First Take: Enjoy It Wall It Lasts
A lock to be one and done, John Wall is something special.
Derrick Rose didn’t have his first major test against a ranked team until the tenth game of his freshman season in which he scored 18 points and dished out six assists in a win over 5th-ranked Georgetown. One year later, Tyreke Evans netted 20 points and seven rebounds against in the Hoyas in his seventh game, also the first against a ranked opponent.
On Saturday, amidst cramping brought on by eating too little beforehand, John Wall scored 16 points, hauled in seven rebounds and handed out seven assists in his seventh game, a 68-66 Kentucky win over #11 North Carolina. Wildcats head coach John Calipari has said that the freshman phenom is further along at this point than either Rose or Evans were – in this game it was clear to see why.
The Tar Heels came out sharp taking an early 9-2 lead, before Wall went coast to coast on back-to-back plays to spark a 28-2 Kentucky run, turning the first half into a foregone conclusion. If you somehow missed this amidst the buffet spread of college football that day, you missed a draw dropping 15 minutes of basketball. UNC – a team that has been said to have an NBA front line – was getting run out of the building. DeMarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson were terrorizing anyone who dared enter the lane and Wall was infusing his teammates with energy. The freshman was incredible to watch for the first time against elite competition, it brought out the best in him. The blazing speed and quickness, the explosiveness, the ability to create for himself and teammates, it was all there and in fine fashion.
When Wall went down in the second half with severe cramps it was then that Carolina made their move to get as close as two points in the second half. Give the Tar Heels credit, they saw an opportunity and pounced on it, but the true value of the likely number one pick in the 2010 draft was never more evident than when he was in the locker room receiving treatment. Kentucky flat out didn’t play with the same swagger and energy without Wall on the floor. Players stood around, no one was diving into the lane, Calipari’s dribble drive offensive machine seemed to jam in neutral. Once Wall returned to the floor, grimacing and gimpy, unable to attack as he did in the first half, things picked up. That’s the real beauty of this incredible newcomer at the college level – he has the ability to inspire already. The athleticism, the size, the potential – save that for the pro scouts, that’s what they want to see. But for the mere presence of a freshman who has played in only seven game to inspire a team to hold off a furious comeback attempt this early in the year, that is something to witness. Kentucky won this game on pure talent alone, imagine what will happen when they actually start executing.
Elsewhere on Saturday, Purdue, Syracuse and Ohio State all topped the century mark in easy wins. The only problem is, this might be the last time the Buckeyes are rolling over anybody after losing Mr. Everything, Evan Turner for the next two months with fractures in a pair of vertebrae in his lower back. You can certainly make the argument that there are better players in the country than Turner (not many) but there isn’t a more valuable player to his team anywhere. With the 6-7 junior on the floor Ohio State is a top-15 team, without him, they don’t have the firepower to stay ranked or compete for a top three spot in the Big Ten. Obviously we wish Turner a speedy recovery.
A pair of ranked teams fell on Saturday afternoon to unranked opponents. Wake Forest topping #16 Gonzaga doesn’t floor me, especially considering the Bulldogs were without Elias Harris for most of the game after he was ejected in the first half. Wake Forest is still a quality team and they will steal a couple of games in the ACC, this win was just further proof of that. Charlotte rolling over 18th-ranked Louisville by 22 points is a whole different story though. It wasn’t so much that this was the largest margin of defeat ever in a home game for a Rick Pitino coached team, it was the manner in which the 49ers dominated a physically superior Cardinals team, mainly to the tune of a 46-35 advantage on the glass. The big performance of the game, how about freshman forward Chris Braswell who posted 21 points and 14 rebounds in just 24 minutes. The 6-8 rook came in averaging eight points and somehow found a way to dominate a former McDonald’s All-American and NBA hopeful in Samardo Samuels. Charlotte is 6-1 and while one game proves very little (especially considering their 101-59 loss to Duke a few weeks earlier) maybe this squad needs to be taken seriously in the Atlantic-10 race.Sunday proved to be slightly less of a page turner, but there was still enough to hold even the most casual observers attention.
