It’s time for the fourth 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. AJ Hammons, Purdue. The talented Purdue big man got his season off to a rocky start and did not start in any of the Boilermakers’ first 13 games. It’s safe to say Hammons has turned his season around, delivering one of the greatest single-game lines of the season over the weekend against Nebraska. Hammons dropped 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting, and also added 11 rebounds and five assists. Sure, Nebraska also allowed 28 points on 11-of-14 shooting to Northwestern freshman Dererk Pardon and maybe the Huskers’ interior defense needs some improvement, but Hammons’ level of domination was still pretty ridiculous (a whopping 159 points per 100 possessions, according to KenPom). Purdue improved to 11-0 this season when Hammons takes at least ten shots, and 19-2 this season against teams that are not Iowa. Purdue has the meat of their schedule ahead, and needs to salvage at least one win in an upcoming three-game stretch of doom: a home date with Michigan State is sandwiched in between trips to Maryland and Michigan
2. Zak Irvin, Michigan. How have the Wolverines survived without Caris LeVert? In addition to a relatively tame conference schedule (six of the Wolverines’ last nine league games are against teams in KenPom’s top 60, while three of Michigan’s first nine contests were against such teams), Michigan has had a different player step up each and every week. Sure, sometimes (usually) that’s a cliche, but it’s actually been true for Michigan. First Duncan Robinson, then Derrick Walton, and now Irvin, who nearly went for a triple-double against Rutgers (8 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists) and then dropped 20 on Penn State in Madison Square Garden. Irvin’s been under-appreciated part of Michigan’s LeVert-less success, but he’s survived starting the season 7-of-41 from three-point range and has quietly played 89% of Michigan’s conference minutes. (P.S: HUGE week for the maize and blue this week with games against Indiana and Michigan State. Migos might want to stay in town after helping Jim Harbaugh with signing day.)
3. Michigan State’s Ball Movement Offense: Yes, Northwestern’s defense was bad and Rutgers’ defense might have been worse, but nobody in college basketball moves the ball as well as Michigan State. The Spartans don’t just get threes, they get open threes, and they make them almost every time. This week, Michigan State assisted on 50 of 61 made field goals, or 82% of their made baskets. For the season, the Spartans lead the nation assisting on 72% of their makes. Sparty is 19-1 when tallying 15 assists or more in a game this year (fun fact: Northwestern is 13-0 when dropping at least 15 dimes), and is sure to be a threat come March with ball movement of the highest caliber.
1. Northwestern’s Ball Movement Defense: Sparty is really really good at moving the ball, but Tom Izzo’s team isn’t the only team that’s found holes in Northwestern’s defense. The Wildcats allow opponents an assist to turnover ratio of 1.34, which is 330th out of 351 college basketball teams. Part of this comes from the team’s tendency to stay in zone defense, which naturally limits turnover opportunities, but this also speaks to a need for improvement on the defensive end.
2. Iowa’s Third Banana. Uthoff scored a season-low nine points on two-of-13 shooting in a midweek game at Maryland, but rebounded to make half of his 16 shots en route to 23 points against Northwestern. Jok has really gotten going lately, and scored 26 against the Wildcats on Sunday. Iowa has clearly established itself as one of the best teams in the country, but the question for the Hawkeyes is this: how do they respond in March if both of their frontline scorers are having off days? Will they get 25 points from Mike Gesell like they did against Michigan State or will they falter like they did against Maryland?
3. Seven Big Ten Teams Dancing. Ohio State had a rough week, needing overtime to beat Illinois and missing a golden opportunity for a big upset win against Maryland at home. Sure, that non-conference win over Kentucky still looks good, but it’s the team’s only win over an RPI top 100 opponent. The Buckeyes do have five more chances for top-1oo wins, but three of those come in a brutal season-ending stretch against Michigan State, Iowa, and Michigan State again. Wisconsin has solid wins over VCU, Syracuse, Michigan State, and Indiana, but also losses to Western Illinois and Milwaukee. If the Badgers or Buckeyes don’t pick up their play soon, the Big Ten may only get six teams into the big dance.