Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true. — MLK, 1963
The Lede. We hope everyone had a brilliant MLK Day Weekend. We know that you had a great MLK Day with the great hoops on all afternoon, culminating in two top ten matchups between Big East teams (aren’t all 16 Big East teams in the top ten?). Hopefully you were off work to enjoy it, but if you weren’t, let’s get you caught up.
Your Watercooler Moment. Kemba Is For Closers. We still don’t really believe that UConn is a legitimate Final Four contender (which you are, by definition, as a top ten team), but we will say this without reservation. If UConn can keep itself within reach at the five-minute point of the game, they are capable of beating anybody and have the best closer in college basketball. You can have Jared Sullinger, Jimmer Fredette, Nolan Smith or whoever else you want — we’ll take Kemba. His ability to use the dribble to create space for himself and get off clean and makeable looks sets him apart from all of the others, and essentially gives Jim Calhoun an x-factor that no other team can counter. Witness Jay Wright’s comments after the game — Villanova knew Walker was going to get the ball for the final shot, sent two men at him, so he simply split them anyway en route to hitting a ridiculously tough game-winning floater in the lane with two seconds left. Walker didn’t even enjoy the biggest game (that belonged to Corey Fisher and his 28 points and six assists), nor did he look dominant as he bricked his way to a 6-18 shooting afternoon, but when the outcome is on the line he’s proven again and again that he’s up to the task. We said this repeatedly back in Maui two months ago, but it’s worth noting that as talented as Walker is and has performed this season, the success of the Huskies will ultimately depend on the support he receives. Alex Oriakhi has played like a man possessed in the four games since his donut performance against Notre Dame, averaging 14/13 and providing great interior defense so that his team will be in the game until the end for Walker to do his magic. So long as he plays at a similar level, Jim Calhoun will continue to snicker at all of his naysayers, and deservedly so.
Your Watercooler Moment, Pt. Two. Syracuse Drops From the Unbeatens. It was expected once Syracuse declared that starting forward and leading scorer Kris Joseph would be held out of tonight’s game against Pittsburgh due to a nasty knock on the head he suffered on Saturday, but the way in which it happened was still surprising. For a while, it appeared that Jim Boeheim’s team must have left their entire offense back home as Syracuse’s defense faltered early, allowing Pittsburgh to run out to a quick 19-0 lead in front of a raucous crowd at the Peterson Events Center. Then, just as quickly as they got down, Cuse battled back with a 17-0 run of its own. We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a game start like that before, but nevertheless, it portended what would become a close game the rest of the way. The difference was that Pittsburgh was simply better — they said they’d been practicing for a few days against a zone, and it showed in their execution (1.08 PPP was the third-best performance against the zone this year). Time and time again the Panthers moved the ball inside-out to find the open shooter on the perimeter or found success pounding the ball down low to Nasir Robinson (21/7). With the win, Pitt moves to the top of the line in the Big East with a flawless 6-0 record. With upcoming games vs. DePaul, Notre Dame, Rutgers and Cincinnati in the next four, the Panthers look very good for heading into mid-February with a 10-0 conference record.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- The Ginormous MLK Monday. All four of today’s games were great matchups on paper and we hope that ESPN keeps this up in future seasons. There’s just something always a little cool about daytime basketball on a weekday — a little like you’re getting away with something by watching it. The two Big East games ended up better than the Big 12 games, but we loved every bit of it.
- The Morris Twins. It’s like these two boys connected by genes suddenly decided to become grown men in the last two weeks. After tonight’s combined 44/14, Marcus is averaging 24/13 in the last four games while brother Markieff is contributing 14/10 during the same period. With point guard Josh Selby still struggling to adjust to the world of elite college basketball, it’s been the Morris twins who have pulled the Jayhawks through a series of recent close games against Michigan, Iowa State and Nebraska. This buys Bill Self some time while his young but talented quarterback continues to develop over the next six weeks prior to March.