First Take: Favors Busts Out
Ohio State is Big Ten’s best, you heard me.
It’s always great when a game exceeds your expectations for entertainment value, which is exactly what Georgia Tech’s 66-64 win over Clemson managed to do last night. I knew it was a game I needed to watch given the importance in ACC play for both schools, but given the inconsistent play of both Tech and the Tigers over the years I was anticipating one team showing up and the other getting run out of the building – I just didn’t know who would take which role. Instead, we were treated to a great game, one that pretty much held my attention from start to finish, despite the early jump out by Clemson.
This was Derrick Favors’ breakout game and it couldn’t have come at a more opportune timefor the Yellow Jackets. It wasn’t so much the fact that he recorded a career high in points (17) and rebounds (14), posting his ninth double-double in the process, it was how he put up those numbers that mattered. The former high school All-American, considered by some to be the best player in his class entering the year, has his full arsenal of physical tools on display for NBA scouts who have been waiting for a game like this. Favors ran the floor, he attacked the rim, he altered shots on the defensive end, in short, he did everything you expect a hyper athletic 6-10 forward with a monster wing span to do. After watching the Atlanta native dominate in the McDonald’s All-American game last year I was convinced he was going to chew up college defenders, that of course was before he had to share the ball with Gani Lawal, Iman Shumpert and Zachary Peacock, and his mediocre footwork was exposed. Heck, there are plenty who think Favors needs another year of college before making the jump to the NBA despite being projected as high as the number two overall pick – I tend to agree with these people. Still, last night was one of those games where you see the light go off in a young man’s head, where the season can take a sudden sharp turn for the better and Favors stops being the freshman trying to learn on the fly and starts going after defenders like he knows he can do whatever he wants to them.
Clemson’s Trevor Booker had that switch go off a long time ago, mainly because he’s a 6-7 forward moonlighting as the Tiger’s best interior presence. He reached beast status a couple of years ago, but now that he’s improved his handles to the point where he can operate in transition, he routinely puts together those runaway freight train plays in the open floor where no one wants to get in his path to the basket for fear of death. The way he hammers home on the rim and glares at anyone dumb enough to get in front of him, it’s like when Charles Barkley first broke into the league and would flush it down on defenders to make a point (not that I’m saying Booker is on Barkley’s level). The thing about Booker that makes him such an asset to Clemson, you hear about guys having a quiet 25 and 12 double-double, he has a loud 19 and 9. The way he was finishing plays and ripping balls out of crowds last night, I was convinced the senior filled up the box score to an insane degree, only to see the solid, but not spectacular stat line. Name me one team in the country that doesn’t want a guy like that setting up shop inside.
Purdue got back in the win column at Illinois thanks to a huge game from JaJuan Johnson who went for 24 and 12. Tennessee won in Alabama, running their Life After Tyler Smith record to 3-0 and proving once again that this team had more depth and talent than I had ever given them credit for.
Speaking of teams that may be better than expected, I think you can reasonably argue that Ohio State might be the best team in the Big Ten right now. The Buckeyes somehow managed to keep themselves afloat and ranked while Evan Turner was on the mend and now that he’s back they’re trying to make up for lost time by stomping on everyone. A three-game winning streak coming against Wisconsin, Purdue and Northwestern is nothing to laugh at considering Michigan State is the only team that could be considered better right now that OSU hasn’t beaten. Those schools meet up on February 20th, so the debate will rage until then, but for my money it’s the Buckeyes right now. Not only has their supporting cast been playing stellar basketball, but there is the little matter of Evan Turner who missed several weeks and still might win national POY honors thanks to his otherworldly play.
Wichita State made some waves last night by ending #22 Northern Iowa’s 15-game winning streak and pulling within a game of first place in the Missouri Valley Conference. If both teams continue to excel in conference – something that should, I stress should, happen – I have a hard time seeing the MVC not being a two-bid conference in March.
Boston College handed Miami its third straight loss last night, dropping the ‘Canes to 1-4 in the ACC, which begs the question, why were they ranked as recently as last week? Have we learned nothing from Clemson over the years? A gaudy non-conference record against mediocre competition does not deserve a ranking in the AP Poll and that’s exactly what Miami managed to swindle out of voters this season. Wins against Minnesota and South Carolina are a start, but when your next best W’s come against Pepperdine and Florida Atlantic, things become a little suspect. Their lone conference win was a one-point victory over Wake Forest which considering how tough the Demon Deacons played Duke for a while on Sunday, I’m chalking up to a fluke performance for Miami.
Tonight’s schedule is riddled with enough good games to make me wish I owned at least half a dozen more TV’s than I do. Baylor at Kansas should be a great, great game. The Bears don’t have the level of depth that the Jayhawks do, but LaceDarius Dunn and Ekpe Udoh are as good as any duo that Bill Self’s squad can put together on the floor. Georgetown visits Pittsburgh in the ultimate test of a “Just How Good is This Team?” game. The Hoyas beat UConn then lost a close one to Villanova, but suddenly the win over the Huskies isn’t looking as impressive considering how that team is struggling as of late. Pitt is the surprise team in the country this season and just keeps chugging along, beating everyone behind Ashton Gibbs. I believe the winner of this game is capable of beating Villanova if they match up, even Georgetown in a rematch.
Xavier visits Temple to determine who is the best team in the Atlantic-10, period. The Minutemen have been making more noise lately, due mainly to some nationally televised games, but Temple has been the better team, quietly creeping to #17 in the polls this week. I like the Owls to win at home. West Virginia pays a visit to a Marshall team that is steamrolling their C-USA schedule right now, but the real reason to watch this game is to see what happens when Devin Ebanks encounters Hassan Whiteside, which could prove to be the largest combine wingspan in any college basketball individual matchup ever. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can always take the easy way out and watch Wake Forest at North Carolina, who by the way, is still somehow ranked. Look, I know it’s the Tar Heels, I know they are the reigning champs, but this team shouldn’t be ranked right now. Getting votes, yes. In the top 25, no. Just because this one is in Chapel Hill though, Roy Williams and Co. earn the W despite a field day from Al-Farouq Aminu.