First Take: Hamilton Breaks Out
While Connecticut has its work cut out.
Few people knew who Jordan Hamilton was coming into this season, even fewer knew what he was capable of. The blue chip recruit from Dominguez HS hadn’t played his senior season (that’s a long story) but was still considered a top ten player in his class when he arrived at Texas along with fellow stud Avery Bradley. Thus the Longhorns featured a pair of super talented freshman and a pair of impact seniors in Dexter Pittman and Damion James. Of those four, only Hamilton had failed to put together a standout performance. That is, until last night.
With his team in danger of losing for the fourth time in five tries, the 6-7 swingman put the team on his shoulders and took over, scoring a career-high 27 points in leading Texas to a much needed win over a pesky Oklahoma State team. Hamilton entered the game with just under 14 minutes remaining in the first half and promptly blocked a shot attempt by the Cowboy’s Fred Gulley, corralled the rebound and knocked down a jumper at the other end of the floor. He lit it up from the perimeter as well, connecting on 5-of-8 attempts, to spark the second half turnaround for Texas. It was the performance that fans had been waiting for, but as good as the freshman was, Rick Barnes can definitely use this game as a teaching opportunity. Hamilton did show off his entire arsenal of offensive weapons, but at times his questionable shot selection was still rearing its head. Let’s not forget that he entered the game shooting just 39% from the floor due to his propensity to hoist difficult jumpers. Still, this game belongs to the California native and the question now, was this a turning point for an otherwise rollercoaster rookie season, or a lightning in a bottle performance?
Oklahoma State’s James Anderson had another big scoring night, though he did the bulk of his damage in the first half, scoring 24 of his 28 before the break. For NBA scouts in attendance observing the guard, this had to have been a frustrating night. There have always been questions about the juniors limited ability to handle the basketball and create shot opportunities for himself at the next level and he seemed to be disproving many of those doubts in the game’s opening half. Anderson was hitting tough shots, posting up smaller guards, attacking the basket and even showed off a nice ability to find open teammates in the half court set. After halftime, everything went south. Suddenly his inability to create shots became glaringly obvious, thanks in no small part to the excellent defense of Dogas Balby who switched on to Anderson after he torched freshman Avery Bradley in the first half. Which brings us to another question, can Bradley – a player who people continue to hype and generally for good reason – defend his position at the next level? Bradley is a very good looking, young, offensive weapon, but it doesn’t look like he has the length to cover pro level shooting guards. At least he didn’t against Anderson who was able to get his jumper off with great ease in the first half. I know Bradley has received plenty of praise for his defensive ability, and by me included, but sometimes you can only do so much with physical limitations.
The end result here of course is Texas escapes Stillwater with a win, not necessarily a pretty one, but a win nonetheless. This could be a turning point for the Longhorns, and I stress the word could here. They took a shot to the mouth in the first half, but unlike in previous games, they didn’t fold. In their loss to UConn, the Huskies hit them hard and fast to start the second half and they fell apart. In the loss to Baylor, they fell behind early, battled back to force overtime, but couldn’t complete the comeback. Last night, they finished the job. This is a young team that might finally be learning how to play in tight situations. I still believe they have the talent to reach the Final Four, but talent as we know is a sometimes dangerous thing.
What else can I say about Louisville’s win over Connecticut other than yech. I know on paper the Cardinals at least played a strong game, but this one was not a good watch like I had hoped. The Huskies are in trouble, big trouble. At 13-9, 3-6 in the Big East, with just nine games remaining, they have some serious work to do at this point. In his latest bracket, Joe Lunardi had UConn as the last at-large big in the entire field, but that was based almost entirely on the fact that they had beaten former number one Texas and it was also prior to the Louisville loss. Given that the team does have that huge resume building win over the Longhorns, I think that a .500 record in the Big East and 19 wins overall is enough to allow them to sneak into the Dance, but that means going 6-3 down the stretch of the regular season, and probably needing at least one or two wins in the Big East Tournament. Keep in mind, the Huskies still have to travel to Syracuse, Villanova and Louisville while also hosting West Virginia later this month. It’s going to be a tough road.
Louisville on the other hand helped themselves a great deal by improving to 14-8 and leaping over the .500 mark in conference. The scoring attack was balanced and they shot the lights out from beyond the arc, hitting 10-of-22 attempts with an incredible seven different players hitting at least one three-point field goal. One scouting note from this game, I spent a good portion focusing on Samardo Samuels, a player who I’ve had the chance to see live each of the last three seasons, dating back to when he was one of the top high school players in the country. The more I watch him, the more I realize his lack of explosiveness is going to hamper him as far as being an effective pro player (ironic then that I chose a picture of Samuels dunking on Gavin Edwards). He certainly isn’t going to be leaving school after this season, but right now he’s projecting out probably as a second round selection in 2011. He is an effective college player and puts up good numbers, but at the end of the day, he’s a big man who plays below the rim. Samuels does an excellent job of establishing position, pinning down his defender and finishing with a soft touch, but that isn’t going to be as much the case against NBA defenders.
The rest of last night’s schedule included heavy doses of the Atlantic Sun, MEAC and SWAC. The MEAC is looking like another runaway for Morgan State right now, as the Bears stand at 8-0, two games on top of Delaware State and haven’t lost a game in almost a month. Guard Reggie Holmes is one of the top scorers in the nation and I’ve mentioned forward Kevin Thompson as one of the bright young stars in mid-major land, given his propensity for accumulating double-doubles. The SWAC is a two horse race between 8-1 Jackson State and 7-2 Texas Southern, with those two teams scheduled to meet up in Houston on February 15th in a game that could determine the regular season champ.
One final note from last night, congratulations go out to Division II King College in Tennessee for their shocking 87-76 win over Division I Appalachian State last night. This one wasn’t even a last second miracle as King built on an eight-point halftime lead and finished off with an 87-76 win.
Tonight’s schedule makes it very easy to figure out which game to watch: Michigan State at Wisconsin, 9 ET. Two of the three best teams in the Big Ten, including the Spartans who have yet to lose in conference play, in one of the great atmospheres in college basketball. Michigan State has had trouble playing in the Kohl Center in the past, and the Badgers will be fired up for this one. Should be a great game, enjoy the hoops.