Inside the College Game
By Brian Cerone
The Zags are Legit
Mark Few has done a remarkable job with the Gonzaga Basketball program since taking over in 1999. The Zags have become regulars in all the top 25 polls as well as the NCAA tournament. Few has accomplished something that wasn't supposed to be possible for small schools. What people might not know is that Few believes that this program has become something even more since he has taken it over: a National Championship contender, and he’s right.
Austin Daye and Steven Gray
Gonzaga has a roster of possibly six future NBA players, as many as any team in the country with the exception of North Carolina. During the Tennessee game, scoring came from everywhere. Let us start by talking about sophomore Stephen Gray. He had 19 points in 29 minutes, including 4 three balls. He was the star of the night for Gonzaga. It is hard to find a more productive guard in the country who comes off the bench.
Next, Josh Heytvelt added 15 points. He has seemed to put his off-court issues behind him. The biggest eye opener while watching Heytvelt this year is the expansion of his game beyond the arc (54.5% this year, 33.3% last year).
Consider that the college 3 point line has moved back this year and it makes his shooting all that more impressive. At 6’11 he is almost surely playing himself right back into the 1st round of next years draft, just like most scouts had predicted when he was playing great two years ago.
The heart and soul of the team is senior Jeremy Pargo. When Tennessee made a mini run at the end of the game, it was Pargo who was taking the big shots and settling his team down. His 10 points and seven assists didn’t come close to showing the effect he had on the game. This kid will most likely be joining his brother (Jannero) next year in the NBA. His toughness will win over some GM for sure.
Then we have my favorite Bulldog, Matt Bouldin. He does just about everything for the Zags. He is a good shooter, loves to get physical on the defensive end, and at 6’5 he plays the point when called upon. Bouldin is the most well-rounded player that Coach Few can put on the court.
The most intriguing NBA prospect playing for Gonzaga is sophomore Austin Daye, who could be a lottery pick when he decides to enter the draft. He wasn’t very active vs Tennessee (2 for 4 in 19 minutes), but that tells you just how talented this team is. To Daye’s credit, it was difficult to tell if he had scored 4 or 40 points by the way he was celebrating the championship with his teammates.
Few now finds himself leading a program that recruits nationally and plays a tough non-conference schedule that matches any team in the country. In 1999 he took over a program that had higher expectations than any other time in school history. Now, the expectations are even higher. So when you asked, not too long ago, if Few could keep America’s Cinderella team competitive. The answer was: Yes… and then some. Look out for the Zags this March - this is the best bunch that Coach Few has ever had in Spokane, and also the best team on the West Coast.
Now onto the Big Men On Campus. So far in the young season, here are my front runners for the Player of the Year Award:
1. Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin – He is a Pro in a college uniform… his numbers (25.7ppg, 19.2rpg, .692 fg%) are scary. I don’t know if anyone can keep this type of pace, but right now it’s hard to believe that anyone is near him in terms of National Player of the Year talk.
2. Davidson’s Stephen Curry - It is a sign of great respect for any player when the opposing team sets up a triangle-and-two defense that is designed to stop you and your teammate. So, what type of honor is it when the triangle-and-two defense is designed to stop you and YOU? Good to see Curry didn’t take the bait and just watched his teammates tear up Loyola MD, going scoreless while his team won by 30.
3. Arizona State's James Harden is leaving little doubt about who the top shooting guard in the country is. His performance in the 76 Tourney in Anaheim scoring 32 and 40 in back to back nights against Baylor and UTEP was a loud statement about his ability to carry his team and be one of the top players in the country this year.
4. North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough - With 34 points in the finals of the Maui Invitational, North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough reminded everyone why he is the reigning National Player of the Year. It looks like the shin is just fine. Expect him to climb this list.
5. Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody – His performance vs. Texas (29 points, 13 rebounds) alone puts him on this list. He has been a monster so far this year. We can only hope that his latest illness isn’t anything serious that hinders his season.
It’s too early to call anyone a disappointment, but Ohio State’s B.J. Mullens isn’t exactly convincing anyone in Columbus that he’s the next Greg Oden. After 4 games he has totaled 22 points and 14 rebounds. At times it appears his teammates aren't looking to get him the ball, but then again the times he has gotten it he hasn't set the world on fire. I’m hoping that I see something from him soon… real soon... I’ve now heard 3 commentators tell me with certainty that North Carolina’s Ty Lawson is the fastest player in the nation… let me introduce you to Johnny Flynn of Syracuse… The point guard for the Orange is an absolute blur…I don’t know if he is faster than Lawson, but I would pay a heavy dollar to watch these two face off on a suicide race... Derek Kellogg’s return to his alma mater UMass hasn’t been as smooth as he had hoped for. The Minutemen are 1-4 overall with losses to Wisconsin-Green Bay and at home to Jacksonville State. I’m sure Kellogg didn’t expect the slow start but one silver lining might be the emergence of his senior center, Tony Gaffney. The transfer from Boston University leads the nation in blocks with 5.00 per game... I’m hoping that senior Josh Shipp is just off to a slow start (2 for 9, 5 points in a loss to Michigan), but I’m afraid that he is reluctant to take control of a team that is in desperate need of it. The freshmen on UCLA are talented but not ready for stardom. If UCLA does get back to the Final Four it will be because Shipp stepped up as Ben Howland’s chief... With an injury ridden lineup, the Tarheels haven't skipped a beat. They have continued to dominate teams (Michigan State on Wednesday night) and look like the clear cut favorite to cut down the nets in March. Small forward Danny Green has been a big reason for that knocking down 18 of 32 3 pointers early in the season... I hope Memphis fans don’t expect this year’s freshman (Tyreke Evans) to come in and have the same impact as last year’s freshman (Derrick Rose). While Evans was the MVP of the McDonald’s All-American game, his game is very raw and needs at least 2 years of seasoning at the college level before he even thinks about making the jump to the pros... For those thinking that the Big East is overrated after an early Louisville stumble, and a loss by G’town to Tennessee, I would point them to the work of UConn, Pitt, Notre Dame, and Syracuse, and not question which conference is the most competitive in the country.
*Check in next week for results and breakdowns from the ACC-Big Ten Challenge as well as the rest of college hoops.
Honestly, While I don't think he can keep up the pace, I believe Blake Griffin will win player of the year hands down. No one can hang with this kid. I think he could start for almost any team in the League right now and contribute. I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of his season.
Who says the Big East is overrated? C'mon man.
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