Kansas cruised in its first real road test (if you can call playing 2-5 UCLA a test) of the season 73-61. The Bruins were within four points with 17:24 remaining in the game before the top team in the nation put it on autopilot and pulled away, led by a career-high 19 points from Markieff Morris and 16 from Xavier Henry. There’s been a lot made about the departure of sophomore Drew Gordon and how it may benefit the team in the long run amidst speculation that he was creating issues in the locker room, and so far I have to agree. Prior to yesterday’s contest, nothing about UCLA had impressed me much. Even in the loss there were some positives to take out of the situation, mainly that the team was still playing hard down the stretch and that sophomore big J’Mison Morgan contributed quality minutes off the bench, something that will be paramount to this team making any noise as the season progresses.
Third-ranked Villanova handled Maryland in the BB&T Classic which as of late has become synonymous with losing for the Terps. The preseason Big East favorites got all they needed from their trio of upperclassmen guards Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes who went for 25, 20 and 18 respectively. For Maryland, sophomore Sean Mosely continued his excellent start to the season, scoring a game and career-high 26 points on 11-14 shooting, freshman big Jordan Williams also added 19 and 12. The problem here was another rough outing for senior Greivis Vasquez who fouled out with 12 points and 7 turnovers, only furthering my belief that regardless of the supporting cast, Maryland will only go so far as the fiery guard can take them.
One understory in this game which hasn’t gotten much attention yet is the continued absence of Villanova freshman Mouphtaou Yarou who recently tested positive for the hepatitis B virus. I mentioned during the summer that Yarou was arguably the most important member of the ‘Cats freshman class because he gave them a formidable presence inside, but now his future for this season and beyond is very much in jeopardy. Head coach Jay Wright has said that the doctors who have been handling the case aren’t even talking in basketball terms at this point. This is certainly a very sad turn of events for a kid with a lot of promise, so all the best to him.
The best game of the day surprisingly enough was Connecticut holding off a charging Harvard team in a 79-73 win. This is typically the kind of game that you scroll past when loading up the “All Scores” page – you might stop off and check how many points Jerome Dyson scored (24, 14 boards and 9 assists) but that’s generally it. Being that I’m in the New York area, I got this game on SNY and was able to watch the Crimson make a game of it, thanks to a brilliant performance from senior guard Jeremy Lin who dropped 30. There’s been some talk in the past that this kid might have a shot to get drafted given his propensity for putting up big scoring numbers and his solid athleticism, but lest we forget, one game does not make a pro prospect – especially one who is a 6-3 shooting guard who connects on 35 percent of his treys. Still, it was hard not to come away impressed with the senior’s ability to get to the basket and create scoring chances for himself against the elite athletes the Huskies boast. My guess for the struggles of the #13 team in the country? They were thinking ahead to Wednesday’s match up with Kentucky, a no-brainer for the game of the week.
Oklahoma got a much needed big win over Arizona, running away from the Wildcats 79-62 in the Big 12/Pac-10 Hardwood series. Willie Warren continued to quietly have a huge season, scoring 25 points, to bring his average up to a cool 20 ppg and just over 5 apg to boot. It’s incredible how quickly a slow start by a team can completely eliminate a potential National Player of the Year candidate from the national spotlight. It’s only December and yet Warren might as well be in Siberia with the lack of attention he has been getting after being on everyone’s preseason All-American list.
By the way, has anyone noticed that Cornell is continuing to look very, very good? After dropping a pair of games to Seton Hall and Syracuse (a game that was closer than 88-73 would indicate) the Big Red have rolled off five straight W’s, including a 78-66 win over Saint Joe’s yesterday. Four players are averaging in double figures in a balanced offensive attack and I’m ready to go ahead and say not only does this team win the Ivy League running away, they get through the schedule unscathed.
Not much on the docket tonight unless you get ESPNU and feel like watching Texas and Michigan State stomp Long Beach St. and the Citadel. The best game of the night is in all likelihood going to be UMass visiting Seton Hall, but unless you’re carrying a ticket for that one, expect to follow gametracker for that contest.