First Take: Hazell’s Holiday
And the resurgence of Seton Hall hoops.
One of the many beauties of college basketball, as opposed to the NBA, is it only takes one performance to put you on the national map; one singular moment to stamp yourself in the spotlight for the year. The difficult part is that most players rarely get this opportunity at all during the regular season, if ever. But every once in a while if you’re lucky and time your time in front of the tube just right, you get to witness a players entrance into stardom – Saturday was that moment for Jeremy Hazell.
There’s a pretty good chance many of you already knew the Seton Hall scoring machine, especially if you live in the New York/New Jersey area. The Harlem product made his mark for the first time last season averaging an impressive 22.7 ppg whilst carrying the offensive load on a Pirates team that finished near the bottom of the Big East. There were plenty of impressive games to talk about, including three 30+ point showings in conference play, but if the proverbial tree falls in the woods and no one is there or cares to listen, does it make a sound? In Hazell’s case the answer was only a slight one.
So Saturday seemed like an ideal time to make a little noise. Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez said things would be different this year, he said the Pirates had the talent to improve over the past several paltry seasons. With a nationally televised match up with #6 West Virginia in the Big East opener and as literally the only game being played in the country that day, it seemed like a good time for a statement to be made. What followed, for those of you who watched, was for lack of a better term, awesome.
Forget about the fact that Hazell shot a nauseating 4-of-19 from beyond the arc (which would even have Stephen Curry of a year ago cringing), the gunslinger torched the Mountaineers for 41 points, including a pair of three pointers in the final 30 seconds to tie the game and force overtime. Yes, Seton Hall ultimately lost 90-84 in the extra frame, but you think anyone is going to remember that? No, what people will remember is the 12-1 run the Pirates put together in the final minute to make this a game. People will remember Hazell coming off a screen and catching the ball on the right wing, a country mile from the basket with time running down and ever so calmly rising and firing a perfect strike to tie the game as the Prudential Center exploded.
There is still a lot of basketball to be played this season, a lot. But Saturday’s game showed me that not only is Jeremy Hazell a true primetime player, but Seton Hall’s 9-1 start is no fluke, these kids can play. Somewhere lost in the shuffle of this game was the breakout performance from Devin Ebanks we’ve all been waiting for as well. After a sluggish start to his sophomore season, the jumping jack forward went off for 22 points, 17 rebounds and even dished out seven assists. I’m sure Bob Huggins was happy and now with Kevin Jones (19 points, 14 rebounds) getting better by the day, West Virginia has themselves a pair of long, double-double machines to wreak havoc in conference play.
Sunday was a rather routine afternoon, again not much action, with just 11 games going due to the holidays. Connecticut and Washington were the only ranked teams in action and both rolled with relative ease. Stanley Robinson’s Jekyll and Hyde self was on an upswing, scoring 29 points and 13-of-18 shooting for the Huskies in their romp over Iona. The senior’s five highest scoring performances this season have all come against teams that likely will not even sniff the NCAA Tournament field this season, but Wednesday’s affair with Cincinnati will be a good test for him.
Maryland cruised past Florida Atlantic 72-59, otherwise not noteworthy besides the fact that Terp senior Greivis Vasquez looks like he’s finally pulled himself out of an early season rut. After being the leading vote getter for the preseason All-ACC team, the guard failed to reach double figure scoring in each of his first four games. As of late, it’s been a different story with Vasquez having scored 20+ in four of his last five games and his last three in a row. Still, the big question will be if he can live up to expectations in ACC play this season and put on the kind of display he did in last year’s overtime thriller against North Carolina in which he led Maryland to a stunning upset thanks to his triple-double performance.
We’re back to full strength with games tonight, though the pickings might be somewhat slim. Before losing sophomore big man Gregory Echenique for the season due to an eye injury, Rutgers might have made it a game with North Carolina for a half, now their 8 o’clock ET ESPN2 matchup is going to be a Tar Heel highlight reel tomorrow. Florida, Gonzaga and newly ranked Temple are the only other top 25 teams in action and all have relative snoozers.
For those of you with an extended lunch break or a sound proof cubicle with high walls, this afternoon’s meeting of Memphis and IUPUI has some potential. The Jaguars have a three-headed scoring machine in Robert Glenn, Alex Young and Leroy Nobles, all of who average better than 15 ppg, more than enough firepower to make it interesting with the Tigers. Depending on which Arizona team shows up, the Wildcats and BYU should be the best game of the evening, but Sean Miller’s squad has been wildly inconsistent this season, anything is possible.