Nobody’s surprised, but Blake Griffin won the AP National Player of the Year Award.
I hope everybody realizes what a rare player he is. Athletically he is a freak, that’s obvious. He made Tyler Hansbrough look fairly average last week in the tourney. But he couples that athleticism with solid fundamentals, playing good defense and rebounding like an animal (he led the country in rebounding).
Mostly, he is rare because he doesn’t celebrate much, you often see him helping players from the opposite team off the floor, and he is a family man. The primary reason he returned for his sophomore year (and went to OU in the first place) was because he respects his older brother’s opinion. He and Taylor Griffin won multiple state championships at Oklahoma Christian School.
Good luck in the NBA Mr. Griffin.
Well day 1 of the sweet 16 brought some surprises. Apparently Missouri has a good basketball team. And Duke seemed to forget that the round, orange thing is supposed to go into the round metal thing placed 10-feet above the floor with a net hanging from it. But let’s talk about tonight.
Game 1: Arizona vs. Louisville
Louisville hasn’t exactly walked through their first two games, similar to Pitt. However, their defense causes just enough chaos to get by, and I’m sure that will be the case tonight. While Arizona has a future lottery pick in Jordan Hill, the ride for the 12-seeded Wildcats is over. They weren’t supposed to get past the first round (or make the tourney, for that matter), so kudos to them on wearing this year’s glass slipper. The only thing that could get in the way of Louisville’s advancing is their free-throw shooting. Their best player, Terrence Williams, shoots an embarrassing 57% from the charity stripe.
Prediction: Louisville 68, Arizona 59
Game 2: Oklahoma vs. Syracuse
This is tonight’s best game in my opinion. We get to see player of the year Blake Griffin take on a very tough team in Syracuse. I will be cheering for Oklahoma as I really like how Griffin plays the game, but I don’t think they can handle Jonny Flynn and the Orange. The Big East has been impressive thus far, and Syracuse is as good as their conference peers. Something to keep in mind, however, is that Griffin is averaging 30.5 ppg so far in the tourney, and Syracuse won’t have an answer if he starts taking over.
Prediction: Syracuse 76, Oklahoma 72
Game 3: Kansas vs. Michigan St.
It will be fun to watch Sherron Collins vs. Kalin Lucas. Both are very quick point guards, although Collins could easily pound Lucas in a fight. Michigan St. won the teams’ first meeting on Jan 10 by a convincing 13-points, but I think that will change tonight. Cole Aldrich has turned into a serious beast in the paint (remember him handling Hansbrough last year?), and he will be the difference after he posts a solid 20 & 12 tonight.
Prediction: Kansas 63, Michigan St. 56
Game 4: Gonzaga vs. North Carolina
Can Gonzaga take advantage of UNC’s achilles heel? Or, in this case, Ty Lawson’s toe? While Psycho-T gets a lot of attention, it’s clear that Lawson is the one that makes this team tick. I’m cheering for the Zags, but the Tar Heels will advance.
Prediction: UNC 81, Gonzaga 68
In future Division I basketball news, the Hopkins boys team won their semi-final game last night despite their opponent, undefeated St. Cloud Tech, employing a complete stall of the game (no shot clock in MN). Hopkins led at halftime 16-15. They went on to win by about 20.
Ugly Until the End
In the first game of the Jimmy V Classic, No. 20 Davidson defeated West Virginia 68-65 at the Madison Square Garden. All the publicity leading up to this game was on Stephen Curry and his ability to score. He did score 27 points but it took 27 shots to get there. Davidsons’ whole team played poorly, to put it nicely, and this game was West Virginia’s to win – but they did not.
Let me paint you a picture of the ugliness that was this game. Both teams shot 26% from three and 59% from the foul line. West Virginia shot 33% from the floor, while Davidson shot 43%. Ugliness all over.
Curry shoot 9 for 27, matching Texas’ A.J. Abrams for the most shots in a single game – I am not sure if that stat is true, but that is a lot of freakin’ shots.
And with all that mess, what puts Curry in a class by himself is that he is the most clutch player I have seen in my life time. West Virginia throw many different players at Curry, sometimes matching him up with forwards six inches taller and that seemed to make him rush.
Curry missed shots he usually makes and forced passes when there were easier options. Curry did finish with 10 assists, but he had did have eight turnovers. Still Curry finished the game scoring 13 of Davidson’s last 14 points, hitting his last three shots.
