It’s time for the third edition of buy/sell, in which Michael Stern gives three teams/players/stats who are trending up and another three that are trending down.
1. Derrick Walton, Jr., Michigan. With Caris LaVert sidelined, Michigan’s offense has gotten pretty one-dimensional, but more on that later. For now, the spotlight shines on Walton, who was the tenth-best offensive player in the Big Ten as a freshman (120 points per 100 possessions) before playing only 18 games in an injury-shortened sophomore season. This year, Walton has been a rock for the Wolverines, and he’s played 90% of the time for Michigan in Big Ten play. He missed three non-conference games (including a road blowout loss to SMU) but has played in every conference contest and posted his three best offensive games in the Wolverines’ last three games. This week, Walton scored 22 points and went 11-of-12 from the foul line as Michigan squeaked past Minnesota, then scored 19 to go with 10 rebounds and six assists in a win over Nebraska. Thanks to Walton, Michigan sits at 5-2 in conference while LaVert continues to heal.
2. Max Bielfeldt, Indiana. Buy/sell moves from a Wolverine to a former Wolverine, as graduate transfer Bielfeldt has been a huge plus for the Hoosiers off the bench. Spelling supremely talented but frequently exhausted freshman big man Thomas Bryant, Bielfeldt has been a force in a reserve role, crashing the offensive glass and shooting 62% from two-point range. He’s contributed three straight double-figure scoring games off the bench, including 16 points in 17 minutes against Illinois and 13 points in 16 minutes against Northwestern. Indiana has won their first seven conference games and their last 12 games overall.
3. Nate Mason, Minnesota. Not much has gone right for Minnesota this season, as the Gophers have dropped 12 of their last 13 games and started 0-8 in conference play. That said, sophomore guard Mason has been a major bright spot for the Gophers. Mason has improved his field goal percentages from both two-point and three-point range this season, and came on strong this week after disappearing against Nebraska and Indiana. Mason scored 25 points in 31 minutes against Michigan, then drained five triples and scored 19 in an overtime loss to Illinois. The Gophers are one of two remaining winless teams in the conference and meet fellow oh-fer Rutgers for the first time February 23.
1. Rasheed Sulaimon, Maryland. The Duke transfer struggled this week, and so did his new team. Sulaimon finished the week 2-for-15 from the field, scoring only two free throws in an overtime win over Northwestern and making his only two field goals of the week in a loss at Michigan State. The Terps need Sulaimon to shine on the offensive end as a third option outside a pick-and-roll between Trimble and one of Maryland’s many big men. If he doesn’t get going soon, Maryland could endure a losing streak as the Terps have two challenging games this week, against Iowa and at Ohio State.
2. Illinois’ field-goal defense. For the season, Illini opponents have an effective field goal percentage of 54.6%, which is 325th out of 351 D-1 teams. Illinois has allowed at least 70 points in each of their seven conference games, including a 103-69 loss to Indiana in which the Hoosiers made more triples (19) than Illinois attempted (18). The Illini nearly gave Minnesota a first conference win, trailing by five with two minutes left before rallying to force overtime. John Groce’s squad isn’t at the very bottom of the Big Ten, but thanks to a porous defense it is pretty close.
3. Michigan’s penetration offense. I told you we’d come back to Michigan’s lack of penetration! The Wolverines’ 5-2 conference mark looks even more impressive when it becomes clear just how much Michigan relies on three-point shooting. Michigan earns only 14.6% of its points at the free throw line, which is 344th in the nation, last in the conference, and symbolizes a lack of dribble penetration (Northwestern ranks 13th in the Big Ten and 332nd in the nation scoring 16% of its points from the charity stripe). Once Caris LaVert comes back, Michigan should go back to penetrating more frequently. Despite missing six games, LaVert has attempted the second-most two point field goals on the Wolverines this season. If the threes ever stop falling, Michigan will need to start penetrating, and it’s not clear they can do that without a healthy LaVert.