Here's the second week's worth of action in Big Ten games. It's out early because of the Holiday, but I thought folks might like to peruse it during football halftimes or what have you. For giggles, I haven't seen anyone use this reference, so I'd like to deem this week "The Curious Case of Benjamin Brust" in honor of the Wisconsin guard's crazy rebounding stats this week.
1. Indiana (5-0) W v. (n.) Georgia 66-53, W v. (n.) Georgetown 82-72 (OT)
Pleasant Surprises: Two neutral-site games, two wins for the Hoosiers, who faced what was probably going to be two of the tougher tests with a shortened bench. Only UNC and Butler look to test IU's depth while Perea, Jurkin and Derek Elston are still out of the rotation. There's lots to like here, Cody Zeller leads the team in minutes despite playing the last three games with some sort of "asthmatic bronchitis" (and that stuff is no joke: we were in the ER when my toddler had it earlier this year). Remy Abell has hit 7 of eight three-pointers so far, and IU looked especially good on the boards the last two games. Yogi Ferrell has 26 assists to only 9 turnovers (about a 3:1 ratio), but Jordan Hulls has 20 assists to 4 turnovers for a shocking 5-to-1 ratio. This is indeed looking like a very good team, and it isn't even near full strength.
Areas of concern: The Hoosiers certainly didn't come out and impose their will in either game, and Cody Zeller didn't look like a national POY in either contest, really. I'm glad he found guys to pass to on key plays, but let's hope he kicks this illness soon. Also, Oladipo isn't shooting free-throws particularly well (58.8%), and Jeremy Hollowell has turned the ball over 11 times, and recorded no assists. Also, Hulls and Watford are shooting threes well, but outside of Mo Creek, noone else really is shooting them competently. Hopefully, Sheehey and Ferrell snap out of their horrible slumps (11.1% and 14.3%, respectively).
2. Michigan State (3-1) W v. Texas Southern 69-41, W v. Boise St. 74-70
Pleasant Surprises: Two more wins as the Spartans avoided a post-signature win letdown, but they hardly inspired confidence. Denzel Valentine continues to show that he's going to be a significant contributor all season long, and Matt Costello finally returned to the rotation. Branden Dawson is known for his toughness and board work, but he's notching an impressive 4 steals per game!
Areas of concern: Gary Harris' injury. He's going to be out for 2-3 weeks, and then has to readjust in getting back into the flow, and that won't help the uneven guard play here. Notably, the Spartans still have 12 more turnovers than assists, and excepting Keith Appling, are shooting threes terribly. They really need Travis Trice healthy ASAP.
3. Michigan (3-0) no games (v. Pitt tonight)
Pleasant Surprises: nothing new to note
Areas of concern: Same as above, but I'd like to say I though Pitt was rankable in the preseason, and Georgetown was not. We'll see what (if anything) tonight's game means about Michigan, Pitt, Indiana, and Georgetown.
4. Ohio State (3-0) W v. Rhode Island 69-58, W v. Washington 77-66,
Pleasant Surprises: The Buckeyes are rolling, led by a stunning line from Deshaun Thomas: 25ppg, 7rpg, 50.9% shooting, 45.5% behind the arc, and 90% at the stripe. I know I questioned how your efficiency would fare as the first option... and so far, wow! Mr. Thomas, I salute you. And as good as Thomas has been, Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith have combined to be even better from downtown, hitting 12 of 22 attempts. Furthermore, Craft is running a solid offense that turning the ball over a mere 8.3 times per game. These three guys are solidifying OSU's position as a top 5 team, nationally!
Areas of concern: We have no real sense yet of just good this team is, and furthermore, who supplies points outside of Thomas, Craft, and Smith. At least Ravenel broke double figures against Washington. The bench guys haven't shown themselves to be particularly worthy of anything more than spot time so far, and under Matta's regime, that generally means very few minutes in conference play.
5. Minnesota (4-0) W v. Richmond 72-57
Pleasant Surprises: The computers love the Gophers so far, with Ken Pomeroy's laptop especially liking their defense. The Gophers pasted always-dangerous Richmond, and are just making plays defensively. Offensively, there's nothing particularly eye-catching here, but there's nothing alarming either. I really like that they've got six guys averaging 1.8 assists/game right now.
Areas of concern: Same as last time: what isTrevor Mbakwe's status? He seems capable, but how does he fit in with a starring Rodney Williams and rising bigs Elliot Elliason and Mo Walker? Throw in the fact that wing Joe Coleman does a lot of his work in the paint, and that the team is shooting at a fairly mediocre clip behind the arc, and you just wonder how Mbakwe will make his game work for himself in a way that doesn't take away opportunities from his teammates.
6. Wisconsin (3-1) W v. Cornell 73-40, W v. Presbyterian 88-43
Pleasant Surprises: Ben Brust. A guy who didn't get off the bench his freshman year is now leading the Badgers in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, and is shooting 64.7% behind the arc. Especially notable for a sniper who weighs in at 6-1 and 195 pounds is the 9.3 rpg that he's posting right now. I mean, he's only giving up like a foot to teammate Jared Berggren: why is Brust letting Berggren block a whole 2 more shots a game? Step up your defense, Brust.