The injured Mountaineers were lacking guards and the offense struggles. But West Virginia did have two bright spots who each finished with double-doubles. 6’9″ freshmen Devin Ebanks had 13 points and 17 rebounds and was always around the rim. De’Sean Butler, a 6’7″ junior forward, scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds and had to create the majority of his offense.
Davidson’s Andrew Lovedale and Ben Allison held the game close until Curry took over, scoring 15 and 10 respectively.
Every Batman needs a Robin – except when Batman is Christian Bale, then all he needs is Alfred and Morgan Freeman.
For the No. 8 Texas Longhorns two things had to happen against the No. 16 Villinova Wildcats: First, Texas’ “Caped Crusader” A.J. Abrams, needed scoring support and it would help if it was a post player to force defenses to sag into the lane. Second, someone had to step out and play point guard, not “lead guard”, but a pass-first point guard.
Texas did beat ‘Nova 67 – 58 and both problems were taken care of.
First off, Damion James broke out the “Boy Wonder” cape and stepped up with 16 points and six rebounds, which was solid. His efficiency is what was really impressive. James shoot 7 for 11 from the floor and 2 for 3 from behind the arc and lead the Longhorns frontcourt in a physical battle against ‘Nova’s frountcourt lead by Dante Cunningham.
Secondly, in last nights game, Justin Mason only scored three points. But that is not really important. What is important? Six assists and zero turnovers. Mason is a confident ball handler who does not hesitate to move the ball. Ultimately, having Mason on the ball allows Abrams to run off picks and get to open areas for good looks.
‘Nova’s Cunningham continues to improve this season and for much of Tuesday night’s game, he was the best player on the court. Like James, he made it look easy. Cunningham shot 9 for 14 and was 5 for 7 for the charity stripe for 23 points. He also had 12 rebounds and 3 blocks.
For Texas, this game was proof that Texas is very good. Having already beaten UCLA , and now Villinova, and losing a close game to Notre Dame, we may not have seen the best of the Longhorns yet. The defense is ready, the offense will get there. Then watch-out.
Shortly after the game at the Madison Square Garden, Villanova coach Jay Wright had the NYPD issue a restraining order that will not allow ESPN’s Dick Vitale to speak about how good looking he is or how well he dresses for more than a combined 5.7 minutes a game.
Seriously, it was a bit awkward – Sean McDonough was uncomfortable.
- In the match-up of teams from major conferences who will be playing in the NIT come March, A.D Vassallo scored 23 points shooting 4 for 6 from distance in Virginia Tech’s 66-67 lose to the balanced attack of Georgia.
-Following back-to-back loses to Oklahoma and Duke, The Purdue Boilermakers played the second game of the “Lick Our Wounds” tour by going to Ball State and winning 68-39 before they Davidson at home on Dec. 20th. Purdue will not play a road until Jan. 6th when they head to Penn State to start conference play.
-The four teams of Iowa played last night to gain the crown of the Corn Palace State. In the first game, Iowa beat out a less talented Northern Iowa team 65-46 lead by Jake Kelly’s 19 points and Jeff Peterson’s 18.
- Second game showcased Iowa State’s Lucca Staiger shooting 7 for 8 from distance, scoring 21 points in the first. He then made one more basket and finished with 24 points. Drake came back from 13 down to win 66-63. The Bulldogs made 17 out of 25 free throws and the Cyclones only shot six.
- And now for the “write-in candidate for Player of the Year” portion of the show - North Dakota State’s Ben Woodside is sitting fifth in the country averaging 7.2 assists a game. Woodside is also averaging 21 points a game and 53% from beyond the arc.
Two years – two players of the year – two number two NBA draft picks.
There is no question the Big 12 has some of the best talent in the country and the last two years has driven the point home even more. While Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant took over college basketball for just a little while, other players have quietly made clutch plays, made All Big 12 teams, and won national championships.
With no freshmen drawing the attention as the two fore mentioned, the emphasis this season, will be on team and experience. Here is a look at some of those players that have been around while and are this season players to watch.
Damion James, Jr. Forward Texas
There is just something I like about the way he plays. James is athletic and willing to do what his teams asks of him. Having played power forward when Durant stopped by, James is now living and loving at the small forward spot. But James is not your typical three. Not only did he averaged a double-double, 13.2 ppg and 10.3 rpg and but he gives the Longhorns easy buckets on lob passes and put backs and has a reliable jumper out to 15 feet. Look for him to increase his productions as the inside option to A.J. Abrams outside.
