Adam Morrison showed why he is a legit college basketball superstar who can will his team to victory virtually all by himself. Christian Maraker took advantage of the big stage to put his name right in the middle of NBA draft discussions. Joakim Noah and Al Horford toyed with South Alabama on the way to some intriguing stat-lines. And Gerry McNamara and Taj Gray came up extremely flat in what we now know were the last games of their college career.
Adam Morrison, 68, SF, Junior, Gonzaga
35 points (11-21 FG, 9-11 FT, 4-8 3PT), 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 3 turnovers
Morrisons immense offensive repertoire was on full display, as he scored in nearly every way possible. He was hitting three-pointers, spotting or pulling up. He was taking it to the hole by both cuts and one-on-one penetration. He posted up, he pulled up for mid-range jumpers, and despite the mass of attention he received from Xaviers defense, still found a way to score 35 points. To do this, he pretty much never stopped moving without the ball. Morrison wasnt just scoring, though. He took advantage of his court vision, especially when double teamed, hitting cutters, shooters, and feeding the post. He did take a few forced shots, but even still, he had an incredibly efficient scoring night and was the sole reason Gonzaga won this game.
Morrison had a so-so showing on the defensive end, occasionally reverting to some lackadaisical tendencies. But in the second half and down the final stretch, his intensity was up and he was playing strong on both sides of the floor. Gonzagas zone defense (and the mediocre competition) veiled most of Morrisons problems with lateral quickness, though it will become more evident as the Zags move deeper into the tournament. But the Zags will only go as far as Morrison takes them. Morrison will need to play like this in every game from here on out for the Zags to stay alive. And knowing him, he will.
Christian Maraker, 6'10, SF/PF, Senior, Pacific
30 points, 9 rebounds, 8-16 FG, 12-14 FT, 49 minutes
Maraker showed off an extremely impressive offensive package throughout the game today, giving the Golden Eagles nightmares about how to guard a player that can beat you in almost every single way possible. Whether it was putting the ball on the floor with a nice first step, passing the ball intelligently, posting up his man and finishing with a beautiful jump-hook, stroking the three pointer in clutch situations or just freelancing his way around the court with no defined role or position, Maraker was constantly seeking out holes to exploit in the defense with his outstanding skill level.
Maraker was instrumental down the stretch in putting his team right on the brink of pulling off an incredibly unlikely upset, drawing and hitting 3 free throws on a brilliant shot fake from behind the arc with 45 seconds to go to tie it up, and then nailing a clutch three to tie up the game again and send it to overtime with 9 seconds to go.
Its one thing to do this as Maraker has been all year against the likes of Cal Poly and Long Beach State, but a performance like this against a tough and defensive minded team like Boston College puts him squarely in the conversation for the 2nd round of the NBA draft, if he wasn't there already. Maraker's flaws are quite obvious, whether its his overall lack of footspeed, his matador defense, or just the general questions about what position he will play at the next level. He helped himself tremendously, though, and has surely earned himself plenty of invites to private NBA workouts as well as the full attention of the scouts in the NBA pre-draft camp(s).
Joakim Noah, 6'11, Sophomore, PF/C, Florida
16 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 blocks, 6-9 FG, 4-5 FT, 31 minutes
Al Horford, 6'9, Sophomore, PF/C, Florida
14 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists, 6-8 FG, 2-2 FT, 25 minutes
With point guard Taurean Green having an extremely poor game by his standards, it was Horford and Noah that stood up and took the Gators on their back to make sure that their team's offense was running smoothly. Dishing out 12 assists (with only 3 turnovers) between the two, both big men showed off their incredible ball-handling and passing skills in the open floor, pulling down monster rebounds time after time and igniting the one man fast break while weaving in and out of traffic and constantly keeping their heads up to find the open man. And even though South Alabama was no match for their height and athleticism, both showed off some extremely impressive skills beyond their terrific passing and ball-handling ability as well. Horford did the dirty work in the paint on both ends of the floor and stepped outside on a number of occasions to knock down a smooth looking mid-range jump shot from different parts of the floor, while Noah again continued to beat his man off the dribble from the perimeter and get to the rim with ease. Noah at one point in the game appeared to be on his way to an unheard of quadruple-double (most of his blocks and assists came in the 1st half), but decided to save his strength in the 2nd half once the result of the game appeared to be firmly in hand.
The chemistry these two show between themselves is an incredible rarity in today's college basketball, as most NCAA teams would love to even have their backup at Florida Chris Richard starting for them. You'd be hard pressed to find two NBA starting big men who run the floor as hard as Noah and Horford do, and it's inevitable to think that that is exactly where the two will end up when they decide they've had their fill of college basketball.
