The Week That Was
Big Bad UConn, Patty Mills’ broken hand, and more Earl Clark thoughts.
While the greater section of our sports-viewing populace is still living high off the fumes of the Super Bowl bonfire from Sunday, the game of college basketball has recently provided as much entertainment as the thriller in Tampa. Sunday had a couple great games, wedged in between the hours of pre- and post-game football shows. The weekend of campus hoops also spotlighted another great community cause that was organized and run by the teachers and coaches who shape the players of today.
Headline: It’s Gotta Be the Shoes!
If you took the time to take in a college game this weekend, you surely noticed that many coaches were out of the tailored suits and slick loafers, opting for the more leisure white sneakers. This movement was a part of the Coaches Versus Cancer program, which raises awareness for reducing the risks of cancer. The program focuses on exercise, healthy living, a balanced diet and consistent screening. While the V Foundation is focused on raising money, CVC (which includes football and hockey, as well) is more about awareness, detection and prevention.
Teams of the Week: Big East Still Representin’
Connecticut — While I didn’t see last week’s win by Wake Forest over Duke as an upset (they were a one-loss team playing at home in conference—they better win that game), the UConn Huskies must be applauded not only for that huge win last night over the “Team of January,” the Louisville Cardinals, but also for their impressive blowout on Saturday over a much-improved Providence team. After the 30-point win over the Friars, I knew the Huskies would be ready for Monday night’s contest at Freedom Hall. Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien dominated in their own special ways, but I was disappointed in the fact that the one guy on Connecticut I had planned to “scout” (Stanley Robinson) played very little, if not at all.
I must use this chance to insert another Earl Clark take. I’ve long stated my confusion with the “hullabalu” over this guy. He looks like an NBA wing prototype, but I still haven’t seen a game that makes me think he can be an NBA wing. I’ve mentioned that he shoots too much and doesn’t understand the flow of games; his intensity seems to waver during games, and he falls too much in love with the 3-point shot.
Those of you who closely watched last night’s game saw this scouting report “come to life.” A 2-13 first half (1-6 from distance) which was riddled with unwarranted, deep pull-up jumpers (that were exactly what his team didn’t need at those times) as he almost seemed to be “trying out” for the rows of NBA scouts sitting courtside. The night for Clark was culminated by a benching, which was oddly the point when the Cardinals made a wee move on the Huskies late in the game. Terrance Williams, bravo. Give me him over Earl Clark, all day long. I hate to spit such venom about a person I have never met; I really just hope he is a super nice kid who proves me wrong.
Marquette — The Golden Eagles senior guard triumvirate (Jerel McNeal, Dominic James and Wesley Matthews) is undoubtedly the best backcourt in the nation. In a sport where most teams play with three guards, first-year Head Coach Buzz Williams had the luxury of “adopting” a title-ready team that may have more to offer than just phenomenal guard play. While most “experts” deflate Marquette’s title chances due to lack of outside punch, this team might be more equipped than people think. Junior forward Lazar Hayward plays much bigger and tougher than his 6-6, 225-pound frame would suggest and gives the team its only real inside-outside punch. Hayward’s 17 points and almost 9 boards a night just might make the difference if the Golden Eagles’ are to make a long spring run. If you missed it, McNeal put forth an almost DWade-esque performance in a recent win over Georgetown, getting 26 points, 11 assists, 6 rebounds, 5 steals and 3 blocks.
Utah — Cub Scouts’ bias toward the Mountain West is present again! With two great wins this week, the 14-7 Utes are sneaking back into relevancy for postseason opportunities. Four days after beating their in-state rival BYU Cougars, Utah held on for a one-point win over New Mexico. While their record is nothing to be impressed with, having non-conference wins over the likes of Gonzaga and LSU should make this international-heavy roster tough for the selection committee to ignore. 7-2 Aussie center Luke Nevill gets little attention despite major production, and the team is run through the physically exhausting push of 6-5 Serbian junior Luka Drca, who isn’t flashy but super productive.
Honorable mention: Arizona (great wins over both of the Washington teams), Mississippi (beating Kentucky and Miss State in the same week is about as good as it gets in Oxford), Penn State (Big Ten relevancy and a road win over Michigan State? Two words: Talor Battle), Northeastern (CAA’s top dog after beating VCU), and Oregon State (four in a row for a team that had no conference wins last year? Obama Mojo?)
Scouting Corner: Guess Who?
I don’t know why, but I am biased in this kid’s favor. Put simply, everyday of the week, I would want this player on my team. He is a big, powerful 2-guard who is active and tough to defend as he can score in a myriad of ways, some rather unorthodox. The junior, who plays college not far from his hometown, is a beast of a rebounder averaging almost nine per game for his career in a physical conference. In addition, he is a great all-around defender, giving him two skills that are “NBA ready,” giving him real value at the next level.
He is not the best outside-shooter for a 6-5 guard, but I’ve always felt that shooting is one of the basketball skills that can still be re-taught, improved and honed at a later date. For this reason, I believe he can develop better range and consistency on his perimeter game while a professional. He is also not the best ball handler, but he has the uncanny knack for getting into the lane and finishing, relying on his strength, intimidation, athleticism, and speed.
