WHO BETTER, TIMES TWO
There might be more than a game on the line tonight at Gampel Pavilion when the UConn men’s basketball team hosts seventh ranked Georgetown, and that’s saying a lot, considering what the game itself represents. It’s the last chance for UConn to take a run at the Big East regular season championship, the surprising Huskies, ineligible for post season play, just two games behind Georgetown with four games to play. A loss tonight would end all hope. An individual battle is likely to attract as much attention as the game itself with two legitimate Big East Player of the Year candidates on display. Georgetown forward Otto Porter Junior has claimed league Player of the Week honors the last two weeks and is coming off a 33 point effort against Syracuse while averaging 15.9 points and 7.7 rebounds. He’s entered the national Player of the Year discussion, but a legitimate argument can be made that’s he’s not the Player of the Year in his own league. UConn junior guard Shabazz Napier had a big week himself last week, scoring 55 points in two games, including 27 in a thrilling overtime win over Cincinnati in which he scored 11 in the extra session. At Georgetown Porter is surrounded by a supporting cast on a team that was expected to contend for the league title and had the additional motivation of playing for a league tournament title and a national championship. At UConn napier is surrounded by pieces fit together after the three best players defected from Storrs rather than deal with post season ineligibility, led by a first year coach called on to fill the shoes of a legend while trying to motivate a team with seemingly nothing to play for. If UConn were to have any chance at a 15 win season, viewed by most to be the extreme dream for this club, it would fall on Napier to hoist them on his back and carry them. He’s been more than up to the challenge, leading them to the thresshold of a 20 win season that includes wins over three nationally ranked teams, while averaging 17.2 points per game. While he’ll be involved in his own Coach of the Year battle with Georgetown’s John Thompson III tonight, Kevin Ollie is a staunch supporter of Napier for Player of the Year, “Yeah, big time”, he offered without hesitation, when asked if ‘Bazz should be the guy, “He’s made big plays for us. We’ve got a lot of great players in our league, but he’s right there. People not considering him, I don’t know what they’re doing or what they’re thinking.” Napier’s younger teammates rely heavily on his leadership, knowing, without it, they may not have double digit wins, let alone twice that. “It means a lot”, sophomore forward Deandre Daniels says of Napier’s willingness to assume the role, “We can always lean on him. The guy’s amazing. He steps up really big.” “I think the guys understand that I try to be the best leader for this team”, said Napier after the Cincinnati win, “They look for me to knock down the big shots. I’m just lucky my teammates have confidence in me.” No team has exceded expectations in the Big East this season more than UConn and Shabazz Napier has led the way. Before I see how tonight plays out, let me say, if I had a vote, it would go to Napier. As for the other guy most responsible, Ollie, I can only ask, how many expectations did John Thompson III surpass this season? Again, before tonight’s game, let me cast my hypothetical Coach of the Year ballot with another question. If not Kevin Ollie, who? With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.