I'm not sure how you could watch last night's triple overtime classic between Michigan State and Gonzaga and be unconvinced that college basketball is the best sport in America. State's Maurice Ager was certainly phenomenal with 36 points but Gonzaga's Adam Morrison was transcendent. He scored 43 points and shot 50% from the floor. Morrison seemed to always be in the right place just when Gonzaga needed a big basket and there isn't a more dangerous player in the country with the game on the line. Any doubters about this Splinter from Spokane should be placed in cold storage until March, then thawed out to squawk about an early NCAA exit by Gonzaga. Morrison all but locked up an All-American selection last night. What makes him so special?
He moves without the ball as well as any player in the country. He may not have the skills to create his own shot like some others but he moves around the floor so well he doesn't really need to play one-on-one all night. Morrison's precise cuts and crafty use of teammates means that Gonzaga doesn't have to continually run double screens for him in the way that Duke does for JJ Redick. He has a nose for finding a soft spot in the defense and getting there at the right moment. He has a complete inside and outside game and when he gets to the free throw line he's deadly. Morrison isn't a particularly great defensive player but he understands spacing and floor position better than just about any player in the last few years. Part of being a great player is also knowing your limitations and Morrison rarely tries to do something he isn't capable of. Package all that with as intense a competitor as any in college basketball and you've got a national POY candidate.
Gonzaga is a fantastic offensive team but they have two flaws that may bite them later. They are not a very deep team and depend almost exclusively on Morrison, Raivio and Batista. Unless freshman Jeremy Pargo can develop quickly or Mark Few can cultivate an effective bench this will be a weakness. Gonzaga also seems unable to get that critical stop in a close game. Ager burned them at the end of regulation and without a missed layup by Spartan freshman Goran Suton they very well might have lost the game.
In other news Maryland held off a pesky Chaminade team yesterday and advanced to play Arkansas in the consolation game. After an early 8:30am tip off the Terps looked like they were still in bed, allowing Chaminade to shot over 50% and cultivate an 11 point lead. They must have had an espresso, or endured a tirade by Gary Williams, at halftime because they came out and blew Chaminade away in the 2nd half, outscoring them 54-23. Maryland only surrendered 5 field goals in the entire 2nd half. As sloppy and undisciplined as they may have looked in the first 20 minutes they overwhelmed the hosts with 36 points in the first 10 minutes of play of the 2nd half.
Both Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist need to improve on their shot selection and finishing around the basket. Gist also needs to improve his rebounding after only pulling down 3 in 24 minutes of play. Ibekwe is still too focused on the offensive end and high flying dunks. To be a complete player he must bring that same focus to the defensive end.
Will Bowers has struggled badly in his first three games. He fouled out yesterday in only 7 minutes of play. Against Batista he was abused by the more savvy post player on multiple occasions. The mental aspect of the game is perhaps his biggest obstacle at the moment.
DJ Strawberry has silenced the doubters for now. He's doing all the things Gary Williams needs him to do. His defense is at the expected high level and ball handling has been very good. It would be nice to see his assist to turnover ratio at 2.0 or higher but he's not far off and will get better. The .545 he's shooting from the floor has been an added bonus and he's even shown some touch from 3-point range. Oddly enough you get the feeling that Strawberry is becoming the leader of a team with 4 seniors on it. Given the passive nature of this group of seniors it is a role that Maryland desperately needs DJ to grab hold of and make his own.
Mike Jones showed some nice passing ability with 5 assists and is again showing he's not just a jump shooter. Jones' fans will have to show some patience, however, because Mike is still a work in progress. His time will come to shine, perhaps very soon.
Chris McCray still has all the intangibles and hustle plays that make students of the game appreciate him. His early season 3-point shooting is looking distressingly like his dreadful 31% performance from last year. He missed a bunch of open looks in the Gonzaga game that he must hit if Maryland is to play up to their ability this season.
Maryland went from 23 turnovers on Monday to only 9 turnovers on Tuesday. They also added 17 assists to their total for a very nice 19 assist per game average so far this season. Last year's squad only mustered 15 assists per game with a "true" point guard.