Weekly Top Performers (12/12): Part 1

Weekly Top Performers (12/12): Part 1
Dec 13, 2006, 04:22 am

Winthrop (almost) pulls off the upset (agagin)
We started the week with another near-loss for a Top 10 team at the hands of a mid-major, with Wisconsin needing overtime to take down Winthrop. The Eagles got 31 points from senior wing Torell Martin, who is one of the most deadly scorers in the country when he heats up from beyond the arc. Martin’s name has begun to pop up a bit in relation to the NBA, and the Eagles have played quite well against high-major competition this year. Winthrop had already beaten Mississippi State and given North Carolina a good fight before taking Wisconsin to the brink.

Kansas bounced back with a home win over the Trojans of USC. Guards Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers locked up Tim Floyd’s inexperienced backcourt with their physical ball pressure. Trojan freshman Taj Gibson is averaging a double-double on the year, but committed 11 turnovers in this one.

It is hard to call Colorado losing to anybody an upset anymore, but their 78-72 loss at the hands of 1-8 Pepperdine is quite telling in terms of just how bad things have gotten in Boulder at the end of the Ricardo Patton era. Richard Roby bounced back with 32 points and 8 rebounds, but is still shooting just 33% on the season.


All in the (Sutton) Family...
Sean Sutton is off to a phenomenal start as the head man at Oklahoma State, with his Cowboys now checking in at 11-0 on the year. Tuesday night saw JamesOn Curry (20 points) and Mario Boggan once again lead the Cowboys to an impressive victory at the Carrier Dome against Syracuse. The Orange are clearly still a work in progress, with another furious comeback bid coming up just short. Freshman Paul Harris continues to show flashes of the player he could become, but is still finding his place within Jim Boeheim’s team concept. Senior SF Demetris Nichols led Syracuse with 26 points, and is now averaging close to 18 ppg on the season.


Rivalries, Radenovic
Three big intrastate rivalry games were played on the night, one being close (UNI 57, Iowa 55), another not (New Mexico State 103, New Mexico 72), and a third providing quite a shock (Washington State 77, Gonzaga 67).

Other high-profile outcomes included LSU successfully defending Baton Rouge with a 64-52 win over Texas A&M, and Arizona hung on to beat a Louisville team that appears to be a bit behind the curve yet again this preseason. Chase Buddinger poured in an impressive 17 points, but it is the early-season play of senior Ivan Radenovic that is newsworthy.

Ivan Radenovic, 6-10, Senior, Power Forward, Arizona
22 points, 13 reb


Jonathan Givony

Arizona head coach Lute Olsen sure doesn’t shy away from scheduling high profile matchups to test his team early on in the season—even on the road—and it’s quite likely that at the end of the season, his senior captain Ivan Radenovic will thank him for the opportunity he to had to showcase his wide array of strengths at Madison Square Garden in front of a horde of NBA scouts and a nationally TV audience.

Radenovic had a terrific all-around game, but his performance in the first half was exceptionally noteworthy—scoring 16 points and pulling down 6 rebounds in 18 minutes of action. He showed off his entire arsenal of skills, starting with his excellent stroke from the perimeter, moving off the ball beautifully and finding the creases in the defense, and hitting spot-up and pull-up jumpers from mid-range and behind the 3-point line. He was extremely aggressive both on the offensive glass and with his back to the basket, and was rewarded for his effort by getting to the free throw line 10 times. On the other end of the floor, he moved his feet fairly well and went out of his area on a number of occasions to counter the jumbo-sized frontcourt Louisville threw Arizona’s way.

Radenovic did a great job setting the tone for his team by facilitating Arizona’s offense from the high-post, finding open cutters with his excellent court vision, setting screens, putting the ball on the floor and making his way to the basket when defenders closed off the angle for his shot, even going glass on one occasions after utilizing a nifty pump-fake. One sequence in particular emphasized perfectly what Radenovic’s importance to his team truly is. With his team up mid-way through the 2nd half, Lute Olsen decided to give his senior a moment to catch his breath on the bench. Arizona responded by looking like they were completely on the verge of falling apart almost immediately as he left the floor, throwing up terrible shots on two consecutive possessions and giving up easy baskets on the other end as their team defense disintegrated. Without thinking twice, Olsen yanked Radenovic off the bench and inserted him right back into the game, giving him a grand total of 30 seconds of rest before having seen enough. He has a calming presence on his team that does not show up in the box-score, but should surely be noted by NBA personnel who are trying to find role-players with a winning attitude to bring off their bench.

