1. The Big Ten Wanted The Cub Scouts Approval
Not giving the 11 teams that make up the Big “Ten” much attention, Cub Scouts had to address the recent noise that the teams from the northern Midwestern locales made with several wins over ranked out-of-conference opponents. Saturday’s win by Michigan over (Top 5) Duke easily made the most headlines, but there were a few other “statement” wins that will help out the individual teams and the conference as a whole when it comes time to select the 65 teams for the NCAA Tournament.
Ohio State and Thad Matta should be given a lot of credit for not only two huge wins this week, but also for the coach’s individual patience with all-world freshman center, B.J. Mullens. My good friend, ESPN analyst Allen Hopkins was on site for the Buckeyes’ impressive win in Miami over the national ranked Hurricanes. We chatted through out the game about why Mullens wasn’t on the floor more. Matta has been steadfast with his plan to bring the youngster along slowly and despite my problem with Mullen’s absence in that game’s waning minutes, you can’t argue with the team’s success (5-0). The fact that the Buckeyes could return north from South Beach to beat the mighty Irish of Notre Dame on a neutral floor was flat-out amazing. Mullens had his best game of his brief career with 11 points and 7 rebounds (against a stout ND frontline) and Matta again got another amazing performance by a player that will soon be a household name, Evan Turner. (See below for more on this guy.)
I will also use this space to give shout-outs to our esteemed online editor’s alma mater, Illinois who have gotten off to a pretty surprising start. Despite a disappointing two-point loss to Clemson, the Fighting Illini already have nice wins over Georgia (a 32-point blowout, at that) Kent State, Vanderbilt and Tulsa, all teams with realistic postseason aspirations.
The fact that the cream of this crop had a tough week might speak to the depth that the conference actually boasts. Purdue (Duke and Oklahoma) Michigan State (Maryland and North Carolina) and Wisconsin (Marquette and Connecticut) all have two losses, but each is to a quality opponent. Hell, I was even impressed with the freshmen-heavy Indiana team in their weekend loss to the Gonzaga Bulldogs!
Good luck to the Iowa Hawkeyes as they look to defend their home turf with three straight in-state games (Northern Iowa, Iowa State, and Drake). And I also hope the Nittany Lions of Pennsylvania State can bounce back after a tough loss this weekend to Temple. Our former editor-in-chief would have my head if I failed to mention their quality early season win over Georgia Tech.
2. NBA Prepubescent Progeny Producing!
There has long been a tradition of athletic offspring doing as their parents did before them and jumping head-first into the world of sports. This year is no different with several freshmen following their father’s footsteps.
— Washington State’s Klay Thompson grew up around the Showtime Lakers. In just his first month of collegiate hoops, the son of former center Mychal has been putting the Pac-10 on notice by averaging a dozen points to go along with five rebounds a night. The pencil thin (6-6, 185) guard still has a lot to prove once the conference schedule begins but the youngster should be more than tested later tonight when he is forced to handle the non-stop onslaught of backcourt talent when they face Gonzaga from up the road in Spokane.
— The entirety that is Stephen Curry has been discussed at length in every basketball circle. Thanks to our good friend AR (h to the izzo) we have also been able to chat up Steph’s younger brother Seth, who is ripping it up at Liberty. The 6-1 freshman is not only leading all freshmen in scoring at 21 per, but to grab five rebounds with his slight frame is quite the accomplishment. The rumors persist that the younger of Dell’s dudes is the best of the lot and look for Liberty to get some national attention later this spring after getting early season wins over Virginia and George Mason.
— Renaldo Woolridge is the perfect fit in Knoxville. At 6-8 210 pounds, the son of the “other” Big O, is the long, athletic and talented player Bruce Pearl built his high-energy program around. The younger Woolridge has already found his way into Tennessee’s starting rotation and despite averaging just six points and four boards per night, he should be a major player as the Vols look to make a championship run.
— When someone grows to be just an inch under seven-feet, he shouldn’t be dwarfed by his father. Such is not the case for Minnesota freshman Ralph Sampson III. His legendary pops still has over a half a foot on his son, but the younger Sampson is making a name for himself early for Tubby Smith’s undefeated Golden Gophers.
3. Blake’s Week!
Believe it or not, Blake Griffin probably played against two of the nation’s top post players in the Sooners’ wins last week over Southern California and Tulsa. Against the Trojans’ Taj Gibson, Griffin had what most would consider a “ho-hum” performance getting 25 (8-12 from floor) and six rebounds in a one-point win. Against Tulsa’s Jerome Jordan (someone I am not sold on, despite the scout’s amour…Patrick O’Bryant, anyone?), Blake had 19 (8-14) and nine rebounds in a game that the Sooners were outrageously impressive in the first half to make the cross-state battle a cake walk. The Golden Hurricane’s 7-footer managed just seven points on 2-10 shooting.
To highlight all that is “Blake,” I will offer a note about his defense. The sophomore from Okie City leads his defensively aggressive team with 2 spg. That puts him amongst the Big 12 leaders. It’s mostly attributed to his quick and sound footwork in the post as he fights to “front” his opposition. Blake has great anticipation in the half-court and especially off the glass (he does still average 16 boards per game for the 8-0 Sooners.)
4. Player Alert
In an attempt to “add,” not bite off of, my colleague Jeff Fox’s new segment, I will offer my own “Player Alert” section. This past week was the genesis of my love for Ohio State’s Evan Turner, who played beautifully in two Buckeye wins. Against Miami, Turner was the best player on the court during the game’s deciding moments. He grabbed rebounds, set-up teammates, scored from the wing, finished (with an impressive 360, which drew the ire of his coach) in fashion, and snared loose balls. Over a five-minute period, the 6-7 Turner was the difference as the Buckeyes recovered from a 14-point halftime deficit to win by five.
To be honest, in my viewings of this sophomore last year (then a freshman) I was pretty unimpressed. Just a few months later, I am confident that this kid will be a hot topic when it comes time for underclassmen to declare for an upcoming draft. In Indianapolis on Saturday, Turner played an almost perfect game, scoring a career-high 28 (11-16 from field) nabbing 10 boards, dishing out five helpers to go along with two steals. You can catch Turner (who leads OSU in scoring — 17, rebounding — 8, and assists — 3.5) this weekend, but only if you have the Big Ten Network.
5. Games This Week
This appears to be a bit of a down week in terms of marquee match-ups, but those needing to feed a fix will be in no danger of withdrawals. With college football finished with its regular season, the weekends should be largely refocused on the hardwood.
— The nationally ranked Texas Longhorns and Villanova Wildcats have a 9 p.m. ET tip on ESPN, which follows a 7 p.m. start between Davidson and West Virginia.
Sat., Dec .13
— Butler and Ohio State (both undefeated) have a lunchtime matinee at noon on the Big Ten Network.
— Two hours later on CBS, Memphis travels to the nation’s capital to face Georgetown.
— I got a feeling about the Queen City derby between the Top 10-ranked Xavier and the resurrecting Cincinnati Bearcats when they face off on ESPN2 at 8 p.m.
Sun. Dec. 14
— Two of Cub Scouts’ favorite programs to watch face off in Phoenix as Gonzaga and Arizona meet at 6 p.m. on Fox Sports Net.
Enjoy the games!
Check Cub Buenning’s scouting website for weekly player reports. Many players highlighted in Cub Scouts are thoroughly covered on the site.