Inside the College Game

Wed, 01/21/2009 - 2:52pm

By Brian Cerone

Star emerging

Duke basketball means something. Even the sound of it rings success. But recently, Duke basketball has not been the same. They have been a mainstay in the top 25 polls, but have taken a step back over the past few years from the program that was a consistent final four contender. This year, there is a reason that they have a good chance of getting back to being the top program in the country, and his name is Gerald Henderson.


Gerald Henderson
Duke has not reached the Elite 8 since 2004, and they have not reached the Sweet 16 since 2006. In the past few years, Duke has been a one-dimensional team, they live and die by the 3-point shot. Consequently, they would win some big games when they shot well, but then would occasionally lose to sub-par teams because they shot poorly. Duke has been missing a player who could consistently score the ball night in and night out. Gerald Henderson has developed into the type of player that Duke has been lacking.

We all know that Henderson is an incredible athlete. He can run and jump with the best that college basketball has to offer. But, in Henderson’s first two years at Duke, the game plan versus him was to force him to shoot. Coaches would tell their players to give him a step, and let him shoot, rather than let him get all the way to the hoop. Now, coaches cannot say that anymore. It's not that he has developed into one of the best shooters in the college game, or even on his team, but he's improved enough to make defenders respect his shot. His developed jumper has opened up his ability to get all the way to the hoop, which is devastating for opposing teams.

Henderson’s new all-around game has brought Duke back to the level that everyone expects them to be at. With Henderson consistently putting pressure on defenses, it has made the Blue Devils deadly because of the shooters surrounding him like Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler, and Greg Paulus. In the past four games, all wins, Henderson has averaged 22 points on 61% shooting from the field and hitting 8 of 11 three-pointers. Most recently, versus North Carolina State, Henderson completely took over, scoring 17 or his 21 in the 2nd half of a game that Duke trailed at the half by four, but ended up winning by 17.

Henderson and the rest of the 2nd ranked Blue Devils will have a chance to show how legitimate they are next Wednesday when they travel to the top ranked Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. It will be a game between a couple of final four contenders, and a chance for Henderson to further extend himself as a top player in the college basketball game. Don’t be surprised if it happens.

Since there have been some big-time performances over the past couple weeks, let’s take a look at the top 5 performances this year:

Top 5 single-game performances this season:

Jodie Meeks at Tennessee: Today in college sports we always hear about school records being set. But the scoring record at Kentucky?? Basketball?? That’s out of reach, right? No, Meeks set it last week with 54 points at Tennessee. He was unconscious. Meeks shot 15/22 from the field, 10/15 from 3-point land, and a perfect 141/4 from the line. Also, he had 8 rebounds, 4 assists, and only 1 turnover in a 18 point win. It was as close to a perfect game as we will see. Don’t think it was a fluke of a performance for Meeks either. He also scored 46 points in 34 minutes in a previous game this year.

Jeff Teague vs. North Carolina: When North Carolina came to visit last week, it was supposed to be the game that broke the Wake Forest bubble. Teague didn’t think so. With 34 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists, the sophomore guard completely outplayed opposing point guard Ty Lawson (9 points, 5 assists), and led the Demon Deacons to a 92-89 win and remained undefeated for the year.

Wesley Matthews at Rutgers
: Marquette has been the surprise of the Big East so far, winning all five conference games and currently resting at the top of the standings. Matthews, a senior, has been efficient all year, but never more than a game last week at Rutgers University. Matthews shot a perfect 10 for 10 from the field and scored 23 points as the Golden Eagles barely edged out Rutgers, 81-76.

Blake Griffin vs. Davidson: While it was Stephen Curry of Davidson that got all of the hype after this game because of his 44 points, it was Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin that was the best player on the court. The sophomore had 25 points and 21 rebounds, and in a much more efficient shooting night than his counterpart Curry, he made 7 of his 11 field goal attempts and shot 11 for 12 from the stripe. More importantly, Griffin outlasted Curry’s scoring binge as Oklahoma won the game 82-78.

Luke Harangody vs. Georgetown
: In a game versus the 10th ranked Hoyas, last year’s Big East player of the year took over. Harangody scored 31 points and ripped down 11 rebounds while shooting a perfect 9 for 9 from the free throw line. Notre Dame went on to win the game 73-67.

Game Notes:

Uconn’s Jeff Adrien is starting to assert his leadership on a young Huskie team. The senior, now leading Uconn in scoring at 14.5 ppg, is shooting 64% from the field in Big East play. After losing the Big East opener to Georgetown, the Huskies have won 5 straight, with Adrien collecting double-double’s in 3 of them. UConn has their hands full this week, playing #21 Villanova on Wednesday and at #19 Notre Dame on Saturday… Perhaps the biggest game of the week is on Wednsday night as well. 9th ranked Clemson Tigers travel to Chapel Hill to take on the 6th ranked Tar Heels. This is a big game for both teams as Clemson is trying to prove that they can win a big game and North Carolina is trying to get back on track after starting out 2-2 in the early ACC play, a conference in which the Tar Heels were predicted to dominate… Michigan State was embarrassed by UNC on December 3rd, losing by 35 points. But, it seems that they have learned from that game because they haven’t lost a game since. They have won 11 straight games by an average of 15 points since the North Carolina fiasco. Raymar Morgan is beginning to become the star that everyone expected him to be, averaging 15 points and 7 rebounds and shooting almost 60% from the field.
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