Note: The writer of this piece, Ethan Mann, is an ACC microsite writer and Duke senior who has attended all but one home basketball game in his three-plus years in Durham, as well as being part of the group that organizes the tenting for the UNC game. He can easily spot when people who go to Duke let it get to their heads.
A few Miami graduate students, who happen to be Duke alumnae, decided to attend the Hurricanes’ 90-63 shellacking of the then-#1 Blue Devils last Wednesday. Their experience was not so great, as they wore their Duke colors and were the target of verbal abuse not just from Miami undergrads but apparently also from school administrators. Michelle Picon, one of these Duke undergraduate/Miami medical students, felt so affronted by her experience there that she wrote an op-ed to the Duke Chronicleregarding the mistreatment they endured both before and during the game.
Picon, On the Right in the Duke Sweatshirt, Probably Wishes She Hadn’t Written into the Duke Chronicle At This Point
Ladies and gentlemen, I f—ing kid you not, the Dean of Students and the Vice President of Student Affairs stood between us and the stadium, allowing dozens of people to pass us in line as they lectured us on our apparently deplorable and wildly unacceptable desire to show support for our home team. Four-plus years as Cameron Crazies, hard-earned Duke degrees and constitutionally protected freedom of speech notwithstanding, senior administrators of the undergraduate campus dared scold us for wearing Duke blue to a basketball game.
Look, I completely understand their anger — you should be allowed to wear your colors to a basketball game anywhere you want. However, by sitting in the Miami student section, it is more or less assumed that you are going to cheer for Miami. This was probably the most high-profile game in the history of Miami basketball so I can understand the administrators’ desire to make the student section look as good as possible (hence, free of Miami students who might be Duke basketball fans from their youth/undergraduate affiliation, etc.) to display school spirit. Also, the claim about freedom of speech is just incredibly erroneous. They were honestly lucky to be let in the game at all wearing the Duke stuff, because at some schools they would not allow entry into the student section unless they put a shirt from the home school on over their Duke attire.
Basketball Prospectus: So how good has Miami been? So far this season, the Hurricanes are an average 0.21 points per possession (PPP) better than their conference opponents (the Duke game helped a lot on this front). For those of you not mathematically inclined, that’s equivalent to a point lead in every five possessions. That’s the third best mark for a power-conference team behind Florida’s gaudy 0.43 (which will come down) and Michigan’s 0.24 PPP. Miami has the best defense in the league by a decent margin to go with a serviceable offense. The Hurricanes’ secret? Insanely good field goal percentage numbers and good rebounding.
Raleigh News & Observer: It’s pretty obvious Duke is a different team without Ryan Kelly, but his injury may have some positive side effects. For one, Amile Jefferson is really starting to develop, which probably wouldn’t have happened until next season without the recent extra playing time. Also Duke is changing its offense, namely running more set plays to get people open. Both should prove very useful when Kelly returns. Duke would be able to throw very different offensive looks at opponents and won’t have to settle for Josh Hairston’s limited offensive repertoire (though don’t look for his minutes to disappear completely).
Fayetteville Observer: For pretty much everyone but Miami, the road has been tough on ACC teams. Take out the Hurricanes and the league is 8-30 in road games (with Duke still searching for its first win). Duke‘s biggest issue is that it played its hardest two road games first. I don’t agree that it’s an experience thing, unless Coach K means experience playing without Ryan Kelly. The Blue Devils don’t have Miami’s aggregate age across the lineup, but they do start two seniors and this mostly shows that the ACC is very competitive. There’s just not a lot separating the teams in the middle of the pack or even at the top of the league right now (discounting the Hurricanes, of course).
NBC Sports: Virginia Tech’s Erick Green is shining this season, but unfortunately his teammates in Blacksburg aren’t. He’s leading the country in scoring right now, but Green isn’t a new Terrell Stoglin. He’s surrounded by competent but passive players who can’t seem to find the bottom of the net. Cadarian Raines and Jarrell Eddie, especially Eddie, should make a decent scoring backcourt. But Raines has only added half a point to his average from last season in a much bigger role, and Eddie can only do so much. Add in zero depth, and there’s good reason for Green to take as many shots as he does. For Virginia Tech to win, he needs his teammates to join the offensive cause. Green knows it and wants to win more than anything, but if his supporting cast keeps up its current pace, he’ll have to settle for scoring.