Areas of concern: How will close games play out? Wisconsin's closest contest was actually the 18-point loss to Florida, in which the game wasn't really in doubt shortly after the start of the second half. Friday's match against #14 Creighton should be a very interesting contest, indeed.
7. Illinois (5-0) W @ Hawai'i 78-77 (OT) W v. (n.) Southern California 94-64, W @ Chaminade 84-61
Pleasant Surprises: The Illini, having escaped the scare from Hawai'i with buzzer-beating three to win in OT, are now on a major roll. USC got absolutely steam-rolled, and the Illini left no room for Chaminade to spring another surprise upset.They face off now against a red-hot Butler team, in what should be a really exciting final for the Maui tourney.
Areas of concern: The interior play has not been impressive, even against teams like Chaminade. Myke Henry and Tyler Griffey are a serviceable combo at the 4-spot, even if s bit inconsistent (Henry shoots 30% from the field, and Griffey is only grabbing 3.2 rebounds per game). But with the Nnanna Egwu and Sam McLaurin pairing at center producing little, someone needs to step up. Egwu can make plays defensively, but is shooting only 41.7% from the field. Maybe McLaurin does need a longer look.
Pleasant Surprises: Freshmen starters Mike Gesell and Adam Woodbury seem like they are starting to find their roles in the offense. Gesell is shooting 38.1% from three and averaging 4 assists/game with a 2:1 assist/turnover ratio. Woodbury is the second-leading rebounder, shot-blocker, and leads the team with a 63.6 shooting percentage from the field (excluding Pat Ingram's mark from a single-made shot attempt).
Areas of concern: The Hawkeyes had to rally pretty hard to overcome Gardner-Webb, and beating this WKU squad by a mere nine points doesn't scream NCAA tourney material. If freshman Mike Gesell doesn't hit three 3-pointers against the Hilltoppers, that may well have not been a win. While Zach McCabe appears to be fitting in as a small forward, but it looks to me that there's not a lot of steady production past the first seven players. Maybe that's fine, and maybe others will emerge. It bears watching, though.
9. Northwestern (4-0) W v. Fairleigh Dickinson 80-53, W v. Delaware State 69-50
Pleasant Surprises: Freshman center Alex Olah has come in ready for D-I play. Whether he's ready for Big Ten play remains to be seen, but still, nice. Also, Nikola Cerina went for 10 points and 7 rebounds in his debut, confirming my suspicions that he should be at least a part-time starter. How about former walk-on Reggie Hearn, tho?One year ago, who would've thought he'd be leading the team in scoring? And shooting 63% from three? Impressive.
Areas of concern: The previously-mentioned depth looks suspect now as frosh Tre Demps and Kale Abrahamson appear to be only gunners off the bench. Only Alex Marcotullio and Mike Turner seem like the only possible regular contributors, at least until Nikola Cerina gets back from an injury. Seriously, when you're playing Drew Crawford 40 minutes and Dave Sobolewski 37 minutes against Delaware freaking State, you got problems.
10. Purdue (1-3) L v. (n.) Villanova 81-89 (OT), L v. (n.) Oregon State 58-66
Pleasant Surprises: AJ Hammons posting 20 points and 8 rebounds against Oregon State in a mere 21 minutes bodes well for the future. And to be as competitive as they have been in all three losses, against teams with real postseason hopes (and on a neutral court in the last two), while shooting as poorly as they have, points to a team that is going to snap back, once they get some shots to fall. And the Boilers seem sure to right the ship somewhat against UNC-Wilmington tonight.
Areas of concern: Getting those shots to fall is going to be a tough job. Not only are the Boilers shooting a mere 42.3% overall and 25% (!) from three, but they are also shooting a mere 56.3% from the stripe. That doesn't suggest that getting better quality looks will help enough to turn their fortunesaround. And losing three of your first four games is never good. The Boilers can certainly turn this season around, of that there is no question. But the road the NCAA tournament just got off to a very poor start.
11. Nebraska (3-0) W v. Nebraska-Omaha 75-62
Pleasant Surprises: There's not a ton one could learn in a non-blowout win over a recently-Division-I branch school, but at least Andre Almedia had a bit of a breakout game, posting 19 points and 7 rebs. Walk-ons got a chance to notch some good minutes and minor numbers, with Trevor Menke getting 3 assists and Mike Peltz snagging 3 rebounds.
Areas of concern: Uh, I won't delve too deeply into the problems facing the Huskers this season, but getting production from the bench is a big concern, and Nebraska missed 19 of their 22 three-point attempts in this one.Nebraska should beat Tulane tonight (breaking update: by a score of 61-57), but I don't see even a NIT squad here. It'll be a long year for coach Miles.
12. Penn State (2-2) W v. Providence 55-52 (OT), L v. Akron 85-60
Pleasant Surprises: The Nittany Lions gutted out a tough win over a young Providence Friars squad, and I think that win will look better as the season goes on. However, when Tim Frazier went out for the year with an injury in what turned into a blowout loss to the Akron Zips, all that promise went right out the window. There are things I could point to that I like: DJ Newbill's impact, Ross Travis' rebounding, Jermaine Marshall's improved defense... but it all seems like pretty thin gruel for PSU right now.
Areas of concern: Tim Frazier's injury is absolutely crippling. It's hard to imagine how this team could get above .500 now. The only guard even on the bench that was in regular rotation was former walk-on Nick Colella. Just disastrous.