In Case You Were Out Friday Night: Green Bay and Billy the KidPosted by Tommy Lemoine on January 18th, 2014
If you hit the town Friday night to enjoy a few beverages or catch up on Oscar-nominated flicks and you missed the Horizon League/MAAC double-header on ESPNU, allow us to catch you up on a couple storylines that emerged from two excellent basketball games.
Green Bay has tremendous potential. Green Bay withstood another monstrous dunk by Jerran Young to beat Wright State on Friday night and move to 4-0 in the Horizon League, marking its eighth straight win overall. Alec Brown and Keifer Sykes again led the charge for Brian Wardle’s club, combining for 42 points and controlling the game from start to finish, even as the Raiders made numerous mini-runs throughout the second half. Now 14-3 and with metric rankings that scream ‘dangerous mid-major’, it’s time to start asking the question: Just how high is the ceiling for the Phoenix? If the team’s recent play is any indication, the answer might be “really, really high” — as in, NCAA-Tournament-victory-or-victories high. For one, there probably isn’t another inside-out combination as productive and dynamic as Brown and Sykes at the mid-major level. Brown is a legitimate NBA prospect (scouts were in the building on Friday night) whose athletic, 7’1” frame and ability to shoot from the perimeter (50% from three) — when he’s not dominating the paint — make him unstoppable on most nights. Sykes, meanwhile, is a quick, explosive point guard whose skills as a distributor are surpassed only by his scoring prowess — he dropped a career-high 34 points against Milwaukee last week and had 32 against Wisconsin in November. The rest of the group — players like the athletic forward Greg Mays and rebounding/defensive maven Jordan Fouse — complete a Green Bay team well-rounded enough to sit 42nd overall in KenPom’s rankings, having already beaten ACC-contender Virginia and pushed Wisconsin to the wire earlier in the season. Sure, the Phoenix could go on to drop several Horizon contests, lose in the league tournament and miss the Big Dance altogether. But it’s just as easy to see this team winning the conference, embracing the role of disrespected underdog and pulling off an upset or two in March.
Billy Baron is must-watch TV. If Canisius basketball games were a prime time television program, it would probably have Nielson ratings on par with American Idol. And it would likely be called ‘The Billy Baron Show’ or ‘Billy the Kid’ or ‘My Son Billy’ or… you get the point: The youngest son of Griffins head coach Jim Baron is a ridiculously good basketball player. After drilling a buzzer-beater to beat Marist last week, Billy put his full range of shot-making skills on display against Iona Friday night en route to a 28-point (5-of-8 three), eight-assist performance and an 85-83 road win for his team. Baron was hitting threes off ball screens, making running baseline floaters and even knocking down trifectas from the ‘I’ in Iona’s mid-court decal. When the Gaels began committing extra defensive attention to him, the star point guard began involving his teammates in the scoring. After Iona stormed back from 20 points down to take the lead late, he attacked the basket and earned key trips to the line. And in his finest moment towards the end, Baron picked off a telegraphed pass with less than a minute left, took the runout steal the other way, slowed down to draw contact as he neared the basket and won the game with a pair of free throws. Now fully ensconced in league competition, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Baron — averaging 23 points, five assists and nearly five rebounds a game with a stellar 128.0 offensive rating—is the best player in the MAAC, fully capable of catching fire and doing something really special come Championship Week. But regardless of whether Canisius marches to the NCAA Tournament or flames out in league play, every game Billy Baron plays is a game worth watching.