Who Won The Week? Florida, Chaz Williams, and Jalen James…Posted by Kenny Ocker on December 13th, 2013
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game. But he’s not biking anywhere with a sub-zero wind chill.
The Gators bounced back in a huge way from its last-second loss to Connecticut a week and a half ago, knocking off Kansas Tuesday, winning 67-61 in Gainesville. The win was especially impressive given how Florida (7-2) took the lead early in the first half and never relinquished it, but also for the play of point guard Scottie Wilbekin, who was expected to be out for weeks with a sprained ankle suffered against the Huskies. Instead, Wilbekin started and led his team in points (18), assists (six), steals (four) and minutes (36). Between the presence of Wilbekin and fellow point guard Kasey Hill, who was also expected to miss this game with an ankle injury, Jayhawks’ point guards Naadir Tharpe and Frank Mason combined for more turnovers (nine) than the Gators had as a team (eight). With Wilbekin and Hill healthy and coach Billy Donovan’s tight seven-man rotation intact and led by breakout senior forward Casey Prather, the Gators have the look of a team that could go very deep in the NCAA Tournament, and beating one of the nation’s marquee basketball programs certainly speaks to that potential.
Meanwhile, the equally talented Jayhawks have got to be wondering when they’ll play on their home court again; Kansas (6-3) has lost three of its last four games, each played on the road or at a neutral site, and has another neutral-site game Saturday against New Mexico, though that one is in nearby Kansas City. Last week saw a pair of road match-ups go sour, losing 75-72 on Saturday to Colorado on a last-second Askia Booker three-pointer, and Tuesday at Florida. The loss to the Buffaloes was the Jayhawks’ first to the Buffs in 20 games, dating back more than a decade, and came despite four players scoring in double figures. In the loss to Florida, only one player scored in double figures: top recruit Andrew Wiggins. Wiggins actually led the team in scoring in both games, with 20 on Saturday and 26 on Tuesday, which is a good sign for a player expected to carry a team that was otherwise expected to be a low Top-25 team all season and who many have seen as passive thus far. Another good sign is that, although the losses away from home have come in quick succession, each has been to a good team (the third was Villanova) and have come in competitive games. For a team that starts four freshmen and a sophomore, the experience in hostile or foreign environments and learning how to handle on-court adversity can be a great asset when games matter even more. If bigger lessons are learned, then this 0-2 week won’t be a total washout.
WINNER: Chaz Williams
The one-time Hofstra guard put up one of the most absurd stat lines I’ve seen this season for UMass (8-0) against BYU on Saturday, racking up 32 points and 15 assists (against just one turnover) in a 105-96 win. The diminutive guard (listed generously at 5’9”) shot 9-of-14 from the field, 5-of-7 from three-point range, and went a perfect 9-of-9 from the free throw line against the Cougars, marking another strong win for a Minutemen squad that also has beaten major-conference foes Boston College, LSU, Nebraska and Clemson, and also handed New Mexico its only loss so far this season. The 15 assists are a season-high for a regulation game (tied with Oregon’s Johnathan Loyd for a full game, but the Ducks’ point guard needed overtime for his feat) and has Williams ranked third nationally in assists per game. With the way Williams and the Minutemen are playing right now, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see them break an NCAA Tournament drought that dates back to 1998.
LOSER: Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish have played poorly in the non-conference schedule prior to their first season in the ACC, and the coup de grace for that was Wednesday’s 73-69 home loss to North Dakota State. Notre Dame (7-3) came into its third game in five days and spent nearly the whole game trailing the Bison, unable to stop center Marshall Bjorklund, who had 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting. The Irish squandered 21 points from guard Patrick Connaughton, and gave up 16 points and 14 rebounds to 6’3” Bison guard Lawrence Alexander. As it stands right now, Notre Dame’s best win is Saturday’s 80-75 triumph over Delaware, coach Mike Brey’s previous employer. With match-ups coming against Indiana, Ohio State and Duke in the next four games, Notre Dame will have some great opportunities for marquee wins. But with the way the Fighting Irish have played thus far this season, they may very well be staring 8-6 in the face in early January.
WINNER: Jalen James
The freshman at San Jose State is a role player on a middling 3-6 team, not leading his team in any statistical categories. But the 6’3” guard from Chicago is a candidate for the surprise triple-double of the year, scoring 12 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and dishing out 10 assists for the Spartans on the road against Houston in a 72-68 win. James came to the Bay Area as a three-star recruit and a prominent get for a traditionally weak program that hasn’t had more than 17 wins in a season or played in the NCAA Tournament since 1996, where it lost in the first round to eventual national champion, Kentucky. The downtrodden program is in its first season in the Mountain West, a league that has become increasingly prominent in the last couple of seasons. Whether the Spartans remain a doormat in their new league hinges in part on what James can do going forward as he grows as a player and gains experience.
LOSER: Tom Maayan
The sophomore Seton Hall guard will see his college career cut short after an agreement to suspend compulsory military service in his native Israel was amended. The reserve wasn’t a spectacular player, but it’s tough to watch someone’s dream to play basketball in America come to such an unceremonious end. His final game Tuesday against NJIT included an assist, a rebound, two missed shots and a turnover in 15 minutes of action. For his abbreviated career, Mayaan averaged 6.0 assists and 2.4 steals per 40 minutes, and let’s not discuss his shooting rates. They weren’t great. For his sake, here’s to hoping he’s a more accurate shooter in the military than he was on a basketball court (while also hoping his shooting in the military is limited to the target range).