NCAA Men: Aussie forwards deliver as Drmic finds form
The Australian forwards continued to lead the charge in NCAA Division I basketball this week, with Ben Simmons, Venky Jois and Xavier Cooks all delivering on the big stage while Anthony Drmic showed signs he may be overcoming his niggling injury.
Controversy surrounded projected #1 NBA Draft pick Ben Simmons this week, with the 6'10 forward disciplined by LSU in being relegated to coming off the bench in LSU's dismal 65-81 loss to lowly Tennessee. the action was cited as being due to academic reasons, and yet Simmons still managed to play his season average of 36 minutes. It appeared to be a puzzling decision given that Simmons is an almost certain 'one and done' player, and if anything appeared to unsettle both Simmons and the rest of the team. Simmons still managed to compile 21 points (9/16 FG), 9 rebounds and 2 assists, but he looked disinterested at times and gave away 8 turnovers.
With everyone watching to see how Simmons would bounce back, LSU were again horrible as they dropped a 65-85 contest to Arkansas. The scoreline came about despite Simmons posting his 19th double-double of the season comprising of a game-high 23 points, 12 rebounds and 6 assists - the fourth time he has recorded 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists this season. LSU found things tough without second leading scorer and leader Keith Hornsby (injury), with just three players scoring in double figures and receiving no points from their bench. LSU has now lost four of their past 5 games and have almost certainly fallen out of contention for an NCAA tournament berth unless they can win the SEC Tournament - something that does not appear to be remotely possible at the present time after falling to 5th place in the standings. Despite the collapse, Simmons has still been able to deliver 19.5 points (39th in NCAA), 11.2 rebounds (6th) and 5 assists per game. He was also named as the Australian Institute of Sport's Emerging Athlete of the Year.
Venky Jois continued his great form, posting his 6th double-double across his past 9 games in Eastern Washington's 93-88 victory against Sacramento State. The dynamic forward added 18 points (8/10 FG) with 13 rebounds and 2 assists in another eye-catching performance. He received great support from Felix von Hofe who contributed 17 points, including 4/7 from beyond the arc in the Eagle's 7th straight win. That streak came to an end at the hands of Portland State in an old-fashioned shootout they would drop 91-107. Jois was again at his efficient best, connecting on 9/11 shots to finish with 20 points and 6 rebounds. In doing so, Jois collected his 1,700th career point to move to 1,717 - only 24 points behind the school career record of 1,741. Already owning the school record for blocked shots, Jois also now has 969 career rebounds, moving into 5th all-time in the Big Sky Conference for combined points and rebounds. While averaging 16.9 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, Jois' 69.7% field goal shooting is the 2nd best in the nation. With the loss to Portland State, the Eagles still remains in outright 3rd place in the Big Sky standings.
Saint Mary's continues to impress in the West Coast Conference, with outstanding point guard Emmett Naar leading the way. Naar compiled 18 points (3/5 3PT) with 2 rebounds and 3 assists in the Gaels narrow 74-72 win over Portland. Dane Pineau also impressed in shooting 6/7 from the field for 13 points and 6 rebounds, while Kyle Clark added 8 points and 5 rebounds and Jock Landale had 7 points, 5 rebounds and 3 blocks. All attention turned to the rivalry with Gonzaga and Saint Mary's did not disappoint, with the Gaels carving out an important 63-58 road win. Displaying leadership and composure, Naar again chipped in 13 points with 3 rebounds and 5 assists. While Pineau would be held scoreless (6 rebounds), Landale again stepped up with some big shots to finish with 9 points on 4/5 shooting with 3 rebounds off the bench. While the Gaels remained tied with Gonzaga atop the WCC standings, the Gaels have the season split 2-0 over the Zags and are still 1 game clear of BYU. Naar (13.4ppg) has continued to remain hot from beyond the arc, connecting on 50.5% of his shots for 6th best in the NCAA, while his 6.1 assists per game has him ranked 20th nationally.
Despite having been relegated to the 6th man role in coming off the bench, Anthony Drmic stepped up for a game and season-high 30 points outburst in Boise State's 78-80 road loss to New Mexico. Drmic was on fire, draining 6/12 from long-range and 11/19 shots overall alongside 3 points in an impressive display. Nick Duncan also came off the bench to provide 4 points and 4 assists in what proved to be a tough loss. Drmic backed up his good individual performance with another in the Broncos 81-69 win over UNLV. The swingman gathered a team-best 21 points (4/11 3PT) with 6 rebounds and 2 assists to show signs he is slowly overcoming his niggling lower-leg injury (nerve pain) and he closes in on the all-time school scoring record. Duncan had 7 points and 5 rebounds in the win that sees Boise State in a tie for 3rd in the Mountain West.
