Inside the College Game

Sun, 12/23/2007 - 9:30am

By Adi Joseph

[img_assist|nid=1948|title=Chris Douglas-Roberts - Photo by David Flowers/Icon SMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=294|height=425] Remember these faces.

Remember Chris Douglas-Roberts lifting the city of Memphis on his shoulders and providing a stirring comeback against Georgetown. Remember Kalin Lucas, the tiny freshman point guard who couldn’t make a mistake for Michigan State. Remember J.P. Prince, the transfer who carried his brand-new Tennessee teammates to a huge December victory in just his third game of the year.

Remember Levance Fields never flinching as he stepped back to take a three-pointer with time running out and his Pittsburgh Panthers down two against Duke.

For Fields, it all happened so quickly. The scrappy, mistake-free point guard had seen his team fall behind, only to launch an incredible comeback. He watched a team leader, senior Mike Cook, fall to injury. He knew his uncharacteristic five turnovers were a large part of the reason the game was in overtime.

And with less than 10 seconds remaining, Fields decided that the two-point game was his to win. Against all conventional logic, the Brooklyn native broke down his defender, found just enough space, and launched a three-pointer. All of a sudden, the Panthers’ hopes were riding on a long ball from a player shooting just 29% from beyond the arc. As the ball splashed through the netting, Fields looked like a genius.

“I needed a little space and I got the space and it went in,” Fields said after the game. “When Mike went down it brought tears to my eyes. It's his last year and he can't go out like that. I knew I had committed the turnovers and I knew I had to make up for it. I talk about game-winners all the time. I had to hit it for my teammates, myself and the city of Pittsburgh.”

Watching the game on my television, I couldn’t believe what I had just seen. Had the spirit of the injured Gilbert Arenas reincarnated in the body of Fields for a fleeting moment?

This was so unlike Pitt basketball, taking the daring three when a two could extend the game. Pitt displayed a new-found balance throughout the game, which will carry over through the season. This edition of the Panthers has more talent than any other of the Jamie Dixon/Ben Howland era, and as a result they will be the type of team that can truly contend.

Big December games can unite a team. Douglas-Roberts has emerged as a leader, a true All-American candidate. He broke out of a slump to lift the Tigers to their biggest win of the season, and coach John Calipari now has a blueprint that he will lean on for the rest of the season.

Lucas has allowed star Drew Neitzel to slide to the shooting guard more often this season. The diminutive freshman allows Michigan State to push the pace when need be, while veteran Travis Walton offers a slower, half-court look as Neitzel’s companion. Michigan State will benefit greatly from their new-found mix created by players like Lucas and fellow freshman Durrell Summers.

Prince and fellow transfer Tyler Smith have given the Vols the well-rounded playmakers to balance out their great guard rotation. Prince and Smith have the skill-sets that will allow the Vols to deal with shooting slumps, as they can cut and dish and shoot midrange jumpers to compliment the long-bombers Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith.

Teams are beginning to define themselves. Contenders are separating themselves from pretenders. In an unnoticed battle of the unbeatens, Ole Miss outlasted Clemson on the road. Meanwhile, Stanford launched a strong road comeback at Texas Tech while Oregon crumbled to Oakland on a neutral court. It’s only December, but the college hoops scene is settling itself.

I’ll be back with a full column for next week. But for now, have a happy holidays.

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