NCAA Daily Links
Last night saw the opening of the SEC/Big East Challenge, which like the ACC/Big 10 Challenge pits two major conferences against each other in a series of contests. Of course, this weekend also boasts some major marquee match-ups. Conference play is just around the corner and we are going to get a strong picture of which teams are contenders or pretenders. Let's kick off the Daily:
Anthony Davis Leads Kentucky Block Party in Victory over St. John's
Two things Kentucky coach John Calipari is known for are his ability to recruit, as he has had #1 recruiting classes in each of his three years at the school and his use of up tempo, dribble drive, point guard oriented offense. Another thing he should be known for is his ability to coach defense, which was on full display in last night's game against St. John's. The Wildcats had a school record 18 blocks in there 81-59 victory, also forcing 15 turnovers and numerous 35-second shot clock violations. The team defense was very strong, but the individual defensive performance by freshman Anthony Davis really stood out.
Most NBA Draft fanatics know Anthony Davis' story, but here is a quick synopsis. Davis was a virtual unknonwn in recruiting circles until he grew 8 inches to stand 6'10 by the summer going into his senior year. He rose up the recruiting rankings as quickly as he grew with his combination of length, athleticism and non-stop energy. While Davis is still rather skinny and definitely needs to develop more of a post offensive game, his speed and timing are uncanny. He had 4 blocks within the first few minutes of the game last night and finished with 8 blocks to go along with 15 points and 15 rebounds. St. John's guard Nurideen Lindsey said shooting over Davis is "like shooting over a tower." Averaging 4.9 bpg, Lindsey seems to be on point.
While Davis showed why he's considered by some as the front runner for the top pick in the 2012 draft, top ranked Kentucky had other future draftees who delivered as well. Sophomore forward Terrence Jones, Kentucky's leading scorer on the season, was equally impressive with 26 points, 9 boards, 4 blocks and 4 steals. Jones was reported to have added significant muscle over the summer and his shot selection appears to be vastly improved. Sophomore SG Doron Lamb also chipped in with 16 points, many on beautiful tear drop floaters. St. John's received solid performances from God'sgift Achiuwa with 18 and 10, plus freshman Moe Harkless with 16 and 10 of his own. Kentucky had a number of highlight dunks in this game as well, but they might be harder to come by against North Carolina on Saturday. Which leads us to...
#1 Kentucky takes on #5 North Carolina This Saturday
(Jerry Tipton/Kentucky Sports.com)
This is a match-up of the two teams ranked at the very top of the pre-season polls. It is also a re-match of last years Elite 8 NCAA Tournament showdown that saw Kentucky advance. While Kentucky will be without three major performers from last years win (NBA Draftee's Brandon Knight, DeAndre Liggins and Josh Harrelson), they reloaded with some key freshmen who have performed quite well. North Carolina, on the other hand, is a year older, wiser and definitely will be on the lookout for revenge.
Harrison Barnes is a player who definitely would like to re-open discussion for the top pick in the 2012 Draft. This would be a tremendous stage for him to display what he brings to the equation, as he will face off against great perimeter defenders in Kentucky's Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Darius Miller. As far as the battle of the post, Terrence Jones and Anthony Davis have yet to face the length and athleticism posed by North Carolina's John Henson and Tyler Zeller.
While this game is in Rupp Arena, home to the rowdy fans of the Kentucky Wildcats, I am going to say that the Tar Heels take the victory. To me, it comes down to the floor generals and decision making between these two teams. If it is a race, Kentucky will win, but in a methodical half court game, Kendall Marshall has a fantastic head on his shoulders and will make the right decisions.
Kentucky's freshman PG, Marquis Teague, is incredibly quick and athletic, but he has also been incredibly prone to rushing plays and making mistakes. Kentucky has mostly been getting by on talent alone, but I think North Carolina might give them a wake-up call as far as the fundamentals of team basketball. This is something I think Kentucky will develop, but they do not seem to be there as of right now.
Georgetown Hands #12 Alabama First Loss of the Season
(Kevin Joseph/Vox Populi)
Hollis Thompson nailed a three pointer with 1.8 seconds left as Georgetown left Alabama with a 57-55 victory. This snapped a 24 home game winning streak for Alabama and gave Georgetown a lot of credibility to move into the Top 25 rankings. Georgetown's leading scorer was sharp shooting guard Jason Clark with 22. Center Henry Sims added 13 and Thompson finished with 12. Bama forward's Tony Mitchell and JaMychael Green finished with 20 and 13 respectively. This game was neck and neck in almost every way, but in the end, Georgetown's shooting ability was what helped them come out on top. The Hoyas shot 7-17 (41.2%) from 3 compared to 3-16(18.8%) for Bama.
#3 Syracuse takes on #9 Florida
(Donna Ditota/The Post-Standard)
Tonight pits a match-up of two top 10 teams as the Florida Gators come to the Carrier Dome to take on the Syracuse Orangemen. The Gators are known for their incredibly strong stable of guards, which include freshman Bradley Beal, juniors Mike Rosario and Kenny Boynton, plus senior Erving Walker. Syracuse does not necessarily have the star power of Florida, but they have incredible depth to rely on. Senior wing Kris Joseph should provide a match-up problem and they will have plenty of fresh bodies at nearly every position that can contribute. Florida can shoot the lights out, but Cuse has not been bad in this area either. I think Syracuse holds onto home court and comes away with the win.