It’s true that he doesn’t run the floor terribly well, is not super explosive getting off his feet to finish around the basket, and surely lacks some strength both with his back to the basket and defending the post, but you aren’t going to find many more fundamentally sound big guys anywhere in the country. He’s a guy that knows his role and is not going to hurt a team that decides to pick him up as early as the late first round or more likely somewhere in the second.


Villanova, rejuvinated Sumpter top Sooners in rematch
Wednesday night’s full slate of games began with a rematch of last year’s Villanova-Oklahoma matchup that taught us a lot about both those teams. The tilt took place in Oklahoma this time around, but the Sooners proved to be much more generous hosts than Randy Foye, Allen Ray & company were a season ago. A Villanova team appearing very much in mid-season form jumped all over new coach Jeff Capel and his still-gelling squad 67-51. Freshman wing Tony Crocker scored an impressive 19 points in the losing cause, but it was Wildcat holdovers Michael Nardi (23 points) and Curtis Sumpter (14 points) who were the difference makers. Jay Wright sends athletic, physical wing/combo types at opponents in waves. True to 05-06 form, Villanova forced 24 turnovers in the victory, and shouldn’t be expected to slip too far in the Big East standings without Foye, Ray, and Lowry.

The notable development in Wildcat territory is the recovery and actual improvement of redshirt senior Curtis Sumpter.

Curtis Sumpter, 6-7, Senior, Small Forward, Villanova
22.5 pts, 8.5 reb, 7-12 3-Pt in 2 games

Two other headline games were played on the night. Dayton topped Creighton 60-54 in a showdown between two potentially dangerous mid-majors. The Flyers added the win to a trophy case that already includes Louisville, and now will swing for the fences with consecutive games against North Carolina and Ohio State to close out 2006.

Emotions sizzle, action fizzles in latest Pearl-Calipari matchup
The nightcap on ESPN featured the in-state rivals Memphis and Tennessee, a series which appears to be on the verge of exploding into a full-out blood feud between John Calipari’s Tigers and Bruce Pearl’s Volunteers. But for all the posturing and bravado, this one wasn’t much of a game. Tennessee bounced back from a lukewarm Preseason NIT by taking a 21 point lead into halftime and trouncing their in-state nemeses by the count of 76-58. Memphis looked out of sync and overwhelmed by Tennessee’s chaotic aggression, and simply couldn’t come up with an answer for shooter extraordinaire Chris Lofton. Volunteer freshman Duke Crews did his best Ben Wallace impression, completely frustrating Memphis big man Joey Dorsey.

Chris Lofton, 6-2, Junior, Shooting Guard, Tennessee
34 points, 12-18 FG’s, 6-11 3-PT


Jonathan Givony

One of the more explosive offensive performances we’ve seen this season so far considering the caliber of athletes he did it against, Chris Lofton showed off just how deadly a scorer he can be by knocking off Memphis behind a 34 point barrage. Unlike the player we remembered last year—who was pretty good already by the way—Lofton scored from every way imaginable and from anywhere on the floor. This type of radical improvement in his offensive repertoire could only have come from a full summer of intense training.

Lofton started off the game showing a slightly new wrinkle—creating off the dribble and then pulling up sharply and effortlessly from about 16 feet out…swish. He then went back to the basics and knocked down a spot-up 3-pointer in transition, complete with a super quick release. He then began showing off his ball-handling skills, first with his left hand, taking the ball strong to the basket and either drawing contact or finishing high off the glass. When his defender tried to take that away, he promptly went to his right, only to finish with the opposite hand if need be. When Tennessee’s offense bogged down, they threw him the ball and drove his defender crazy by mixing up his 3-point shot with his new-found penetration skills. Lofton creates vertical separation from his defender on the perimeter as well as any guard you’ll find in the country, showing outstanding shooting mechanics, excellent footwork and terrific elevation on his jumper to load up and get his shot off in the blink of an eye. Memphis threw everything they had in their arsenal at him, whether it was their quicker point guards, longer swingmen or bigger forwards, to no avail. He was 9-11 from the field in the first half, and finished the game with 34 points.