Enjoying a rich vein of form is Xavier Cooks who has been integral in guiding Winthrop to the top of the Big South standings. The 6'8 sophomore has managed three 20-point outings across his last 5 games, matching his season high with 26 points which included a sizzling hot 6/8 triples on his way to a 6th double-double of the season in a 79-67 win over Coastal Carolina. He also added 10 rebounds and 4 blocks as he dominated the paint at both ends of the floor in the solid win. Against North Carolina Asheville, Cooks maintained his outstanding shooting in landing 3/5 treys to finish with 15 points and 9 rebounds with 2 blocks. For his outstanding efforts, Cooks was named Big South Conference Player of the Week. Cooks has boosted his output to 14.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game in what has been a great year to date.
Making the most of his opportunities is freshman forward Jack McVeigh who started in Nebraska's 64-80 loss to #22 Indiana at Assembly Hall. He fired in a team-high 17 points on 6/11 shooting (3/6 3PT) alongside 4 rebounds and 2 assists in a tough encounter. New Zealander Tai Webster came off the bench to add 14 points on 6/7 shooting with 3 assists. Against Ohio State, the Cornhuskers let one slip as they allowed the Buckeyes to close out strongly and force overtime before dropping the contest 62-65. The loss came about despite the heroic efforts of McVeigh who again led from the front. He piled on another team-leading effort with 17 points (5/10 3PT) with 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Webster would also play well again, chiming in with 9 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 blocks.
After posting three consecutive 20-point games and earning Sun Belt Conference Athlete of the Week, imposing big man Majok Deng continued his good form in helping extend Louisiana Monroe's winning streak to 5 with wins over Texas State (76-57) and Texas Arlington (64-61).
Against Texas State, Deng was able to contribute 16 points (4/7 3PT) with 7 rebounds in a fine performance. Even though Deng struggled with his shooting (2/12 FG) in the Warhawks win over UT-Arlington, he almost registered a rare triple-double, adding 8 points, 9 rebounds and a new career-high 9 blocked shots. Despite the tough shooting night, Deng is still averaging an impressive 19.3 points, 7 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game with his side now in outright second place in the Sun Belt.
After some encouraging performances in coming off the bench, Jonah Bolden has worked his way into the starting lineup for UCLA. Bolden has since started in their last 4 outings, including a 75-81 loss to #15 ranked Arizona in which he provided 10 points, 6 rebounds and 2 blocks, followed by his best outing yet - a 16 point, 9 rebound and 2 block effort in a 78-65 win over Arizona State. While his most recent outings have been quieter, his elevation to the starting group shows that he has establish confidence with the coaching staff and he is contributing in they way they want him to.
Also moving into the starting lineup this week was Isaac Humphries at Kentucky. The elevation followed Humphries' impressive 6 point, 12 rebound and 2 block effort in Kentucky's controversial 77-79 overtime loss to Texas A&M. However the 7-footer who came up with a key block and the resulting possession and foul in the dying moments of regulation was then immediately pinged with a technical for slamming the ball into the court in a rare display of exuberance. The outcome resulted in the extra period which ultimately led to the loss. While unfortunate, the situation did not deter Humphries who made his first start in Kentucky's 78-53 demolition of Alabama. He was able to contribute 4 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 block in 21 minutes and will certainly benefit from the additional exposure.
Provided with an opportunity to go head-to-head with projected lottery pick Brandon Ingram, Deng Adel enjoyed a big game as #18 Louisville downed #20 Duke 71-64. Adel not only restricted Ben Simmon's main rival for the #1 selection in the NBA Draft to just 8 points on 3/10 shooting, but also helping force him into a staggering 10 turnovers. The 6'7 forward would go on to gather 12 points (5/7 FG) with 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal to help the Cardinals to big win. Mangok Mathiang remains sidelined after braking his foot, with coach Rick Pitino advising that the 6'10 Australian will not return this season given that the Cardinals have self-imposed their NCAA Tournament ban.
Hartford have faced a tough season, however George Blagojevic helped bring to an end a 7-game losing streak in the Hawks' 88-65 win over UMBC. The 6'8 freshman forward connected on a perfect 4/4 triples on his way to a game-high 23 points. He also chipped in 5 rebounds and 2 assists in the win.