Swiss Army Knife

Player of the Week

Vince Edwards, Purdue

Vincent EdwardsVincent EdwardsIn Purdue’s pair of victories, Edwards put up 19.5 points per on 67% shooting, including 60% from downtown. He wasn’t pulling down rebounds like he normally does, with only 8 total, but it didn’t really matter in what turned out to be two absolute massacres by Purdue. The senior forward has been described as the “swiss army knife” of the Purdue roster, which we see in his stellar inside and outside shooting numbers along with his 7.8 RPG and 2.8 APG. He might be the most irreplaceable player for Purdue with how much he does for this team and how unique his skillset is.

Who’s Hot?

Carsen Edwards, Purdue

Most Big Ten teams would love to have two all-conference caliber players; the Purdue Boilermakers have two such players with the last name Edwards. We mentioned Vince above. Carsen was just as good this week and could have just as easily been our Player of the Week. In a starting lineup that boasts 4 seniors, a rarity for a Top 5 team in today’s one-and-done college basketball culture, Carsen Edwards is the lone outlier, a dribble-driving sophomore on a roster full of jump-shooters and giants. He continued his high-scoring, high-efficiency outputs with 21 points on 56% shooting in a blowout against Wisconsin and 22 points on 53% shooting in a blowout against Iowa. He shot 9/14 (64%) from 3 and chipped in 11 assists, 7 steals, and only 1 turnover, playing nearly mistake-free basketball against two Big Ten opponents. For a few years now, Matt Painter’s Purdue squads have boasted an excellent balance of outside shooters and bruising big men with deft touch inside. But the explosion of Edwards gives them a high-efficiency shot creator, an element the Boilermakers usually lack. And now, Edwards leads the #3 team in the nation in scoring and has averaged 17 PPG over the course of their nation-leading 15-game winning streak.

Miles Bridges, Michigan State

Just a reminder that, in spite of his team’s recent struggles, Miles Bridges is still probably the most talented player in the Big Ten. The Spartans began to right the ship this week with big wins over Indiana and Illinois, and Bridges scored 22 and 31 respectively on a phenomenal 20/26 (77%) shooting. He looked to be a LITTLE more aggressive, taking the ball to the basket more often rather than settling for 3’s, which he had been criticized for doing during the Spartans’ recent losses. This stretch raised his shooting percentage back up to 48.9%, bringing it back to an improvement from his freshman season. A hyper-efficient Miles Bridges is a scary Miles Bridges, and if the Spartans are truly back to playing their best basketball, then Purdue and Ohio State should watch their backs in the Big Ten race.

James Palmer, Nebraska

On December 16th, the Nebraska Cornhuskers had a 7-5 record and, at a glance, appeared to me a very mediocre-to-bad Big Ten team. The blowout at St. John’s and Michigan State, the loss to central Florida, narrow victories over teams like Eastern Illinois and Long Beach State, and a 3-out-of-4 loss stretch that they were currently mired in did not inspire confidence. But with the benefit of hindsight, we can now see their early season stretch in a slightly different light. Yeah, they got beat real bad by Michigan State, but most teams would in East Lansing. But the Creighton loss is looking pretty excusable as their cross-state rivals are looking surprisingly good. The Boston College win is also looking like a victory over a surprise potential tournament team. The Minnesota win isn’t nearly as impressive but that was a victory over a much more robust and intact Minnesota team that at the time still had a healthy Amir Coffey and a misconduct Reggie Lynch. Looking at the Huskers’ start through this lens, it’s now less of a surprise that beat Michigan by 20 and gave Ohio State a scare in Columbus and is looking like the best of a morass of about 8 or 9 mediocre Big Ten teams that have merely an outside shot at a tournament berth. They are looking like several recent Tim Miles-era Nebraska teams: hardly amazing and sometimes just not very good but also capable of scaring significantly superior opponents when shots are falling.

All this is to say that they are really a pretty good team and are certainly exceeding expectations. And the main reason why, all these words later, is Miami transfer James Palmer Jr., one of the biggest surprises and best newcomers of this Big Ten season. And this past week, in which Nebraska showed it could hang with (or destroy) ranked opponents, Palmer really excelled. An efficient 19 points to lead the team against Michigan was followed by a downright heroic 34 in a narrow loss to Ohio State, a game where Palmer was the one really keeping the Huskers in the game. He shot 62% from the field and 50% from 3. The 6’6” junior is now averaging 16.6 PPG, good for 7th in the Big Ten and first on this upstart Nebraska team.

