The Week(s) That Were
Georgetown’s schedule, holiday upsets and the stomach flu!
The New Year is upon us, and here at Cub Scouts, we have returned from an illness-filled holiday with some new ideas, a few less pounds, and a couple weeks of action to dissect. An internal decision has been made to clean things up a bit; get organized. With that in mind, there will be reoccurring sections of the weekly installment of Cub Scouts: The Week That Was. As usual, there will be a look at the week of games ahead and a player alert from “off the board,” but in addition, you will find a scouting corner which focuses on players and their prospects for playing at the next level, a shocker of the week spotlighting big upsets, and one short feature headline.
Let’s get it on!
The Georgetown Hoyas play the toughest month of college basketball in the history of the sport.
Two weeks after Georgetown won an exciting overtime thriller against the Memphis Tigers, John Thompson III’s nationally ranked Hoyas traveled to Hartford to face the undefeated (no. 2 ranked) UConn Huskies for a Dec. 29 conference opener. In what was one of the most impressive performances of the year by any team, the Hoyas blew out the Huskies. Four days later, they were humbled at home enduring a bit of a letdown, in a double-digit loss to the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Last night, Georgetown battled hard and played valiantly in a six-point loss on the road to Notre Dame. It goes without saying that this is not a “bad loss,” as the Joyce Center is one of the toughest places to play, especially when Luke Harangody balls to the tune of 31 points and 11 rebounds. After these three brutal games (the first three in conference) there doesn’t seem to be an easy one in the foreseeable future. Road games at Duke, Marquette, Cincinnati, and Seton Hall are sandwiched around home tilts with Syracuse, West Virginia, and Providence. Wow.
This year’s installment of G’Town appeared to have a long way to go in their hopes of returning to the level of excellence they have enjoyed over the last couple of years. If they are somehow able to come out of this gauntlet of a stretch with more wins than losses and healthy bodies to boot, they just might be a force to reckon with at MSG this spring.
Shockers of the Weeks
Road upsets were the slice du “holiday” as four top teams went down in the friendly confines of their own buildings.
– Sunday night, the nation’s top team (Carolina) fell at home when Boston College snuck out of Tobacco Road with an upset to start ACC conference play. Tyrese Rice is slowly getting his game in order for BC and came through with one of his best games of the year. The Eagles played hard and physical defense en route to holding the once “untouchable” Tar Heels to an abysmal 29 percent shooting; on their own rims!
– The once mighty Gonzaga Bulldogs fell prey to the infamous Portland State Vikings at the Kennel in Spokane, followed a few days later when the Zags fell on the road to an underrated Utah Utes team. (Which reminds me that I have been meaning to put together a Mountain West column; BYU, UTAH, and UNLV are all teams to consider in your upcoming tourney bracket.)
– The previously unbeaten Ohio State Buckeyes were mauled in Columbus by Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers of West Virginia to the tune of a 28-point beatdown, followed by a convincing road loss in Minneapolis to the Golden Gophers. Look for West Virginia to be a team that plays stronger than expected in the upcoming Big East schedule, especially if Devin Ebanks continues to hit the all important weightroom/cafeteria. The lengthy, spindly freshman has been up-and-down in his first year, but has shown outright flashes of greatness.
– As previously mentioned, the UConn Huskies were blitzed in Hartford by Georgetown in a game that was not as close as the final score indicated. Despite having no depth, the Hoyas got production from every member of the starting line-up and outplayed the home team from start to finish. This team might be better than many (including myself) predicted, but the whole “this team is one injury away from disaster” cannot be ignored, either.
This week, I will take a closer look at two of the most highly touted freshmen in college basketball this year; the Big East tandem of Greg Monroe (Georgetown) and Louisville’s Samardo Samuels. Before breaking them down individually, I have two comparisons. Monroe is a modern day Bob Lanier while Samuels is a Nene “in-training.”
The obvious lefty thing aside, Monroe scores, defends and plays exactly like the St. Bonaventure/NBA great. I grew up with the Lanier family in suburban Milwaukee and was able to catch the “Big Dobber” a couple dozen times a year, and every game played by Monroe evokes my childhood memories of Big Bob. A smooth stroke from the perimeter perfectly accentuates Monroe’s aggressively crafty inside game which is spotlighted by a running skyhook (ala Lanier.) Last week against UConn, Monroe more than proved his worth and mettle hitting the hook on multiple occasions over none other than the 7-3 defensive monster, Hasheem Thabeet. I am not sure why so many experts soured on Monroe after his senior year of prep ball, but to me, he looks like one of, if not, the, top freshmen big man in the nation.
UNLESS….Samardo Samuels is.
The similarity in play and style between the Jamaican national and the Brazilian Beast are pretty eerie. The big body (Nene has an inch or two on him) the great footwork, and solid grasp of positioning and leverage make Samuels a load for any defender.
Pound, pound, pound.
Samuels is great around the hoop with both hands and has proven to be even more than expected for Coach Rick Pitino’s surprisingly disappointing Cardinals. Without his production, things could be even worse in Bluegrass Country.
