Blooming Buckeye

Player of the Week

Keita Bates Diop, Ohio State

Keita Bates-DiopKeita Bates-Diop8. That’s the number of points Keita Bates-Diop averaged in his first 3 seasons and 75 games in an Ohio State uniform. 3. That’s the number of times Bates-Diop broke the 20 point mark in that span. 57. That’s the number of 3-pointers Bates-Diop made in those 75 games, or 0.76 per game. None of these numbers really point to the prospect of a breakout senior season for Bates-Diop, though he was at one point the 22nd-rated recruit in the nation according to ESPN. But in his last three games, Bates-Diop has averaged 28.3 PPG, 9.3 RPG, 1.7 BPG, and 1.7 SPG to go along with 60% shooting and 56% shooting on 18 three-point shots.

Numbers aside, the crown jewel of the week for the 6’7” senior had to have been the victory over #1 Michigan State by 14 points at home. With that, the Buckeyes marked their territory as a third Big Ten Title contender. They are holding steady with Purdue at the top, and their win over Michigan State could be huge if the Buckeyes can maintain this pace. In the Michigan State game, Bates-Diop went toe-to-toe with Miles Bridges, a guy who is very similar in skillset and build (Bates-Diop is 6’7”, 235 lbs.; Bridges is 6’7” 225), but is getting way more national recognition. In their matchup, Bridges scored 17 on 7/19 shooting; Bates-Diop scored 32 on 12/21 shooting. He may not be the better pro prospect and he probably isn’t the better college player either, but right now, as Purdue and Ohio State pace the Big Ten, and Purdue runs a balanced attack with at last 4 all-conference caliber guys, the Big Ten is Keita Bates-Diop’s world, and everyone else is just living in it.

Who’s Hot?

Corey Sanders, Rutgers

It’s an interesting time in the trajectory of the Rutgers basketball program. Any serious Big Ten fan will be table to tell you that this is not the Rutgers basketball team of its earliest days in the Big Ten. Steve Pikiell has this team headed in a very positive direction. At the same time...they aren’t a good team. They aren’t making the tournament. They aren’t getting any top 25 votes. But they are dangerous enough to to scare the conference frontrunners who are. This was evident this past week when they followed up a solid home win over a young, ailing Wisconsin team with a near-victory over Michigan State in East Lansing as the Spartans looked to bounce back from their loss to Ohio State. They nearly DIDN’T bounce back, thanks to the efforts of star guard Corey Sanders, with his 22 points. Sanders’ 9/23 (39%) shooting performance wasn’t as efficient as his 10/19, 23-point performance against Wisconsin, but that’s the nature of his game as the leader of this Scarlet Knights offense. He’s going to take shots, a lot of them from deep, and he’s going to make defenses key in on him and his electrifying ballhandling and shooting abilities. Indeed, Sanders’ 14.6 PPG average this season comes on sub-40% shooting, a mark for a team-leading scorer that probably indicates you aren’t a great team. But when he’s on, he can take down most any team in this inconsistent conference, as he showed Wednesday in nearly toppling a team that at one time was receiving several first place votes nationally.

Lamar Stevens, Penn State

Penn State is a young team, full of promise due to their trio of talented sophomores, but inconsistent because they are exactly that, sophomores. You have the scoring point guard, Tony Carr, averaging almost 19 points and over 4 assists per game. You have the imposing big man, Mike Watkins, nearly averaging a double-double and leading active Big Ten players in blocks per game with the suspension of Reggie Lynch of Minnesota. And then you have another guy, a versatile swingman with a much less prototypical skillset in Lamar Stevens. And that’s part of what makes him so effective. In the Nittany Lions two games this week, a win over Northwestern followed by a loss to Indiana on the road, Stevens put up a whopping 50 points on a hyper-efficient 23/34 (68%) shooting. He was scoring taking the ball inside, he was scoring off of feeds from Tony Carr as he cut to the basket, he was even connecting on 3 threes, a shot which he is only a 28% shooter on overall this year. At 6’8”, Stevens is a solid defender and can be effective both inside and out, so he creates matchup problems similar to those that guys like Miles Bridges or Vince Edwards of Purdue do for their respective teams. This trio of sophomores ranks 1st, 5th, and 12th in scoring among sophomores in a conference where the consensus two best teams’ leading scorers ARE second-year players. Like we mentioned with Rutgers, Penn State is another young squad that is emergent enough to scare the great teams, but is far from a great team itself.

Juwan Morgan, Indiana

This blog has referred to Morgan as the lone bright spot in a dark season for Indiana, but in a week where the Hoosiers pulled off a couple of wins, Morgan was merely the star that shone brightest as he paced the Hoosiers with a pair of double-doubles, his 5th and 6th of the year. In the long-term absence of starting center De’Ron Davis, Morgan has really become the undersized center for this team at 6’8”, and yet he put up guard-esque numbers this week in playing 77 of 80 possible minutes and hitting on 5 threes. He’s really contributing in every possible way for the Hoosiers, doing everything that is asked of him and more. And that is what they will need from him when they seek victories against more consistent opponents than Penn State and Minnesota.

Who’s Not?

