John Calipari attempted to convince the masses following Kentucky's 64-61 win over Connecticut in the SEC/Big East Invitational that his Wildcats were 4-5 instead of 9-0. Good luck convincing people of that, but what needs no selling is how good of a player John Wall is. Foul trouble sat the freshman on the bench for much of the first half and the turnovers (seven) need to decrease, but the Raleigh, NC native took over down the stretch to deliver the win. Wall led all scorers with twenty-five points and also had six steals in the victory.
Momentarily slowed by Jim Calhoun placing 6-9 Stanley Robinson on Wall, the freshman made the play of the night with less than a minute to go. Wall drove left and made a seemingly impossible layup (and getting the foul), turning 61-60 Connecticut into 63-61 Kentucky. After a Ramon Harris free throw the Huskies had two chances to tie but shots from Gavin Edwards and Kemba Walker were off the mark. Another development to keep tabs on as the season progresses is the improved play of DaMarcus Cousins in the second half.
The highly-touted freshman big had a first half to forget, picking up a pair of fouls and also playing in a lackadaisical fashion. Something must have been said in the locker room because Cousins played with more focus and intensity in the second half, finishing the game with ten points and ten rebounds. The Huskies received good nights from Jerome Dyson, Edwards and Kemba Walker but they need Stanley Robinson to be a consistent force if they're to be a factor in the Big East race. But on Wednesday night the MSG stage belonged to one man: John Wall.
Three Key Happenings
1. Green Bay takes out Wisconsin. Rarely does a team from a BCS conference take on the challenge of facing a dangerous mid-major on the road so Bo Ryan should get some credit for simply taking on Green Bay. But the Phoenix did pick up a big win in knocking off the Badgers 88-84 in overtime. Five players scored in double figures for Green Bay with Bryquis Perine leading the team with twenty-two, and that balance played a major role in the outcome. Wisconsin had Trevon Hughes (27 points) and Jon Leuer (26 points) combine for fifty-three, but outside of Ryan Evans' eleven there was little help from the other Badgers offensively.
Wisconsin also racked up an uncharacteristic eighteen turnovers but to focus on what the Badgers didn't do would be unfair to a squad that's quietly won nine games. Head coach Tod Kowalczyk jokingly asked in the postgame press conference if the win made them better than Duke, and while that may be a stretch the Phoenix should be a factor in the Horizon League race.
2. Should Michigan fans be worried? The Wolverines, who to their credit have taken on a tough early-season schedule, dropped another one Wednesday night in Salt Lake City. Manny Harris scored twenty-five and DeShawn Sims added ten but the other three starters combined for just seven points in Utah's 68-52 victory. Utah on the other hand had four starters reach double figures and the fifth (Kim Tillie) scored eight. Freshman Marshall Henderson, who will make some waves in the Mountain West this season, led Jim Boylen's team with 22 points while Carlon Brown added 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
The balance that Michigan currently lacks is exactly what got them beat and has also doen them in three other times this season. Harris needs to receive consistent help from the three other starters, especially Laval Lucas-Perry and Darius Morris in the backcourt. Games against Kansas and Connecticut offer John Beilein's team two more opportunities for another solid non-conference win but they're going to have a hard time as the season progresses if "Manny Fresh" has to shoulder the entire load.
3. Oral Roberts upsets Missouri despite seventeen turnovers. Dominique Morrison may have led the victors with 21 points (17 in the second half) but Michael Craion was the hero of the 60-59 result. Craion made a layup with less than a second remaining to provide the margin, giving the Tigers their second road loss of the season. The Golden Eagles were able to survive their turnovers due to a +8 rebounding margin and shooting just 3-for-14 from behind the arc. The Tigers, who were led in scoring by Marcus Denmon (17 points in 19 minutes off the bench), attempted just three foul shots (making one) while ORU went 9-for-12 from the charity stripe and that disparity also played a role in the outcome. The Golden Eagles are a perennial contender in the Summit League and if Wednesday's result proved anything it's that they'll once again be in the discussion.
Top Three Games
1. Oral Roberts 60, Missouri 59 See above.
2. Green Bay 88, Wisconsin 84 (OT) See above.
3. (tie) Harvard 74, Boston College 67 Two straight years the Eagles have lost to the Crimson in the game following an ACC win. Jeremy Lin (25 points) and Keith Wright (21 points) led the way for Tommy Amaker's squad.
Kentucky 64, Connecticut 61 See above.
Three Notable Performances
1. G Tony Crocker (Oklahoma) Crocker led the Sooners with 33 points and 13 rebounds in their 86-62 win over Centenary.
2. F Jeff Allen (Virginia Tech) Allen, who has performed much better since Seth Greenberg has brought him off the bench, posted the line of 24 points, 13 rebounds and five assists in the Hokies' 98-73 win over VMI.
3. (tie) G David Kool (Western Michigan) and G John Wall (Kentucky) While Wall's late-game heroics and twenty-five points have already been mentioned one of the best guards in the nation rarely mentioned deserves some praise as well. Kool led the Broncos to a 69-58 win at Eastern Illinois with 34 points.