Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Four Players We Love

Who doesn't love hustle-players from Cameroon who can impact
the tournament when you least expect it?

Credit: ViewImages

Clement Edition

East Region
St . Joseph’s F Pat Calathes

There is a power forward in the East region not named Hansbrough (of UNC), White (of Indiana), Griffin (of Oklahoma), and Thomas (of George Mason) that the entire region should fear. That man is Red Hawks forward Pat Calathes (17.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg). The fourth-year senior has steadily improved throughout his A-10 career and is a major reason why St. Joe’s is tournament bound. They have a savvy Elite Eight-reputable coach and a roster that will rely early and often on their big man to produce (especially since he’ll be paired up against Pay’s man-crush Blake Griffin).

West Region
UCONN’s SG Jerome Dyson

It’s hard to beat the story of San Diego’s Rob Jones (whose grandfather was Jim Jones, of the infamous Guyana mass suicide); however, my eyes are intently focused on UCONN Husky Jerome Dyson. Reports out of Storrs this season have linked the oft-suspended Dyson with multiple citations for alcohol possession, failing at least two drug tests and countless violations of school and university policies. But because he can put the ball in the hoop so effectively, Jim Calhoun continues his policy of giving ninth, tenth and eighteenth chances (cheap shot). Be sure to check your laptop cases, too (cheaper shot). Nevertheless, UCONN overcame Dyson’s suspension and rode an impressive 10-game winning stream before losing at Villanova on February 23rd. Since Dyson’s return (in which he’s averaged right around 20 minutes per click), the Huskies have appeared at times out of sync and unable to put lesser opponents away with Dyson on the court. With a #4 seed in the consensus weakest bracket, the Huskies had better use this week to get one of their stars better acclimated to their current style of play…and out of trouble.

Midwest Region
Kent State’s PG Al Fisher

The junior college transfer (who interestingly enough began his career at #13 seed Siena) dropped 29 points in a late-night national coming out party at then-ranked St. Mary’s during BracketBuster weekend (a useless endeavor according to the Selection Committee on all accounts possible). The MAC Champs, and their respective player of the year, were touted as a #7 seed here at PHSports. Instead, they are relegated to garbage duty as an underrated #9 seed. Look out Runnin’ Rebels, who mind you don’t even go 7-deep in most games, as this Kent State squad matches up extremely well against you. While long forgotten are the Elite Eight days of 2001 (Antonio Gates was their PF, you know), the Golden Flashes may end up the region’s top X-factor. Problem is: they turn over the ball WAY too much. Fisher is as guilty as any (a negative assist to turnover ratio is never flattering), yet also possesses instant offense whenever on the court...for either squad. Look out.

South Region
Kentucky’s SG Joe Crawford

I’m going to leave any Texas talk, specifically a kid named Atchley, for Pay to embark on (hopefully). Instead, I’m staring intently at Kentucky’s now #1 man, Joe Crawford. While P-Mills of St. Mary’s, Texas’s DJ Augustin, Pitt’s LeVance Fields, Memphis’s Derrick Rose and Tajuan Porter of Oregon are the marquee guards, I can’t get enough of what Crawford and company have done since losing to the likes of Gardner Webb. To be honest, I’m still not sure if they honestly deserve a tournament bid (I may honestly need more than 12-4 in the SEC). Nevertheless, the second Patrick Patterson went down for the season, I had the Wildcats flatlined. Not so fast apparently. Forget the SEC tournament, Kentucky has zippie to lose right now in the dangerous 6/11 matchup vs. Tom Crean and a potential second-round matchup with #3 seed Stanford. Crawford quietly has put together a productive four-year career at UK. Upping his FG% to 46% this season, his stoic charisma on the court paces the Wildcats and delivers on some of his early top-10 high school recruit rankings. The problem is that Marquette has a bevy of athletes that they can toss at Crawford on the perimeter and plenty of tall bodies to cut off penetration. More for Joe Crawford (can you remember a time when Kentucky seemed so “starless”?) to overcome, I suppose.

Take it away Pay…

Paymon Edition

East Region
Oklahoma’s PF Blake Griffin

When it comes to power forwards who will battle for 40 minutes and the extra session if needed, Oklahoma’s Blake Griffin (15.0 ppg, 9.4 rpg) takes the proverbial cake (sure, there’s Psycho T, but he gets enough love). With a steady face-up game and a 12-14 foot jump shot to boot, Griffin has defied injuries and buoyed the Sooners to their 1st tournament appearance in what seems like forever. Along with Longar Longar, Griffin anchors a defense that gave up only 63.4 ppg and allowed opponents to shoot 40.6 % from the field. To keep playing after Friday’s game against St. Joseph’s, Griffin will need to make smart decisions and play with fluidity in order to wear down the forward trio of Pat Calathes, Rob Ferguson and Ahmad Nivins.

West Region
UCLA’s SF Luc Richard Mbah a Moute

Though the accolades for UCLA’s success will first go to Kevin “I wink for the camera at every opportunity” Love and Darren Collison and then second to Josh Shipp and Russell Westbrook, “The Prince” is the reason why the Bruins have gone to two straight Final Fours. Though averaging only 8.8 ppg and 5.4 rpg, his contributions cannot be captured on a stat sheet. Mbah a Moute’s ability to D it up makes him an invaluable asset even when he’s not clicking offensively. Though hampered by an injury suffered in the PAC-10 tournament, expect one to two hustle plays per game from Mbah a Moute.

Midwest Region
Gonzaga’s PG Jeremy Pargo
Jeremy Pargo loves big games and he welcomes the competition. The competition will be Davidson’s Stephan Curry in Round 1. The size of Pargo (6’2” 219-pound) makes it difficult for most guards and some forwards to cover. Also, the wider frame allows for Pargo to penetrate early and often, while taking it to the hoop (Pargo shot almost 50% from the field). Though Pargo averaged a meager 11.9 points per game, he is far from afraid of taking the big shot. Against the ‘Zags toughest opponents this season, Pargo scored 23 at Connecticut, 28 at Oklahoma, 25 at Memphis and 27 at St. Mary’s. Beware, Davidson (yes, even in Raleigh).

South Region
Mississippi State’s F/C Jarvis Varnado

To Clement’s dismay, I won’t be talking about either Texas’s DJ Augustin or Connor Atchley. Nothing says sustained tournament run like a dominant shot blocker who makes his presence felt with every minute he plays. Unfortunately, even if they overcome the mighty Ducks of Oregon, the Bulldogs will be congratulated by getting an opportunity to play the Memphis Tigers. If the Bulldogs book an unlikely ticket to Houston, it will be because of Varnado’s block party (144 blocks this season). Though not a prolific scorer (7.8 ppg), Varnado shot 63.6% and averaged slightly less than eight caroms per game. Just to put Varnado’s block total in perspective, seven SEC teams had fewer blocks. Good luck to teams who want to score in the paint. And here’s a note to Memphis: practice those jump shots.

Tomorrow: Upsets Just Waiting to Happen...
Thursday: Staff Picks, Predictions, and Final Comments

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