Luka Garza, Iowa

Iowa hasn’t looked great in Big Ten play, especially early this week with a 16-point loss to Rutgers and a meltdown at home against Purdue. But they turned it around to win against Wisconsin, and the guy who has really looked a head above the rest of his Hawkeye teammates of late is Luka Garza. After putting up 8 against Rutgers, he was the lone bright spot against Purdue as he scored 19 and created mismatch problems against Isaac Haas. He then put up 17 points and 16 rebounds to lead the charge against Wisconsin. Garza is now shooting a stellar 59% from the field and is really coming into his own as a freshman, and one of the best in the conference at that.

Who’s Not?

Isaac Haas, Purdue

“Not” might be a little unfair to the big guy from Purdue, but at the very least, 3/8 from the free throw stripe isn’t great. Haas scored 5 TOTAL points this week in two Purdue contests, including just a single field goal out of 6 attempts in 42 minutes of action. 0/5 against Wisconsin? Not great. Sub-40% free throw shooting? Not great. But in Haas’ defense, the reason guys like Vince and Carsen Edwards and the rest of the Purdue team were able to do things like tie a Big Ten record with 20 3’s in a game is in large part due to how devoted both Iowa and Wisconsin were to collapsing on the post and not letting Isaac Haas beat them. Because of this, Purdue, who is ranked 3rd in the nation in three-point shooting, lit them up from the outside. So while Haas’ numbers aren’t great and his free-throw shooting was inarguably uncharacteristically poor, his statline was about the only thing that wasn’t great for Purdue this week.

Top 5 Player of the Year Candidates

1) Keita Bates Diop, Ohio State

Dan Dakich and I are in agreement: KBD is having the best season in the Big Ten. In addition to being the conference scoring leader and the star of a Buckeyes team yet to lose a conference game, he’s scoring incredibly efficiently (51/37/81 shooting splits) and pulling down so many rebounds (8.8 per game). He blocks shots, defends on the perimeter well, and is the senior leader for this surprising OSU squad. Is this start sustainable for Ohio State? Is KBD an NBA player? These questions will remain unanswered for now, but KBD’s potential as the conference player of the year is unquestionable.

2) Miles Bridges, Michigan State

Anything lower than second would probably be a disappointment for Bridges and Spartans fans so while second in the voting would be nice for most players, Bridges has been hyped all year as the biggest talent in the league. And as mentioned above, he’s looking pretty great of late. He sits at third in the conference in scoring and is rebounding, defending, creating, and doing all the little things to make this team successful.

3) Carsen Edwards, Purdue

As mentioned above, Edwards is balling out and has got himself 5th in the conference in scoring. He ranks 8th among guards in field goal percentage despite his size and high volume of shots, and he also averages 3.1 assists despite not really being a point guard and not really being in an offense that is dependent on one creator. He’s efficient and he plays with swagger and that’s a brutal combination for any defense to try and stop.

4) Vince Edwards, Purdue

While Vince Edwards puts up less points than Carsen, he might be even more responsible for the 3rd-ranked Boilers’ success due to all the other ways in which he contributes. He is 12th in the Big Ten in scoring, 5th in rebounding, 26th in field goal percentage, 6th in free throw shooting, 7th in 3-point shooting, 25th in assists, and 26th in blocks. Kevin Huerter of Maryland and [Player: Jaren Jackson Jr.] of Michigan State are the only other players in the top 26 in the league in all three shooting percentage stats.

5) Kevin Huerter, Maryland

As mentioned above, the sophomore guard is shooting efficiently in all three facets, and he’s also chipping in over 5 rebounds and 3 assists per game. Maybe the best shooter in the conference, Huerter is an interesting mix of size and skill, and has the Terrapins looking to possibly be the fifth Big Ten team to get a tournament berth after likely selections Purdue, MSU, OSU, and Michigan. If they are going to overcome the loss of Justin Jackson for the season, Huerter will have to take on even more of the scoring load without losing much of the stellar efficiency with which he is shooting the ball.

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