PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Chris Clemons, Campbell
Oh boy, did Chris Clemons have himself a week.
It started on Wednesday, when the Campbell Fighting Camels went into Radford to take on the Highlanders, who sat all alone in first place in the Big South with an undefeated league record and a win at Texas to their name this season. What did Clemson do? He scored a cool 39 points, shooting 11-for-22 from the floor and 8-for-15 from three en route to a 68-67 win.
He capped it off in style as well:
That wasn’t the end of it, either.
On Saturday, Clemons followed up his first 39 point performance of the week with … another 39 point performance, one that took him past college basketball legends like Larry Bird and Tyler Hansbrough on the career scoring list. All told, Clemons finished the week with 78 points in two games, shooting 23-for-43 from the floor and 18-for-33 from three with just four turnovers.
For the sake of humanity, we need to find a way to get Clemons into the NCAA tournament. There isn’t a person on the planet that would not enjoy seeing Clemons go out and try to put a 50-burger on whatever No. 2 seed the Camels would draw in the first round.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: Baylor Bears
Can someone please explain to me what in the hell is going on down in Waco?
Let me lay this one out for you. Playing without Jake Lindsey this season, Baylor started out the year with losses to Texas Southern, Stephen F. Austin and a bad Wichita State team before kicking off Big 12 play with two losses in three games that coincided with Scott Drew finding out that he will be without Tristan Clark, who was developing into one of the best big men in the conference, for the rest of the season.
And what has happened?
The Bears have turned around and become the hottest team in the conference. They’ve won six straight games. They are sitting in first place in the league, tied with Kansas State and a half-game in front of both Iowa State and Kansas, as a week that saw them beat Oklahoma by 30 points in Norman and then smoke TCU by 26 points at home.
So what’s the secret?
It might be as simple as this: Makai Mason, who scored 40 in the win over TCU, missed nearly two full seasons with foot injuries at Yale and then sat out the first three games of the season this year. He’s grown into his role and seems to have figured things out, as has Mario Kegler, who missed the first six games of the season and is now being asked to carry more of the load with Clark gone. Throw in freshman Jared Butler, who was supposed to be at Alabama this year, and what you get is a team that featured nine newcomers finally figuring each other out.
1. INDIANA FINALLY DECIDED THEY WANTED TO PLAY HARD
It’s hard to believe that the same team that we all watched lose seven straight games, capped by digging a 17-0 hole at home against Michigan and losing at Rutgers, could waltz into East Lansing on College Gameday and beat Michigan State, but that is now a reality that we live in.
The Hoosiers knocked off the Spartans, 79-75, in overtime despite the fact that they played without Juwan Morgan for more than two-thirds of the game; he injured his shoulder diving for a loose ball early on. He was replaced by the bigger, more physical De’Ron Davis, who has 12 points, six boards and four assists in 25 minutes, more than he played in all of January combined. Devonte Green was back from his three-game suspension as well, but that does not tell the whole story of what happened here.
Indiana played like they actually gave a damn. That’s the truth. They worked defensively. They were unselfish on the offensive end of the floor. They got back in transition and slowed down Sparty’s high-powered fast break. They pounded the offensive glass and created second-chances. They were tough, they were competitive and they played like a team with something to prove, which is what we have been waiting to see out of this group for weeks.
The truth is that the Hoosiers are not as talented as many seem to believe. Romeo Langford is a top ten pick and Juwan Morgan is a really good college player, but the rest of the roster is really young and many of them are in over their heads playing at this level, at least right now, anyway. This is not a roster full of blue-chippers that can show up and win games with their talent. They are blue-collar grinders that have to embrace playing that way.
And they did on Saturday.
2. INDIANA’S WIN ALSO PROVES BASKETBALL’S OLD AXIOM: ‘IT’S A MAKE OR MISS SPORT’
Indiana had been the worst three-point shooting team in the Big Ten entering Saturday. They had made just 25 percent of their threes in league play, a major problem for a team that often plays with four primarily perimeter pieces.
On Saturday, the Hoosiers shot 10-for-20 from three. Five players made at least one three, and three hit multiple triples. During one stretch of the second half, the Hoosiers knocked down six straight three-balls. Including overtime, they were 7-for-10 from beyond after halftime. All of that was happening while Michigan State, who entered Saturday shooting 74 percent from the charity stripe, made just 8-of-22 free throws. Nick Ward shot 1-for-9 from the free throw line.
All of these things are connected. Individually, shooting is about confidence. Collectively, shooting can be contagious. And I firmly believe that the toughness and confidence that Indiana played with defensively impacted the way they were making shots no the other end of the floor. None of this happened in a vacuum, and none of it should take away from what the Hoosiers were able to accomplish.
They went into East Lansing and beat a top ten team on national television.
But pretending that their atypical three-point shooting and Michigan State’s lemon booty performance from the foul line didn’t happen would be like putting air in a flat tire while ignoring that there is still a nail in the treads.
3. WHICH IS WHY I’M NOT WORRIED ABOUT MICHIGAN STATE, OR MICHIGAN
I know that this is supposed to be a column where I overreact to things that happened during a college basketball weekend, but I just can’t do it with these two teams.
Indiana is better than what they were in January, and they decided to play that way for the first time in a month when they visited East Lansing as one team shot the lights out and the other might as well have let the front row of the student section shoot free throws for them.
And the same can be said about Michigan’s loss at Iowa. The Wolverines got in early foul trouble, their backups got whooped by Iowa’s big men (shoutout to Luka Garza and Ryan Kreiner, they had themselves a day) and Michigan as a team just did not play well. Iowa did, and they got a 15 point win out of it.
If anything, this is a sign to me of why it is so difficult to make it through a Big Ten regular season without a loss regardless of how good a basketball team is. Michigan had a couple early whistles go against them, they were not playing well to begin with and Iowa — a top 25-30 team in their own right — capitalized by pounding them into submission.
That happens, too.
4. MY OPINION WON’T CHANGE ON KANSAS UNLESS THEY PROVE THIS SHOOTING WASN’T A ONE-DAY THING
Kansas is another team that found themselves on the right side of a make or miss sport.
In a 79-63 win over Texas Tech on Saturday, the Jayhawks shot 13-for-30 from three. Lagerald Vick, Devon Dotson and Quentin Grimes all made multiple three-pointers. The only perimeter starter that didn’t hit multiple threes for the Jayhawks was Ochai Agbaji, who was the best shooter of the group entering the day. The Red Raiders are as good as anyone in college hoops at running shooters off of the three-point line, and Kansas made 6-of-8 to start the game and open up a big first half lead.
I wrote a ‘What’s Wrong With Kansas?‘ column last week, and one of the points that I made was their perimeter pieces were not scoring enough. They weren’t taking the pressure off of Dedric Lawson, who had two and three defenders hounding him every time he touched the ball. The best way to force teams to guard Lawson one-on-one — a losing proposition for anyone — is to make them pay by burying threes.
I’ll buy back into Kansas as one of college basketball’s elites this season if they prove that this shooting performance was not a one-day thing.
5. BUFFALO LOSING DOESN’T MATTER
The last thing I want to point out is that Buffalo lost a road game to Bowling Green on Friday night.
Typically, a mid-major losing in league play is the kind of thing that can cost them a shot at the tournament. Bowling Green was tied for first with Buffalo in the MAC entering Friday night. They were playing at home. If we’re going to be capable of understanding that Michigan can take a loss on the road in league play because winning on the road is hard, then we have to do the same for Buffalo.