Big Ten Weekend in Review

Posted by Brendan Brody on January 27th, 2015

Two things that stuck out from a busy seven-game weekend in the B1G both involved Iowa. Fran McCaffery’s squad reentered last week’s Top 25 only to drop two games and potentially lose Aaron White to a shoulder stinger. Luckily, the team does not play again until Saturday in a rematch against Wisconsin. But the star senior may miss some time, becoming the fourth key upperclassmen to get injured once conference play has started. They may have lost to Purdue on Saturday anyway, but with White only playing seven minutes, things were made a bit more difficult for the Hawkeyes to steal a game in West Lafayette. Because of this result and that Nebraska beat Michigan State, there are now four teams tied for sixth place with identical 4-3 records and eight teams sit only two games behind first-place Wisconsin. While the league is down from the last couple years, there is still a great deal of parity within its midsection. Things have gotten even more equal with the injuries, making the last six weeks of conference play that much more interesting.

D'Angelo Russell continues notched a double-double on Sunday as Ohio State beat Indiana. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

D’Angelo Russell continues notched a double-double on Sunday as Ohio State beat Indiana. (Kyle Robertson, Columbus Dispatch)

Player of the Weekend: D’Angelo Russell had just an all-around outstanding week, but Sunday was special in the fact that it didn’t seem so special. There was no dynamic outside shooting like the first half of the Minnesota game, nor were there any highlight reel no-look passes.Instead the freshman has become so good that he can quietly put up a line that includes 22 points and ten assists against a ranked team without it being much of a surprise anymore. He was able to get to the basket at will, he continued to be really proficient at helping the team on the boards (six rebounds), and he even chipped in with two steals. It also appeared that with the emergence of fellow first-year player Jae’Sean Tate, Thad Matta has decided that in order for this Buckeye unit to advance deep into March, he needs the freshmen more than his quintet of seniors who have failed to be consistent. With a 25.8 PPG average in his last four games, Russell has shown that he’s peaking at the just the right time.

Super Sub of the Weekend: Basil Smotherman had gotten lost in the rotation at Purdue, with Vince Edwards taking the majority of the minutes at the power forward slot. After starting 16 games as a freshman last season, Smotherman had only averaged a paltry 6.2 MPG in Big Ten games prior to Saturday’s matchup against Iowa. This changed as he notched an extremely productive 25 minutes Saturday. He scored a season-high 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting. He also added six rebounds, two of which came in the last minute of the game on the defensive backboards with Iowa attempting a furious comeback. Purdue has one of the deepest rosters in the whole league, and if they could ever get everyone playing well at the same time and contributing in different ways, this could still be a NCAA Tournament team.

Best Win: Call me crazy, but it’s starting to almost look like a repeat of last year for Nebraska. Tim Miles and company are actually in better shape record-wise than they were last season, when they started things out in league play 2-5 with an overall record of 10-9. They now sit 4-3, with a 12-7 overall mark after withstanding a late Michigan State rally to win 79-77. Controlling the action for 38 minutes, they notched an impressive win despite getting outrebounded by 22. Since Leslee Smith and Moses Abraham returned from injuries, the Cornhuskers have gone 4-1. Seven out of their last 11 games are away from Lincoln, so it will be tricky for this team to make up for some of the early losses that leave them with an RPI of 91 as of Sunday. But the win over Sparty is a good starting point for making another run.

Worst Loss: It’s easy if you have at least a semblance of a soul to just feel bad for Northwestern right now. Just think for a second and imagine a world where they had won three of the five games they’ve played since losing to Wisconsin instead of losing all five by a total of 17 points. They’d be 4-3 in conference and 13-7 overall, with Chris Collins getting talked up as a Coach of the Year candidate. Instead, the Wildcats suffered another heart breaker after missing a block out on Dez Wells in the waning seconds, allowing the senior to score a game-winning put back with two seconds left on the clock. They let an 11-point halftime lead slip away and did themselves in by turning the ball over 17 times and letting the Terps attempt 25 free throws. Northwestern will break through and win one of these games that have ended in defeat soon, but the unforced errors are killing them right now.

Most Efficient Performance: Penn State notched their first conference win, and did slow by shooting the ball much better than they had been for most of the conference slate of games. They made ten three-pointers en route to a 59.6 eFG percentage for the game in their home win against Rutgers. They held the Scarlet Knights to just 0.81 points per possession, and forced them to turn the ball over 16 times (25.4%). Rutgers played badly, but Penn State was balanced on offense (three players in double-figures), and they won both the turnover battle (16-9) and the one on the boards (32-28). Their 1.25 points per possession was the highest they’ve had in B1G play thus far this season.

Brendan Brody (307 Posts)

Brendan Brody is in his fourth season covering the Big Ten for RTC. Email him at, or follow him on twitter @berndon4.

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