Who Won The Week? Shabazz Napier, Memphis and Villanova…Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 6th, 2013
WINNER: Shabazz Napier
The stellar UConn guard and his team only played one game last week, matching up against a ranked Florida squad. And Napier stole the show. Including the buzzer-beating free-throw-line fadeaway for the 65-64 win, the junior guard finished Monday night’s game in Storrs with 26 points on 9-of-15 shooting and a game-high three steals. It’s impressive to think that Kemba Walker’s backup backcourt mate during the Huskies’ 2011 title run has a solid case in being judged the best player in college basketball this season. If he keeps playing at his current level – the senior guard averages 16.4 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5.6 assists and 1.9 steals per game – he could solidify that claim by the end of the year. Of course, some more luck coming his team’s way couldn’t hurt; including Monday’s game, three of the Huskies’ eight wins have come by a single point.
Already down the services of Eli Carter for the year and freshman five-star recruit Kasey Hill for a couple more weeks due to injuries, Billy Donovan’s Gators could ill afford to lose another point guard. Bad news in Gainesville: Starting point guard Scottie Wilbekin is expected to be out indefinitely after sustaining a similar injury with three minutes left in Florida’s aforementioned loss to UConn. Wilbekin, who already missed five regular-season games due to an offseason suspension, was tough enough to replace as the starting point guard when Florida’s second and third options at the position were healthy. Instead, the Gators face an onslaught of Kansas and Memphis back-to-back on the next two Tuesdays.
To give credit where it’s due, the 67-66 home win over rival Florida State last week is nothing to sneeze at, though Wilbekin did have seven points, eight assists and five steals in that match-up.
Two weeks after I made light of Josh Pastner’s inability to beat an AP Top 25 team, his Tigers took revenge on the same Oklahoma State team that blew them out 101-80 in Stillwater in the Old Spice Classic championship game. It only took 146 games, but Pastner is now off the hook. Memphis basically went six players deep in its 73-68 win Sunday at Disney World – only one reserve played for more than five minutes – but it was led by forward Shaq Goodwin’s 17 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks (each tying or setting a team high). The Tigers only turned the ball over nine times against a team with a stellar perimeter defender in Marcus Smart, who admittedly was out of sorts, shooting only 4-of-13 from the field after scoring 39 in the teams’ first meeting. En route to the crown, Memphis forced 24 turnovers out of LSU in a 76-69 win last Friday and beat Siena on Thursday on the back of a Goodwin double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, along with three blocks. The top of the American Athletic Conference should be fun to watch once next month rolls around, with defending champions Louisville and a resurgent Connecticut also with eyes on a conference title.
LOSER: Anali Okoloji
With George Mason up 53-41 on visiting South Florida with under nine minutes to go Wednesday night, the Patriots’ reserve forward stomped on the Bulls’ Anthony Collins near the free throw line, earning himself a personal foul, a technical foul, an ejection and an indefinite team suspension. Collins made all four free throws, then assisted on a Javontae Hawkins dunk for a six-point swing in seven seconds of game time. From there, a comfortable GMU team’s lead was whittled away in two-and-a-half more minutes, victim to what was an 18-0 USF run. The Patriots clawed back into the game and tied it with 21 seconds left on a Bryon Allen three-pointer, only to give up a last-second basket to Corey Allen and lose. Regardless of if you believe in the power of momentum in college sports, the blatant lack of sportsmanship was rewarded with a fittingly crushing defeat for Okoloji’s squad.
Jay Wright’s Wildcats took down a loaded Battle 4 Atlantis field in the Bahamas last weekend, starting with a 94-79 victory over USC on Thanksgiving, followed by a 63-59 win over previously unbeaten Kansas, and topped off with an 88-83 overtime thriller over Iowa in the final. They followed that by blasting Big 5 rival Penn 77-54 to move to 8-0 on the season. Villanova’s three-point shooting saved it throughout their four wins, as the team made a combined 44 shots from beyond the arc. One of those threes, a shot from guard Ryan Arcidiacono with 10 seconds left, broke a tie with Kansas, sealing the upset. Three of them from James Bell against Iowa, back-to-back-to-back in under 75 seconds, trimmed a Hawkeye lead from 12 to three, letting the Wildcats claw their way into the game. Two more intra-city Big 5 games are on tap next for Villanova: versus Saint Joseph’s at the Palestra, then against La Salle at home. The Wildcats, which had gone 33-33 in the previous two seasons, look like the team to beat in the new Big East this season; each other conference member has taken at least two losses this season.
LOSER: Eastern Illinois
The Panthers capped off an 0-2 week with the worst offensive performance of the season, scoring less than half-a-point per possession against intrastate foe Western Illinois in a 60-32 loss Wednesday. EIU’s top scorer was forward Josh Piper, who had five points. The Leathernecks had nearly as many blocks (10) as the Panthers had made field goals (12). Ouch. In a more conventional loss, EIU lost at Western Kentucky on Saturday as well by a score of 68-53. Looks like it could be a long year in Charleston, Illinois, for the 3-5 squad.
CONFUSER: North Carolina
I couldn’t think of a category to put the Tar Heels into, so I decided to make one up. How else can you sum up a team that loses by four to UAB, then goes on the road and wins by 14 at top-ranked Michigan State? Mercurial might be the best way to describe North Carolina this season. James Michael McAdoo shot a combined 6-of-24 from the field. The team hit 3-of-23 three-point attempts in the two games. But somehow the boys in Carolina blue came up with another signature win to put next to the victory two weeks ago against Louisville. When the Tar Heels show up, they can beat the best team in the country. When they don’t, they can fall prey to a second-tier team. Will they sort themselves out by tournament time?