Boilin’ hot Boilermakers heating up the Big Ten

In my Feb. 4 column, I wrote that the Big Ten was “in the midst of its worst campaign in years.”

What a difference three weeks can make. Bracketology experts Jerry Palm of CBS Sports and Joe Lunardi of ESPN are predicting eight Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament field. One of those squads is Purdue, a former fringe team playing its best basketball at just the right time.

The Boilermakers (18-9, 10-4 Big Ten) have caught fire recently, beginning with a home win in January against then-No. 25 Iowa (17-10, 8-6 Big Ten). They’ve won seven of their last eight games thanks to the play of guards Rapheal Davis and Jon Octeus and center A.J. Hammons.

Davis averaged 19.5 points per game in a four-game stretch from Jan. 24 to Feb. 4, but he’s cooled off since then. With Davis’ stead, the fifth-year transfer Octeus has picked up the slack offensively. Meanwhile, Hammons has been a workhorse in the paint.

The 7-foot, Gary, Indiana, native and Oak Hill Academy product posted 20 points on 8-of-9 shooting and added four blocks against Indiana (19-9, 9-6 Big Ten) on Thursday. More importantly, Hammons sank two free throws with four seconds left to lift the Boilermakers to victory. He was awarded Big Ten Player of the Week because of his stellar play against Indiana. The last Boilermaker to earn the honor was Robbie Hummel in February 2012.

With four games remaining in their regular season, the Boilermakers are looking to solidify a tournament spot somewhere in the nine to 12-seed range. After losing to the Illini (17-10, 7-7 Big Ten) 66-57 on Jan. 21, the Boilermakers will seek revenge in a home tilt against Illinois on March 7.

B1G point gods

I highlighted the play of Maryland’s Melo Trimble in January.

Friday, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame named him a finalist for the 2015 Bob Cousy Collegiate Point Guard of the Year Award. The freshman has propelled No. 14 Maryland (23-5, 11-4 Big Ten) to its best regular season in years and to its stranglehold on second place in the conference standings.

The Terps faced the class of the Big Ten Tuesday night in College Park, Maryland, taking down No. 5 Wisconsin. The Badgers (25-3, 13-2 Big Ten) boast a solid point guard of their own in Bronson Koenig, who’s averaging 12.4 points over his last seven outings after starter Traevon Jackson went down with injury.

Another Big Ten point guard is in the running for the Bob Cousy Award. Yogi Ferrell’s points per game are down slightly from last year, but his assist and rebound numbers are up. Let’s forget the box score for a second, though. The junior is the heartbeat of the Hoosiers — he’s the team leader and he controls the tempo for Tom Crean’s bunch.

Despite being listed at only 6-foot (and that’s generous), Ferrell gets great elevation on his shot, allowing him to cash in on quick-release 3-pointers. He’s extremely nimble, allowing him to penetrate and finish over taller defenders or kick to a teammate for an assist — he averages five per game.

Barring injury, Trimble and Ferrell could both be playing well into March. If you enjoy watching fantastic guard play, be sure to tune in when they’re on the floor.

Eli is a junior in Media. [email protected] @eschwad