After a two week holiday hiatus, the Layup Line is back and better than ever. Conference play has finally begun, and the Big Ten is already off to an interesting start. Four teams are undefeated (Iowa, Indiana, Maryland, Ohio State), and four are still winless (Illinois, Nebraska, Minnesota, Rutgers). There has been lots of good, lots of bad and lots of ugly, so let’s dive right into the nitty gritty of the last two weeks.
A: Iowa Hawkeyes
Fran McCaffery’s Team is Firing On All Cylinders (USA Today Images)
Sure, Indiana and Ohio State are also 3-0 in Big Ten play but neither has wins as impressive as that of Iowa. How the Hawkeyes scored 50 points in the second half against the best defensive team in the nation is beyond explanation, but it happened. And if we forget about Denzel Valentine, Buddy Hield and Ben Simmons for a moment, Jarrod Uthoff has been the best player in the country. If March Madness started tomorrow, Uthoff would likely be a First Team All-American. Offensively, the Hawkeyes currently rank 11th in efficiency, eighth in turnover percentage, 39th in effective field goal percentage and 21st in three-point percentage. Defensively, they rank 36th in efficiency, 10th in opponents’ free throw rate, 32nd in opponents’ three-point percentage and fifth in block percentage. No disrespect to Mike Gesell and Peter Jok and their to-this-point stellar seasons, but this team would not be nearly as effective without Uthoff. It most certainly could not have beaten Purdue in the fashion it did without his 25-point, four-block effort.
Oh, and Iowa also beat Michigan State and Nebraska handily. It’s high time to buy stock in the most underrated team in the country.
B: Diamond Stone
If there is such a thing as freshman jitters, Diamond Stone had ‘em. The Maryland center is now a completely different player than the one we witnessed in the first month of the season — a huge development for a team with serious Final Four aspirations. As of last week, Maryland is one of six major conference teams scoring more than a point per possession on post-ups (1.02 PPP); last season it managed just 0.75 PPP in those situations. Mark Turgeron can thank Stone for that, a player who is coming off a sweep of the Big Ten’s weekly awards (Player and Freshman of the Week) and an epic 39-point, 12-rebound performance in a comeback win against Penn State. It’s Diamond’s world right now.
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