King of the Hill

The Big Ten is a conference to be feared. Just ask Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and Notre Dame. Despite claims of a weak middle and a limited number of tournament-worthy squads, the conference is finishing the non-conference season strong, picking up 18 wins in 22 games this week. And while the competition wasn’t incredible (only one top 25 victory in those 18), what was particularly impressive was all the superb individual performances we saw this past week. This week’s Player of the Week was a tough call, especially with the injury to Denzel Valentine leveling the playing field, as 4 different players had 25+ point performances in the latest 7-day span. Plenty of players deserve positive mentions here, as we get ready to head into conference play, with next week’s Midseason Report on the horizon.

Player of the Week

Malcolm Hill, Illinois

Malcolm HillMalcolm HillTechnically, Malcolm Hill had the best week of any Big Ten player this entire season, as he only played one good game. But what a game it was. Against a 7-4 South Dakota team that already has wins against Minnesota and Milwaukee (who themselves slayed Wisconsin and Minnesota), Hill scored a career-high 34 points, matched a career-high with 11 rebounds, recorded a career-high 3 blocks, and chipped in 5 assists. Seldom will you find a more well-rounded game at the college level, and for the Illini, it was yet another step in the right direction, a fourth straight victory after a horrendous 3-5 start.

Hill has surpassed Denzel Valentine as the leading scorer for the Big Ten with 18.7, but the recent success of his and the Illini’s will be all for naught if they can’t have a strong run in conference play. With losses to Chattanooga and North Florida on the resume, a good 11 or 12 wins will be needed against the Big Ten to get back in the tournament discussion, but few of their opponents will have a scorer like Hill, so little is beyond the realm of possibility when you team him with a supporting cast of Kendrick Nunn and the recently-emergent freshman [Player: Jalen Coleman-Lands].

Who’s Hot

Bryn Forbes, Michigan State

Denzel who? (That was cheesy and cliché and I know it.) The main question in the absence of Valentine was one of who would step up and try and replicate his production enough to get wins? Would it be Deyonta Davis, the elite freshman? Would it be Eron Harris, the high-profile West Virginia transfer? (He was been a big factor in MSU’s first game without Valentine). Rather than either of those two fine candidates, the man going off for 32 points on Tuesday and matching Oakland’s elite scorer Kahlil Felder basket for basket was Bryn Forbes, the one-time Cleveland State transfer-turned complementary Spartan sharpshooter. After helping Michigan State to a win with 12 points against Northeastern, Forbes went crazy, hitting 7 of 9 3’s and 9 of 15 (60%) total from the field to eke out an overtime win over Oakland. It wasn’t the most inspiring of team performances against a lesser opponent, but it was a road win without Valentine, nonetheless, and Forbes should continue to score in bunches as Big Ten play moves forward without Denzel. Forbes has averaged over 14.2 PPG this season, and that should only inflate in the coming weeks.

AJ Hammons, Purdue

The senior big man is continuing the coming out party that he began in the second half of last season. Dominating on both ends of the floor, Hammons had perhaps his best game of the season in perhaps Purdue’s biggest win of the season, scoring 21 points, recording 10 boards, and blocking 7 shots against Vanderbilt, flirting with a triple-double as all of his blocks came in the first 25 minutes. This succeeded a 12-point, 7-board, 5-block outing in a tough loss to Butler on Saturday, bringing the week’s total to 16.5 PPG, 8.5 RPG, and 6 BPG with 59% shooting. Hammons sits in the top 5 in the conference in both rebounding, blocks, and field goal percentage despite playing barely half of his games due to the emergence of Isaac Haas. He’s developed over four years into one of the best big men, not only in the conference, but in the nation, and he’s the key inside for a the best Purdue team in years.

Troy Williams, Indiana

The versatile forward looked like the best player for the Hoosiers this week, leading the big comeback to beat Notre Dame, then scoring a season-high 20 on 7/8 (87%) shooting to beat Kennesaw State handily for Indiana’s 5th straight win. Williams is one of the lone defensive bright spots on a bad defensive team, and with 14 rebounds and 8 assists, he’s doing a little bit of everything out there for Indiana. The junior swingman has pro potential with his length and versatility, but it would serve him well to continue to take the lead for Indiana in conference play. The win over Notre Dame on a neutral court was good, but Indiana has been piling up wins over easy opponents lately. It’s time for Troy to show what he can really be.

