In the opening minutes of last night’s game between North Carolina and Florida State, the Tar Heels looked as if they’d been taking candy from a baby when they raced out to a 19-5 lead with about 14 minutes left in the first half.
But by intermission, the entire complexion of the game changed with UNC wobbling into the locker room holding a slight 41-37 lead.
The Seminoles had a 56-55 advantage early in the second half before the Tar Heels dropped them with a thud like Mike Tyson’s backwards hoverboard dive.
There are very few teams in college hoops with a higher ceiling than North Carolina. Having to play without star guard Marcus Paige early in the year, as he recovered from a wrist injury, actually improved their backcourt depth and experience in the same way that having to extend their frontcourt rotations with Kennedy Meeks’ knee injury will pay dividends in March.
No one has benefited more from Meeks’ temporary absence than senior forward Brice Johnson. He was very impressive at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn against UCLA a few weeks back in the CBS Sports Classic when he put up 27 points and nine rebounds.
But his play last night, where he scored 39 and snagged 23 boards, was the most dominating performance for a Tar Heel since Erasmus High School and Brooklyn native Billy “The Kangaroo Kid” Cunningham smoked Maryland like a Newport with his 40 points and 28 rebounds in 1964.
You want to know how good Cunningham was in college? He gave Tulane 48 points and 25 rebounds later that same season as well. He’s in the Hall of Fame by the way, but I digress.
After the game, Carolina head coach Roy Williams mentioned former players like Nick Collison’s 20 and 20 against Duke, and Sean May’s comparable game against Texas. Tyler Zeller was the last Tar Heel to notch 20 and 20 in a game four years ago.
“But this is about as good as any I’ve ever seen,” said Williams. “Particularly on the road.”
Johnson wasn’t the only player to sparkle at the Tucker Center in Tallahassee last night. His silky-smooth lefty point guard Marcus Paige was exceptional in his own right: scoring 30 points, grabbing five rebounds and dishing out five assists.
The Seminoles, who’d been on a roll while winning six consecutive games, have now dropped two in a row.
But if you’re looking for another up-and-comer from Canada that is a part of the increasingly impressive modern Canadian hoops pipeline, look no further than Seminoles 6-4 sophomore Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who scored 30 last night as well.
Mayes, who played with Andrew Wiggins at Huntington Prep in West Virginia, must love facing North Carolina. Of his four 30-point ACC games, two of them have been against the Tar Heels. Last year, at the Smith Center, he scorched for 35.
If you haven’t had a chance to watch Florida State this year, make sure to check out their 6-foot-7 shooting guard Dwayne Bacon. The wiry, explosive freshman scored 18 last night. He’s incredibly quick, has point guard skills and gets to the bucket with strength. His hunger on the defensive end is a joy to watch as well.
But the Seminoles and Tar Heels were mere appetizers to what will most likely be college basketball’s game of the year, a 109-106 triple-overtime thriller that Kansas won over Oklahoma.
According to the national rankings, these were the top two teams in the country, a rare treat for an early season conference matchup.
I told folks how good the Big 12 looked as a whole when the season tipped off, but maybe after last night they’ll give that statement a little more credence. The Sooners and Jayhawks are both good enough to win the national championship this year.
Real hoops heads have been giddily following the development of Oklahoma’s 6-foot-4 senior guard Buddy Hield over the last three years. The Bahamas native played perhaps the best individual game we’ll see on the college level this year with his 46 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in trying to extend the Sooners’ best start to a season in close to 30 years.
His scoring output matched the late, great Wayman Tisdale’s mark for the sixth-highest scoring game in Oklahoma history.
How good was Hield last night? The KANSAS FANS gave him a standing ovation when he walked off the floor!
Jordan Woodard, another outstanding Sooner guard, was 6-of-9 from deep last night and had a monster game of his own with 27 points, seven assists, four rebounds and two steals. With their ability to hit the three-point shot and their brilliant guard play, I’d recommend watching OU every chance you get.
As terrific as Woodard and Hield were, Kansas’ overall balance won out.
“We beat a team that could win the national championship,” said Kansas coach Bill Self after the game.
The contest was phenomenal from the opening tip to the final buzzer of the third overtime.
Just when it seemed like one team had control, the other stormed back. At one point, Kansas led by 11. At another juncture, Oklahoma was up by 10.
The last time I saw a game this exciting was in 1992, when Duke beat Kentucky on a Christian Laettner jumper at the buzzer to win the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional Final.
Kansas senior forward Perry Ellis III is one of the most underrated stars in college hoops. I think people sleep on him because it seems like he’s been around Lawrence, Kansas since the days when Dr. James Naismith was the coach.
Ellis was extraordinary in putting the team on his back to the tune of 27 points and 13 rebounds.
The Jayhawks talented backcourt trio of Wayne Selden, Jr., Frank Mason III and Devonté Graham added 21, 15 and 22 points respectively, along with some rugged defense.
As crazy as it seems to say, given that Hield erupted for 46, he might have had over 60 against another squad with less of a perimeter defensive presence.
This year has been wide open thus far, with more than a handful of teams staking a claim as Final Four contenders. Last night, we saw two of the undisputed best. And although it’s too early to start definitively talking about the Player of the Year, the race is Hield’s to lose right now.
We might have to book a ticket out to Norman for the rematch on February 13th.
In tonight’s action, don’t miss the players that many think are battling Hield for that Player of the Year honor.
No. 8 Providence takes on Marquette, as the Friars are living the good life at this early stage of the year for the first time since Kanye and T-Pain were doing the same about seven years ago.
The projected top point guard selection in the upcoming NBA Draft, 6-foot-4 Kris Dunn, a native of New London, Connecticut, has put up a combined 46 points, 16 rebounds, 15 assists and five steals in the Friars last two contests against St. John’s and No. 9 Butler.
The big game of the evening is No. 9 Kentucky vs LSU, where the future #1 overall NBA draft pick, Ben Simmons, will perform against a Top 10 team on the biggest stage of this young season thus far.
LSU has not faced a ranked opponent all year.
The freshman phenom from Australia is averaging 21 points and 13 rebounds per game. Kentucky’s diminutive wonder Tyler Ulis is blazing right now as well. He opened conference play against Ole Miss this weekend with 20 points, 10 assists and six steals.
LSU started off slow, but they’ve won four of their last five.
Simmons is also walking into the game hotter than fish grease after scoring 36 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in this weekend’s 90-82 win at Vanderbilt.
The last freshman to put up those type of numbers was some skinny kid from D.C. at Texas named Kevin Durant.