Maryland Diamondback: It’s too bad Charles Mitchell will be leaving the ACC with the Terrapins because he’s incredible to watch. He’s a more in-shape Reggie Johnson with plenty of opportunity to condition himself next offseason. If there’s a shot missed, it’s a good bet Mitchell will come down with it. He combines a massive frame, good instincts and superb hustle to rack up boards like no one’s business. He also showed some pretty strong post moves against Duke. Assuming Mark Turgeon can convince him to stay around College Park for four years, Maryland has a real asset for the future in the post.
The recognitions continue to roll in for Villanova sophomore Darrun Hilliard, who was named Player of the Week by the US Basketball Writers Association a day after the folks in Providence pegged him as its Big East Player of the Week. It’s a significant national distinction: Hilliard joins Victor Rudd (December 23) as the only Big East players to earn the honor this season.
After watching the Villanova loss in which Louisville’s Chane Behanan struggled to handle a couple of passes down the stretch, his brother made an unconventional suggestion to improve his coordination: juggling lessons. Behanan gave Chip Cosby of Louisville’s cn|2 Sportsa glimpse of his juggling baseline. Maybe he’s being tongue-in-cheek, but Cardinals fans should feel encouraged that Behanan plainly acknowledges his recent problem clutching the ball and is striving to improve.
At 1-7 in the Big East, South Florida is squarely in last place in the league standings heading into February. Moreover, they’re averaging fewer points per game than all but 44 teams in Division I, and they haven’t eclipsed 70 points since before Christmas. Collin Sherwin at Voodoo Five tries to diagnose what’s right and wrong with Stan Heath’s offense right now. His conclusions are, in a word, bleak: “You can’t run a pick-and-roll if you don’t have anyone that can roll to the rim effectively. You can pick-and-pop, but our perimeter shooters aren’t exactly known for their quick triggers… And we really don’t have anyone (besides Collins) that can put the ball on the deck and get into the teeth of the defense.”
Substantial Syracuse freshman Dajuan Colemanunderwent knee surgery yesterday that will keep him off the court for four weeks. With Coleman rehabbing and James Southerland benched for a while, Jim Boeheim is left with only seven scholarship players. Syracuse’s enviable depth is suddenly a thing of the past, and Brent Axe at the (Syracuse) Post-Standard points out Coleman’s injury is just one of a series of mid- and late-season big man casualties for the program. Nonetheless, Axe questions how much of a substantive impact the loss of Coleman will have on Syracuse: “Coleman may start every game, but has barely been used by Jim Boeheim in game situations that matter.” It will be interesting to see whether the coaching staff elects to slide Rakeem Christmas to center or start backup five-man Baye Keita. The Orange have several days to deliberate this issue as they look to rebound from the Villanova loss against Pitt on Saturday.
It’s not all doom and gloom in upstate New York, as CJ Fair was entrusted with the official Syracuse Athletics Twitter account yesterday, to the great benefit of humanity. CJ apparently liked Django and believes he’s the ‘Cuse player most likely to win the Hunger Games. No profound insights, but his blunt economy of language is what really made the cameo entertaining:
For the NCAA, the Ed O’Bannon likeness case is the gift that keeps on taking. The latest procedural twist in the case — which will not even go to trial until 18 months from now — is that the players will have the right to make a legal claim against the billions in television revenue that the NCAA earns through the broadcasting of its football and basketball games. The plaintiffs are hoping to become certified as a class-action representation, which would allow every former and current NCAA athlete a slice of the pie if the case is eventually won on the merits. There’s a long way to go before that outcome, but by and large, the case has thus far been more favorable to the O’Bannon team than the suits in Indy.
We may never get the original Magic Eight as its creator Grant Wahl abandoned us to write books about male underwear models, but there have been a number of individuals who have tried to fill the void including Luke Winn who received the Magic Eight ball in a care package from Grant two years ago. Peter Tiernan is trying to follow in those footsteps with his own formula for picking a champion. Looking back at data from the last 12 champions, he claims to have found eight key criteria a champion must have. Using his formula he has found eight teams that as of Tuesday morning meet those guidelines. Obviously the numbers from each of these teams can change over the next 45 days until we get to Selection Sunday (or is it technically the last Monday of the season?), but this could provide you with a good thing to keep in mind when you are filling out your brackets in March.