A.J. Abrams, Sr. Guard Texas
Welcome back Mr. Abrams, the Longhorn fans are rejoicing! I don’t think there is a player who will benefit more from staying in college, more than Abrams. While he is an outstanding scorer, Abrams can use this year to solidify his ball handling skills. Shooting guard is his natural – and best position – but if he is truly looking to play in the league, he must show he can handle the ball in pressure and find open players. Abrams showed he is more than just a three point shooter, shooting 42 percent from the field and averaging 16.5 ppg. The Longhorns are going to expect even more from him this season, and so will the NBA scouts.
Sherron Collins, Jr. Guard Kansas
Can you say – “Now is your time to shine?” After taking the last two seasons to perfect his roles as “instant offense” and “sparkplug off the bench”, Collins will be the Jayhawks team leader this season. He has the ability to play at a pace many cannot, but I believe his weight could play an issue. Having played 24 minutes a game last season, Collins will need to be on the court more for Kansas to win and losing the extra pounds would help.
Byron Eaton, Sr. Guard Oklahoma State
There are many similarities between Collins and Eaton. Like Collins, he is quicker than quick, his team’s success now depends on how he plays, and his weight has been an issue. But this season, with Travis Ford’s new up-tempo offense, you should Eaton at his lightest and best. Last season Eaton 11.5 ppg and 3.5 apg, but in a five game stretch he averaged 20.6 ppg, and they won all five games. And he made one the most incredible shots in the history of basketball in one of the greatest college games I have ever seen. Go to Youtube and type in Byron Eaton, crazy.
Josh Carter, Sr. Guard Texas A&M
After testing the draft waters and deciding they were a little too cold, Carter comes back to the heat of Texas to improve his stock. After leading the nation in three point percentage as a sophomore, Carter’s percentage slipped last season. Going into his last season, he will be more of a focus on offense and he might not again return to the percent he shot two seasons ago. At 6’7”, if he can show he is capable of consistently scoring in a verity of ways and improve his passing skills, Carter will be drafted in June.
Curtis Jerrells, Sr. Guard Baylor
Talented Guards are aplenty in the Big 12 and Jerrells is arguably the best. He finished last season second in the conference in scoring at 15.3 ppg and first in assists with 3.8 apg. He is most dangerous behind the arc but if he could improve his percentage by even two points, he would easily average over twenty points per game. Jerrells is quick, handles the ball very well, and is an improving passer. Even though he is a shot first guard, the Bears would like his assists numbers should go up because there are other options on this team.
Blake Griffin, So. Forward Oklahoma
So there is a guy named Griffin in Oklahoma that is really good and is going to be the first overall drafts pick next June. Nope not Taylor – he is pretty good too – but I am talking about Blake. Everyone knows what Blake can do, but this year he will be better, stronger, and healthier than last season. There is not a more dominate force in all of college basketball and at 6’10” and with a 37 inch vertical, Girffin is a monster at both ends of the court.
Craig Brackins, So. Forward Iowa State
Brackins came to Iowa State last season as Top-20 freshmen. While the majority of the players ranked ahead of him are now in the NBA, Brackins is about ready to explode on the national scene. But unfortunately, he plays for Iowa State. Rarely are they showed on television, so he will continue to be the “best kept secret” in the Big 12. Scoring only 11 ppg does not tell the whole story; he scored 20 point in five games and was second on the team in blocks. He is quick off the ground, runs the floor very well, and got stronger as the season went on. He posted a school freshmen record when he dropped 33 points on Baylor.
DeMare Carroll, Sr. Forward Missouri
The former Vanderbilt transfer was the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year last season. While averaging 13 ppg and a team high 6.7 rpg, he scored double figures 26 times. At 6’7” his is undersized in the post but makes it up with quickness, hustle and hardnosed play. He could very well creep towards a double-double his season of eligibility.
Alan Voskuil, Sr. Guard Texas Tech
If you expect Voskuil to sit behind the three-point line and wait for an open shot, your team will lose. His game has developed to include a solid mid-range jumper and he will run the break. But he still is a great outside shooter – he shot 50 percent last season. During his sophomore year, Voskuil played about 11 minutes a game, then 34 minutes last season. The Red Raiders rely on his production and leadership and I would not be surprised to see his all in the mix for All Big 12.
Others to keep an eye on:
Mario Little, Kansas
Willie Warren, Oklahoma
Leo Lyons, Missouri
James Anderson, Oklahoma State
Connor Atchley, Texas
Josh Carter, Texas A&M