Player of the Week:
Ace Baldwin, Penn State
I’ll spare you any “Ace up the sleeve” puns, but this guy is no joker. Ace has been struggling all season from the field, just not scoring at any efficiency that’s been expected of him in his new home in happy valley. In two games this past week, he’s come into his own and entered rare form. In the Nittany Lions’ win over Indiana in Assembly Hall, Baldwin had 22 points, shooting 57% from the field, and adding 2 steals to boot. He followed that great game up with another 22 against Iowa while shooting 75% from the field (his best single game shooting percentage all season), making all 9 of his free throws, and snatching 4 steals. It’s a small sample size, and yes it’s easy to cherry-pick 2 consecutive good games and say “he’s back!” or some other kind of hyperbolic exclamatory, but if Ace can continue this play then Kanye Clary’s play and the whole team around him will enter the kind of stratosphere that Penn State fans expected when their AD reloaded the basketball team with talent after the departure of Micah Shrewsberry.
Penn State Nittany Lions
3 straight huge wins for the Nittany Lions to bring them up above .500 and keep them firmly in contention for a higher seed in the BIG10 tournament. A huge win at Assembly Hall for Mike Rhoades’ squad was followed by another win on Thursday against Iowa at home. It seems like this team is finally starting to blossom into what was expected of them this season. They’re littered with talented ball handlers, scorers and lanky athletic guys that can do all sorts of things on the court. They can fly around in the backcourt and cause havoc, and what they make up for in brute strength they make up for in twitchy vertical leapers like Nick Kern Jr. Ace
Baldwin has started to play up to expectations and has found his jumper. He’s been more comfortable taking shots off pick and rolls as well, and his pull up J is essential to unlocking his whole game. It’ll be interesting to see if Penn State can sustain this level of play as each week is more important than the last.
Minnesota Golden Gophers
The Gophers don’t look like a team that’d be as elite as they are. When you see them in person it doesn’t look like a team that’d dominate as much as they have been, but they just outplay other teams in transition and cause a lot of damage in the open floor. Dawson Garcia especially is almost impossible to stop when he gets to his left hand, and he’ll be a sleeper pick in the draft this year. He’s lanky with a smooth jumper and although his percentages aren’t where they should be his mechanics are so promising that it’s hard to complain with his shooting prowess. Downhill the guy is just a menace and can finish with craftiness or power depending on the situation, something you don’t see often out of 2-way wings. Then there’s dime-guy Elijah Mitchell, who’s been an excellent facilitator of the ball for the Gophers, especially in transition situations where he’s equally deadly shooting as he is trying to find an open guy. The Gophers are just a headache all around the board and although their personnel might not match up as well as some other rosters, they have qualities of a team that can make some sort of March run.
Two straight losses for Wisconsin, a team that was just ranked as high as number six this past week. However this most recent loss to Michigan is without a doubt a low point in the season for the Badgers. The first of their three losses came at Nebraska, and playing Nebraska at home this season is like playing the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors, so it’s an acceptable loss. Follow that up with a close loss against Purdue, once again an okay loss. Purdue is great, we know this. Then you lose to Michigan and give them their only signature win of the season. Not good. Michigan has been marred by collapses in the second half all season, they
hadn’t been winning any close games (0-3 previous to this game in games decided by 4 or less points), and you still can’t find a way to muster a win against a team that has played poorly all year. It’s been a bad week for Wisconsin, and it’s certainly not time to give up on them because they are one of the best teams in the country, however it might be time to really consider how Wisconsin has been playing above their talent level all year long and that they might not be as good as a team like Purdue or UConn or even Illinois. Just food for thought, though; I hope they prove me wrong.
Ohio State Buckeyes (January’s version)
You can take the team out of January, but you can’t take the January out of the team. There isn’t much to say here besides it has to be painful for Buckeye fans to continuously fall on their face during the latter-half of the season. I would be sincerely surprised if Chris Holtmann retains his job after this season, I think a new coaching staff is needed to reinvigorate Ohio State into the basketball school it was just a decade or so ago.
5. Nebraska Cornhuskers
Despite the two losses in a row, I’m not ready to take Minnesota over them… yet.
4. Northwestern Wildcats
Boo Buie and the guys keep finding ways to hang around.
3. Wisconsin Badgers
See above for full report on bad badger behavior.
2. Illinois Fighting Illini
Illinois is now the clear-cut number two in this conference and an Illinois-Purdue BIG10 championship would be fireworks.
1. Purdue Boilermakers
The train keeps rolling. Can they figure out how to perform to the same level in the Big Dance?