In terms of his pro prospects, he’s not the easiest guy in the world to project, even if there is a lot of things to like about him. He’s still very much on the small side for a shooting guard at 6-2, and really does not possess great athleticism to make up for it. The way he moves off the ball, diversified his offense and impacts the game very much reminds of J.J. Redick, but he’s at least 2-3 inches shorter and of a similar caliber athletically. Like Redick, Lofton is a gym rat who clearly has a chip on his shoulder, so you most certainly cannot rule him out. Salim Stoudamire is another name that can certainly be brought up, but Lofton clearly has a better attitude even if he hasn’t quite yet developed the same reputation as a shooter. Lofton is right now on track to exceed Stoudamire’s amazing senior season total of 120 made 3-pointers, on similar percentages, as he’s averaging 4 made 3-pointers per game on an amazing 49.3%. Stoudamire hit an even more incredible 50.4% from behind the arc before being drafted with the first pick of the 2nd round in 2005. Lofton is doing it without the benefit of having a big man like Channing Frye or an athlete like Hassan Adams to draw attention as well.


Carter Gives Fighting Irish New Life...
The final big-time showdown of the week came on a quiet Thursday night and featured a resurgent Notre Dame squad hosting an Alabama team rated in the Top 10 and fresh off a Paradise Jam victory in the Virgin Islands. The Fighting Irish came up with a big win over Maryland, but it was Notre Dame’s emphatic victory in the face of another collapse that could end up as turning point for the entire program. The Crimson Tide were vulnerable with Ronald Steele hobbled, but it looked as if another collapse was on the way when Notre Dame committed three consecutive turnovers and let a double-digit lead dwindle to five with three minutes to play. But the clutch play of unheralded senior Russell Carter transformed the Fighting Irish from timid and clearly rattled to brash and bursting with newfound confidence in a matter of seconds. If a program-changing win has ever taken place in December, this might have been it.


Russell Carter, 6-4, Senior, Shooting Guard, Notre Dame
27 points, 9-16 FG’s, 6-11 3-PT, 5 reb, 5 stl

Jonathan Watters

It was now or never for Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish, and Russell Carter took it upon himself to make sure it was now.

The unheralded senior connected on a gutsy, contested 3-pointer to stem another Notre Dame collapse and secure a much-needed close win for the fighting Irish. Moments later Carter would hit another long, contested jumper from the opposite baseline, and would essentially seal the deal on his 5th steal of the night with just under 2 minutes to play.

It has been a long journey for Carter, going from unheralded, last-minute signee to benchwarmer, to defensive specialist, to star. But it appears that is where Carter’s path is taking him, based on the steady improvement the sturdily built wing has shown throughout his career. He is now averaging nearly 17 points, 6 rebounds and 2.5 steals, while shooting over 45% from beyond the arc on the season.

He is also clearly more than just a producer for Brey, given the way that he energized the crowd and his teammates down the stretch with his demonstrative, fiery style of play. Carter is emerging as the vocal, veteran presence the Notre Dame locker room was critically lacking a season ago.

It doesn’t appear that the 6’4 Carter would have a shot at the highest level upon first glance. He isn’t the greatest ballhandler in the world, and his thicker frame means his first step isn’t exactly in that “blow-by” category. But at the same time, Carter always finds ways to make things happen. He does a great job of using his body to his advantage off the bounce, and is certain to shock you with a powerful finish or two this season if you aren’t looking for it.

Carter doesn’t have a prototype shooter’s release, but manages to keep things simple. In that Michael Redd sort of way, he lets the game come to him and has a way of always realizing what the defense is giving him. Carter has a knack for hitting the contested outside jumper, and appears quite calm with the ball in his hands.

On the other end of the court, Carter is a true menace. The linebacker’s frame is put to full use, and he is truly relentless in terms of physicality and mentality.
Russell Carter isn’t going to pop up on the must-have list of any NBA team this June. He will have to fight for a spot in Chicago, and then fight for a roster spot in training camp.

But given look on his face as he charged down the court after coming up with that game (season?) (program?) saving steal, I wouldn’t put beating the odds and emerging as a longtime NBA journeyman past Russell Carter for even a second.


Check back tomorrow as we delve into the weekend’s action. In-depth reports on Alando Tucker, Courtney Lee, Rodney Stuckey, Spencer Hawes, and Matt Bouldin will be included.

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