Player of the Week
Devin Booker – Kentucky
After struggling in his first few contests, Booker has really turned it on over the past week. He was struggling with his shot early on but he knows how good he is and continued to play his game and take his open shots. Since starting the season 5-21 (24%) overall and 1-11 (9%) from distance, he’s gone 20-28 (71%) overall and 13-19 (68%) from three point range in the four games since. You’ve seen his confidence rise over the last few games as he’s become more active on defense, is playing the passing lanes well and is leading the second unit. If it weren’t for potential chemistry/attitude issues, Booker would be starting over Harrison at this point. He’s clearly the better shooter and better pro prospect that this point. It will be interesting to see if Cal makes a change with Booker playing as well as he has of late.
Josh Richardson – Tennessee
With Jordan McRae gone, Richardson has stepped into the leadership and go-to roll for this Vols team. He’s playing with confidence and looks poised for a breakout season. In the Orlando Classic against Kansas, he was getting into the lane, finishing, getting to the free throw line and was in overall attack mode most of the afternoon. His one drawback is that he can’t knock down long range jump shots with consistency just yet. He’s a career 29% shooter from distance and that will hurt his pro prospects at the shooting guard position. He actually reminds me a lot of the aforementioned McRae as they do some of the same thing well and they struggle in some of the same areas. He’ll need to find consistency with that jumper and stop forcing it at times as he’s still a little too turnover prone but he looks to have really turned a corner this season now that he’s "the guy" for this Tennessee team.
Bobby Portis – Arkansas
The Razorbacks have surprised some people with their early success and Portis is a huge reason for it. He has really improved his jump shot this season and is more active on both sides of the floor. He excels out in transition when he can use his length and athleticism to beat other bigs down the floor for easy buckets. He’s not a finished product by any means and should really stay at Arkansas for another year even though he’s projected as a mid-late first round pick by some. He’s still foul prone due to his lack of lateral quickness which has hurt both him and his team. Luckily it was against inferior competition but he can’t not be on the floor as the Razorbacks get into December and start to play better teams. He can really put his name on the map this week as his team will get a chance to go to Ames and knock off a really good Cyclones team.
Chris Walker – Florida
The early season suspension really hurt Walker and his ability to be on the floor with his teammates during games. But that has been the story for roughly a year and a half with Walker. He was suspended for the first half of last season and never really found his groove and that’s been the case early on this season. He’s got top level athleticism but is a tweener from a position standpoint. He’s not a great shooter and relies on his athleticism too much when making his offensive moves. This Gator’s team is searching for an identity at this point and could really use Walker and his skill set on both sides of the floor. Some compare him to Amir Johnson but he’s starting to look like a taller C.J. Leslie. Both guys struggled on the court at times and seemed to take plays or games off and both had their off the court issues and clashed with the coaching staff.
Top Five Games of the Week
1. Texas at Kentucky
This game needs no introduction as it features two Final Four caliber teams stocked full of NBA talent. Granted, Kentucky has a bit more overall talent but Texas has shown an ability to knock off quality opponents early on in the season. The Longhorns have the size to match up with Kentucky, at least for the first wave anyway, and will likely be UK’s toughest test this season. Texas will be without starting PG Isiah Taylor which is huge in a game like this where UK’s guard rotation will be far superior in terms of depth and talent. The matchup to watch will be Alex Poythress vs. Jonathan Holmes. We know what both teams have up front but Holmes has become the go-to player for Rick Barnes’ squad down the stretch. Poythress has the physical tools to shut him down but has never shown the ability to focus his attention to defense and lock down the opposing team’s best wing.
2. Florida at Kansas
This matchup puts two teams together that are both searching for an identity early this season. Both teams lost talent to the NBA and graduation a season ago and both teams are still trying to figure out rotations and find their groove. Florida has really struggled early this season as they have dealt with both injuries and suspensions to some key players. Kansas on the other hand has all of their pieces and just brought home the trophy at the Orlando Classic but haven’t really gelled that well together early on. Perry Ellis has been the early season MVP for the Jayhawks as he has really developed into a beast on the glass and in the paint. With the Gator’s inability to defend and rebound like they have in the past, along with this game being on the road, Kansas should have the upper hand. Still, the Gators are talented, athletic and have Billy Donovan running the show so you can never really count them out.
3. Arkansas at Iowa State
Aside from the fact that both teams are currently ranked, this matchup is especially intriguing because it pits two of the best big men in college basketball against each other. Bobby Portis and Georges Niang. They may not be going one on one that much but they will undoubtedly be the two most important players on the court that night. Both guys have an inside-outside game that scouts love from bigs. While Portis the better overall prospect in terms of length, athleticism and upside, Niang really showed last season that he’s as talented of a stretch four as there is in the country. Michael Qualls and Bryce Dejean-Jones is another matchup to watch for as these two wings have really played well early on.
4. LSU at West Virginia
This matchup won’t feature any big name players from an NBA standpoint outside of Jarrell Martin but there is plenty at stake here. A win in this game would really go a long way in terms of a resume builder come season’s end. I expect both of these teams to continue to get better, especially LSU, and this game could tip the scales one way or another for the Tigers come Tournament time. A win over a very solid West Virginia squad would be huge in terms of a non-conference win, especially on the road. West Virginia has been a surprise early on knocking off the likes of Boston College and UConn. This should be a tough test for both squads as they look to build on their early season success.
5. Alabama at Xavier
A die hard Tide fan will have to let me know where Head Coach Anthony Grant found this version of Levi Randolph because I’ve never seen it before. Randolph has been playing out of his mind this season after spending much of the last few seasons being a role player. Maybe it is his increased touches, maybe it is his improved jump shot or maybe it is just a confidence thing but whatever it is, Randolph has Alabama playing better than most expected. Xavier comes in having lost two straight and looking very little like the team we’ve seen over the last few seasons. Matt Stainbrook has really elevated his game this season and will be the guy that the Tide need to key in on stopping down low. If they can do that then this team will add another solid win to its resume and continue turning heads with their play.
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