Player of the Week
Victor Rudd, South Florida
The South Florida Bulls had three games this week and Victor Rudd had a victory in each one of them. With averages of 19.7 PPG, 11.7 RPG, and 3 APG over those three games, Rudd was the runaway choice, even though the Bulls dropped a game against Mississippi State 71-66 in the semifinals of the Las Vegas Classic. Thanks to Rudd’s stat sheet-stuffing efforts, the Bulls won their two opening round games in the Classic against Florida A&M and Florida Gulf Coast, the Dunk City darlings of last year’s tournament.
Against FGCU, Rudd had 7 points in the second overtime of what was a thrilling contest. The 6’8” senior forward is now averaging over 15 points and 6 rebounds on the year and is emerging as a solid pro prospect thanks to his length, athleticism, and scoring ability. He could stand to raise his 43% shooting, but he’s had a stellar week and has the Bulls in position to get a tournament berth with a decent record in conference play.
Markus Kennedy, Southern Methodist
In a league that is relatively devoid of good big men, Markus Kennedy of SMU could be making a case for an All-Conference berth. His play of late has been a pleasant surprise for Mustang fans as teammates Nic Moore and Kennedy’s frontcourt mate Yannick Moreira were the ones who started off the season with big scoring outputs. But the transfer from Villanova has come on strong in the month of December, particularly with a 15-point and a 17-point game this past week. The 17 points came against Texas-Pan American and was a career high for Kennedy. In SMU’s last 8 games, Kennedy is averaging 11.8 PPG and 5.9 RPG. SMU is off to a good start this year at 10-2, and as Kennedy’s minutes continue to increase due to his solid production, he will play a big role in determining whether these Mustangs are for real in conference play.
Justin Jackson Cinci, Cincinnati
The Bearcats got a couple of résumé-building victories against top 100 RPI teams, Middle Tennessee State and Pittsburgh. On Tuesday, the Bearcats took on former Big East rival Pittsburgh in Madison Square Garden as a part of the Jimmy V Classic. Thanks to Jackson, Cincinnati overcame a subpar performance from Sean Kilpatrick (9 points on 4/13 shooting) and gave Pitt its first loss of the year. Jackson had 9 rebounds and 12 points on 6/8 shooting and followed that up with 12 rebounds and 16 points on 7/8 shooting. It was a nice way for the Bearcats to rebound after losing badly to crosstown rival Xavier. All season long, pundits have been asking who will step up and be the second option to Kilpatrick and Jackson has been looking like the answer. His per game averages of 10 points, 7 rebounds and nearly 3 blocks are filling the void for Cincinnati and his rugged play will be needed if the rugged brand of Big East basketball manifests itself in the premiere season of the AAC.
Calvin Newell, Central Florida
At one point, Newell was among the conference leaders in scoring. While he remains tenth on the AAC scoring list and while his team is on a 5-game winning streak, he has struggled of late. The Knights had three blowouts this week (average margin of victory: 32 points.) but Newell’s scoring numbers regressed. He had his first three single-digit scoring outings of the season and averaged 7.3 PPG on 33% shooting over those three games. With the scoring of preseason all-conference selection Isaiah Sykes, as well as Tristan Spurlock and Kasey Wilson, the Knights can weather a few off-nights from Newell. But in order to continue their success against the likes of Louisville and UConn, UCF will likely need Newell to return to his big-time scoring ways.
Grading the Top 5 Preseason Prospects
In my preseason conference preview, I gave a ranking of the conference’s Top 5 prospects for the 2014 NBA Draft. In honor of the completion of final exams for these student-athletes, I will revisit those five guys and give them a grade based on how well they’ve upheld or improved their draft stock this year.
1.Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Harrell has given us the big jump in production we all expected to see coming into the season and he’s looking like an NBA forward at the moment. He’s been a consistent scorer inside and has rebounded well thus far. All in all, he’s provided the energy and the spark for the Cardinals that he’s known for. His game has more polish this season and his fundamentals are looking better. It wouldn’t hurt to see him rebound more and add to that lone double-double he’s posted so far, but he certainly has begun to fulfill the promise he showed last season.
2.Jermaine Lawrence, Cincinnati
I was tempted to give the freshman power forward a grade of “Incomplete” as he hasn’t been asked to do that much for the Bearcats so far this year. But Lawrence is getting the minutes. He’s just not making a lot happen while he’s on the floor. It’s not that he’s taking a lot of shots and missing (although his 41% shooting leaves something to be desired). He’s simply not being particularly assertive and has not been getting looks for himself. Lawrence is yet to score in double figures in a college game and his single-game rebounding high is 8. Any thought of the one-time highly-touted recruit entering the draft after this season has probably been erased; however, the reason this grade is a fixable C- is that Lawrence has plenty of time to grow and develop and to get more acclimated to big-time college basketball. He’s shown that he has the skillset to be good, so the jury is definitely still out on this guy’s NBA chances.
3.Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
The senior point guard is currently playing out of his mind for the Huskies, in several facets of the game. All the perceived flaws in his game (poor shot selection, dominating the ball, lack of size) seem to have been minimized this year. Napier has gone from being, at times, an undisciplined chucker to an efficient, versatile winning machine. The Huskies are the lone undefeated team in the conference and Napier is a big part of the reason why. He’s averaging 15 PPG on a solid 48% shooting, boosted by a fantastic 51% from three-point land. He’s shown he’s a triple-double threat with averages of 6.8 RPG and 6.1 APG. And he continues to display that tenacious on-ball defense that he initially was known for. Napier has proven himself to be a winner, helping his team pull out close game after close game this season. He’s the kind of guy NBA coaches want to be able to bring off their bench when they need a spark and he’s done fantastically this year. But before he gets to that point, Shabazz wants to add a second championship to his resume.
4.Russ Smith, Louisville
For the most part, Russ has come out this season and been the same old Russ which, 75% of the time, is a good thing. But two stats stick out when compared to last season. Smith has done a great job of helping to replace former UL point guard Peyton Siva as evidenced by an uptick in his assists per game from 2.9 to 5.0. And despite playing more of the role of Distributor, Smith’s turnovers have gone down by 0.5 per game. Secondly, Smith’s shooting percentage has risen from 41% to 45%, indicating that his shot selection has finally improved substantially. This season, we’re seeing a similar Russdiculous to Russdiculous’s past, but it’s a more disciplined, unselfish version, something that NBA scouts surely wanted to see.
5.Chane Behanan, Louisville
The “indefinite suspension” of Behanan turned out to not be nearly as big a factor as most of us had anticipated, as the junior power forward only missed one game. But Behanan’s playing time has gone down nearly 8 minutes per game, and the emergence of Montrezl Harrell is not going to do any favors for Behanan’s draft stock. Behanan has reinforced the fact that he can rebound, despite his size, with two double-doubles thus far. But Behanan just hasn’t had any games where he’s simply taken over and scored bucket after bucket for the Cardinals and looked like a star. He hasn’t really done anything to hurt his draft stock, with his 67% shooting thus far. But he’s not getting the opportunities he must be wanting to prove himself to NBA talent evaluators. Hopefully for him, he’ll get a good deal more run as the season continues, and he’ll need to improve that 45% free throw shooting.