We usually have to report injuries here so we enjoy being able to report that players are coming back from injuries. The biggest positive news on that front comes from Missouri where Laurence Bowers is expected to return to play possibly as early as tonight against LSU. Bowers has been out since January 8 with a sprained MCL and the Tigers have struggled in his absence going 3-2 including an embarrassing loss at Florida where it seemed like the entire team forgot to get on the plane to Gainesville. Missouri will need Bowers to be back at 100% if they are going to challenge Florida’s control in the SEC this season. Fortunately the Tigers have a relatively easy stretch (ok, you could say that about the entire SEC schedule) to get Bowers back to form before they get another shot at the Gators on February 19 in Mizzou Arena.
Michigan also got some good news yesterday when it was announced that Jordan Morgan had a sprained ankle after x-rays on his right ankle did not reveal any fractures. This is obviously big news for the Wolverines with their showdown in Bloomington on Saturday night looming. Morgan will be particularly important against the Hoosiers because he would be matched up against Tyler Zeller, who would be a tough match-up even if he has had a relatively disappointing sophomore season. Before that game, the Wolverines play against Northwestern tonight, but we don’t have much information coming out of Ann Arbor except for this insightful analysis: “If he can play, he’ll play. But if he’s still hurt, he won’t.”
The news for Louisville was more mixed as they announced that Wayne Blackshearwill be returning from a shoulder injury to play against Marquette on Sunday, but Kevin Ware will “not be coming back anytime soon” from his suspension. We still are not sure why Ware has been suspended and schools are so secretive with this information that it could be pretty much anything. Blackshear’s return is more important for a team that has been more offensively challenged that usual in the past week, but it would be short-sighted to dismiss the contributions of Ware who has played 15.3 minutes per game. At this point Louisville could use all the help it can get to right their sinking ship.
Tonight’s Lede. Bubble Unpredictability. The NCAA Tournament bubble is a nebulous thing to gauge. Predictions are laid out with RPI figures and relevant strength of schedule numbers over these early months, and all of that gets compiled into individual “resumes” – the digestible team units used by the NCAA selection committee to construct its preferred field of 68. The best way to improve your “resume” goes without saying. Win good games against good teams, and you’re helping your chances of inclusion. Sometimes, all it takes is one or two big wins to launch a team into the bubble conversation, or to provide that definitive RPI boost to send it over the cut line. In the end, all final decisions are reached in a secretive board room, and for as accurate as bracket models have become in recent years – and as ostensibly similar as the esteemed media mock selection event has become — we’re all fooling ourselves if we think we know exactly how the committee evaluates teams. One team won a monstrously important game tonight – the kind of thing that really shakes up that selection process. Care to find out who it was?
Your Watercooler Moment. You Needed That One, UK.
If Tuesday night is a sign of things to come, Kentucky could be a scary good team come March (Photo credit: AP Photo).
There are Kentucky fans, illogical or not, who will come down hard on 2012 national championship-winning coach John Calipari if he’s unable to lead Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament this season. Wildcats fans are some of the most relentless partisans in college sports. They expect the best, roster turnover and relative recruiting down year be damned. Whether or not UK ultimately gets there, I can’t say for sure. There’s a lot of season left to be played, and UK has plenty of work to do before locking up a bid. Here’s what I know: Kentucky is in much better shape, Tourney-wise, after Tuesday night’s win at Ole Miss. In almost any other year, that sounds more like some deranged Rebels fan’s perverse joke. This season, it’s not even a small stretch. Andy Kennedy’s team has evolved into a real SEC title contender, thanks mostly to the huge impact (physical and emotional) of Marshall Henderson, the SEC’s leading scorer, and a set of quality complementary frontcourt players. But for a few spots – a road loss at Middle Tennessee, a near-loss at Auburn – the Rebels have looked appreciably better than John Calipari’s team all season. With all that considered, there remained some suspicion about whether Ole Miss, long a doormat for the likes of UK and Florida in the SEC, could seize the opportunity against the worst team of Calipari’s UK tenure to cement its mantle as the league’s surefire No. 2 (Florida is absolutely napalming anyone it comes into contact with; the Gators are No. 1, and it’s not close). Henderson gives the Rebels an offensive spark unlike anything Kennedy has ever worked with in Oxford, and Murphy Holloway and Reginald Buckner are as solid as any non-Patric Young SEC bigs. This is Ole Miss basketball’s year to shine, and Tuesday night was its night to drill the young Wildcats. It had all the momentum and clear advantages it needed, but the Rebels couldn’t quite size up Calipari’s team. But let’s not let this be about some newly-discovered flaws in the Ole Miss formula. Kentucky deserves the credit for this win, because this Kentucky team was nothing like the incoherent mess we’ve seen for large stretches this season.
