Chad Ford previews Maui's final day
November, 24, 2010
By Chad Ford | ESPN.com
LAHAINA, Hawaii -- We had two great semifinal games at the EA Sports Maui Invitational on Tuesday and they produced some unexpected results. Virtually all of our experts (including me) predicted a Michigan State-Washington final.
Those two teams will square off, but it will be for third place at the tournament. The big game will be between UConn and Kentucky for the championship.
Here are some things to watch for it in both games:
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: No. 9 Kentucky vs. Connecticut (10 p.m. ET, ESPN)
• We're looking at another great point guard matchup in this one. UK's Brandon Knight has been fighting Duke's Kyrie Irving for the title of best freshman point guard in the country in the early going. At this point, it looks like Kemba Walker is running away with the title of best upperclassmen point guard in the country. The two will square off on Wednesday.The question on everyone's mind is: Can anyone stop Walker? He's had an amazing 59 points in the past three halves for UConn. Not only is he relentless at driving to the basket, but his jumper has dramatically improved as well, making him very difficult to guard.Knight proved he belonged too, scoring 24 points against a very tough Washington defense. He is bigger and more physical, while Walker is simply a blur.
The outcome of the entire game probably hinges on this matchup and I can't wait to see how it turns out. If Kentucky can slow down Walker, the Wildcats should win the game. If Walker keeps up his hot streak, UConn will be tough to beat.
• Speaking of Walker, Kentucky head coach John Calipari confessed that he scouted the native New Yorker in high school and wasn't convinced he'd be a star.
"I knew Kemba," Calipari said. "I looked at him in high school. I made a big mistake. Normally, I can see something and get the guy. I missed on him. He's got it."Why did Calipari pass on Walker? "It's not that I passed on him," he said. "We got Tyreke [Evans]. He was pretty good, too. But I didn't realize how good [Walker] really was. I made a mistake on that one."
AP Photo/Eugene TannerWalker has scored 30-plus in each of his last three games.
"[Jim Calhoun] is putting Kemba in the best position he can be in to run the team," Calipari said. "He's putting him in a position to succeed."
• Kentucky freshman Terrence Jones was banged around by Washington's frontline all game on Tuesday. He may face a bigger challenge against the other Huskies. UConn sophomore Alex Oriakhi has been a physical force in the paint all tournament. Players have been literally bouncing off him as he powers his way to rebounds and dunks.Jones didn't play a great game against UW. He was a force on the boards and wasn't shying away from the contact, but also shot just 4-of-13 from the field. Oriakhi is going to be as close as he's going to come to the strength and size of a NBA power forward. You can bet that NBA scouts will be watching closely to see how Jones reacts.
THIRD-PLACE GAME: No. 2 Michigan State vs. No. 11 Washington (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2)
• Both Michigan State and Washington have terrific backcourts. MSU is led by seniors Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, with Korie Lucious and freshman Keith Appling coming off the bench. U-Dub has Isaiah Thomas, Abdul Gaddy, Venoy Overton and a couple of freshmen in C.J. Wilcox and Terrence Ross.The struggle for both teams has been on the boards. Both the Spartans and Huskies were out rebounded in their losses on Tuesday. Draymond Green has been picking up some of the slack for Michigan State and Aziz N'Diaye and Justin Holiday have been solid on the boards for Washington. But both teams have a weakness there that's going to have to be addressed down the road.
• The Spartans and Huskies may be disappointed by their performances here, but a few players seem to have caught the eyes of NBA scouts. Michigan State's Green and Washington's Holiday both drew praise from scouts.Green has been excellent for the Spartans in both games. While he lacks the ideal body for a NBA player, one scout says that he's got a chance to make in the league. "The league loves guys who can spread the defense and shoot it," the scout told ESPN.com. "He's not going to be a star, but you look at how hard and intelligently he plays and I think there's a place in the league for guys like that."Holiday, who's brother Jrue is the starting point guard for the Philadelphia 76ers, also drew accolades. "He's such an excellent defender and plays with a great energy," a scout said. "He won't be a starter, but coaches love guys like that that do all the little things. As he gets stronger, he could end up being an elite defender at the next level."
• While a number of players have helped their draft stock in front of a gaggle of NBA scouts, two players have hurt their stock considerably this tournament. At different points, Michigan State's Summers and Washington's Gaddy were both considered potential first-round draft prospects by scouts. After the way they've played the past few games in front of many of those same scouts, that chance has narrowed considerably.NBA folks have complained about Summers' penchant for disappearing in certain games. But they also worry that, after years of playing under Tom Izzo, he still hasn't figured out the nuances of the game. "He doesn't know how to play," said one scout matter-of-factly. "He's a great athlete and he can use it to exploit matchups. But he doesn't really have a feel for the game."Scouts were even harder on Gaddy. After a very rocky freshman year at Washington, he has improved on both ends of the floor. But I couldn't find a scout here who thought he was a NBA player.
"He doesn't really do anything that screams NBA," one scout said. "He's not fast, is not a dead-eye shooter and seems out of rhythm. When the team is his to run instead of Isaiah Thomas', some things may change. But even if they do, he just doesn't look like a NBA player to me."