Side scouting note: I am, nor ever have been, sold on Samuels’ Cardinal teammate, Earl Clark. I am not sure if it is just bad timing, but in my dozen or so viewings, I have not seen what everyone is so high on (he is on or near the top of many mock drafts). Granted his body and athleticism should make all NBA GMs drool, but his production on the offensive end just seems lacking to me. He is a great weak side defender and can shutdown his guy at times (who will surely be stronger, taller and quicker at the next level) but he seems almost uninterested at times on the court. I could be totally wrong, but his demeanor on the court and his multiple run-ins with Pitino scare me. I would pass on his “upside” in the upcoming draft.
This week’s honor will go to one of the most efficient players in college basketball. Someone that showed up on Cub Scouts’ radar last spring as freshman with great numbers in limited time, Virginia Commonwealth’s Larry Sanders. Unfortunately, like many young shot blockers, this kid can’t stay out of foul trouble, which has forced him to miss key stretches of games for the Rams.
In just 16 minutes of action last year, Sanders was able to grab 5 boards and get 3 blocks per game. This year, the sophomore is getting a few more minutes, but is still producing at the most efficient level. The 6-9 205 slender defender is putting up 10 points and 6 rebounds (on 58 percent shooting) while still swatting away 3 shots a contest. In a close loss earlier this year at East Carolina, Sanders put up an amazing 16 points, 14 rebounds, and four blocks in just 22 minutes of action. If he got the 35 minutes he probably deserves, that would have worked out to a 26/22/6 night. Hell, he fouled out in only 19 minutes of action in VCU’s disappointing loss on Saturday to Delaware. (Outdone only by Sanders himself in a loss to Rhode Island earlier this year, when he fouled out in seven minutes on the court. For real.)
In short, we haven’t seen what this young man really can do, that is, until now.
In what may be the first week of games where he was able to keep his fouling in check (getting an average of 32 minutes for two games,) Sanders was named the CAA’s Player of the Week. He started with a nice 16-point game (on 6-8 shooting) against Blake Griffin and the might Oklahoma Sooners before putting up career bests of 21 points and 19 rebounds in a win over Hampton.
Mind you, when your two-year career averages are 7/6 for a mid-major team, you tend to be “lost in the pro shuffle.” However, this kid has NBA ability and with further schooling from someone that I respect greatly as a hoops educator in Anthony Grant, Sanders should be able to put himself in a position to hear his name called by the end of his junior year.
Games of the Week
ESPN2 has a doubleheader starting at 7 p.m. (all games listed as ET) with Ohio State travelling north to take on Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans, followed by an old SWC grudge match with Texas at Arkansas. (Side: watch out for Razorback guard, Courtney Fortson, someone that was under close consideration for Player Alert status. The freshman is getting 15/5/7 a night and shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range. His triple double earlier this year might have been the first for a player under 6-feet tall.)
Those of you diehards with ESPNU will be treated to a great 7 p.m. Big East battle between Connecticut and West Virginia.
The announcer swap night on ESPN is here, as Mike Tirico, Mark Jackson, and Jeff Van Gundy will call the Davidson @ Duke game, which starts at 7 p.m.
The deuce will have a rematch of an earlier out-of-conference matchup, as Gonzaga heads to Rocky Top to battle the Tennessee Volunteers, fresh off a Saturday pounding by Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. By the way, Kansas will be one of the top Big 12 teams by the season’s end. They are probably the youngest team in the nation, and have been playing improving basketball as of late. Sherron Collins’ first half against Tennessee was one of the most impressive point guard performances since Derrick Rose’s Elite Eight game against Texas last spring.
Late night West Coast heads that have the “U” should check out some competitive WCC ball, as Santa Clara travels to the East Bay to face Patty Mills and the Gaels of Saint Mary’s. Tip off is set for 11 p.m.
Early action on ESPN has Louisville (tell me I’m wrong about Earl Clark, please) in Philly to take on Villanova starting at noon.
An hour later on CBS, Kansas and Michigan State enjoy an out-of-conference game, between two national powers.
CBS is back at it again with a 1:30 afternoon tip between Wisconsin (also improving) at the nationally ranked Purdue Boilermakers.
FSN is back at again this year with great afternoon/evening games in the ACC and PAC-10. At 8 p.m., North Carolina looks to bounce back when they travel up to Winston-Salem to face the still undefeated Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. The city of Los Angeles takes center stage later on with an LA derby between UCLA and USC at 10:30 p.m.
Huge doubleheader on ESPN, as Notre Dame hits the road for a game against the television-affectionate Louisville Cardinals, starting at 7 p.m.
At 9 p.m., the Big 12 “momentum pendulum” could be swayed early in the year when Texas heads to Norman to take on the OU Sooners. Both teams are nationally “ranked” in the Top 10, and still look to be the two favorites for the conference crown.
Check Cub Buenning’s scouting website for weekly player reports.