The “switch” everyone’s been waiting Kentucky to “flip” may or may not have, you know, flipped Tuesday night, but when you look at Kentucky’s 87-74 win, there are few times this season when the Wildcats have looked as good, or even half as good, as it did in Oxford. Not only did UK outwork and thoroughly outplay a vastly improved SEC contender, they went into a blaring environment, stuffed with a legion of vitriolic Rebels fans ready to coronate their home team’s triumph over a historic program, and exited with a resounding W. They did it with Kyle Wiltjer scoring and defending like he never has before, with Archie Goodwin snapping his conference play swoon, and a whole bunch of really encouraging developments that, if sustained, will erase any doubts UK fans ever had about the Wildcats’ NCAA Tournament chances.
Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
For NC State fans that thought the rollercoaster may have finally been headed for level ground, Tuesday’s nights’ 58-55 loss to Virginia was yet another reminder that the seat belts should never come off when riding with this Wolfpack team. Consistency has eluded Mark Gottfried’s club all season but especially of late, as the Pack have now alternated wins and losses over their past six contests. Included in the trio of wins were seismic victories over Tobacco Road rivals Duke and UNC; but like many a college student after a momentous Saturday night, the Pack watched as each high subsided into a full-blown hangover. Little seems to have been learned by either coach or team along the way, and State fans have to be wondering whether the inconsistency might ultimately derail a season that has quite frequently felt immensely promising.
Much Like His Team All Season, CJ Leslie’s Performance Tuesday Night Included Both Good And Bad: 20 Points and 14 Rebounds For The Pack Star, But Also Seven Turnovers
Nobody can deny that the talent and capability to be not just good but great are there for this team. We knew about the collection of talent all the way back in the preseason, when the paper version of the Wolfpack was impressive enough to net the team a top-five preseason national ranking and the grandiose title of ACC favorite. Unfortunately, we have seen that talent mesh and deliver on all its potential far too infrequently for the Pack to maintain those lofty preseason standards, but is there time yet to bounce back? Are we silly for believing that it isn’t too late, for thinking that Mark Gottfried can find a way to get his team to sustain that energy and emotion ALL the time, and not just when they take the floor with college hoops titans like Duke, UNC, and Michigan?
And we’re back for another shiny edition of the RTC Podcast. This week our host, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114), artfully leads us on a discussion of all the crazy goings-on in college basketball over the last week-plus. With so many topics to choose from, we tried to keep it relevant, discussing Louisville’s surprising fall from grace, the possible #1 seeds at this point in the season, what to think about Miami’s ascendant behavior, and a bunch of other junk throw in between. Feel free to use the outline below to jump around to the areas of interest, of course.
Check back on Friday of this week for our shorter RTC Podblast, which will run down some of the action from this week and look ahead to the weekend’s biggest games. And don’t forget to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after each recording. Thanks!
0:00-3:07 - Villanova’s Great Week
3:07-10:25 – Louisville’s Fall From #1 to Barely Top 10
10:25-12:40 – Syracuse Loses a Game, But Two Key Players
12:40-19:21 – Duke and Arizona Both Drop Games in Surprising Ways
19:21-25:50 – Which Teams are Positioned to be #1 Seeds Come Selection Sunday?
25:50-29:45 – Marshall Henderson, Rock Star
29:45-32:30 – Latest Terrible Uniform Trends
32:30-37:51 – Where Does Miami Deserve to Rank After an Amazing Week?
