Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Return of the Starting Five

Fresh off a 47-point performance against Utah, BYU's Jimmer Fredette takes center stage in the college hoops landscape. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Paging the superstitious: Last night, in addition to being January 11th, (significant for being 1/11/11) several defining moments became part of the final highlight reel for Division I college basketball. From a stat line that defines legend to a comeback from a team that some were on the verge of leaving for dead, last night changed the landscape, so much so that one of our recurring segments in 2010 will make an earlier return than initially anticipated. Without any further ado, the 2011 debut of the starting five covers the following quintet of college hoops nuggets and happenings:

  • Jimmer.
Just the mention of his first name is enough for everyone to know that Brigham Young guard Jimmer Fredette leads our recap, and that would have been our open even before his 47-point outburst on the road last night against Utah. Jimmer put 32 on the board for the Cougars in the first half alone, including a halfcourt buzzer-beater at the intermission, and ended the night just two points shy of his career-high 49 against UNLV. On a night where Kemba Walker was held to 18 (how many times can you say "held to 18?") against Rutgers, the Jimmer Show became the headliner on the NCAA scoring list, as Fredette passed Walker to become the country's all-time leading scorer. National Player of the Year? It's easier to see after last night.

  • This is madness!
The reference to "300" can only mean that we'll follow it up with "this is Sparta!," which of course gives away the fact that we're alluding to Michigan State. Whoever decided to write Sparty off before last night is having a major change of heart after Tom Izzo's boys scored the last nine points of regulation to tie the game at 53 and ultimately prevail over Wisconsin 64-61 in overtime. Kalin Lucas had 17 for the Spartans, but the highlight of this matchup was Draymond Green showing that he truly is a leader. Green's career-high 26 should be the first of many performances where the junior shows just how much of an asset he really is down the stretch.

  • Speaking of madness...
The Missouri Valley should (and hopefully will) get more than one team into the 68-team field this March. If you've read any of my pieces, you know my affinity for the Valley. However, what I didn't expect was that Missouri State would start out undefeated in conference play. Led by Adam Leonard's long-range proficiency, the Bears are still perfect in the Valley, and are on the inside track to the Big Dance provided they can get through "Arch Madness" in St. Louis. If you're Wichita State, you're still in the running despite the loss; and don't count Creighton out either with former Rutgers forward Greg Echenique and Kaleb Korver (Kyle's little brother) leading the Blue Jays.

  • Beasts of the East.
Eight teams are currently ranked in the Big East, led by No. 4 Syracuse, who heads into the Garden tonight to take on St. John's in what could be a de facto home game for the Orange. In addition, fifth-ranked Pittsburgh invades the Verizon Center for a matchup with No. 19 Georgetown where a Panther win could hurt the Hoyas' NCAA Tournament hopes as they would drop to 1-4 in conference; and No. 17 Louisville takes on seventh-ranked Villanova in an outstanding coaching duel between Rick Pitino and Jay Wright. Maybe Pitino breaks out the white suit tonight.

  • Last, but not least...
I'll again use the last space in the starting five to shout out the Northeast Conference, but the honor won't go to St. Francis. (at least not directly) Wagner is 4-0 in NEC play despite their 8-7 overall mark, and looks to extend against the Terriers tomorrow night at the Pope Center in Brooklyn. All it took was three short months for Danny Hurley to change the culture in Staten Island, and the Verrazano Warriors have reciprocated with a four-game run after dropping four in December, including a near-upset of St. John's. It only gets better for Hurley, as all five starters come back next year and some new recruits make their way into Richmond County.

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