The American Athletic Conference’s player of the year award will not be unveiled until Wednesday, but the race for the prestigious selection, at least in the public sphere, has shifted into high gear. The likely selection is Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick; the wing is the conference’s most offensively talented player, one who is the focal point of each opponents’ defensive gameplan, but the senior isn’t the award’s sole candidate. other choices include Louisville’s Russ Smith, SMU’s Nic Moore, and finally, UConn’s Shabazz Napier.
The Husky senior presents the most compelling case, especially due to his frank comments today regarding the selection process: “I think Sean Kilpatrick played very well. But he had a lot of help from Justin Jackson … Russ Smith definitely played well. Nic Moore, as well, he definitely turned that team around … The biggest thing is consistency.”
Napier has a point: Kilpatrick did have help from a significantly improved Jackson, as did Smith (from Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock) and Moore (from Markus Kennedy), while Napier essentially was UConn’s sole offensive option (this isn’t a slam directed to Storrs, but Napier was the only Husky to use significant minutes and post an offensive rating well above 100). It will be interesting to find out how the AAC coaches vote, and whether a player’s ability to carry a team by his lonesome is a more compelling reason to anoint him a player of the year.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.