37:51-42:41 – Minnesota’s 4-Game Losing Streak
42:41-46:18 – Where Does New Mexico Deserve to be Ranked
46:18-51:21 – Week Preview – Ohio State/Wisconsin and Top 10 Teams on Upset Alert
We welcome any and all feedback on these podcasts including topics for future discussion or if you want to send us any questions for our “May Not Be From Actual Listeners” segment. Hit us up at firstname.lastname@example.org or @rushthecourt on Twitter.
Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.
About two weeks ago, the Minnesota Gophers were ranked #8 in the polls and were considered as one of the contenders to win the Big Ten title. After a tough loss to Indiana (88-81) on the road, the Gophers unexpectedly hit a mid-season slump by dropping three more games in a row to Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin. The Gophers still have the talent to become a top team in the Big Ten but they might need some help from their senior forward Rodney Williams. Even though forward Trevor Mbakwe has been averaging a double-double (12 PPG and 11.5 RPG) and guard Andre Hollins has averaged 16 PPG during the losing streak, Williams holds the key for the Gophers to return to their winning ways. It is not coincidental that Williams has struggled mightily during the team’s losing skid — he scored 11, 11, seven and two points during the four losses against Indiana, Michigan, Northwestern and Wisconsin, respectively.
Rodney Williams has struggled during the Gophers’ recent losing streak (Star Tribune)
Except for the IU game, Williams hasn’t been comfortable in the offense and his hesitancy can be attributed to the overall pace of the game and his offensive skill set. The athletic forward runs the court very well and is a great recipient of passes in transition because he finishes so strongly around the basket. The IU game was played at a frantic pace because Tom Crean’s team prefers it that way and it suited Williams’ offensive strengths. But the Wildcats and the Badgers slowed the game down against Minnesota with their defense, and it forced the senior forward to find other ways to score in the half-court. He shot just 3-of-11 from the field against the 1-3-1 zone in Evanston because he wasn’t given the ball in his favorite spots on the floor. When he isn’t scoring in transition, Williams is excellent off the pick-and-roll where he sets a screen at the high post or the baseline and uses his quickness to cut to the basket to finish with a variety of dunks. A majority of his points in the half-court are a result of layups or dunks as the Gopher guards get into paint. The Wildcats forced Hollins to instead settle for jumpers (2-of-7 3FG), so he couldn’t get Williams involved. Even though the Badgers didn’t play a similar zone, Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson were still able to prevent Hollins from driving past the first layer of defense. Hollins still scored 20 points but didn’t have much success getting all the way to the basket. It is clear that Williams struggles offensively when Hollins and the other guards can’t get into the paint. His performance against the Wolverines looked fine on paper (11 points) but he turned the ball over four times because he was trying too hard to create his own shot — not one of his offensive strengths.
Two weeks ago Villanova was a program left for dead. The young team had shown talent and promise, but they lacked consistency and blew halftime leads so regularly you would think they were trying to get beat. Then, last Tuesday, coming off a disheartening loss to lowly Providence, something happened. First the Wildcats took advantage of some awful free-throwing shooting to upset heavily favored Louisville and just four days later they took advantage of some questionable late-game strategy from Syracuse and ended up beating the Orange in overtime for their second win over a top-5 opponent in the week. The Wildcats now sit at 13-7 and 4-3 in Big East play with two marquee wins to hang their hats on. So the question is, if the season ended today, would the Wildcats be an NCAA Tournament team?
