Player of the Week
Ethan Happ, Wisconsin
Right before our very eyes, redshirt freshman big man Ethan Happ is stepping right out of the great Frank Kaminsky’s shadow. In a pair of big victories for the Badgers over Penn State on the road and previously-unbeaten-in-conference-play Indiana, Happ scored 45 points on 15/26 (58%) shooting, along with 19 rebounds and 6 steals. That’s 7 straight games with double-figure scoring for Happ, who is quickly emerging as a premiere big man in the conference.
The 6-foot-9 Happ is averaging 12.6 PPG and has climbed to 2nd in the conference in rebounding with 8.2 per game. While the season has been rocky for the Badgers, they’re on an impressive 3-game winning streak, and it has everything to do with the development of Happ. The Badgers may have played themselves out of tournament consideration in the first half of the season, an NIT berth is still very much attainable, and, if Ethan continues to channel his inner Frank the Tank, perhaps even greater things are possible. Nonetheless, the conference frontrunners can hardly mark the Badgers as a probably W anymore. It’s beginning to look unlikely that this kid stays in school a whole 4 years.
Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa
And all of a sudden, Uthoff is running away from Denzel Valentine and Co. in the conference Player of the Year race, as he continued to dominate this week, averaging 21 in wins against Purdue and Rutgers, shooting 54% from the field and an amazing 73% from 3. There’s nothing this kid can’t do. He shoots (leads Big Ten in scoring), he slashes, he blocks shots (another category he leads the conference in), he converts from the line, and he’s the best player on the best team in the Big Ten.
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
It certainly wasn’t Ethan Happ doing all the work in Wisconsin’s wins this week. Scoring leader Nigel Hayes stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds, and 2 steals against Penn State, then went to the line a whopping 22 times against Indiana, converting on 17 of them (77%) and scoring 31 points to outlast the Hoosiers. His shooting percentage has slowly climbed back up to 40% as he has gotten more accustomed to being the lead guy in the Badgers’ offense, and the emergence of Happ has certainly taken some pressure off his shoulders as well.
Vince Edwards, Purdue
Finally, after featuring his name in our “Who’s Not” section, Vince “The Prince” Edwards is playing to his potential, scoring 18.3 PPG in Purdue’s 3 games this week. He led them to hard-fought wins against Ohio State and Minnesota and suddenly, Purdue has back that inside-out versatile presence that Edwards gives them, a much-needed complement to all the Boilermakers’ size inside and outside shooting. He’s re-developing consistency and, if he keeps it up, Purdue will soon rise above the pack they’re currently mired in in the middle of the Big Ten.
Mike Gesell, Iowa
Where Uthoff and players like Peter Jok, Adam Woodbury, and Anthony Clemmons have been playing great for Iowa, senior point guard Mike Gesell has reencountered the struggles that have plagued him throughout his career, struggles with shooting and taking care of the ball. He laid a big fat goose egg in the scoring column against Rutgers (Rutgers!!) this week, then shot 1/7 against Purdue for 6 points. All told, he had 6 points in two games on 9% shooting, along with 8 total turnovers. The assist numbers were there, and they were more than enough to keep the Hawkeye offensive machine running smoothly, but he also cost his team a lot of possessions with his sloppiness and inefficiency. But he’s been here before and he has a way of raising his game when the Hawkeyes need him to (See: Iowa-Michigan State), so I’m confident he’ll tighten things up and be the scrappy point guard he has always been while leading his team to even more victories.
Bryant McIntosh, Northwestern
In true Northwestern fashion, the Wildcats put up a good win total against a soft non-conference schedule, but has struggled to keep it up in conference play, and at this point, the NCAA Tournament is looking like a pipe dream. And unfortunately, dynamic sophomore point guard Bryant McIntosh has, himself, not looked as sharp of late. He just played one game this week, and his Wildcats got run off the floor by Indiana as he shot 2/12 and turned it over 4 times. That’s 3 straight shooting percentages of 40% or less, with 10 turnovers in those games. The losing streak continues to 3 for Northwestern, and they’ll need a red-hot Bryant McIntosh to steal a game against Iowa or Michigan State this upcoming week.
Top 5 Pro Prospects
1) Diamond Stone, Maryland
For me, the Maryland big man gets the narrow edge over fellow freshman post Deyonta Davis for the top spot on this list. If any Big Ten player gets taken in the lottery, I think it’ll be the one-time #6 recruit in the nation, who has just recently looked unstoppable in spurts against Penn State and Michigan. He’s definitely not the most polished guy on this list, but he’s developing the skills and he’s exceptionally strong for a freshman big man. How he fares in the last couple months of the season will have a huge impact on his pro prospects as his playing time inevitably increases.
2) Deyonta Davis, Michigan State
Davis has been decent, but relatively quiet in conference play, ceding the spotlight inside to senior Matt Costello, but he’s got great physical tools already and his 64% shooting from the field indicates that he’s a smart, unselfish player with the ball in his hands, one who’s ready to play alongside older, more talented players at the next level. Sometimes he disappears a little bit, but like Stone, he has looked solid throughout the year and has great potential for growth and for a potential lottery selection. And if anything has been proven to be a constant in the college basketball world, it’s the inevitablitiy of Tom Izzo’s team making a run, so if that happens again (and I imagine Denzel Valentine will ensure that it will), it will be interesting to see how big of a role Davis plays in that.
3) Caris LeVert, Michigan
The injury bug has reared its ugly head again in the career of Caris LeVert, but it’s painfully clear at this point: whenever he’s on the court, he can score. He’s athletic, he’s long, he’s definitely got NBA size, and if he can get back on the court soon and continue to score efficiently against Big Ten defenses, he’ll reclaim that potential lottery pick buzz he has had since he was a sophomore.
4) Melo Trimble, Maryland
Four players were considered for these last two spots, and all four are the best players for the best four teams in the Big Ten, but I’m going to give the nod to the two that have been dominating the Big Ten for the last two years. The #4 spot will got to Melo Trimble, the conference’s best point guard in a draft that is light on good point guards for a basketball league that is very point guard-friendly. Trimble proved last year that he can score and be 6’3”; he is proving this eyar that he can distribute, with 5.6 APG. He’s far from a perfect point guard specimen, as his shooting and turnovers can be hindrances, but he’s obviously very talented and still very young (he’ll be 21 at the time of the draft). He’s potentially a top 3 true point guard in this draft, but he’s got mad combo guard skills.
5) Denzel Valentine, Michigan State
Finally, we come to the odd case of the do-everything forward for the Spartans who doesn’t exactly have a clear role waiting for him in the NBA. He’s a bit undersized to player the 3 and not quite quick enough to play the 2. But he’s simply an excellent basketball player who can score and pass and lead with the best of them, and having him on your team can only make your team better. His versatility and heart is reminiscent of another former Spartan in the point forward mold, Draymond Green. Obviously, Green’s career took off and he’s now an NBA champion, but Valentine can be that same positive presence for a team and maybe even fight his way into a starting lineup because of how much he contributes on the court.
4) Michigan State
9) Ohio State
12) Penn State