Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Head Husky: Kemba

UConn pulled out a great win against Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament, as Senior guard Kemba Walker drained a jumper at the buzzer to end the Panthers chances of winning both the regular season and conference tournament titles.  Walker used a pick to get in to a matchup that he's more comfortable with: a 6-10, 250 pound Center.  Pitt's Gary McGhee was forced to guard Kemba after switching on a pick and was embarrassed by Walker.  Kemba waited until about five seconds in a tie game to make his move.  A dribble in, crossover to the left, a deadly hesitation dribble, and finally a stepback jumper as McGhee was fighting to stand up.  Coach Jim Calhoun was jumping up and down as the team swarmed Walker, and UConn lives another day in the Big East tournament after beating Depaul, Georgetown and now Pittsburgh.  

UConn is a team that feeds off tournament play.  In any tournament scenario, the Superstar Effect is in play.  I may have just made that up, but it's hard not to define the reason why UConn is so good this year.  Kemba Walker won the Maui Invitation by averaging over 30 points a game.  Now in the Big East tournament, he has averaged 26 points.  There's no doubt in my mind that he will win the Player of the Year award now that he has carried his team to the semifinals of the Big East tournament.  Critics may say that he started hot and then cooled off considerably, but he has been killing the Big East all season long.  He hit a dagger against Villanova, as well clutch shots against Texas.  Kemba comes up big when he's needed most and has done a tremendous job of making the rest of his players better.  Freshmen Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier have benefited from playing with him and are poised to take over next year after Walker heads to the NBA.  Pure scorers like Kemba are usually considered ball hogs, but he averages 4.3 assists per game to go along with his 23 points.  Even at 6-1, he contributes heavily to the boards, grabbing 5 rebounds a game.  

Now that UConn is in the semi-finals of the Big East tourney, one question begs: Can UConn carry this over to the Big Dance?  I believe they will trip up either tomorrow or Saturday in the Big East tournament, because tomorrow will be their fourth game in four days.  They will be exhausted, but I have learned not to doubt a team that has a player like Kemba.  Recent history has shown that winning the Big East tournament will help your seed, but ultimately may tire you out for the NCAA tournament.  Here's my bold prediction for the UConn Huskies: Kemba Walker will carry this team to at least the Elite Eight.  The Superstar effect can't get a team into the Final Four.  The other players must step up in order for UConn to go deep into the tournament, but I don't think that the Huskies have enough to make a run to Houston.  Stephen Curry and the Davidson Wildcats advanced to the Elite Eight before getting ousted, and I see Kemba duplicating Stephen Curry in the 2008 NCAA tournament. 

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