I was glad to see that he decided against testing the NBA waters this past spring. Due to his already “grown man” body, this guy will be worthy of a mid to late first-round pick, whether he comes out this year or in ’10.
Who is this person?
Player Alert: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The Washington Huskies are again a title contender in the Pac-10. In addition to the clockwork consistency of big man Jon Brockman, a freshman point guard from down home in Seattle is producing at a high level.
Isaiah Thomas is named for the former Detroit Piston great, but the 5-8 newbie has played mature beyond his years, leading his team not only in scoring and assists, but also to a 16-5 record and in a tie for first-place in conference. Equally deft at scoring from long-range or getting into the paint for one of his patented floaters, Thomas is dangerous. At times, he can fall in love with shooting from long-range (really long) and, at just 31 percent, he should stick more to driving to the hole. His distribution skills are still under development (assists-to-turnover ratio is about 1), but his presence alongside senior guard Justin Dentmon give Head Coach Lorenzo Romar maybe his best chance to win a Pac-10 title.
Staying in conference, the Huskies’ Saturday win in Tempe over Arizona State reflected the bad as well. Guard James Harden and his ASU Sun Devils are in a bit of a free-fall, and I largely attribute their struggles to the nature of their offensive system and the current position of its star within the offense. Put simply, Harden needs to assert himself more and the team should ease off on the slow-down motion offense to take full advantage of their sophomore’s talents.
Despite playing about every minute of every game, Harden seems to be disappearing during stretches of games. He is such a team player and a coach’s dream that he can be content to just swing the ball, make passes and defer to his teammates instead of looking for his own. With Jeff Pendergraph and a capable cast of supporters, the Sun Devils don’t need to gimmick-up their offense with Herb Sendek’s take on the Princeton-attack. Point guard (and high school teammate of Harden’s) Derek Glasser should push the pace a bit more. With Pendergraph’s combination of athleticism and size and Harden’s all-around grasp of the game, the Sun Devils could recover from their recent tough stretch of fortune.
The Ugly is unfortunately lassoed on one of Cub Scouts’ favorite guys, Saint Mary’s point guard Patty Mills, who went down with a broken hand during the first-half of the Gaels loss last week at Gonzaga. Mills was flat-out torching the Zags (he had 18 with still three minutes left in the first) when he went down and the initial diagnosis has him out about a month. With one foul swoop, the Gaels season might be over. There might not be enough quality wins on their resume when Mills returns and their first game without their point guard went miserably, getting pounded by Portland just two days after the injury. Although it is still a possibility, a WCC tourney (now in Vegas) title might be the only way the Gaels can punch their NCAA-ticket come March.
Games This Week: (All times ET)
ESPN has a nice double-header starting at 7 p.m. with Purdue at Ohio State (Evan Turner, my friends, Evan Turner) followed by South Carolina in Gainsville to battle the Florida Gators. This game has a great backcourt match-up with Florida’s Nick Calathes and wily veteran Walter Hodge going up against the Gamecocks’ fabulous Devan Downey (for real on this kid) and his sidekick Zam Frederick.
There are three Mountain West games to pick from between The Mountain and CBS College Sports Network, but I’ve got my eye on the San Diego St./UNLV game which tips at 10:30 p.m. and should go a long way to determining this super-competitive league.
ESPN will put forth their third double-header in as many days, but neither game looks that great, so we will go off the path again. I informed you earlier about the Utah Utes, so you can check them out in a rare early MWC game between Utah and TCU (7:30 p.m.)
A huge Big Ten game gets started a bit later (8:30 p.m.) when Minnesota travels east to take on the suddenly “home mortal” Michigan State Spartans. This is a Big Ten Network game, so if you aren’t plugged, call your local cable or satellite provider.
Late night in the West Coast Conference is back for another week! With Saint Mary’s all but toast after Patty Mills injury, the Portland Pilots have emerged as the likely villain in Gonzaga’s superhero tale. The Zags have to leave the friendly confines of the Kennel and travel to the Rose City for this 11 p.m. tip. I also hope that my favorite announcing duo (Terry Gannon and Stephen Bardo) continues their role of calling WCC games. Those of you that think that Gannon is just a golf-guy trying his hand at the basketball thing, think again. Dude was a gunner and major contributor on Jimmy V’s 1983 national championship N.C. State team. Bardo’s game at Illinois was pretty dope too.
ESPN’s Game Day is in Spokane for the rare out-of-conference game between Memphis and Gonzaga. As the subjects of my last two preseason magazine features, I am more than interested in watching these teams that have followed similar paths this year.
Good starts to season, rough middle patch due to insane scheduling, then conference dominance to return to the national rankings. That game follows later on ESPN at 9 p.m.
Those looking for some obscure ball can get an ESPN2 five-game marathon of mid-majors starting at noon. In particular, Stephen Curry and Davidson will be playing at 6 p.m. that evening.
Not much with our first post-NFL Sunday. CBS has an intriguing Big Ten game between two ranked teams with Purdue in Champaign to take on Illinois.
Big Monday is centered on the Backyard Brawl between rivals West Virginia and the Pitt Panthers. Another neighbor rivalry follows with Kansas taking on the disappointing Missouri Tigers.
Check Cub Buenning’s scouting website for weekly player reports.