Player of the Week
Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
So much for the slow start to the season. Hayes, along with his teammate listed below, turned things around in a big way this week after a slow start. First, he took care of business with 9 points to go along with 11 boards and 10 assists for the near triple-double against Syracuse in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. He then scored a season-high 28 as he led the comeback and eventual demolition of Oklahoma.
Hayes has now raised his season shooting percentage to 43%, but more importantly, Wisconsin picked up two good wins against teams currently hovering right outside the top 25. Their senior leader is stepping up in a big way, but the question remains of whether he can sustain that consistency.
Bronson Koenig, Wisconsin
With Hayes playing out of his mind, Koenig was right there by his side. He scored 36 points total in the Badgers’ two big wins, and he absolutely went nuts from behind the arc, hitting 10 of 19 (53%), including 6 of 9 against Syracuse. His shot is perhaps the biggest part of his game, and now that it is falling, along with Hayes’, the Badgers could be morphing into that conference title contender everyone was talking about at the beginning of the season.
Leron Black, Illinois
Lots of guys had good weeks for the Illini, who started to show some signs of life after a very rough start, but the one who stood out the most was forward Leron Black. He helped lead the Illini to two big wins over potential tournament teams in NC State and CU, scoring 33 points in those two games, to go along with 16 rebounds. After seeing his role reduced his sophomore year, the junior power forward is really breaking out, with 12.8 PPG and 8 RPG with 49% shooting. The Illini might be completely floundering this season without him.
Mike Watkins, Penn State
The freshman big man Mike Watkins just started to get on our radar last week with 20 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks against George Washington, but he really cemented his recognition with his well-rounded effort today. He posted a 12 point-12 rebound-5 block performance to beat Georgia Tech, then he followed it up with 8 points, 8 blocks, and 9 rebounds against Wright State. Penn State is currently on a four-game winning streak, but we shall see if Watkins can maintain this production at this level. Regardless, he’s been one of the biggest revelations in this conferences’ freshman class.
It’s no shock that the Iowa Hawkeyes would have to give a lot of minutes this season to players who weren’t major factors last season. But the expectation for many was probably that, with the departure of Jarrod Uthoff, Mike Gesell, Adam Woodbury, and Anthony Clemmons, beyond Peter Jok, the only other rotation players returning, Uhl and Baer, would step up and get big minutes this year as Jok’s right hand men. That hasn’t really happened. Instead, a trio of freshmen have all played nearly as many, if not significantly more minutes than Baer and Uhl, and all three have outscored the pair of returners. Uhl and Baer have shot a combined 39% from the field this season, and only 36% in their three games this week, with Uhl’s minutes beginning to dip into the low teens.
Ultimately, the pair of guys who played significant minutes for a consistently ranked Hawkeye team last season are now losing minutes to freshmen on a struggling squad, and that’s not something that bodes well for Iowa getting things turned around. The program seems to be moving forward with guys other than Uhl and Baer, and while that may sound a little dramatic, they definitely have an uphill battle to become impact players for this team as they were expected to be prior to the season.
Vince Edwards, Purdue
And Purdue fans said Vince Edwards was struggling BEFORE this week. The do-everything small forward was supposed to step up and be the leader of this team, if not the best player, but after a slow and unassertive start to the season, “Vincent”, as he is going by this year, Edwards was downright lackluster this week. Hehad more turnovers (3) than points (1) against Louisville, then went 0/3 from 3 with only 7 total points after being benched for the start of the Morehead State game, a game being played against a team that the rest of the Boilermakers feasted on, especially from outside. The assist numbers are definitely up (4 per game), so he’s at least making his presence felt in some way, but otherwise, his 41% shooting and 3 turnovers, along with his dip in scoring average, are all indicators of Edward’s inability to really make his presence felt this season.
Top 5 Seniors
1) Peter Jok, Iowa
I wouldn’t have put Jok anywhere near the top spot prior to this season, but he’s been putting up both high and efficient scoring numbers this season despite a complete lack of a decent or experienced supporting cast around him. He leads the Big Ten in scoring by nearly 5 points per game (23.9 PPG) and is primed for a potential All-American season, if not a spot on an NBA roster with his excellent shooting ability and length.
2) Nigel Hayes, Wisconsin
Hayes continues to just get more and more versatile, and it was evidenced in full by his near-triple double earlier this week. The Badgers would be dramatically worse without Hayes because he just brings so much to the table, both as a player and as a leader. After spending his first two years in the shadow of Frank Kaminsky, he’s now running the show in Wisconsin and, though he isn’t always the most efficient scorer, he contributes in enough ways to more than make up for his off nights.
3) Malcolm Hill, Illinois
Hill is one of the best pure scorers in the conference. He’s long and athletic with great shooting range, and it’s led to him averaging over 18 PPG for two straight seasons now. He’s on a hot streak from behind the arc right now, connecting on 45%, and if the Illini manage to turn around their fortunes finally, it will be thanks, in large part, to his development and leadership.
4) Zak Irvin, Michigan
He’s a little sublime and doesn’t always get the hype a lot of other Big Ten guards do, but Irvin is just a fantastic scorer. He can shoot, he can slash, and he’s strong and athletic and stands at 6’6”. Irvin averages 14.9 PPG and 4.9 RPG as one of the best scoring and rebounding guards in the conference by far, and he’s been the leader of this Michigan team for a while now. His shooting percentage is dramatically up this season at 46%, and if he can sustain his play, the Wolverines may be able to win their senior leader some more postseason games.
5) Tai Webster, Nebraska
This final spot was kind of a toss-up between several guys, but on sheer scoring volume alone, I have to give it to Webster, regardless of how good his team is doing. He’s scored 16.9 PPG this season, good for 5th in the conference, and his shooting numbers of 49% from the field and 42% from the arc, are fantastic. His team lacks a post presence or much size anywhere, really, but he’s going to lead them to some upset wins in what could otherwise have been a truly dismal season.