Following a week filled with standout performances and a weekend matchup for the ages on the horizon, there’s a lot to address in this week’s edition of “Big Ten Breakdown”.
With that being said, let’s get to it.
Game of the Week: No. 13 Michigan State 80, Illinois 75
With Michigan, Indiana and Minnesota manhandling inferior opponents, some of the conference’s top dogs weren’t tested during the week.
However, that wasn’t the case for Michigan State as they overcame a double-digit halftime deficit and adversity to fend off Illinois on Thursday.
Not only were the Spartans down by 10 at the break, but they also dealt with injuries to guards Gary Harris and Travis Trice that took them out of the game.
Also, big man Derrick Nix didn’t start because of one missed class and one tutor session.
Regardless of hurt players and distractions, Sparty’s Keith Appling was there to save the day.
To say Appling was hitting on all cylinders would be an understatement, scoring 24 points, dishing seven dimes and hauling in eight rebounds.
After Sparty erased the Illini’s halftime lead, it was an entertaining battle back and forth ‘til the end.
With the victory, Michigan State helped maintain their status as a top team in the Big Ten, regardless if they’re given the respect they deserve.
Performance of the Week: Aaron White, Iowa
While Appling is certainly deserving of the honor as well, Aaron White put on a methodically impressive show Thursday night against Penn State.
Even though Penn State is undersized and White was expected to be effective, a career-best scoring game was a surprise.
After scoring just 25 total points the two previous game, White dominated the Nittany Lions by doing the simple things: taking makeable shots, drawing fouls and sinking free throws.
White scored a career-high 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and nailing 10-of-11 from the charity stripe.
And after the Lions started the game off to a quick 10-3 lead, it was White that generated a Hawkeyes 14-0 run with seven points in just over a minute.
Freshman of the Week: A.J. Hammons, Purdue
Yes, Purdue received a 97-60 whipping by Indiana, but the Boilermakers young big boy had himself a game.
Scoring half of Purdue’s points, Hammons hit 10-of-14 from the field for an incredible 71.4 percentage.
And while the Hoosiers’ Cody Zeller had a typical 19-point performance, the 7-foot-0, 280-pound Boilermaker still made his presence felt on the defensive end.
Topping his Big Ten leading 3.1 blocks per game, Hammons packed Indiana shot attempts left and right for five blocks.
At 11-10 overall, a NCAA tournament may not be in Purdue’s sights this year, but they’ll be deadly with Hammons coming back after a year of seasoning – assuming he doesn’t bolt for the NBA.
Matchup to Watch: Indiana’s Christian Watford vs. Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III
Perhaps the most anticipated collegiate basketball game of the year, this contest features national player of the year candidates in Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller and Michigan’s Trey Burke.
However, the matchup to watch in this one is Indiana’s overlooked, seasoned scorer Watford and the Wolverines’ versatile freshman Robinson III.
While Watford has three more years of collegiate experience than his Michigan counterpart, both adaptable forwards play virtually the same role for their respective teams: a consistent third scoring option and reliable rebounder.
While the 6-foot-9 Indiana forward holds three inches on Robinson III, the Wolverines youngster is more consistent in the paint offensively.
Couple that with Watford’s proven capability to step back and knock down shots from downtown (4-of-5 from 3-point land on Wednesday against Purdue), it should be interesting to see which complimenting scorer performs better on the big stage.
Game to Watch: No. 1 Michigan vs. No. 3 Indiana
Reading the first sentence from the entry above should be enough to keep students in for a bit on Saturday night for the 9 p.m. matchup.
Honestly, college basketball may not see a game of this caliber until, well, maybe the last game of Big Ten play when these two teams meet in Ann Arbor.
In terms of on-court talent, there’s a plethora of future NBA players and potential lottery picks with Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo and Michigan’s Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr.
After scoring just 11 points his previous two games, Zeller showed on Wednesday against Purdue why he’s one of the nation’s deadliest big men with a 19-point and 11-rebound performance.
And while Zeller was the subject of preseason national infatuation, it’s the Hoosiers’ Swiss Army knife Oladipo who’s got all bases covered, averaging 19 points, 6.3 boards and four steals per game in his last three contests.
For Michigan, the Big Ten’s highest scoring backcourt with Burke (17.9 points per game) and Hardaway Jr. (15.5 points per game) has the ability to take games over.
However, it’ll be tough to do on the road in Assembly Hall, one of the country’s most rowdy venues and a place where Indiana seems unbeatable.
With everything taken into consideration, this is not only the premier contest of the weekend, but could college basketball’s best game before March Madness.