The 2018-19 NCAA college basketball season is marching toward the Madness with conference play. 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:
We started the Box And One series highlighting Notre Dame senior star Arike Ogunbowale in the preview post. She was coming off one of the most amazing strings of consecutive big moments in basketball history, having made game-winning jump shots in both the National Semifinal against UConn as well as in the Championship Game to win the title for the Fighting Irish. She says she adapted the “Mamba Mentality,” a term representing the feeling of competitive concentration that NBA great Kobe Bryant coined to explain his desire to take clutch shots time and again. Last week, Ogunbowale channeled her magic again, sinking a game-sealing jumper to help top-ranked Notre Dame outlast second-ranked Louisville and their star player, Asia Durr. But I propose a question:
Was it really magical?
This is in no way an effort to minimize Ogunbowale and her ability. In fact, it’s the opposite. There is something to her that includes but extends beyond the willingness to have the ball in her hands during tense moments in games.
First, the two shots from last season and the one from last week share a few commonalities. She chose the right wing to operate from. She got to her spot with a dribble and rose when she was ready to. Those two points leads to what’s been discussed here in previous posts. In her biggest moments – the times where her team needed her to be her excellent self one more time – she chose a shot that has been practiced multiple times. The fact these three shots were on the same side of the floor proves that there is a familiarity and comfort with that part of the court.
The second reason why the shots were not magical is because Ogunbowale has put that time in to be the player that can excel at all times. There was no luck involved in something that is practiced as much as those shots seemingly were. The ball didn’t even take any random bounces on the rim or backboard. So if the shots look like she meant to do that, and we’ve seen her make similar shots throughout her career, then credit her for simply being an excellent player a few more times.
The colloquial definition of luck is, “when skill meets opportunity.” What luck needs to be present is a chance and some ability. Arike Ogunbowale got her chance and she has more than enough ability, as she’s shown us over and over that she can make pressure shots. It’s definitely more than luck for her and the Irish.
Freshman: Cameron Parker, Sacred Heart
One of the main responsibilities of a floor general is to make sure others are involved, especially those players who cannot create offense for themselves. In college, it becomes remarkable when a player averages over, say, seven assists per game. That number usually places that player in the upper tier of the category. Sacred Heart freshman Cameron Parker averages that number, but what’s outstanding is that he’s only started in seven of the 17 games the Pioneers have played. It’s impressive to be a freshman with that much instinct for creating for others, and being so proficient at it when he hasn’t been a starter means he has much brighter days ahead of him in his career.
Sophomore: Setou Sabally, Oregon
Fifth-ranked Oregon is one of the country’s most balanced and highly potent teams on offense in all of women’s basketball. The Ducks have five players averaging double-figure points, and sophomore Setou Sabally is second on the team at 17.5 a night. She’s a dual threat on the court, capable of scoring inside with her 6’4″ frame while having a nice touch from 3 – knocking them down at a 39.2% clip. Yes, Oregon has a few capable scorers on the roster, but Setou Sabally is one who is beyond effective.
Junior: Kaila Charles, Maryland
Head coach Brenda Fries has made sure that she always has a gritty guard on her Maryland Lady Terrapins teams that can be both a stabilizing rod and a beacon of energy for the rest of the squad. From the days of now-Washington Mystics lead guard Kristi Toliver to now with junior Kaila Charles, it is imperative for there to be a tough guard in College Park. I say this about Charles because though she is a backcourt player, she’s averaging six rebounds per game. She functions better closer to the rim where all the physical play is, and her 16.6 points lead the Terps as they look to be another tough out in the NCAA Tournament.
Senior: Mike Daum, South Dakota State
I have written about Daum for TSFJ in each of the previous two years. While the South Dakota State Jackrabbits have been early exits in both those years, Daum has been one of the best and most consistent players in the country. He’s on his third year of averaging 23 points per game or more, and is the main reason why South Dakota State is 15-6 on the season, with hopes of yet another Tournament bid. Hopefully, if they do make The Big Dance, Daum and his wonderful abilities as a stretch power forward can lead the Jackrabbits to a March victory.
This week, it’s all about Duke-Virginia. The Blue Devils top the AP Poll, but it’s the Cavaliers that hold the top spot in the Coaches Poll. Virginia is ranked No. 1 by KenPom, while Duke is right behind them at No. 2. On Saturday we’ll be treated to quite a clash when these two collide, with serious ACC and NCAA tournament ramifications at stake.
Typically the narrative around Duke-Virginia is a high-octane offense against a lock-down defense. And while each program has lived up to its reputation this season (Duke is 4th in offensive efficiency, Virginia 2nd in defensive efficiency), they have also been no slouch at the opposite end of the court.
The Blue Devils are also 4th in defensive efficiency, while the Cavaliers boast a No. 3 ranking in offensive efficiency. While each team continues to rely on their typical strengths, their “weaknesses” are much less pronounced this year. The result is the most intriguing game of the college basketball season to date.
Ten weeks in, and we’re still in the zone. Enjoy the college basketball season.
Poemer. 8-time Hug Champion. Pick&Roll Enthusiast. Guardian of Logic and Tact. Apocalypse’s good Brother. Collector of muted souls for Mt. Filtermanjaro.