Mike: Forget the NCAA Tournament for a minute; the program needed these ones badly if only for respectability’s sake. Since the Wildcats lost to North Carolina in the Final Four in 2009, Villanova fans have watched their program free-fall into mediocrity and losses to Columbia and Providence this season weren’t helping anyone feel hopeful about the rebuilding efforts of Jay Wright and his staff. Those two wins last week change some of that. The fan base is energized again – if only for the time being – and the team can finally start to have confidence in themselves which will only help as the season goes on. As far as their tournament chances go, I still think they are on the outside looking in. After the wins over Louisville and Syracuse, the Wildcats jumped from #73 to #49 in the official RPI of the NCAA, which was also good enough to make them one of “the last four in” according to ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi but both of those wins came at home and they are still really the only two “good wins” on the Wildcats’ resume. I guess it’s possible the NCAA could see how many games the Wildcats have let slip away and they could show some understanding, but getting blown out by Columbia at home is an excellent way to lose all of your goodwill and losing to bottom-dweller Providence isn’t going to help either. The next four games will be crucial for the team’s chances. If they can go 4-0 or even 3-1 against some of the lesser teams in the conference, they will be in a good spot for the home stretch. But lose a pair to South Florida, Providence, Notre Dame, or DePaul and the team will probably be forced to look forward to next season.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
The dream around the Mountain West is six conference teams making the NCAA Tournament. But, in order for that to realistically happen, the top six teams here need to separate from the bottom three, with the teams at the back end of that first six earning at least a win or two over the upper-echelon teams. This week, that plan did not come to fruition. Boise State took care of Fresno State at home (good!) but then lost to Nevada on the road (bad). Wyoming lost on the road to UNLV (not good, but not unexpected), but then went back home and lost to Air Force (bad). In fact, Air Force has now knocked off a pair of MW teams dreaming of sneaking through that NCAA bubble (they knocked off Boise State the previous week) and, crazy as it may seem, they have their own devious designs on sneaking into the bracket come Selection Sunday. We’re now exactly one-third of the way through the conference schedule and one game in the standings is the difference between first and fifth place. Just two games separate first and seventh. And that team that started 13-0 and was among the last undefeated teams in the nation? Yeah, um, Wyoming is in eighth place and in need of 50 cc’s of an offensive injection, stat!
Team of the Week
San Diego State – Two weeks ago, the Aztecs lost on their home court in convincing fashion to their biggest rival in the league, UNLV, then followed that up with a lackluster performance in a loss at Wyoming, sinking them back to .500 in the conference and causing some to reevaluate just how strong this team was. Well, Steve Fisher and company had an answer for those questions this week, first tearing through Nevada in Reno on Wednesday night, then coming home and absolutely locking up New Mexico in front of The Show. Their smothering defense held the previously unbeaten Lobos to a field goal percentage in the 20s and just 34 total points (UNM’s lowest total of the year), helping them to overcome their own relatively unimpressive offensive performance. With point guard Xavier Thames just starting to work his way back into playing shape after a back injury, and with freshman Skylar Spencer seemingly improving by the game, the Aztecs seem to be a team that has hit their nadir and is on its way to bouncing back up.
Player of the Week
Allen Huddleston, Junior, Fresno State – Handing out the POTW honors to a guy whose team just went 0-2 for the week is not a precedent I’m thrilled to set, but in a week without a bunch of great options, rewarding a guy for keeping a positive attitude and finding a way to help his team out seems like as good a way as any to go. You see, after transferring in from Pacific and starting the first 11 games of the season (while averaging a hair under 30 minutes a game), Huddleston lost his starting spot to freshman Aaron Anderson and saw his minutes slashed (down to about 12 minutes a game over the next six games). When he did get into the game, he seemed to force the action in an effort to regain his coaches’ trust, but the low point came in a couple of oh-fer performances in extremely limited minutes against Sonoma State and Nevada. But rather than pout or quit on his team or transfer again (although, certainly, he did have some low moments in the interim), Huddleston kept working and was rewarded by head coach Rodney Terry with 55 total minutes of run this week. And he responded with his best two back-to-back performances of the year, averaging 17.5 points, three assists and two steals while knocking down seven three-pointers over the course of the week (and shooting a 64.6% eFG). While his play didn’t wind up earning his team a win, you can be sure he did his best to give his team chances to win those two games.
Despite Losing His Starting Job, Allen Huddleston Had A Big Week In A Losing Effort For Fresno State (Gary Kazanjian/Fresno Bee)
Newcomer of the Week
Skylar Spencer, Freshman, San Diego State – Yeah, Huddleston is a newcomer, so he could just as easily be here too, but Spencer deserves some pub too. You see, the freshman big man hasn’t missed a shot from the field since January 12 — four games ago. For the year he’s made better than 76% of his shots. As you might expect, Spencer’s range is basically a dunk (or closer), but give credit to the guy for knowing his strengths, accepting his limits and doing the things his coaching staff wants him to do. Yeah, that basically comes down to stuffing home point-blank opportunities, grabbing rebounds and playing defense, but he’s done all of that well. He blocks nearly 10 percent of his opponents’ two-point field goal attempts, has quick enough hands to dislodge a ball on the floor and is a beast on the offensive glass. While the SDSU rotation is crowded, Spencer has carved out a nice 20-minute-per-game spot for himself. Oh yeah, and the “of-the-week” part of this: try on 5-of-5 from the field, 10 points, five boards, three blocks and four steals.
