Buy/sell is back, and this week we’re throwing some serious love to the underdogs.
1. Corey Sanders, Rutgers. Maybe there’s light at the end of the Lincoln Tunnel for the Scarlet Knights. Sanders, a four-start true freshman from Orlando, nearly dropped a triple-double on Illinois in Rutgers’ triple-OT loss to the Illini earlier this week. Sanders had 39 points, 12 assists, and 8 rebounds in the heartbreaking loss. He did shoot only 2-for-11 from three, but that’s forgiven because of the ridiculous step-back buzzer-beater triple he nailed to force a second overtime. Sanders followed up his incredible mid-week game with a respectable 28 point outing in a blowout loss at Nebraska, and earned conference Freshman of the Week honors. Sanders leads the Big Ten in possessions used, taking up 31% of Rutgers’ trips when he’s on the court. The Scarlet Knights may still be winless in conference, but it should be exciting to watch Sanders face Nate Mason on February 23 when Rutgers meets Minnesota.
2. Brandon Taylor, Penn State. Another under-appreciated Big Ten player got time to shine this week, as Taylor led the Nittany Lions to stunning upset of Indiana. Payton Banks hit a late three-pointer, Julian Moore converted a key three-point play, and Shep Garner came through at the free throw line, but don’t let the last two minutes confuse you: Taylor carried his team to this victory. He delivered a game-high 24 points, including 11 of Penn State’s 13 over a key six-minute stretch late in the second half. Additionally, Taylor delivered a double-double (15 points and 11 rebounds) in a blowout loss at Iowa, completing his best week of conference play. Taylor has come through all season for Penn State, having raised his scoring average from 9 points per game last year to 16.6 this season, and is following in the footsteps of former Lions DJ Newbill and Tim Frazier as a big-time scorer in Happy Valley.
3. Maryland on the Glass. The Terps didn’t play particularly well this week. Maryland committed 18 turnovers at Nebraska, and then shot 4-for-18 from three against Purdue. Somehow, the Terps managed to win both of those games and improve to 10-2 in conference. Rebounding carried Maryland this week, as the Terps out-boarded Nebraska 43-35, and held Purdue, the best rebounding team in the conference, even on the glass at 37-37. Diamond Stone grabbed 10 rebounds against the Huskers, his first double-digit rebound game since January 12 against Michigan. More surprisingly, Rasheed Sulaimon secured 10 boards against the Boilermakers, his first double-digit rebound game EVER. If the Terps stay aggressive on the boards, they can continue to win tight games and will become even more formidable in March.
1. Michigan. This was the part where the Wolverines, after treading water to reach 7-2 in conference, were supposed to get Caris LaVert back for key home games against Indiana and Michigan State, except LaVert didn’t come back and the Wolverines lost both games handily. The Hoosiers assisted on 18 of 33 made baskets and used a remarkable 28-0 run to take down the Wolverines, and then Sparty assisted on 18 of 32 hoops, shot 63% from downtown, and led Michigan by 16 at halftime. Both Indiana and Michigan State outshot the Wolverines from three, and Michigan can’t win when that happens since the Wolverines get a conference-high 40% of their points from three-pointers. Michigan’s defense (opponents shoot a conference-high 56% against the Wolverines) finally caught up to them, and the Wolverines still have games against Purdue, Maryland, Wisconsin, and Iowa. It could be a long finish in Ann Arbor if LaVert remains out.
2. Indiana (except for that 28-0 run): Other than the part where the Hoosiers hung four unanswered touchdowns on Michigan, it was a slow week for Indiana. A decline in post play was especially noticeable, as Troy Williams battled foul trouble and finished with only four rebounds against Michigan and Thomas Bryant struggled against Penn State but still finished with a respectable 10 points and eight boards. Yogi Ferrell shot poorly (3-for-12) against the Lions, and Robert Johnson contributed only six points and five turnovers in Happy Valley. The Hoosiers rely heavily on three-pointers (second-most in the conference) despite Bryant shooting 73% from the field in conference play, and turn the ball over on a conference-worst 21% of their possessions. Indiana should make a more concerted effort to get Bryant involved early and often this week, as the Hoosiers face Iowa and Michigan State and need at least one win to offset their brutal loss to the Lions.
3. Ohio State’s Forwards: JaQuan Lyle torched Wisconsin for 27 points, but could not get enough help as the Buckeyes lost a pivotal game in Madison to fall into eighth place in the conference. Marc Loving scored only six points,Keita Bates-Diop added only seven, and Jae’Sean Tate contributed nine. It was the first time this season that the Buckeyes’ three key forwards all scored in single-digits, and Ohio State’s offense became far too one-dimensional as a result. With the nation’s 86th RPI, a 2-8 record vs. the RPI top 100, and four games remaining against Michigan State (2), Iowa, and Michigan, the Buckeye front-court needs to pick up its play to secure even an NIT bid for Thad and company.