by Eddie Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan
When the dust settled and the smoke cleared after a weekend’s worth of jam-packed action in Columbus, two teams emerged with their tickets punched to the Sweet 16. The one team that everyone expected to power through their portion of the region did just that, while the other team was one that most people are finally happy to see achieve what they are truly capable of. That’s what March Madness is all about, making those aspirations as a team become a true reality. Here are a couple of things to ponder as the tournament takes a break to regroup before action begins on Thursday evening:
Draymond Green is the best college basketball player in America.
It needs to be said, and it’s something that I can stand up and say without any hesitation. Michigan State’s Draymond Green is the best player in college basketball. Kentucky’s Anthony Davis might be the most dominant player in college hoops, but there’s no question that no one can do all of the things that Green can. In the first two games of the tournament, the Dancing Bear has averaged 20 points, 12.5 rebounds and 8.0 assists, all while shooting 57 percent from the field and 50 percent (4-8) from three-point range.
This isn’t a new revelation for the supporters of Green and the Spartans, we’ve seen it all year. What will be impressive is Green’s ability to maintain such a high level of play as the competition intensifies more and more. In five Sparty losses, Green shot just 32.4 percent from the field. Tom Izzo’s frontcourt has emerged into quite the formidable force over the course of the season, and even if Green struggles other players like Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix can pick up the slack. Which leads me to my next point…
Frontcourt play, not backcourt play, will make the difference in the tournament.
I made the statement earlier that I believe Michigan State has the best frontcourt in all of college basketball. With Draymond, Nix, and Payne roaming the paint, defending the rim and rebounding the ball, its extremely tough for anyone to beat Michigan State on the inside. When you think about the best players and teams in college basketball this year, they’ve all been led by big men.
KU’s Thomas Robinson, UK’s Anthony Davis and Green are all up for the Naismith player of the year award. Jared Sullinger holds the keys for Ohio State, North Carolina’s Tyler Zeller and John Henson are the foundation to the Tar Heels championship run, when Perry Jones III wants to plays up to his talent then Baylor becomes unstoppable, and Syracuse will quickly find out if Fab Melo makes or breaks their title hopes in a few days.
However, the bigs don’t just make a difference for the household name schools, they can make the difference for the smaller schools too. Kenny Frease decided to play the greatest game in his Xavier career on Sunday, and it got the Muskies to the Sweet 16. Yancy Gates has been a consistent force for the Cincinnati Bearcats in their journey to the Sweet 16 with solid defense and scoring in big moments at the rim. Kyle O’Quinn single-handed domination of Missouri set off a celebration of the ages in Norfolk, Virginia that rivals any championship celebration that’s ever occurred.
The big fellas are getting the love in 2012, and as a big fella I have no problem with this whatsoever.
North Carolina State can absolutely beat Kansas.
Its not anything slanderous against Kansas and their great team, but this Wolfpack squad has been playing the best basketball of their season. They’ve won six of their last seven games, with their only defeat to North Carolina by two points in the ACC tournament. Lorenzo Brown’s explosiveness has been a pleasant surprise in the tournament, CJ Leslie is playing like the CJ Leslie we all know that he’s capable of being and Mark Gottfried’s team has shown that the depth of the squad is as versatile as anyone left in the Sweet 16.
The Wolfpack have nothing to lose at this point, and that’s what makes them scary. It will be an ugly game between KU and NC State, but that’s exactly how Gottfried would want it. One final point, Leslie vs. Robinson could determine the winner of the game. Robinson struggled to score in the final minutes versus Purdue, and Leslie should be a stout defender against the player of the year candidate. If Leslie can put pressure on Robinson on the defensive end, it could make for a long game for the Jayhawks.
Eddie Maisonet is the Editor-In-Chief of The Sportsfan Journal and regular contributor to SLAMonline.