Player of the Week
Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
Three days after setting his career-high with 27 points, Uthoff outdid himself and dropped 32 on the road against arch-rival Iowa State, the #4 team in the nation. It was heartbreak for the Hawkeyes, who let a 20-point lead turn into a 1-point loss. The loss was anything but Uthoff’s fault, at least not in the first half, where Uthoff absolutely went off for 30 points. But then the comeback ensued and Uthoff’s 1-7 second half shooting didn’t help in holding onto the lead. Nonetheless, a 30-point half is more than enough to earn you Player of the Week, and after that game last Thursday, Iowa is off until this Saturday against Drake. Uthoff has, in my opinion, surpassed even Aaron White and is a strong contender for conference POY. In a top-heavy conference where everyone but Michigan State, Purdue, and Maryland look underwhelming, Iowa is steadily establishing itself as that #4 team
Caris LeVert, Michigan
There’s more than one triple-double threat in the state of Michigan. Though Denzel Valentine may be more likely to repeat the feat, Caris LeVert dropped 13 points, 10 rebounds, and a surprise 10 assists in a win against Northern Kentucky this week, a nice follow-up to an easy 15 points against Delaware St. Michigan only has two games before Big Ten play, where LeVert and Co. will look to prove they can be consistent after a wild roller coaster ride of a non-conference schedule. The Texas win was nice, but LeVert is capable of leading this team to something better than squeaking into the tournament on Selection Sunday. He now sits at 4th in the conference in scoring with 17 a game and is shooting the ball significantly better than he has in previous seasons. The triple-double may be a fluke, but LeVert’s level of play all year is not.
Vitto Brown, Wisconsin
Without a doubt, Vitto Brown can be a frustrating player. He doesn’t always take good shots, and he doesn’t always take good care of the ball. Thrust into a much more prominent role this season as the main forward in line behind the departed Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker, and Duje Dukan, Brown has struggled much like the rest of the team. But this week, he looked like he had begun to put it together, averaging 13.5 points and 12 rebounds (16 against Corpus Christi!) as Wisconsin split a pair of games. A win against Marquette would have made this week a little sweeter for Vitto, but he’s still coming into his own as a guy who could team up with Nigel Hayes and Ethan Happ to make another dangerous Wisconsin frontline.
Alex Olah, Northwestern
In what seems like his fourteenth season at Northwestern, Alex Olah is the anchor in the middle for one of the best Northwestern teams we’ve seen this century, averaging 11.8 points on 58% shooting, 6.6 boards, and 2.2 blocks. He started the week with a solid 9 points in a romp over Chicago St., but had his best game of the year with 21 points (73% shooting from the field), 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks against Mississippi Valley St. It should be 3 more easy wins for the Wildcats before Northwestern, the Little Brother of the Big Ten, gets the chance to prove that they can hang with the Maryland’s and the MSU’s and the Purdue’s of the league. And a big part of that will be Olah banging down low with guys like AJ Hammons and Diamond Stone. If he can hold his own down low, this could be a truly special season in Evanston.
JaQuan Lyle, Ohio St.
The highly-touted freshman finds himself on this list again. His Buckeyes only played once this week, but that one game was one in which they fell flat on their face in an attempt to make this season look respectable again. Lyle shot 0-7 with 3 turnovers, the Buckeyes lost to UConn by 20, and the spiral continues for Ohio State, and Lyle’s freshman season is going down with it. He’s shooting 37% with 3 turnovers a game, and while he’s looked solid as a distributor, he’s not providing enough spark on offense to counteract some of his more negative numbers. There’s still plenty of time to turn things around, but right now, it’s looking like an NIT berth for Ohio State and Lyle.
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
We have another repeat to the “Who’s Not?” list, as Nigel Hayes was on here just a couple weeks ago. But when you’re the most important player on an underperforming team, that’s how it tends to go. Where Vitto Brown looked good this week, Hayes struggled. His 4-18 shooting (22%) doomed the Badgers against Marquette, and his 2-7, 8-point, 6-turnover outing vs. A&M Corpus Christi was far from elite basketball. Hayes’ volume numbers are up this year, but his shooting percentages are rough, especially for a 6’8” forward expected to lead a team. Bo Ryan is gone, and the time to turn things around is growing thin. Hayes has a large burden on his shoulders if the Badgers are to return to prominence.
Top 5 Freshman Performers
1. Caleb Swanigan, Purdue
There’s a logjam at the top of the list of talented freshman bigs who were expected to be good going into the year and have generally delivered. But the best of the best would have to be Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan, who is averaging a near-double-double with over 9 points and boards a game. In fact, he has recorded 4 double-doubles already this season while teaming up with the Twin Towers to lead Purdue to a dominant 11-0 record. Swanigan still needs to become more efficient and step up more against quality opponents (7-24 or 29% against Florida, Pitt, and New Mexico), but he has shown a great feel for the game for such a young guy,
Deyonta Davis, Michigan State
And of course, the Spartans have an awesome big man of their own. Davis has been the strong complement inside to basketball wizard Denzel Valentine, and has quietly been a top 3 player on the #1 team. Though his minutes have trailed off a bit of late, he’s been incredibly efficient all year, with 8.7 PPG, 6.1 RPG, and 2.4 BPG, the main statistical category that Valentine is not leading the team in. He’s already very advanced on defense for a freshman player, something that differentiates him from some guys on this list who are scoring more points.
Jordan Murphy, Minnesota
A largely unheralded recruit, Murphy is sort of the odd man out here, but he has shocked those who have been paying attention to what he’s been up to lately. In his last 5 games, he’s averaged 14. 4 PPG and 12.6 boards, with 4 double-doubles in that span. The going has been rough for the Gophers, but Murphy has been a spark that just might get something lit before conference play.
Diamond Stone, Maryland
Offensively, Stone has been incredibly efficient. He is averaging over 10 points while playing in less than half his games, in minutes. But he still looks like a freshman on defense and on the glass, and his lack of the well-roundedness of Swanigan and Davis bumps him down a few spots. But the potential there is huge, and when it’s the end of the season and he’s playing major minutes, he could be unstoppable at that point.
Thomas Bryant, Indiana
Bryant has looked like a more severe case of how I just described Stone. The defense has been suspect, which is definitely a team thing rather than just a Bryant thing, but, like the Hoosiers as a unit, Bryant has been good on offensive, currently averaging 11.6 points per game on a super-efficient 72% from the field. He’s a little unpolished, but he’s getting good looks at the hoop and will be crucial to help the Hoosiers regain some respectability as conference season rolls around.
1) Michigan State
11) Ohio State
13) Penn State