Dienhart: Best of Week 9 in Big Ten conference play
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Just one more week remains, as the penultimate week of the season is in the rear-view mirror. Can Purdue hang on to its one-game lead in the conference standings and take home its first Big Ten crowns since 2010? Wisconsin is in pursuit, while others teams look to augment their NCAA resumes. And no team is hotter than Minnesota.
Get my best of the week that was below.
Biggest surprise: Illinois. With two more wins, the latest coming vs. Northwestern and at Nebraska, John Groce’s team has won four of its last five and looks to be back in the NCAA tourney discussion. The last couple of weeks, the Illini are playing like the team most expected them to be, what with all of the veteran talent they returned. Illinois closes the season vs. Michigan State and at Rutgers. Win those two, and Illinois will have a tourney-worthy resume. Michigan, fresh off two more wins, deserves mention, as well.
Biggest disappointment: Maryland. Not long ago, the Terrapins were pacing the pack in the Big Ten after opening the year 20-2. Now, Maryland is in third place with faint hope to win the league championship. The Terps have lost three in a row and five of seven, the last two defeats coming at home to Minnesota and Iowa. Have to mention Wisconsin here, too, as the Badgers have lost four of five. Wisconsin’s defense has gone to the dogs of late.
Best player: Nate Mason, Minnesota. The junior point guard just missed a triple-double (16 pts, 10 rebs, 8 assists) in Saturday’s win vs. Penn State, and he was pretty good in Wednesday’s victory at Maryland (17 pts, 5 rebs, 3 assists), too. In the two victories, Mason averaged 16.5 points, 7.5 rebounds, 5.5 assists, and 1.5 steals.
Best freshman: Tony Carr, Penn State. Plenty of contenders this week, such as Iowa’s Jordan Bohannon and Michigan State’s Nick Ward, but it’s impossible to ignore the Penn State point guard’s continued torrid play. In two games, both losses, Carr shot 50 percent and averaged 20.5 points, four rebounds, seven assists, two steals and 1.5 blocks. He’s special, folks.
Best stat line: Peter Jok played like one of the best players in the Big Ten in Iowa’s 96-90 OT win vs. Indiana on Tuesday. The senior, who hit 6-of-12 shots and 22-of-23 free throws, registered 35 points, five rebounds, three steals and zero turnovers. Jok was at his best in OT, when he notched 13 points. The 22 free throws made were a school single-game standard, as the Hawkeyes rallied from 13 down.
Best stat: 11, blocks for Minnesota’s Reggie Lynch vs. Penn State on Saturday. The 11 rejections are the most in a game by a Big Ten player since Ohio State’s Ken Johnson had 11 against Iowa in February 2000 and the second-most in a game in Minnesota history (Mychal Thompson had 12 in January 1976 against Ohio State). Perhaps even more impressive, he swatted the 11 shots without committing a single foul.
Best stat, Part II: 6, field goals the aforementioned Jok hit en route to scoring 35 points in the overtime win vs. Indiana. How did he do it? By hitting a staggering 22-of-23 (96 percent) free throws.
Best moment: Michigan State’s Eron Harris. What a senior day it was for the injured Spartan on Sunday. Not only was he surprised by his mother singing the National Anthem prior to the big win vs. No. 16 Wisconsin, Tom Izzo put him in the game with 11 seconds left, this despite suffering a season-ending right knee injury the weekend before, to kiss the midcourt logo, a Michigan State senior tradition. It was an awesome moment, made even better by Wisconsin’s show of sportsmanship. Speaking of injured players on senior day, Indiana’s Collin Hartman proposed to his girlfriend, an Indiana cheerleader, during his speech.
Best shot: Indiana’s Devonte Green vs. Northwestern. Sure, it took some luck, but the Indiana freshman’s three-quarter court halftime buzzer-beater was something else. How about the splits he did in mid-air as he released it, too? The heave capped a 22-0 run to close the half and give Indiana momentum heading into the locker room.
Best dunk: Michigan State’s Miles Bridges vs. Nebraska. The high-flying and electric freshman was on the receiving end of fellow freshman Cassius Winston’s pass off the glass. To the surprise of no one, Bridges knew exactly what to do with the fancy transition pass. This was a thing of playground beauty. Just boffo. Can’t ignore Nicholas Baer’s emphatic putback in Iowa’s overtime win vs Indiana or Dupree McBrayer’s highlight flush vs. Penn State, either.
Best pass: Nate Mason vs. Penn State. Mason had a bunch of nice assists this past week, but his no-look dime to set up a Reggie Lynch layup vs. Penn State was a thing of beauty. The Nittany Lions didn’t see it coming at all. And how about Mason’s swag after delivering the pass? Yeah, he knew it was resulting in an easy two.
Best block: Reggie Lynch vs. Penn State. If we’re spotlighting a block, you almost have to turn the spotlight to one of the Big Ten leader’s 14 blocks on the week. Or, in this case, two of his blocks. Penn State stood no chance on this back-to-back block sequence.
Best rebound: Mike Watkins vs. Purdue. Ever see someone grab three consecutive offensive rebounds vs. Caleb Swanigan? Probably not before Tuesday night’s Purdue-Penn State game. But, in a span of just 11 seconds, the Penn State redshirt freshman beat the nation’s elite rebounder to a three straight Penn State misses. It was amazing, really.
Best tweet: Former Michigan State star Branden Dawson. Dawson knows what it’s like to be a member of the Michigan State family, and that fact was hammered home again during Eron Harris’ emotional senior day moment.
Did you see this? Maryland’s Flash Mob Part V lived up to the hype in Saturday’s loss vs. Iowa. Have to hand it to one of the Big Ten’s best student sections for making these consistently great.
Did you see this, Part II? It’s no secret that Jordan Bohannon can stroke it, and the Iowa freshman showed it in the team’s upset win at Maryland, hitting eight 3-pointers. This guy is going to break many records in his time in Iowa City, Iowa.
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