It’s not often that the case can be made for a McDonald’s All-American being an overlooked player during the preseason. Only 24 high school players receive that honor in the spring of their senior season, and for the most part they all receive a great amount of attention due to the fact that they’re expected to have an immediate impact.
But in the case of Kentucky freshman wing James Young, it can be argued that the chatter surrounding his arrival in Lexington was a bit subdued when compared to some of his fellow freshmen. Twins Aaron and Andrew Harrison arrived on campus amid much fanfare, with Andrew expected to take over at point guard after the Wildcats struggled at the position last season. And then there’s forward Julius Randle, a 6-foot-10 phenom whose skill level could make him one of the toughest match-ups in the country.
In total the Wildcats add six McDonald’s All-Americans this season, with Young being one of those players (Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee complete the group). And according to head coach John Calipari, observers have left Kentucky practices impressed with the 6-foot-6 guard from Rochester Hills, Mich.
“Everybody that comes in our building, the guy that they’re saying is the standout is James Young. Every day. We’ve had NBA scouts in there every day and they’re saying it every day.”
What makes Young so special? “He is really fast,” Calipari said. “He’s now not settling for jump shots, so you’re seeing a young man get his head and shoulders by people, take contact and make baskets … if he’s ahead, you throw him the ball and something good will happen. And he has a chance to be a terrific defender.”
As a senior Young posted averages of 27.2 points, 16.0 rebounds and 5.7 assists per game on a team that finished the season with a 21-5 record and reached the quarterfinals of the Michigan Class A state tournament. It’s clear that Young, whose grassroots team (The Family) included guards Wes Clark (Missouri) and E.C. Matthews (Rhode Island), is an incredibly talented player. But it can be argued that prior to Calipari’s words on Tuesday that Young was being overlooked by some.
Young’s had a good start to his freshman campaign, and it also helps Kentucky that two of their returnees (Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress) are back practicing after missing time due to injury. Kentucky’s lack of depth did them in in 2012-13, as the young Wildcats were essentially forced to figure things out on the fly with mixed results. Depth shouldn’t be a concern this season, and that should have Kentucky basketball back to the level its fans expect.
Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.
Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.
They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.
The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.
They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.
West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.
Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.
The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.
The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.
That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.
The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?
The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.
They were going to slip up eventually.
And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.