Friday, February 24, 2012

'Mo Betta Blues'

No easy layups on Davis' (23) watch.
Dominant point guards have been the key to Kentucky head coach John Calipari's success in recent years.  This year, it's a former point guard who is the key dominant figure for the No. 1 Kentucky Wildcats (27-1, 13-0 Southeastern Conference) and will likely be the next Coach Cal player to go first overall in the NBA Draft. From Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans at Memphis and John Wall and Brandon Knight at Kentucky, Calipari has counted on freshmen floor generals to lead their teams deep into the NCAA Tournament.   Freshmen forward Anthony Davis stands 6-foot 10-inches tall with a wingspan of a seven-footer, and is widely known for his ability to defend the paint (4.8 blocks per game, leads nation).  Davis wasn't always known for his shot-blocking though, not until the end of his junior year of high school in Chicago, when a growth spurt added him10 inches between the end of his sophomore year to the beginning of his senior year.  Calipari will take it.  Davis' inside presence is just what the Wildcats need to compliment the bevy of perimeter talents on the roster.  Sophomore forward Terrence Jones returned for another year after being a projected lottery pick last year.  Jones has the frame to bang underneath with the big men (he's listed as 6-9, 252-pounds) and the agility to take slower defenders off the dribble.  Guards Doron Lamb (48-percent from 3-point) and Darius Miller (38-percent 3-point) are spot up shooters that can light it up from deep when teams focus on stopping Davis and Jones in the paint.  Add in freshmen guard Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who has a similar game and body frame to Jones but with superior ballhandling, and Marquis Teague (younger brother of Atlanta Hawks point guard Jeff Teague) who leads the team in assissts per game (4.7), and it's easy to see why Kentucky is the top team in the nation and the frontrunner to win the 2012 NCAA Championship.  Here is a list of other talented players in the country putting in work for their respective teams this year.

Robinson is dominating in his first year as starter.
Thomas Robinson, Forward, Kansas Jayhawks. If Anthony Davis is the No. 1 player in the country, then Robinson is 1A.  The junior spent most of his career backing up Marcus and Markieff Morris (14.6 minutes per game in 2010-11, 31.2 mpg this year) and has flourished in his first opportunity to be a starter.  Robinson is an intimidating force on both ends of the floor.  He has a polished back to the basket game in the low post (17.4 ppg) and finishes almost everything in the paint with a power dunk.  Robinson is a better than average defender and a vacuum on the boards, as his 11.9 rebound per game average ranks second in the NCAA.

Kendall Marshall, Guard, North Carolina Tarheels.  He's not the quickest or most athletic point guard out, but his basketball instincts are advanced to the point where he might be the second coming of Jason Kidd.  If you wanted to show a young player how to play the point guard, definitely show him some clips of Marshall.  The sophomore has a knack for seeing the play before at happens, and it is largely due to him always having his head up on the dribble and he is never in a hurry when he breaks out in that UNC transition offense that coach Roy Williams likes to run.  Marshall's offense is improving - he had a career-high 22 points and went 4-for-5 from 3-point in his most recent outing Feb. 21 at North Carolina State.  Still, passing is his thing as he had 13 assists and zero turnovers in that same game.  His 9.8 assists per game average is second best in the nation.

Kris Joseph, Forward, Syracuse Orange.  It's always good when your most versatile player is your best player.  Joseph is the definition of a swingman with his ability to play in the post on both ends of the floor, play the perimeter on both ends of the floor, as well as being the go to guy down the stretch.  The senior from Montreal had a career-high 29 points Feb. 8 in an overtime win against Georgetown on a day when no one on the Orange could get anything going offensively.
Marcus Denmon, Guard, Missouri Tigers.  The Tigers are a guard oriented team and Denmon is the top dog.  The 6-3 senior has no problem driving the lane against the big men on offense or crashing the defensive boards, as his 5.1 rebounds per game average indicates.  What makes Denmon special for No. 3 Missouri (25-3, 12-3 Big 12) is his fearlessness as a shooter.  He has shot himself out of a early season slump and is averaging 17.8 points per game while shooting 40-percent from 3-point.

Green (23) is the unquestioned leader for Izzo's Spartans.
Draymond Green, Forward, Michigan State Spartans.  Green is quietly having the best year of his career under coach Tom Izzo and once again, Spartie looks like they have the type of squad that doesn't have a ton of flash, but is built for the NCAA Tournament.  The senior from Saginaw has put this team on his broad shoulders this year leading the team in scoring (15.5), rebounding (10.3), and is second in assists (3.8).

Austin Rivers, Guard, Duke.  It's a different type of squad for Mike Krzyzewski this year at Duke with no real go to guy on the roster at season's start.  Enter Austin Rivers, who was the top ranked high school baller by many scouting publications last year, and a fierce shooter who never met a shot he didn't like.  Rivers has the complete package on offense.  He can take you off the dribble and adjust his shot mid-air to get the best angle, or hesitate off the dribble and pull-up for jumpers.

Jones leads the Big East in poins (20.3) and rebounds (11.2).
Other players to watch:

F - Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
G - Pierre Jackson, Baylor
F - Otto Porter, Georgetown
F - Mike Scott, Virginia
F - Harrison Barnes, North Carolina
G - Dee Bost, Mississippi State
G - Rodney McGruder, Kansas State
F - Jeronne Maymon, Tennessee
F - John Henson, North Carolina
G - Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
F - Perry Jones III, Baylor
F - Kevin Jones, West Virginia
F - Fab Melo, Syracuse
G - Dominic Cheek, Villanova
F - C.J. Leslie, North Carolina State
F - Cody Zeller, Indiana
G - Tyshawn Taylor, Kansas
G - Darius Johnson-Odom, Marquette

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