With only a month left in the regular season, it’s time to start thinking about which teams are positioning themselves to be dangerous in March. Today, we’ll look at a team on the rise, a team that can’t find any consistency and a team that is poised to disappoint.
1. Evan Turner is back, and the Big Ten better watch out.
We mentioned last December that Ohio State star Evan Turner was playing the best basketball in the country before he fractured his back – an injury that was supposed to keep him out for six weeks. Turner managed to recover in just a month, however, and he has picked up right where he left off. For the season, Turner is averaging a mind-boggling 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists per game while shooting 56 percent from the field. He has forcefully reinserted himself into the national player of the year debate alongside John Wall and Wesley Johnson. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that almost every NBA mock draft projects Wall, Turner and Johnson as the top three picks come June.
Without Turner, the Buckeyes started 0-2 in conference play. Since Turner has returned, Ohio State has won six of its last eight, including impressive wins at Purdue and at home against Wisconsin. One of the Buckeyes’ two losses during this span was a very close game on the road against West Virginia, a defeat that no one would be ashamed of.
Even though Turner is so dominant, the Buckeyes are by no means a one-man team. William Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty all average at least 13 points per game. While all three play on the perimeter, each is at least 6-foot-5, and with the 6-foot-7 Turner starting at point guard, the Buckeyes are a matchup nightmare.
While the two losses without Turner probably eliminated Ohio State from the Big Ten title hunt, this team might be every bit as good as conference leader Michigan State. The Buckeyes should be regarded as a true Final Four contender.
2. On any given day, no one knows which Connecticut team will show up.
On Jan. 23, UConn crushed then-No. 1 Texas by 14 points. Four days later, the Huskies lost by 15 points at Providence, a team that is currently 11th in the Big East.
This has been the story for the Huskies all season. For example, on Dec. 6, UConn struggled to beat Harvard at home. On Dec. 9, the Huskies took No. 4 Kentucky to the final seconds.
UConn has the talent to be a top-10 team. The backcourt features one of the nation’s best all-around players in Jerome Dyson and a talented young point guard in Kemba Walker, who is brilliant at times. In addition, forward Stanley Robinson can jump out of the gym and is putting together a great season with 17 points and seven rebounds per game. Über-raw freshman Ater Majok is showing Hasheem Thabeet-like flashes, blocking four shots against both Texas and Marquette. All four could be future first round NBA draft picks.
Why the inconsistency? The best guess is that UConn is deeply missing the leadership of A.J. Price and Jeff Adrien. While both were far less heralded than Thabeet, Price and Adrien were the heart and soul of the Huskies last year. Dyson and Robinson are both seniors who have been playing great basketball, but they need to step up as team leaders as well.
Ultimately, the Huskies remain dangerous because when they bring their A-game, they can play with anyone. This is a team that could very well make a deep run in March, but it could just as easily be upset in the first round.
3. Hoya fans shouldn’t get too excited just yet.
The Hilltop has been positively giddy since Saturday’s 89-77 win over Duke, a shellacking of one of the nation’s most storied programs with President Obama and Vice President Biden in attendance. However, let’s not get too carried away. On the one hand, we beat Duke! On the other hand, well, we beat Duke.
We beat a team that is now 1-4 on the road this season, including a 14-point loss to ACC doormat N.C. State; a team that doesn’t have anything remotely resembling a low-post presence (Greg Monroe scores more points and pulls down nearly as many rebounds as Duke starting big men Miles Plumlee and Lance Thomas combined); a team whose point guard, Jon Scheyer, and best all-around offensive player, Kyle Singler, are severely limited athletically and often have trouble creating their own shots; a team that lives and dies by the three, an offensive style more suited to an undersized mid-major than a basketball powerhouse; and a team that hasn’t made it out of the Sweet 16 in six years.
Don’t let the hype fool you. The Blue Devils, just like every Duke squad of the past few years, are massively overrated and will be exposed come tourney time. If the commander-in-chief wants to see a true test for the Hoyas, he should come back to Verizon Center when Georgetown plays Villanova or Syracuse.
Parimal Garg is a junior in the College. Three-Point Play appears in every other Tuesday edition of Hoya Sports.”