First Take: Turner Outduels Hummel
And Eric Bledsoe finally gets some attention.
Evan Turner and Robbie Hummel turned in two of the best individual performances of the season last night. While the fact that these shows of brilliance took place in the same game was particularly impressive, even more over the top was that both players did the bulk of their damage in one half.
The first 20 minutes belonged to Hummel, it was one of the greatest showings ever seen at Mackey Arena. The junior scored 29 of his 35 points before the break and drained eight three-pointers. It’s been a while since we’ve seen a first half of basketball like that against a quality opponent, but Hummel couldn’t be contained. Then Evan Turner stole the show.
Before suffering the back injury that forced him to miss six games, the junior was already an All-American caliber player and being mentioned on the short list of player of the year candidates. In just his third game back the forward put together the kind of superhuman performance that will keep him in Ohio State lore for many years to come, scoring 23 of his 32 points in the second half to spearhead the Buckeye upset. He had his way with Purdue, a team revered for its defense. He scored 14 of his team’s final 18 points in a four-point win. He did all of this in only his third game back from suffering a fracture in his back. I don’t know if there is a truly justifiable way to express how incredible that is. We’ve seen back injuries absolutely destroy seasons for superior players in the past – remember Robbie Hummel – and yet here is Turner almost single handedly taking down a top ten team by himself. I know John Wall is everyone’s POY right now, but it might be time for those tunnel vision voters to start looking to the Big Ten for some additional inspiration.
Kentucky picked up a very important win last night by defeating Florida on the road. I know that the Wildcats have won big games already this season, they beat Connecticut, they beat North Carolina, but conference play is a whole different bag. In going down to Gainesville and taking down a strong Gators team, Kentucky showed that it has, not only the talent but the maturity, to win the tough games that it will take to be a contender in March and not just a regular season flash in the pan. How about the game that Eric Bledsoe put together? I can’t remember the last time a freshman as talented as Bledsoe got so short changed as a result of his teammates. I don’t care how good you are, when John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins are members of your recruiting class, it’s going to be an uphill battle. Regardless though, the Alabama native had career-highs in points (25), rebounds (7) and dished out five assists. The youngster scored in every way manageable, getting to the rim with his excellent speed, draining perimeter jumpers and showing off a pretty advanced mid-range game. Billy Donovan said that Bledsoe is as good as any point guard in the country and while there may be an argument for that, the freshman isn’t likely to get the credit he is due until at least next season. With that said, he is fast enough right now to take down John Wall in a footrace, and that’s saying something.
I did a double take this morning when I saw the Baylor/Colorado score. The Bears, newly ranked (and deservedly so) fell to the Buffalos 78-71, giving us a glimpse of something rarer than an eclipse, a Colorado upset. Since 2003 CU has gone just 4-18 against ranked opponents, so to pull off a win over a team listed in the polls, especially a conference opponent is plenty of cause for celebration in Boulder.
The ACC saw its first down to the wire battle last night as Wake Forest just got past Maryland 85-83 in overtime. It took a pair of Terrapin misses in the final 10 seconds of the game to ensure the Demon Deacon win. Regardless of who was the winner in this one, neither team was going to feel good about walking off the court with a loss. There was no lack of star power in this one as Greivis Vasquez scored a season-high 30 points, his eight 20-point game in his last nine. On the other side of the ball Al-Farouq Aminu couldn’t be stopped on his way to 24 points and 13 rebounds, including six on the offensive glass. I like to talk about guys who aren’t getting the credit they deserve a lot of the time and Aminu and Vasquez are prime examples. These two are stars for their respective teams and could be go-to options on any team in the country but as a result of their teams not sitting atop the ACC right now, they often get overlooked. Maryland in particular is getting written off by a lot of people for starting out 10-5, but all five losses can be classified as “good” losses as they have come against Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Villanova, a good William & Mary team the aforementioned Wake team. I’m not predicting a run at the conference title here, but don’t be surprised when the Terps pull a surprising upset or two as the season progresses.
As good as the Hummel vs. Turner battle was in the Big Ten last night, the CAA had a head-to-head that was almost as good between VCU’s Larry Sanders and Hofstra scoring machine Charles Jenkins. Sanders scored a career-high 31 points, turning in a near perfect shooting night, going 11-13 from the floor and 9-12 from the charity stripe. A game like this for one of the faces of the conference may seem like another day at the office, but for those who have followed the Rams in the last few years and remember where the big man’s offensive game was a couple of years ago, this is a huge game for Sanders. For Jenkins it was his first 20-point game in about three weeks, after going through a rare cold streak shooting the basketball.
Northern Iowa defeated Bradley last night moving to 6-0 in the Missouri Valley Conference and I’m ready to lump them in with Siena (6-0 in the MAAC) as two teams that no one is going to catch in their respective conference races. I know Wichita State and Fairfield are each only a game back in the races, but the Panthers and Saints are that much better than the rest of the field.
Oh and before I forget, I would be remiss not to mention North Carolina State freshman Scott Wood who exploded for 31 points last night in leader the Wolfpack past #19 Florida State, snapping a 13-game home winning streak for the Seminoles.
Tonight it’s really a case of take your pick for entertaining matchups. North Carolina visits Clemson in a game that the Tar Heels have to win in order to prove that they are ready for the grind of the conference schedule. They have the talent, but how will the youth play into it. Connecticut gets a chance to bounce back from their loss to Georgetown this weekend but they have to beat #20 Pittsburgh in order to do it. The matchup between Ashton Gibbs and Jerome Dyson is going to be superb. In the Big Ten, Wisconsin visiting Northwestern will be a defensive battle and just because the Wildcats have dropped out of the rankings, doesn’t mean this game isn’t worth watching if you can.
Outside of the BCS conferences, Xavier and Charlotte hook up in a pivotal Atlantic-10 game, with both teams capable of making a run at the conference crown. If you’re looking for individual scoring battles, check out UTEP at Houston which will pit human highlight reel Randy Culpepper against Houston’s Aubrey Coleman, the nation’s leading scorer. There will be a couple of good games out west for you insomniacs as well with San Diego State visiting UNLV and Utah State on the road against Nevada.