Player of the Year no longer just the Jimmer-Kemba Show

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Jared Sullinger did more than power No. 1 Ohio State past No. 23 Illinois on Saturday. The massive power forward firmly entrenched himself in the national Player of the Year discussion as well.

A 27-point, 16-rebound performance – all on national TV – helped the Buckeyes (20-0) avoid their first loss of the season, at one of the Big Ten’s toughest venues, no less.

“I felt like Jared was pretty good today,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said afterward. “That was a joke — he was awesome.”

Until now, much of the national attention revolved around BYU senior guard Jimmer Fredette – he of the ridiculous shooting range – and Connecticut senior Kemba Walker – he of the last-second heroics. They’re 1-2 nationally in scoring, jaw-dropping plays and hyperbole.

Conversely, Sullinger, the Buckeyes’ 6-foot-9, 280-pound freshman, is an overpowering presence down low, a player who feasts on opposing post players and compiles double-doubles (10 through 20 games), not highlight-reel plays. That’s his genius – he’s a force down low and one that must be seen in entire games in order to be properly appreciated. (Or you could just take a look at his stats. They’ll impress casual fans and tempo-free advocates.)

“He’s tough,” Illinois forward Mike Davis said afterward. “He’s bigger than I thought he was.”

But that’s life for a traditional post player in the college game – the guards usually grab all the attention. But Sullinger now has the added bonus of playing for an unbeaten team that’s atop the rankings. That’s something Fredette and Walker can’t match, no matter how many points they score.

When you’re the best player on the nation’s No. 1 team, you can’t help but earn Player of the Year plaudits. If Sullinger does more of the same Tuesday against Purdue – and their stellar center, JaJaun Johnson – he’ll only boost his rep even more.

“He’s a special young man,” Matta said. “His humility — he’s all about winning.”

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
Associated Press
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.