Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.
– I deemed Saturday’s Washington-Arizona game appointment viewing with the specific intent of watching Derrick Williams for 40 minutes. I had seen Williams play multiple times this season, but mostly for small snippets against weaker competition in the Pac-10. Williams is an absolutely outstanding collegiate player that flashes moments of brilliance on the basketball court. He attacks the glass with ferocity, can face up or back an opponent down and is outstanding in isolation situations. I’m not sure Williams has the personality or the attitude to completely take over long stretches of a game like Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette or Nolan Smith, but nobody utilizes his possessions with more proficiency than Williams. When he chooses to enter another gear, as he did for the majority of the final five minutes of an Arizona win that effectively clinched the Pac-10 regular season title, he’s impossible to contain. If I were the Cavaliers GM – although I shouldn’t assume they’ll win the lottery based on that city’s tortured sports past – I’d snag Williams #1 overall over the likes of Kyrie Irving, Perry Jones, Jared Sullinger or any other entry. You think Williams is a special prospect now, just wait until he’s playing with an NBA-caliber pass-first point guard. His all-around excellence in isolation situations and ability to knock down shots anywhere on the floor are tailor made for the pros. I see him developing into a better David West. The only area Williams needs to shore up is avoiding foul trouble. Arizona must have their superstar on the floor for more than 29.2 PPG in the NCAA Tournament if the Wildcats want to advance. Williams has picked up four or more personals in eight Pac-10 games this year.
Derrick Williams clutch block clinched Saturday's win over Washington
– Duke shouldn’t be #1 in the nation. I think most of us agree with that sentiment. Thankfully, we adore a sport where these kinds of things are irrelevant, especially in late February. What bothers me is that most have Duke pegged as a #1 seed over Kansas and BYU, two candidates much more deserving of this honor than the Blue Devils. The Cougars resume is actually incredibly impressive, more so than their MWC brethren San Diego State. The Fightin Jimmers have five wins vs. the RPI top-30 and Duke has two. BYU beat San Diego State, Arizona, Utah State, Saint Mary’s and swept UNLV. Duke’s best win after North Carolina is Kansas State followed by UAB (currently out) and Michigan State (bubble). The Blue Devils have yet to beat an NCAA Tournament team on the road. Sure, this has plenty to do with the fragile state of the ACC, but don’t overlook Duke’s annual resistance to play true road games out of conference. Plus, since when do we provide Duke a scheduling excuse over a MWC team? The overall records are identical. The reason Duke is first in the polls is basically because they didn’t lose during a week they played Virginia and Georgia Tech. Vaulting Duke on the back of those two wins over the entire body of work of, say, Ohio State and Pittsburgh, is ridiculous enough in itself. Handing them an undeserving #1 seed at this stage in the season is an even worse idea (luckily we still have 20 days till Selection Sunday, so this is largely irrelevant as well, but it sure is fun to debate, no?).
I’m hearing plenty of candidates thrown out there for National Coach of the Year, and none of them are egregious. Coaches like Mike Brey, Steve Fisher, Matt Painter, Jim Calhoun, Steve Lavin and Sean Miller have all done outstanding jobs this season leading their teams to unforeseen heights. To me, the coach of the year is a runaway and his name hasn’t been mentioned: Rick Pitino. I was initially hesitant to buy into the Cardinals, especially after they won all their non-conference games in the comfort of the KFC Yum Center and both Butler and UNLV underachieved relative to expectations. Now that I’ve watched Louisville sweep Connecticut, edge Syracuse and West Virginia, pull off an epic comeback against Marquette and down St. John’s, the magic act Pitino has pulled in the face of tremendous adversity is becoming more and more evident. All five starters from last year’s #9 seed squad left. His top freshman didn’t qualify. His leading returning scorer hasn’t played a minute. Still, by pulling out his old tricks of a relentless full-court press, switching defenses and an abundance of threes, the ‘Ville has jumped from likely NIT team to a #4 seed in my latest bracket. Say what you want about his forays into the back of Italian restaurants or his failed NBA coaching stints, but in case anyone forgot, this season was a definite reminder: Rick Pitino can motivate, prepare and instruct college athletes better than anyone in the business. Read the rest of this entry »