Keita Bates Diop/[Player: Jae’Sean Tate]

This list wouldn’t be complete without mention of Ohio State’s stunning upset of Kentucky. UK has been inconsistent, but Ohio State has been exponentially more so, so this win came out of left field. But the two headed-monster in a trio of wins this week were Bates-Diop and Tate, the sophomore leaders of this team that stepped up and averaged a combined total of 25.3 PPG, 17 RPG, and 5.3 SPG in their three wins this week. With additional help from Trevor Thompson and Marc Loving inside and freshman JaQuan Lyle at the point, Ohio State is starting to look like just maybe it has things figured out. A tournament bid at this point is perhaps even more out of reach than it is for Illinois, but the young guys on this squad are jelling, and at the heart of that movement in the right direction is Tate and Bates-Diop.

In the spirt of Christmas, I have decided to forego the negativity of the “Who’s Not?” section and, due to the high volume of great performances in the conference, give you a list of Honorable Mentions to document all that went down in an exciting week for the Big Ten:

Caleb Swanigan, Purdue – 19 PPG (25 against Butler), 9.5 RPG in a win and a loss over Vanderbilt and Butler, respectively

Alex Olah, Northwestern – 17.5 PPG, 6 RPG, 13/20 (65%) shooting in wins over Depaul and Sacred Heart

Andrew White, Nebraska – 18 PPG, 8 RPG, 15/25 (60%) shooting in a win and a loss over Prairie View A&M and Samford, respectively

Shavon Shields, Nebraska – 22 PPG, 6 RPG, 3.5 APG, 2.5 SPG, 15/27 (56%) shooting in a win and a loss over Prairie View A&M and Samford, respectively

Nicholas Baer, Iowa – 16 PPG, 6 RPG, 3.5 BPG, 13/20 (65%) shooting, 6/9 (67%) 3-point shooting in wins against Drake and Tennessee Tech

Jaylen Brantley, Maryland – 14 points on 6/7 shooting in 12 minutes in win over Princeton

Caris LeVert, Michigan – 19 points on 7/8 shooting, 6 rebounds, 5 assists in win over Youngstown State

Duncan Robinson, Michigan – 14 points on 5/10 shooting in win over Youngstown State, continues streak of 8 straight games with 50+% shooting on 3-pointers (has attempted at least 5 in each of those 8 games)

Top 5 Coaches’ Gifts (Transfers)

These five guys have led a strong group of transfers in the Big Ten this season and have each been a real (more cheesiness incoming) present to their teams and their coaches this year.

1) [Player: Andrew White, Jr.], Nebraska

White, the Kansas transfer, has looked spectacularly, scoring in all kinds of ways and making this Nebraska team better than most expected it would be. There have been some rough patches, but White leads this group of transfers in scoring by a long shot, and actually sits at 5th overall in the conference.

2) Robert Carter, Maryland

Despite being the least heralded of the starting 5 for Maryland, Carter, a Georgia Tech transfer, has been the strong presence at power forward, accumulating over 12 points and 6 boards per game while helping ease the transition period for highly-rated recruit Diamond Stone. Carter sits at second in scoring and first in rebounding for this deep Terrapins team.

3) Rasheed Sulaimon, Maryland

And speaking of Maryland, Sulaimon, the Duke transfer, has been a great complement to Melo Trimble in the backcourt and continues his sharpshooting ways, hitting 48% from deep while scoring 10.5 PPG.

4) Duncan Robinson, Michigan

The aforementioned Duncan Robinson has been an amazing find for coach John Beilein, a DIII transfer who is shooting the lights out from deep, completing the impossible trifecta of leading the conference in three-point makes, attempts, and percentage thus far. He’s been a huge weapon, especially at his size (6’8”), and takes a fair amount of pressure off UM’s talented guards.

5) [Player: Mike Thorne, Jr.], Illinois

Sorry, Eron Harris, but this last spot will have to go to the Charlotte transfer who was the only consistent thing Illinois had going before he went down for the year. Thorne was a beast down low for 7 games, averaging 13.4 PPG and 8.4 RPG. Hopefully we’ll see him back to full health next fall because he showed flashes of being one of the conference’s elite big men.

Power Rankings:

1) Michigan State
2) Purdue
3) Maryland
4) Iowa
5) Michigan
6) Northwestern
7) Ohio State
8) Indiana
9) Illinois
10) Nebraska
11) Wisconsin
12) Penn State
13) Minnesota
14) Rutgers

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Any thoughts on Malcolm

Any thoughts on Malcolm Hill's pro potential?? Anyone?