The 2018-19 NCAA college basketball season is well underway. Hundreds of men’s and women’s team From now until April, we’ll be following along, closely watching. But instead of just box scores and highlights, we’re going to profile a player from each class, plus one additional story. With TSFJ and the help from Josh Naso, we present to you The Sports Fan Journal’s Box And One.
In The Zone: Allow me to issue apologies for the delay. Some bad food landed me in the hospital. But I’m back to full strength. Anyway, let’s talk about rivalries. Let’s first establish that more than a couple games need to be played with both sides winning nearly an equal amount before a rivalry is established. Sure, a lot of rivalries are created from continued battles for conference and division supremacy. But the ones we truly appreciate have been boiling for years, even decades, and the dislike runs deeper than sharing a conference.
Over the past week, a couple of old foes renewed their rivalries, despite them no longer being a yearly guaranteed subscription to that rivalry. Georgetown and Syracuse, as well as Pittsburgh and West Virginia, faced off in games that were reminiscent of Big East contests of a generation ago. Both games were played Saturday. Pitt lost to the Mountaineers 69-59 in Morgantown, while the Orange edged the Hoyas 72-71 at home.
We certainly cannot get these teams to play multiple times in a regular season since conferences have realigned, but I do believe in the tradition of keeping rivalries going. Xavier and Cincinnati play every year, regardless of how their respective schedules are set up. With teams playing more games than ever, there should always be room for those storied clashes, for rivalries are a big part of the lore of sports. It’s much better to preserve these traditions instead of other, more antiquated ones.
Freshman: Xavier Johnson, Pitt. Head Coach Jeff Capel has been charged with the tough task of taking over a historically good program that’s struggled mightily in recent years. The Pittsburgh Panthers did not win a conference game last season under Kevin Stallings, so the school fired him and hired Capel. Quick turnarounds are not to be expected in college, as coaches need to get the talented players that fit. Capel appears to be off to a good start as Pitt’s leading scorer and assist-maker is freshman Xavier Johnson. At 17 points and 5 assists per game, Johnson has showcased his talent for a Pitt team that has had its share of quality guards over the years. While he still has the inconsistency of youth, he has scored in double figures in every game so far. He’s going to be needed tremendously if the Panthers are going to win a game in the ACC this year.
Sophomore: Kimani Lawrence, Arizona State. The leap in ability and effectiveness from freshman to sophomore year is critical. Arizona State’s Kimani Lawrence is proof of that. As a freshman, he was a reserve, averaging 10 minutes a game for a Sun Devils team that rose to as high as #3 in the 2017 AP Poll. This year, he’s a starter and his minutes per game has tripled. This has resulted in Lawrence pouring in 14.5 points per game and upping his three-point percentage to 38.9, when it was nearly half that a season ago. He’s also big-time in close games. He sank the game-winner to upset #15 Mississippi State. Lawrence has been on basketball radars since middle school, and it’s great to see him fully coming into his own in college.
Junior: Tyasha Harris, South Carolina. Head Coach Dawn Staley has built a powerhouse program at the University of South Carolina that many college basketball bettors can make another run at a national championship. And while her team has gotten off to a mediocre 5-4 start, they should turn it around. With Tyasha Harris at the helm, she embodies what her coach was as a player–a very calm point guard who can guide her team with a smoldering leadership. At 5’10”, she has the size to be a problem on both ends of the floor. South Carolina should get back to their winning ways and look to be a betting favorite in the Tournament.
Senior: Admiral Schofield, Tennessee. First, let me say that Admiral Schofield is one of the best names ever in life, let alone in sports. It sounds like someone who isn’t to be trifled with, that will be excellent at whatever he chooses. The Tennessee guard is exactly that, playing with a physicality at the wing position that makes it tough on opponents to handle him on both ends of the floor. Tennessee is one of the best teams in the country, and acidosis is a big reason why. The Vols defeated then-#1 Gonzaga, and it was Schofield who led the way with 30 points and the game-winning shot. He’s an emotional leader on the floor and very talented. He will factor in races for SEC standings, as well as some awards at the end of the year.
And One: Speaking of that Gonzaga-Tennessee game, please watch this block by the Bulldogs’ Brandon Clarke. It’s not so much that he blocked a shot. It isn’t even about the fact he blocked a dunk. Clarke blocked a two-handed dunk with force. While Gonzaga did ultimately lose the game, that type of defensive play and effort will always be celebrated.
Five weeks in, and we’re still in the zone. Enjoy college basketball, folks.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse’s good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.