The first three weeks of conference play have come and gone in the SEC, and we’ve uncovered some revelations about the league. Ole Miss, for example, showed that a weak non-conference schedule camouflaged an emerging team. Florida, who hasn’t played a league game that it hasn’t won by 17 points or more, is every bit the beast they were expected to be. Missouri and Kentucky, on the other hand, have struggled despite talented rosters. What’s less clear is who the best player in the conference is. Several athletes have stepped up this year, some big men like Nerlens Noel and Reginald Buckner to guards like Phil Pressey and Kenny Boynton. They’ll all have their chance to join legends like Shaquille O’Neal, Charles Barkley, Bernard King, and Dan Langhi in earning SEC Player of the Year honors. So far, a surprising player leads the pack as January winds to a close. Ole Miss is 6-0 in conference play, and a big part of that revival has been thanks to Marshall Henderson’s shooting. He’s not the only one with his eyes on the SEC POY hardware, though. Let’s take a look at who is gunning for league honors, and where their odds stand nearly 20 games into the season.
As If Enough Hadn’t Been Written About Him Already This Week… (AP)
Marshall Henderson, Ole Miss (5:1 odds to win POY) - Well this is certainly surprising – at least to people not named Marshall Henderson. Henderson has been the catalyst behind Ole Miss’ surprising season by leading his team in scoring and swagger. The cocksure shooter has willed Mississippi to a 6-0 start in conference play. He leads the SEC in scoring and his shooting touch has pulled the Rebels out of tight games against Auburn, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt. Henderson has plenty of negatives, though. He’s shooting less than 40 percent from the field and a big function of his game is having players like Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway up front to clean up his mess. He’s also an unreliable passer who averages more turnovers than assists from the backcourt. Still, he’s been the focal point of Mississippi’s 2013 revival, and his scoring and ability to come up big in the clutch have made him the POY front-runner as January winds down.
Here are a few coinciding items pertinent to Tuesday night’s Wisconsin-Ohio State game:
Wisconsin is one of the best defensive teams in the Big Ten.
Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas is one of the best, if not the best, scorer in the Big Ten.
Beyond Thomas, Ohio State doesn’t have much consistent scoring to rely upon.
This man is the focal point for Ohio State every game. Wisconsin should have that in its scouting report Tuesday.
That, in a nutshell, is what to keep an eye on Tuesday when the two teams meet in Columbus. Wisconsin has been an enigma this season, struggling through most of its non-conference schedule before apparently getting its act together at the beginning of Big Ten play. But they’ve suffered some puzzling losses while also managing to win back-to-back games without eclipsing 50 points for the first time in 16 years. Ohio State, meanwhile, has won most of the games it’s been expected to, but faltered in most of the marquee match-ups. In a talent-laden conference like this one, that’s not going to get them very far this year. But on a smaller scale, let’s take a slightly closer look at Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas conundrum and how it impacts both these teams.
There are essentially two ways you can play Ohio State. You can let Thomas get somewhere around his scoring average — he scores a Big Ten-best 20.0 PPG — while limiting the rest of the Buckeyes. Lenzelle Smith Jr., LaQuinton Ross and Sam Thompson are all possible second scoring options (with all due respect to Aaron Craft, who is a terrific point guard, but that is not his role), though none have performed with any consistency. Only one of them averages in double-figures (Smith, just barely, with 10.2 PPG) and, consequently, the Buckeyes are one of just two conference teams without two players in the Big Ten’s top 30 in scoring (Purdue is the other). Yes, Penn State, winless in Big Ten play, has two players in the league’s top seven. And Nebraska, nearly as bad as the Nittany Lions, has three in the top 20. But I digress.