With the college basketball season more than halfway over, who knew that the Big Ten would, statistically, be just the fifth highest rated conference in the country (behind even the Pac-12!)? There’s no doubting that it has been a down year for a conference that has arguably been the nation’s best league over the past five years. Seeing the two best teams in the non-conference season (Michigan State and Purdue) already with two league losses isn’t helping. Surpisingly, Iowa and Indiana stand together atop the standings at 4-0 each, but they are coached by Fran McCaffrey and Tom Crean. How long can this really go on? It’s week eight of the Layup Line.
A: John Groce, Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn
They only played one game since last Friday, but the Illini sure made the most of what was a huge game Sunday night against Purdue. They were in control from the start thanks to the Batman-and-Robin duo of Malcolm Hill and Kendrick Nunn. Both juniors continue to have their way with nearly every opponent, but no performance has been as impressive as the one they delivered Sunday. The two combined for 52 points on 17-of-27 shooting and 13-of-17 from the line, while adding 13 rebounds and three blocks. Nunn now leads the Big Ten in scoring (18.8), while Hill ranks third (18.1).
Best of all, the Illini fulfilled John Groce’s game plan to a T, attacking the nation’s second-best two-point defense (38.2%) all night. The Illini had no problem with Purdue’s major size advantage, shooting 17 of 31 inside the arc, scoring 1.20 points per possession and forcing Purdue into its worst defensive effort of the season. If only Groce had a remotely healthy roster that wasn’t so reliant on Hill and Nunn…
B: Big Ten Point Guards
Overall, it was a great week for a number of Big Ten point guards, starting with Yogi Ferrell. He continued his brilliant play on Sunday against Ohio State, scoring 16 points and adding six assists, five rebounds and three steals. He’s averaging 19.8 points in Big Ten play and has been tasked, as usual, with guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player each game. So far, he has lived up to the challenge, slowing down Andrew White, Bronson Koenig and Marc Loving the past three games.
Iowa point guard Mike Gesell earned Player of the Week honors after posting his first career double-double (22 points, 10 assists) in a win over Nebraska. He ranks ninth nationally in assists per game (6.9).
Bryant McIntosh continued to lead a shorthanded Northwestern group, as he dished out 11 assists at Minnesota and picked apart Wisconsin at home to the tune of 28 points, five assists and four rebounds. He ranks seventh nationally in assists per game (7.1).
Melo Trimble struggled in Tuesday’s loss in Ann Arbor, but he did put up 21 points and five assists and hit the game winning three-pointer in Madison on Saturday.