Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Previewing the stacked Maui semifinals
By Chad Ford
Things went as expected on Monday and we have two great matchups Tuesday at the EA Sports Maui Invitational. Here are a few thoughts on each:
No. 2 Michigan State vs. Connecticut, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN)
This is a terrific matchup between two of the best upperclassmen point guards in the country. Kemba Walker has been on fire for UConn, averaging 36 points in his past two games. Kalin Lucas scored a career-high 28 points for Michigan State on Monday. Both players have excellent quickness and the ability to get to the basket. The key may be the supporting cast. Walker is taking on the extra scoring load because he doesn't have a lot of help on his team. Lucas took over because several of MSU's veterans, including Durrell Summers, were struggling. The Huskies need a big game from Walker to win. The Spartans don't need Lucas to put up big numbers to dominate.
Michigan State has been outrebounded in its past two games. Head coach Tom Izzo said it was "un-American" for one of his teams to be outrebounded. The Huskies also were beaten on the boards Monday. A key for UConn in the semifinals will be sophomore big man Alex Oriakhi. He can be a beast on the boards when he's focused. I'm not sure Michigan State has a guy to slow him down. He'll also have to have a big game to beat Sparty.
After two excellent games, Summers fell back into an unfortunate funk against Chaminade. He has a long history of disappearing in games, and after hitting a 3 and slamming home a big dunk, he didn't do much. The Spartans went to freshman Keith Appling to provide them with a spark off the bench -- but he doesn't have the veteran presence of Summers.
No. 9 Kentucky vs. No. 11 Washington, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
Both coaches played down the "grudge match" angle. Sure, UW head coach Lorenzo Romar isn't happy that both Enes Kanter and Terrence Jones decommitted to Washington and ended up at UK. With Jones (Kanter was ruled ineligible by the NCAA), Washington would've likely been a preseason top-five selection. There's no question that he would've helped them on the frontline and it has to hurt watching Jones dominate early. But the truth is that Washington has the ability to contend for a national title without him.
Jones may have never ended up in Seattle, but freshman Terrence Ross did -- and the Huskies are certainly happy for that. He isn't getting the minutes that Jones does, but he was 4-for-5 from beyond the arc in Washington's annihilation of Virginia on Monday night. The Huskies have another redshirt freshman, C.J. Wilcox, who looks to be a keeper as well. Wilcox was the team's second-highest scorer against the Cavaliers.
Kentucky's Brandon Knight and Jones have gotten all the attention, but a third freshman, Doron Lamb, drew high praise from NBA scouts in attendance on Monday. Lamb is a smooth scorer with a very developed mid-range game. He's averaging 15 ppg for the Wildcats and is showing an ability to play both backcourt positions. While scouts weren't ready to tag him as a third potential first-rounder for UK, he has enough talent to move into the top 30 with strong play all season.
Speaking of Knight, he'll have a big point guard matchup of his own Tuesday against Abdul Gaddy, who was considered one of the top high school players in the country two years ago. He struggled as a freshman, but seems to have turned things around this season. While he's not ranked nearly as highly as Knight, a big game for Gaddy against Kentucky could change that.
While the Wildcats may have the better NBA prospects, they may wilt under the intensity of UW's defense and their superior depth. If Oklahoma's defense gave the Cats problems in the second half, you can only imagine what Washington's will do to UK's three freshmen starters. Kentucky's guards, especially Knight and Lamb, should have their hands full contending with Isaiah Thomas, Justin Holiday and Gaddy.