#6 Louisville faces #20 Vanderbilt
(Jeff Lockridge/The Tennesseean)
In another marquee match-up in the Big East/SEC Challenge, Vanderbilt will be facing off against a loaded Louisville team. Rick Pitino has his Cardinals off to a 6-0 start and once again has an incredibly balanced effort from his team. Louisville is another deep team that spreads minutes around, relying a lot on rebounding and defense. Many have been waiting for athletic junior PG Peyton Siva to have his coming out party, and this would be a great stage for that. Vanderbilt has one of the best shooters in the nation in junior John Jenkins, but I think the Cardinals contain his supporting cast and remain undefeated. Vanderbilt looks to be the biggest challenge the Cardinals have faced this season, so this game could be close.
Inter-State Rivalry Pits #16 Marquette Against #9 Wisconsin
(David Kay/The Sports Bank)
These rivalries always seem to be the most fun, especially when both teams have a lot on the line. With Marquette and Wisconsin both ranked in the top 20 in the nation, this game gives one school serious bragging rights. Both teams love the long ball and preach defense. Bo Ryan's group is led by senior PG Jordan Taylor, who was a nearly unanimous pre-season All-American. The Golden Eagles have two marquee seniors of their own in guard Darius Johnson-Odom and forward Jae Crowder. Both are averaging over 19 ppg for the 6-0 Eagles and both can step out and shoot the triple. Taylor has struggled shooting the ball this season, but he has a lot of help as well from a balanced well coached team. Nonetheless, Buzz Williams boys are flying and Marquette should be with Wisconsin every step of the way. This game is to close to call, just hope it is a close one.
Undefeated Illinois Faces Undefeated #19 Gonzaga
(John Supinie/Peoria Journal-Star)
In a game that is definitely these two teams biggest of the short season, Illinois is hosting Gonzaga at assembly hall. Illinois sophomore center Meyers Leonard is anxiously waiting the challenge of facing another 7 footer in Gonzaga's senior Robert Sacre. The Gonzaga big has a definite weight advantage over the slender Leonard, but the sophomore big has taken big steps this season.
Still, Bruce Weber's team should have all they can handle when playing Mark Few's Bulldogs. The game will also feature match-up's of sweet shooting senior Sam Maniscalco versus Gonzaga freshman sensation KEVIN PANGOS. Looking at both teams rosters, this one again appears to be a toss-up. But, with Illinois at home and looking to make a statement, I think the Illini might come out on top and make their way into the rankings.
Sophomores Who Stayed In School Had No Lockout
(Stephen Hawkins/AP Writer/Times Union)
True enough. This is just a little ditty about some of the sophomores who decided to pass up the lockout drama and come back to school. Now that there is actually going to be an NBA season, it really does not seem as bad. But, I am sure they all saved themselves a great deal of stress and I know that most returnees who were 2011 draft possibilities have looked outstanding. The article mentions the usual suspects, Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones III, Jared Sullinger and Terrence Jones. They were all heavy lottery possibilities last season and this year looks to be much of the same. Still, with a year of mental and physical maturity, I think they all should be able to contribute much more in their rookie years than if they would have surpassed their sophomore year in college.
Arizona, Kentucky Big Early Recruiting Winners, But Where Will Shabazz Muhammad Go?
(Mike White/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
For those that have followed high school recruiting, the early signing period ended a few weeks ago. Arizona was the early winner, with the signings of 4 incredibly highly regarded prospects in Brandon Ashley, Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Gabe York. Kentucky also made a nice haul, getting three top players of their own in Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley. Both teams are still in the hunt for the ultimate prize of the 2012 recruiting class, Shabazz Muhammad. An incredibly talented lefty wing, Muhammad is currently listed as the #1 pick in the NBADraft.net 2013 Mock Draft. People are dying to know where he goes to school, with both Arizona and Kentucky in the running. UCLA, Duke, UNLV, Kansas, Texas and Texas A&M are also gunning for Shabazz, who is considered to be a program changing talent.
Myck Kabongo Showing Improvement After Rough Start
(Mike Finger/Austin Bureau)
Considered to be in the discussion for top PG prospect in the upcoming draft, Texas freshman Myck Kabongo had some growing pains. Opponents already knew enough about Kabongo to respect his quickness, so they gave him extra space. Kabongo learned that they did this for a reason, to force him into taking bad shots and making poor decisions with his defender being able to sag off on help defense.
In Texas' last victory, however, it looked like Kabongo was learning how to take advantage of this method. He had 16 points on 3-4 FG, 2-2 3PT and 8-10 FT in a 73-57 win over North Texas. Kabongo also dished out 7 assists, capping off his best performance as a collegian thus far. Texas plays UCLA on Saturday and given the guard troubles of the Bruins, it looks like Kabongo might try to show them what he has learned this season.
Scott Machado Putting On A Show For Iona
(Vin Parise/CBS New York)
It has taken me far too long to mention this, but Iona's Scott Machado is having a completely off the hook season. The 6'1 senior PG is leading the nation averaging 12.2 assists per game, not to mention averaging 18.6 ppg and 2.6 spg while shooting 54% from the field. These are numbers folks would be happy seeing Chris Paul put up, much less any PG in the NCAA. Senior forward Michael Glover is averaging 21.2 ppg and 11 rpg and Arizona transfer Lamont "Momo" Jones has put up 13.6 for the Gaels as well, who are looking to make their first NCAA tournament since 2006. Playing in the small Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), the Gaels usually do not get much national love. But, with the way Scott Machado is tearing things up, that might not be the case for long.
Thank you for reading and enjoy this weekends games. For those interested in the big game, North Carolina and Kentucky face off at 12 pm ET tomorrow on CBS. I will definitely have more on that and other college basketball news for everyone on Monday!