Ron Steele, 62, Sophomore, Point Guard, Alabama
23 Points, 8 Assists, 5 Rebounds, 9-11 FT, 4-6 3P
Acie Law, 6-3, Junior, Point Guard, Texas A&M
23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 turnovers, 7-17 FG, 8-8 FT
Mohamed Abukar, 6-10, junior, power forward, San Diego State
24 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks, 8-13 FG, 6-6 FG, 2-2 3P
What can be taken away from this game, though, is the fact that Abukar particularly appears to be poised to break out as a star in his final year at SDSU. He gave the Hoosiers all they could handle in this game, showing an extremely intriguing arsenal of offensive skills from both inside the paint as well as from beyond the arc, and finally being willing to use those skills consistently for an entire game. The timid player NCAA fans might remember from his first two years as a Florida Gator appears to have matured into a man during his redshirt year, putting plenty of weight onto his promising frame, being more willing to do the dirty work that he never seemed capable of doing under Billy Donovan and still showing the type of athleticism in a 6-10 frame that has to get NBA scouts excited about his potential as a player.
Abukar was indeed the key to the Aztecs even making the NCAA tournament, helping his team win 15 of their last 19 games after sitting out the fall semester because of transfer rules, while averaging over 15 points a game in conference play.
A player with his size, skills and athleticism is always going to get plenty of looks from NBA scouts, and considering the fact that SDSU should return all their players from a team with no seniors to be found on the roster, there is a lot of talent to look forward to in 2006-2007 for Aztec fans.
Marcelus Kemp, 6'5, sophomore, shooting guard, Nevada
34 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 14-22 FG, 3-7 3P, 3-3 FT
Essentially a 4th year college sophomore after red-shirting one season and sitting another year with a torn ACL, Kemp was the only player that really showed up for all 40 minutes in Nevada's disappointing exit against Montana. He attacked the Grizzlies defense relentlessly all game long, and appeared extremely confident in his abilities as a player.
Kemp used his athleticism on both ends of the floor, playing tough pressure defense on whoever he was asked to guard, taking the ball strong to the rim and pulling up for an array of mid-range jump shots. His ball-handling needs some work still, but he's clearly headed in the right direction and has a nice perimeter shot to compliment his slashing ability as well.
As a 22-year old sophomore, Kemp has his work cut out for him to make some serious strides in his game over the summer and try to show that he's a legit draft prospect next year, but from what we saw today, he has some very nice tools to build on.
Steve Novak, 610, Senior, SF/PF, Marquette
17 points, 5-10 FG, 5-9 3P, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals
Novak was forced to guard the much bigger Richard Hendrix, and was burned whenever Alabama decided to go inside. This wont be as big of a problem in the NBA, where Novak would be guarding and playing the small forward position (though his lateral quickness might hurt him there). Steve Novak did what was expected of him, and it wasnt enough to lead Marquette to a win, but what he can do for an NBA team as a lights out tall shooter off the bench is still not in doubt.
Taj Gray, 6'9, Senior, Power Forward, Oklahoma
13 points, 8 rebounds, 0 assists, 6 turnovers, 5 fouls
Two straight charges on back to back possessions really hurt any momentum his team had going for it as they tried to come back from a double-digit deficit late in the game. He then capped off his performance with an incredibly foolish and completely unnecessary foul far from the basket that finally sent him to the bench with 5 fouls and severely hurt any chances his team had of coming back to win the game.
It's one thing to play poorly, but what was most baffling about his performance was the fact that it didn't seem to phase him that much. Gray is usually an emotional player who wears his heart on his sleeve, but in the game that should have had him as pumped as he's ever been in his career he came out completely flat and did not bring any of the energy he usually provides his team as his best contribution on the floor.
Gray will now kick off his preparations for the NBA draft, with many private workouts likely in his near future. What end of the 6'8 mark he ends up on in measurements might play the biggest role in where he lands in the NBA draft.
Gerry McNamara, 6-2, Senior, Point Guard, Syracuse
2 points, 3 assists, 3 turnovers, 0-6 FG, 0-5 3P
In this one he struggled to get the ball up the court against the pressure defense from Acie Law and Dominique Kirk, and often had to give the ball up to somebody else in order to get it across the half court line. McNamara had a few nice passes that resulted in assists, but for every nice pass there was a forced pass into traffic resulting in a turnover.
McNamara appears to lack the first step needed to get by more athletic defenders in half-court situations, a problem that has arisen on many occasions this year for Syracuse. Despite his reputation for being one of the top shooters in all of college basketball, his 34% 3-point percentage doesn't back that up. McNamaras best redeeming quality throughout his college career has been his clutch ability, but against A&M, he was not able to put his team in a position to use this ability, and he sat on the bench during crunch time.
McNamara showed tonight why there are still some very serious doubts about his NBA potential once you get past the sentimental value of the moments hes been a part of in college basketball over the past 4 years. He still has his work cut out for him, likely starting at Portsmouth, to ensure himself of being drafted.