out for the draft this year, Jalen Smith of Maryland has all kinds of potential to be a great NBA player. Though he may be the 3rd most important player on his own team right now, his ceiling is incredibly high. He’s got the length of an NBA 4 but he has an excellent face-up game like that of a wing player. He needs to add NBA bulk to his NBA length, and his shot leaves much to be desired with the way the modern-day NBA necessitates power forwards who can shoot, but if he leaves this year, he could flirt with the lottery.
3) Bruno Fernando, Maryland
Our #3 can be found on the same campus as our #2. While Smith’s appeal is based more on potential, Fernando is already a double-double machine at the collegiate level. He’s strong and athletic, possessing all the physical tools you could desire, but he also has a great motor and great technique on the boards. His jump shot, like Smith’s, is not what you would want for an NBA 4, but he’s already such a polished and dominant player (11 double-doubles already this season) at the age of 20 that he is all but a first round lock at this point.
4) Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois
A bit overshadowed by the star of Romeo Langford, another talented freshman chose to stay home for college instead of searching for greener pastures at one of the blue blood programs. Dosunmu, a Chicago native, is generating NBA buzz in spite of his team’s struggles. He’s a well-rounded scorer, a guy who can get to the rim but who has also hit nearly 40% of his three’s this season, an area of concern on some scouting reports prior to the season. He has a good physical profile for a combo guard, having the ability to score from the but also developing the ability to be a distributor at the next level. He may not generate a lot of buzz this season at Illinois, but don’t be surprised if you hear his name called in the first or even the lottery this summer.
5) Carsen Edwards, Purdue
Is he the best player in the conference? Quite possibly. But is he an NBA point guard? That’s the question that NBA scouts have to ponder when they evaluate the dynamic scorer from Purdue. He has shown an ability to score both at the rim with his speed and incredible balance, but also from outside, hitting all kinds of circus shots despite being crowded by multiple defenders on many of his looks. The main questions for Edwards are his size (he stands at 6’0”, a height that is the exception not the rule for NBA point guards) and his ability to play the point. Last season, he played more of the 2 guard while PJ Thompson ran the offense. This season, Edwards initiates the offense when he is on the floor, but, while his assist-to-turnover ratio is solid, his sheer assist totals don’t jump out at you. But clearly, it’s an area that has improved tremendously from his freshman season. As a decision-maker, you still see flashes of the guy who no doubt frustrated his coach as a freshman, but Edwards generally has sound judgment when it comes to knowing when to pass and when to shoot. He’s one of the more interesting prospects in this year’s draft.
1) Michigan State
7) Ohio State
13) Penn State