Ben McLemore has been sensational for Kansas this season. Anthony Bennett has meant just as much if not more to UNLV. But the Freshman of the Year should be Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart and he showed why in the Cowboys’ 76-70 win over No. 9 Kansas State Saturday.
His 21 points, six rebounds, and six assists, lock Oklahoma State into the third seed in the Big 12 tournament and cap an 11-2 stretch in the final 13 games of the conference season. And much of the credit goes to Smart.
While Bennett and McLemore have each had their share of struggles down the stretch, Smart has found a way to contribute in ways that don’t necessarily involve scoring the ball. Take, for example, Oklahoma State’s Feb. 6 win over Baylor. Though Smart was 4-of-21 from the floor, he still had eight rebounds, seven assists, no turnovers, and was 5-of-6 from the free throw line.
Saturday, Smart was aggressive getting to the basket, tough, physical and wiling to draw contact in the lane. McLemore might have the scoring acumen, but he is not the type of distributor that Smart is, and Bennett has had to struggle through injuries down the home stretch.
All three should be Top 10 picks in the upcoming 2013 NBA Draft, but at this level, Smart is the nation’s best freshman.
Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_
Nic Moore scored 18 of his 25 points in the second half and added 11 assists as No. 16 SMU knocked off Gonzaga in Moody Coliseum on Saturday night, 69-60.
The Zags got 20 points and 16 boards from Domantas Sabonis, but Kyle Wiltjer scored just four points and shot 2-for-17 from the floor.
It wasn’t pretty.
And it may have been the end of Gonzaga’s NCAA tournament hopes.
Entering Saturday, the Zags had an RPI in the mid-60s, enough to keep them in the bubble conversation but not enough to make them anything more than a team that will be projected to end up on the cut-line.
The issue is a complete lack of quality wins on their résumé. Gonzaga beat UConn in the Bahamas. That’s a borderline top 50 win. They beat Washington, another borderline top 50 win. Beyond that? They swept Pepperdine, beat Tennessee and own a win over Montana. None of those are top 100 wins, and that’s why the SMU game was such a big deal. The Mustangs are a top 25 team. This was a road game. This win was the kind of thing that the Zags could pin at the top of their profile.
But Wiltjer didn’t show up, the Zags had no answer for Moore and they’ll head back to Spokane needing, in all likelihood, to win the WCC’s automatic bid if they want to dance.
Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown: