It’s easy to discuss the biggest names in college basketball. Cody Zeller, Trey Burke, Mason Plumlee and Doug McDermott get in the headlines all the time. But the past weekend proved there are some fresh new stars to root for -- and enjoy. Here are five things we learned over the weekend.
It was very impressive for Illinois to go into McCarthey Athletic Center in Spokane and come out with an 85-74 victory over Gonzaga. And the statement made by senior guard Brandon Paul was even bigger. Paul scored 35 points on 10 of 16 shooting, including 5 of 9 three-pointers. He was 10-for-11 from the free throw line, had three assists, two blocks and three steals.
“He looked like a high-level NBA guy,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We didn’t have a guy who could guard him one-on-one, basically.”
Illinois is 10-0, extending the outstanding start for first-year coach John Groce. It looks pretty easy when you've got a guy like Paul, and this was a huge win for Illinois. Gonzaga lost for the first time this season -- and opponents do not win easily in the Kennel. This was the first non-conference road win for Illinois over a top 10 opponent since 1986 against Georgia Tech.
Right now, we believe in the Illini, but the next test is winning when Paul plays a regular human being.
By the time the conference season begins, people will be referring to Kansas freshman Ben McLemore as a first-team Big 12 candidate.
McLemore, who leads Kansas in scoring with a 16.0 points per game average, is already a highlight reel regular with powerful and athletic dunks. But his confidence is growing with every game and that is clear to anyone watching. Kansas beat a good Colorado team 90-54 Saturday in Lawrence and the Jayhawks did so with a tremendous team effort that has become the trademark of Bill Self teams at KU. The Jayhawks shot 54.8 percent, went 8-for-20 on threes and had 23 assists on 34 baskets.
The high-flying Ben McLemore looks like the next great Jayhawks star.
Even with all that sharing and balance, McLemore led Kansas with 24 points, despite an average (6-for-16) shooting performance from the floor. He is explosive, quick, gets to the rim with ease, and, if he doesn’t score, he gets fouled (10-for-11 from the line against Colorado). McLemore had five rebounds, two assists, two steals and only one foul in 30 minutes.
As a partial qualifier last season, McLemore could practice with the Jayhawks in the second semester of their Final Four season. That has allowed him to blend in quickly with Jeff Withey, Travis Releford, Kevin Young and Elijah Johnson. But even in his blending state, it is obvious this is one of the most special players ever to wear a Kansas uniform -- and that’s saying something.
“We just go out there and have fun, so once we’re all having fun, it’s hard for one individual to not,” McLemore said. “I just try to keep a smile on out there.”
Georgetown coach John Thompson III says he has players who are “immature offensively” and have “a lot of growing up to do.” Evidently the Hoyas are more mature on the defensive end.
On Saturday, Georgetown defeated Towson 46-40, and it marked the first time in the shot clock era that Georgetown had held its opponent to 41 points or fewer in three straight games. The Hoyas defeated Tennessee 37-36 on Nov. 30 and followed that with a 64-41 win over Texas in the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday.
Georgetown opened the Towson game hitting only 2 of 24 shots. The Hoyas had six blocked shots and only five made field goals in the first half but managed a 17-15 lead at the break. This is the same team that defeated UCLA 78-70 and took No. 1 Indiana to overtime before losing 82-72.
Check out Ken Davis' latest college basketball power rankings at FOXSports.com.
"It was one of those games where we said, 'Let's try to make it as ugly as possible,'" Thompson said Saturday. "This group, we can win a lot of different ways. We can win at a fast pace. We can win at a slow pace. We can win what purists may call pretty. But we can also win ugly, and I thought that in the second half we had to win ugly today."
Well, OK, ugly it is.
It isn’t every day you hear a coach compare one of his players to Julius Erving. That’s what UConn coach Kevin Ollie did Friday night after his Huskies defeated Harvard 57-49.
Forward DeAndre Daniels led the Huskies with a career-high 23 points –- despite playing with back spasms that flared up during UConn’s loss to North Carolina State earlier in the week. Before practice Thursday, Ollie wasn’t sure the 6-foot-8 sophomore from Los Angeles would be able to play. But he started and hit 9 of 12 shots from the field in 33 minutes. He also scored eight of UConn’s first 15 points.
“That’s what DeAndre can do,” Ollie said. “He’s a load on that sweet spot -- not right on the block, but right on that sweet spot where he can take one dribble. He’s so long. One time he looked like he was Dr. J -- he went under the rim, under the backboard and made a scoop shot. We will need that in Big East play.”
The Huskies simply need a third consistent scorer to take some pressure off guards Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright. Every opponent is going to focus on shutting down those two because they are UConn’s most consistent scorers. Harvard coach Tommy Amaker admitted Daniels was a tough matchup for the Crimson. If he plays aggressive and goes after the rim that way, Daniels would be an impossible matchup for most teams.
Victor Oladipo: Indiana's highlight-reel dunker.
5. Dunk you, very much
It didn’t take long for Victor Oladipo to introduce himself to Indiana fans as a freshman in 2010-11. The 6-foot-5 guard from Upper Marlboro, Md., dunked over seven elementary school students during Indiana’s version of midnight madness, known as Hoosier Hysteria. Now he is becoming a YouTube sensation for his dunks during games.
Oladipo came to the Hoosiers known for his outstanding defense and his ability to hound ball-handlers. As a sophomore, he tied for the team lead in steals and was named an All-Big Ten defender. Now he may be headed toward other recognition after four incredible dunks against Central Connecticut on Saturday. The one replayed the most came with 8:30 left in the first half when he had a run-out with only Kyle Vinales of Central in his path. Oladipo got past Vinales, who had turned to his right for just an instant, and then exploded to the basket for a soaring dunk from the right side.
If anybody had been sleeping in Bloomington, Oladipo set the alarm clock with that one. He had a steal in the second half that led to another highlight-worthy dunk -- a reverse jam with authority.
“The backwards one was fun because it was a free for all and I could have done anything I wanted to do,” Oladipo said.
In addition, Oladipo helped hold Vinales to just seven points. He came into the game leading the nation in scoring at 29.3 points per game.
“When you have the leading scorer coming into this game, and you’re Indiana, you’re going to make sure he doesn't get anything,” Central Connecticut coach Howie Dickenman said.
Information from Associated Press reports was included in this report.