Inside the College Game
By Adi Joseph
[img_assist|nid=3534|title=Patrick Patterson - John Sommers/Icon SMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=430]Just as the coroner began to zip up the body bag, Kentucky stood up with aggression.
It was a Kill Bill moment – just as the Wildcats had been left for dead by the SEC and, yes, the entire NCAA this season – just as Billy Gillespie was making everyone wonder if he could handle the limelight – those same Wildcats that had lost to Gardner-Webb finally bared their teeth.
Even at Rupp Arena, Saturday’s game did not look favorable for the boys in blue. Vanderbilt entered SEC play with a 16-0 record. Kentucky stood at just 6-7. The last time Kentucky was under-.500 after 13 games? The 1978-79 season, under coach Joe Hall.
Still, the Wildcats controlled the Commodores from the opening tip all the way through the first half. Kentucky held a 16-point lead with under 15 minutes remaining, and it looked like Gillespie would roll to an easy victory in his first SEC game. Freshman forward Patrick Patterson was a dominating force, leading the way for an on-fire Kentucky offense.
Then reality set in and Vanderbilt began to feel it. Star swingman Shan Foster scored 17 points in the second half and the Commodore attack overwhelmed Kentucky late, sending the game into overtime.
This was it, I thought. Overtime: the logical end to an illogical surprise. All season the Wildcats had been mired by an inability to organize their offense and a lack of defensive commitment. It was time for Vandy, who had looked like a well-oiled machine for much of their 16-game winning streak, to put an end to this madness.
Instead, Vanderbilt slowed down. Coach Kevin Stallings went away from what worked. Foster only took one shot in the first overtime, and by the end of the five-minute period the Commodores needed a score with two-seconds remaining from freshman Andrew Ogilvy just to extend the game again. And in double-overtime, Kentucky finally retook complete control and the Commodores settled for just one point. Patterson grabbed a defensive rebound with seven seconds remaining, and Kentucky sealed its biggest win of the early season.
So, was the showing in Rupp Arena on Saturday simply a dying soldier firing his final shot, or was it a resurgent force displaying his return? Did we witness the beginning of Kill Bill or the end of Scarface, where Tony realizes he is about to die and wants to take as many of Sosa’s soldiers as possible with him?
Obviously, such allusions are mostly hyperbole. It would be foolish to imagine that a team with as much talent as Kentucky will wind up at the very bottom of the SEC ranks. But it would be equally oblivious to assume that a big win over a top team is a sign that the young Wildcats have shed their inexperience, chemistry issues and lack of discipline and will become a true SEC title contender.
Wins like this do help to improve team confidence. And the return of Derrick Jasper at point guard should help organize Gillespie’s offense. Issues still abound though. Gillespie won at Texas A&M through intense, fully-committed defense and highly-efficient offense. The Aggies were the most efficient team in the country last season, completely with high field goal percentages, low turnover rates, and stifling defense.
This year’s Wildcats are the anti-Aggies. Individually, they stack up significantly more talent. Seniors Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley, along with Jasper, Patterson and Jodie Meeks, give Kentucky great upside as a team. But the unit lacks balance, playmakers and discipline.
Gillespie will turn things around in Lexington. And the changes will happen sooner rather than later. The only Gillespie recruit currently on the Wildcats (Patterson) has been their best player, a sign of things to come. And this first marquee win is a nice boost that should keep the Kentucky faithful satisfied for now.
It was an exhilarating weekend of college basketball from Washington D.C. to Los Angeles. More on those games later. Let’s start the show.
The Midseason Awards
Evaluating players over the course of mostly non-conference games can be rather difficult. Everyone is playing completely different schedules. Some teams stack cupcakes to stretch their records while others look for heavy-hitters to bolster their RPI.
Regardless, I have sorted through the mess and present to you my midseason awards:
PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
Entering the season, Hansbrough was the easy preseason pick. There was a reason for that. After last season, some believed Hansbrough was not going to improve himself from his breakout freshman year, but the junior has taken another major stride. He’s looked quicker, more athletic and smarter this year than ever before, and he has led the Tar Heels to an undefeated record with his team-leading 21.2 points and 9.9 rebounds per game. There are other candidates who will be discussed later, but Hansbrough is the easy choice.
