Tsuj’s Ten: College basketball, 12/20
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • December 20, 2011 @ 10:42am
The University at Buffalo’s men’s basketball match-up tonight against BYU brings back Jimmer nostalgia. One year ago, when the #16-ranked Cougars stormed into Alumni Arena and escaped with a 90-82 victory, Jimmer Fredette scored 28 of his 34 points in the second half, prompting Reggie Witherspoon to refer positively to the BYU guard as “a bad dude.” We love it when Witherspoon uses slang. While Fredette—who led the nation with 28.9 points per game last year—prepares for his first NBA season with the Sacramento Kings, many of his former mates will host Buffalo tonight in Provo.
1) The 2011-12 version of the BYU Cougars (8-3 overall, 0-0 in WCC) is considerably different than last year’s Jimmer-centric bunch. Brandon Davies, perhaps the most controversial Cougar ever, returns to the lineup, as do fellow upperclassmen Noah Hartsock, Charles Abouo and Stephen Rogers (although Rogers will miss tonight’s game). The Cougars fell to #7 Baylor by only three points on Saturday night, even though they were unable to stop freshman phenom Perry Jones III, whose skill-set is blatantly unfair to opponents.
2) One potential issue for UB is the presence of sweet-shooting southpaw Matt Carlino in the Cougars’ starting five. The point guard, a freshman transfer from UCLA, tallied 18 points against Baylor in his first collegiate game and showed poise beyond his years. Here’s his whirlwind transfer saga—Carlino left the Bruins after suffering a preseason concussion and not receiving playing time in his first two games back last fall—and he’s finally now eligible after the first semester of this year. There’s virtually no game-tape on Carlino, and the freshman guard’s exploits surprised Bears’ head coach Scott Drew. Buffalo’s point guard, Jarod Oldham, is an excellent on-ball defender, but that asset might be muted if UB plays mostly zone.
3) A potential boon for UB? BYU’s pogo-stick freshman forward Demarcus Harrison is questionable for tonight’s contest with an ankle sprain—he’ll either be severely limited or sit out entirely. He had career-highs in both minutes (15) and points (8) against Baylor, and Dave Rose will continue to accelerate Harrison’s development . Fortunately the coming out party shouldn’t happen tonight against Buffalo.
4) I remember how frustrating BYU power forward Noah Hartsock was for the Bulls to defend last year—the perimeter-oriented big man scored 13 straight points for the Cougars to give BYU an 18-9 lead. He’s an absolute zone killer because if opponents fail to close hard on him, he’ll sink three-point daggers all evening. The ridiculously athletic Davies complements Hartsock’s finesse perfectly. Mitchell Watt and Javon McCrea will have their biggest test of the season.
5) Where should you watch this 9 p.m. EST game unfold? There are plenty of rather obscure options, even if the game isn’t televised nationally. BYU TV is available on DirecTV channel 374; there’s a web-stream offered by BYUtv.org (requires free registration); and there are Dish Network options as well. A call placed to Santora’s on Millersport resulted only in a confused employee and a suggestion to “call later.”
6) Props to Josiah Heath of the Canisius Griffins—the freshman forward earned MAAC Rookie of the Week honors after setting the modern-era rebounding record with 18 against the UMKC Kangaroos. The light has clicked on shockingly fast for Heath, who’s been a terror on the glass at both ends. Can he become a Ben Wallace-like player, a player so committed to shot blocking and rebounding that he can alter the outcome of a game without filling up the scoring column? It’s important to be mindful that Heath’s success came against University of Missouri Kansas City and South Dakota, but Griffs fans certainly hope he can duplicate those efforts against Fairfield and Iona.
7) Lost in the Heath press was another strong outing by fellow freshman forward Kevin Bleeker, who logged 34 minutes against South Dakota after Chris Manhertz’s early foul trouble. The Dutch big man was incredibly efficient, missing only one shot from the field en route to an 18 point, 10 rebound line. The Griffs are still only 2-8 overall, but the individual developments—especially on a team so thin in the frontcourt—are encouraging.
8) I know this Tsuj’s Ten turned hyper-local really fast, but I was able to catch some Top 25 basketball this weekend. The player I wanted to write extensively about is Ohio State’s Aaron Craft, who falls into the “I-really-want-to-hate-but-secretly-love” category. He’s fearless, smart and an outstanding defender—not one of those players with loads of flair but little attention to fundamentals. While I’m not about to tell you that he’s more important to the Buckeyes than Jared Sullinger, Craft is probably the best point guard in the country.
9) The Kansas Jayhawks just aren’t very good this year. Losing to Davidson? The player I’ve regularly bashed, Tyshawn Taylor, returned to the lineup after missing only 11 days to a torn meniscus, but he committed five more turnovers. Unfortunately, Thomas Robinson (21 points, 18 rebounds) cannot do everything himself, and Bill Self’s supporting cast leaves a lot to be desired.
10) Louisville beat Memphis 95-87 on Saturday in a frenetic affair, and the Cards are remarkably well-rounded. With Peyton Siva limited to 22 minutes with foul trouble, Rick Pitino’s club simply turned to Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng for production. Deng, a sophomore from Senegal who was a role player as a freshman, is going to be special—he’s a highlight-reel waiting to happen, whether it’s a block or a dunk.
BONUS: Memphis head coach Josh Pastner—who’s 34-years-old but could pass for 18—was mic’ed up during the CBS telecast. The atmosphere was raucous in Louisville, and Pastner’s desperate tries to yell over the crowd were amusing. Still, Pastner’s a great coach that engineers an exciting style—the Tigers play at a breakneck pace with overflowing energy. It’s dizzying.
Photo courtesy Flickr.com / gtalan.