Inside the College Game

Sat, 12/08/2007 - 7:23am

By Adi Joseph

When the ball is tipped, hype disintegrates.

[img_assist|nid=3571|title=OJ Mayo - Dustin Snipes/Icon SMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=437]O.J. Mayo has learned that the hard way. Rated the top player in his high school class by some, Mayo came to Southern Cal with the intentions of taking the Trojans to new heights. With endless range, great quickness and a nose for the basket, Mayo’s potential was seen as endless.

But things haven’t been easy for the budding star. He scored 32 points in his first game with the Trojans. But his eight turnovers were a huge reason Mercer managed to stomp the Trojans in Los Angeles. Mayo’s final stat line vs. Mercer: 32 points, 12-27 from the field, 7 rebounds, 8 turnovers, 4 assists.

In his last two games, Mayo’s been frustrated by a group of the NCAA’s toughest perimeter defenders. Kansas’s Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers are as tough on-ball as anyone in the nation. The duo consistently frustrated Mayo, who was forcing shots left and right as the Trojans could not defend their home floor once again. Mayo’s final stat line vs. Kansas: 19 points, 6-21 from the field, 5 rebounds, 5 turnovers, 2 assists.

Then, the Trojans visited Memphis. The teams settled into a defensive battle that finished in a four-point Memphis win. Many were surprised that the Trojans held so close to the Tigers in Memphis. But many were also surprised at the poor play from Mayo, who struggled against defensive stalwarts Derrick Rose and Antonio Anderson. Mayo’s final stat line vs. Memphis: 16 points, 6-20 from the field, 4 rebounds, 2 turnovers, 3 assists.

Mayo has all the skills to be a star. No one can question that. But he has struggled because he’s trying to do too much. Teammates Davon Jefferson and Daniel Hackett have had great seasons, but Mayo seems to not have noticed. He must improve on his 43.3% field-goal shooting and his 2.8 assists and 4.2 turnovers per game.

Mayo has been the best player on the court for almost every game of his career entering this season. He has not had to deal with college-level defenders. Therefore, it’s not surprising that he’s fallen victim to trying to do too much. But if Southern Cal is going to take that next step this season, Mayo will have to recognize his flaws.

It’s good to be back after a one week absence. Expect the weekly columns to start up beginning this week. Let’s start the show.

The Big Step

Hackett, Mayo’s teammate and fellow guard, has seen tremendous improvements this season. The 6-feet-5-inch combo-guard is not only a lock-down defender but also a developing scorer who has proven outstandingly efficient on the offensive end. Hackett has made his name known with authority this season after being a secondary player for the Trojans last season.

While Hackett has been outstanding all season and improved his game in leaps and bounds, he has not proven good enough to make my “All-Breakout team.” This group is comprised of players who have taken tremendous strides in developing themselves into stars going into this season.

Point Guard – Trevon Hughes, Wisconsin sophomore

Hughes averaged just 7.7 minutes per game last season. But with the departure of Chris Rock look-a-like Kamron Taylor, Hughes has taken over the scoring-point guard role in a big way. He’s got great quickness and ball-handling skills, and on a scoring-starved Badgers squad he may prove to be the missing ingredient. If Wisconsin finds themselves back in the NCAA Tournament, it’s tough to image Hughes not playing a major role.

Shooting Guard – Patrick Christopher, California sophomore

The 6-feet-5-inch Christopher was a bit of an underachiever last season. He averaged almost 20 minutes per game but only mustered up 5.1 points. Things done changed, as a notorious rapper once said. Christopher is averaging 20.7 points and his scoring has provided Cal with the much needed backcourt support that could have the Golden Bears back in the throw of things in the highly-competitive Pac-10 race.

Small Forward – Raymar Morgan, Michigan State sophomore

Morgan came on last season as a rising star. He was a fairly highly-touted recruit who was expected to provide a little more for the Spartans right away. This season, he’s become a centerpiece. He’s got an NBA-game and his ability to play both forward positions and shoot, slash and even occasionally post-up gives coach Tom Izzo a legitimate top-flight rising star alongside gutsy guard Drew Neitzel.

Power Forward – Sam Young, Pittsburgh junior

Going into last season, a friend of mine told me Young would be a huge factor for his Panthers. One year later, that prophecy has finally come true. Young has a world of athleticism and his tenacity and defensive skills make him a perfect fit for coach Jamie Dixon’s system. And he provides the Panthers with a top-flight scoring threat that the team lacked last year. With his range on his jump shot and sky-scraping hops, Young has blossomed into a legitimate star.

Center – Richard Hendrix, Alabama junior

If the Crimson Tide rolls into the NCAA Tournament, it will have been carried on the back of Hendrix. Perhaps the strongest post player in the NCAA, Hendrix is an absolute monster in the post. The Tide is in mild disarray, but through it all the big man has emerged as one of the best players in the land. His rebounding and post-scoring are enough to put him square into the All-American discussion, after biding his time behind older teammates like Jermareo Davidson.

Sixth Man – Earl Clark, Louisville sophomore

Rounding out the squad is one of the most versatile players in the nation. Clark has the size and skills to play shooting guard, center, or anywhere in between. Last season, the swingman wasn’t given much of a chance to play but showed flashes of brilliant potential. Now he’s up to 36 minutes per game and his rebounding and versatile offensive skills have made him one of the top NBA prospects as well as a leader for the Cardinals.

Game Notes:

UCLA coach Ben Howland is one of the top coaches in the game. His decision to use Darren Collison against Texas was a risky one that may have cost his team a big early-season victory. But I believe Howland knew the risks and realized that getting Collison back into form as early as possible, especially giving him a good test right away, was better in the long run for the Bruins… Chris Lofton and Drew Neitzel entered the year as a consensus preseason All-American, but both have been disappointing. Health has been an issue, especially for Neitzel. But I fully expect both to turn things around. They are true competitors… Slowing the tempo seems to be the way to go in college basketball. It’s easy to see why Georgetown, as the first major program to employ the slowed down tempo full-time, would then be getting recruits like Greg Monroe… I’m sold on Duke and Texas as elite teams. That’s all I’m going to say on that… It’s been a good one. See you next week. Congrats to Tim Tebow – because Florida clearly needed more college sport success.

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