Saturday, February 26, 2011

NCAA Tournament Prospects Three and Four

Perhaps I have not been reading or listening to the right places, but I have not witnessed the usual debate about which conference has been the best this season. The Big East certainly has the most depth with a potential of 11 teams getting into the Big Dance, but I just haven’t found the nation’s biggest conference as compelling as I usually do. It may be because the top team, Pittsburgh, is not laden with fantasy stars, although Brad Wanamaker and Ashton Gibbs aren’t bad. The Big 10 was supposed to be the best conference coming into the season, but some of the conference’s luster has been wiped away with Michigan State being a bubble team. Ohio State and Purdue match up well with the Big 12’s best, Kansas and Texas, but no one is talking about the Boilermakers as a one-seed. Both Kansas and Texas are vying for a top spot, while Missouri and Texas A&M. If Nebraska and/or Kansas State can get a few Big 12 tournament wins, the conference could look quite strong. As such, I am giving my third and fourth slots to members of the Big 12. They might not be as exciting as some of the lesser seeded players below them, but both are the offensive foci of their teams.

4. Marcus Morris, Forward, Kansas Jayhawks

Early in the season, I thought the Jayhawk offense was one of the most beautiful I had seen in quite awhile. There was very little dribbling and constant passing that probed the defense. In the middle of the offense was Morris, the more offensively skilled of the Morris twins. Markieff (13.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 1.2 blocks) is a nice player as well, but much like Stanford’s Lopez twins, one of the brothers seems to concentrate on offense while the other is defensively oriented. Marcus has scored in double figures in all but two games and has topped 20 points eight times. He scored a career-high 33 to go along with 13 rebounds in a Jan. 12 win over Iowa State. With Thomas Robinson back from his torn meniscus, the Jayhawks have size along the frontline to allow Marcus to take advantage of all of his offensive skills. Even with Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins on the team last year, Morris was the most valuable Jayhawk. That has not changed in his junior season and he has been very efficient on offense (60.3% from the field). While some Jayhawk fans worry that this year’s edition reminds them of the 2005 team that was upset by Bucknell, last year’s tough loss to Northern Iowa in the second round won’t be far from many of the player’s minds.

3. Jordan Hamilton, Guard/Forward, Texas Longhorns

Last year, the Longhorns were one of the most disappointing teams as their talented players never meshed and they fell apart in Big 12 conference play. In 2010-11, perhaps Texas was written off and has become the pleasant surprise of the season. They might not have as much talent as last year’s squad, but the pieces fit together better. The team has tenacious defenders, including freshman Tristan Thompson and veteran guard Dogus Balbay. As a freshman, 6-foot-7 swingman Hamilton was lost on the bench. He did manage to score 10.0 points in 19.9 minutes, but he has burst onto the scene as a sophomore. Hamilton is averaging 18.8 points and 7.5 rebounds, which is a great stat for a guard-eligible player. He has only been held to single digits once – in a blowout win over North Florida, and has scored at least 15 points in his last eight games. The sophomore has a nicely diversified offensive game: he can hit three-pointers (40.7% from long range) or hit mid-range jumpers over smaller perimeter players. The Longhorns only played one game in the tournament last year, but Hamilton had 19 points in the overtime loss to Wake Forest.