By Steve Silverman
Wooden Watch: Jayhawks’ Devonte Graham and Wildcats’ Jalen Brunson make their case
A little over a month ago, Oklahoma freshman Trae Young was the most dynamic player in college basketball, and he looked as if may have been the sport’s most impressive player.
His spectacular scoring and sizzling assist numbers helped him become a huge story. But, as the season progressed, Young and the Sooners hit a wall. He has largely been slumping over the past month, and the Sooners have lost seven of their last eight games. Young’s season numbers of 28.0 points and 9.0 assists per game are impressive, but he is not the same player he was in the first half of the season.
Kansas has moved to the top of the Big 12, and the Jayhawks are riding a five-game winning streak as they head into their final regular-season game at Oklahoma State Saturday. The Jayhawks clinched their 14th consecutive Big 12 title when they beat Texas Monday night at Allen Fieldhouse.
Bill Self may not have his most talented team, but his team is in top form as it approaches the end of the regular season. He may have the Wooden Award winner in Devonte Graham, who is scoring 17.7 points and handing out 7.2 assists per game. He also has an impressive 2.7-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
Graham has been surging, but it’s also tough to ignore Villanova’s Jalen Brunson. Jay Wright knows he has a slew of talented players on his team in Mikal Bridges, Donte DiVincenzo and Omari Spellman, but Brunson is his go-to guy.
Brunson is averaging 19.1 points and 4.8 assists per game, and he is connecting on 52.6 percent of his shots from the field. When Brunson has the ball in his hands in clutch situations, it is a major positive for the Wildcats. He is a legitimate threat for the Wooden Award.
What is the Big Ten thinking?
The league has been playing its conference tournament in Chicago and Indianapolis since the tournament’s inception in 1998. But this year’s edition is being contested at Madison Square Garden, which has long been billed as the “world’s most famous arena.”
The Big Ten get-together in New York may be “world’s most ignored basketball tournament.”
The tournament opened Wednesday night with its 7-10, 8-9 doubleheader, and New Yorkers wisely stayed away in droves, because they had no interest in seeing Iowa take on Illinois or Rutgers take on Minnesota. Iowa and Rutgers were successful, but the Garden was virtually empty.
Attendance will likely pick up as the tournament progresses, but playing the Big Ten tournament in New York is like the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode about “foisting.”
The Big Ten is trying to foist its tournament on New York City the way Larry David tried to foist his incompetent and basically useless assistant on Susie Green. That didn’t work out for either party, and the Big Ten tournament won’t play on Broadway — or West 33rd Street.
New York City college basketball fans love their sport, but they want to see Big East teams play on the fabled hardwood. They long for the days that St. John’s, Georgetown and Syracuse were the kingpins of the conference.
The old days of John Thompson and Louie Carnesecca and his multi-colored sweater are long gone, but they will settle for Xavier, Villanova, Seton Hall and Providence.
The Big Ten tournament could come down to top-seeded Michigan State vs. second-seeded Ohio State or third-seeded Purdue. It will likely be a good game and fairly entertaining. However, that title game should be played in Indianapolis or Chicago.
Not New York.
The Big Ten may be trying to gain an East Coast foothold with Rutgers and Maryland, but those schools will never be more than supporting actors. This is a brutal exercise, and it should never happen again.
Corruption scandal will lead to changes
There are likely to be many changes in the coming years over the emerging college basketball scandal that has touched Alabama, Duke, Kentucky, LSU, Maryland, Michigan State, NC State, North Carolina, Seton Hall, Texas, USC and Washington.
Coaches may soon depart, and teams may be banished from playing in the NCAA tournament. Not right away, but discipline will be imposed.
The one-and-done rule may be one of the things that goes away, as the sport examines what needs to change. There is some talk among coaches that getting rid of that requirement for high-school players — while working hand-in-hand with the NBA — would give players a new choice.
The change could be allowing high school players to go to college if they are not drafted or don’t reach the status they were hoping for in the draft. That’s how Major League Baseball plays it, and basketball could go that same route.
That’s why cooperation is needed from the NBA. Forcing players to attend college seems unfair, while giving them the option to go to school if they don’t get drafted into an advantageous situation is the right way to go.
That would limit the damage that obsequious agents can do. And it may be one tiny step toward getting rid of corruption in the sport.
College basketball has many problems, and coaches will go overboard to win or get their players into advantageous situations. The leader of the sport can’t be expected to fix things overnight, but they are going to have to take some significant steps and do it quickly.