ALL-AMERICAN FIRST TEAM
G – D.J. Augustin, Texas
Augustin has led the Longhorns to an outstanding start. He and his undersized backcourt-mate A.J. Abrams have replaced Kevin Durant’s departed firepower seamlessly, and Texas may be better this season than last. Augustin is a very capable playmaker who can penetrate, pass and shoot. He’s incredibly quick and one-on-one is as good as it gets in the NCAA.
G – Eric Gordon, Indiana
The stocky shooting guard entered the year as one of the most hotly-contested recruits after a battle between Indiana and Illinois, with Notre Dame and Duke also somewhere in the picture. In the end, he chose the Hoosiers and probably made the right decision. Gordon has been a relentless scorer who started his collegiate career with a 33-point effort and hasn’t slowed since.
F – Ryan Anderson, Cal
If you’re scratching your head, you may not be alone. For some reason, Ryan Anderson has received fewer accolades than any top player in the country over the last few years. How Taj Gibson overshadowed him last season was beyond me. He’s a 6-feet-9-inch jump shooting freak who crashes the board ferociously, and his efficiency this season has been remarkable.
F – Michael Beasley, Kansas State
Beasley is the talk of the town. He has given us another Kevin Durant, a superstar freshman who was clearly ready for the big leagues well before being forced to attend college for a season. Beasley is fifth in the nation in points per game and easily leads the country with 13.1 rebounds per game. He has a truly beautiful array of skills that has allowed him to dominate.
C – Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina
In addition to what has already been said, it is worth noting that Hansbrough is the only member of this All-American team on any of the three undefeated teams (North Carolina, Memphis and Kansas).
ALL-AMERICAN SECOND TEAM
G – Brian Roberts, Dayton
G – Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis
F – Shan Foster, Vanderbilt
F – D.J. White, Indiana
C – Kevin Love, UCLA
ALL-AMERICAN THIRD TEAM
G – Rob McKiver, Houston
G – Jaycee Carroll, Utah State
F – Raymar Morgan, Michigan State
F – Richard Hendrix, Alabama
C – Roy Hibbert, Georgetown
FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: Michael Beasley, Kansas State
Beasley’s dominance transcends other freshman, even with Gordon and UCLA’s Kevin Love putting up huge seasons for better teams.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson, Kansas
The Jayhawks are one of the top defensive teams in the country for a reason – they smother you to death in the backcourt. Chalmers, a junior, and Robinson, a senior, are incredible defenders who will simply take the ball from opponents at will. They’ve put numerous top opponents through their frustration chamber, including hold USC’s O.J. Mayo to 6-21 shooting.
COACH OF THE YEAR: Herb Sendek, Arizona State
After accumulating just two Pac-10 wins all last season, the Sun Devils have won their first three league games this season. Their only losses have been the season opener in Hawaii against Illinois and a tough road game at Nebraska. Since that loss, the Sun Devils have reeled off nine straight wins and freshman James Harden has looked like nothing less than a legitimate star.
Roy Hibbert’s game-winning three pointer against Connecticut was amazing. I’m still a little shaken that he took that shot, but that he made it was absolutely incredible… Perhaps the biggest development from that Georgetown-Connecticut game was the improvement of A.J. Price. Price has looked better this season than ever before, and if he continues to play at the high level that he showed against Georgetown, the Huskies should be a legitimate Big East contender… Bruce Weber’s days at Illinois may be numbered. He inherited a fantastic team from Bill Self and after going to the Championship game in his first season, has taken them nowhere, adding very little talent. That low talent level was what cost them most against Indiana on Sunday, as the Hoosiers came from behind to win… Washington State impressed me with their ability rally back against UCLA, and UCLA impressed with their early dominance. Neither team did anything to make me believe they aren’t both Final Four-caliber teams… Arizona is a completely different team with and without Jerryd Bayless. Bayless dominated Houston this weekend and his ability with the ball in his hands is something completely special. I rank him as the fourth best freshman, behind Beasley, Gordon and Love… Michigan State’s ugly loss to Iowa was a complete fluke. I don’t think anything of it… With Josh Heytvelt now firmly entrenched in the lineup, Gonzaga is starting to settle down into rotations. As the chemistry continues to develop, the Zags will only become a tougher tournament out… My bold prediction of the week? The Atlantic-10 will boast four NCAA Tournament teams... That’s all for this week, have a good one.