The Michigan State Spartans

Sparty Nation was riding high just over a week ago, ranked #1 in the nation and appearing to be one of the only teams in the nation that boasted both elite talent and elite consistency. But then the cracks burst open into a flood of issues for the green and white. A tough road matchup with Ohio State ended up not even being competitive in the end as a 29-29 tie turned into a 41-29 manhandling with a 72-second, 12 point run for the Buckeyes to close out the half. The collapse was truly a turning point for the Spartans. The lost the game by 16 and went on to nearly choke on their home court against perennial Big Ten basement dwellers Rutgers (scarier this year, but still), only eking out a win in overtime. The issues are not necessarily obvious. Poor shooting, inexperience, an inability to assert themselves physically despite their size, strength, and superior athleticism relative to most of their opponents. All of it has led to two concerning performances for a team still considered to be a national title contender. The schedule will soon open up into a stretch of manageable games, but this weekend, the Spartans host a Michigan team that can shoot the lights out and create matchup problems all over the place...a team that also really hates it’s cross-state rival who has been the cream of the Big Ten for several years now.

Zach McRoberts, Indiana

In the dictionary of sports, there is a picture of Zach McRoberts next to “Role Player”, so we can’t give him too hard of a time for any statlines he may put up (or fail to put up) in his time on the court; after all, his primary purpose on the floor is to set screens and defend and hustle and do all the cliche things expected of a Role Player. But his numbers from his past 3 games were something we felt were worth drawing attention. In 85 minutes of action, McRoberts (the younger brother of pro Josh) has accumulated 0 points on 0/4 shooting and committed ten fouls. On Tuesday alone, he fouled out after 26 minutes of action. He earned 5 fouls. He took 0 shots. I don’t have a sports information team at my back to check on the rarity of that kind of statline in college basketball, but I do know that it’s not something you see every day. Now, he also averaged 6.5 RPG, 3 APG, and 3.5 SPG in the Hoosiers’ two wins this week, so he was generally a positive presence on the court for a team that doesn’t NEED scoring production from him, so for that reason this is more of a fun Who’s Not than a You Are Terrible and Your Team is in Shambles Who’s Not. But c’mon man...0 points in 85 minutes?

Top 5 Coaches

1) Tom Izzo, Michigan State

Until he retires or strings together multiple losing seasons, this is Tom Izzo’s spot in my book. He’s probably the only Big Ten coach anywhere near the elite tier of college basketball coaches that includes Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams and Bill Self. He’s got a national title under his belt, albeit one that happened multiple decades ago, and he continues to make a Big Ten title contender out of this program year in and year out. His current lineup is made of 5 consensus top 40 recruits, so he’s an excellent recruiter for a guy whose program is historically good-but-not-great. He’s also an elite X’s-and-O’s coach, as evidenced by his repeated success in a one-and-done, volatile tournament such as the Big Dance.

2) John Beilein, Michigan

After Izzo, Beilein has the most high-level coaching experience of anyone in the conference. Though he has not tasted a national title like Izzo, he has gotten his team there before, coming close on multiple occasions (3 elite eights at West Virginia and Michigan). He seems to often get the most out of the players he recruits, a mix of 3-star and and 4-star guys who can all shoot the lights out. And once again, he has his team looking like one of what could this year be very few to rise above the pack and be on the fringes of the top 25 in what has been described as a “down year” for the Big Ten.

3) Matt Painter, Purdue

You don’t have to look far for detractors of Matt Painter. In fact, go to West Lafayette itself and you will find plenty, as this Purdue fan base has its fair share of disillusioned diehards frustrated by Painter’s inability to parlay talented teams into a single appearance past the Sweet Sixteen. Which is an understandable concern, even with the poor luck of the Robbie Hummel injuries during perhaps the greatest season of Painter’s time at Purdue. But the overall body of work, a 66% winning percentage at Purdue, two Big Ten titles, an expected 9th top 4 Big Ten finish out of 13, 3 Sweet Sixteens, and 7 years out of 12 with at least one win in the NCAA Tournament, indicates a pretty good coach. Beyond All-American Caleb Swanigan last season, Painter isn’t accomplishing all this with top 50 recruits, either. He has built his legacy on good, low-top 100 guys who he develops into a cohesive unit. And this year may be the year 5th-ranked Purdue finally breaks through.

4) Chris Holtmann, Ohio State

The meteoric rise of Chris Holtmann alone should be strong evidence of his prowess as a coach. 4 seasons ago, he was an assistant at Butler, a team that was in the Atlantic 10 the year prior. Now, he is the coach of the vastly improved co-leader of the Big Ten, getting production out of guys like Keita Bates-Diop and [Player: C.J. Jackson] that recruiting rankings indicated they might be capable of, but had never actually reached in their time at Ohio State under Thad Matta. Holtmann is taking a team that was 17-15 last season and seeing its season end by losing to Rutgers in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament and turning them into one that already has 14 wins by January 12th with the only significant difference between last year’s roster and this year’s being the addition of freshman big man Kaleb Wesson. Holtmann took Butler to at least one victory in the NCAA Tournament in each of his three years there and so it’s reasonable to expect the same in his first year at Ohio State.

5) Chris Collins, Northwestern

Now, one year of making the NCAA tournament doesn’t exactly qualify a coach as great, but for a program like Northwestern, with limited resources and non-ideal recruiting circumstances and a complete dearth of historical success, a coach who could take them to the Big Dance in his first year with a roster almost entirely made up of guys he recruited is not one to be sneezed at. He learned at the knee of Coach K and is now doing it on his own in the Big Ten. This season has been a bit of a disappointment for a team projected to be a top 3 Big Ten squad, but there is no denying that he has turned around a program that was starting to look incapable of being turned around.

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