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November 24, 2006
Bruins not missing a beat without Farmar
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Outside of a couple mild upsets, the Maui Invitational went according to plan.
Tournament favorite UCLA won the title. Georgia Tech looked like the much-improved squad many expected, reaching the final and getting past No. 11-ranked Memphis along the way.
But there was one surprising piece of news and a scary realization for the rest of the Pac-10. The No. 5-ranked Bruins (4-0) don't miss Jordan Farmar.
Sophomore point guard Darren Collison, the replacement for the savvy floor general who left early for the NBA, played brilliantly. Collision averaged 13.3 points, 7.0 assists and 2.6 steals a game in Maui to earn tournament MVP honors.
The speedy Collison created more fast breaks, made great passes in transition and did a good job getting his teammates involved. The result was a more balanced and much more potent offense.
The Bruins have already scored 80 or more points three times (twice in Maui), a mark they only surpassed four times all last season. Four players scored in double figures in their wins over Kentucky and Georgia Tech.
One of the biggest preseason questions for the Bruins was how they would play without Farmar, who had provided so much leadership and made so many big plays over the last two seasons.
But, it looks like point guard play will be one of their strengths as they try and get back to the national title game. Only this time they won't have to rely strictly on a defensive-minded style.
Holding Down Hansbrough
In its 82-74 upset over No. 2 North Carolina in the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off Wednesday night in New York City, Gonzaga managed to do what no one in the ACC did last year: slow down Tyler Hansbrough.
Hansbrough was held to nine points, his lowest total since scoring six against Kentucky on Jan. 3, 2005. Hansbrough was also held to five field-goal attempts (made two), tying the lowest total of his career.
Gonzaga's defensive strategy deserves most of the credit. Most teams try to fronting Hansbrough, but the No. 23 Bulldogs allowed him to catch the ball for the most part. Then, they swarmed the big man with a variety of defenders, often sending guards running past him and faking double teams. Their 6-11 center Josh Heytvelt had the size and strength to keep Hansbrough far enough from the basket to employ such a tactic.
Hansbrough, who isn't a good passer, looked confused most of the night. He hesitated to make moves and was called for traveling twice.
It looks like a national player of the year candidate could come from the mid-major ranks for the second consecutive year.
No player in the country is off to a better start than Nevada's Nick Fazekas. The two-time WAC Player of the Year racked up a double-double in each of the Wolf Pack's first four games, including a 19-point, 18-rebound performance in a 75-47 win over Oregon State last week.
But Fazekas, who is averaging 24.3 points and a nation-high 14.8 rebounds, will have to keep putting up those kind of gaudy numbers to grab the attention of the national media.
Unlike Adam Morrison, Fazekas won't get a chance to play some of the nation's top teams in the regular season. The Wolf Pack (4-0) don't have a tough non-conference schedule. Coincidentally, the only top 25 team they face is Gonzaga on Dec. 30.
Three Questions with Arkansas center Steven Hill
There's been a lot of talk about whether the Missouri Valley Conference teams should still be considered mid-majors after the league sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament last season. Do you still look at them as mid-majors? (Arkansas beat MVC favorite Southern Illinois 61-53 in overtime on Thursday in Orlando, Fla.)
"Not at all. The Valley consistently sends multiple teams to the tournament and plays a high level every year. They don't get the respect they deserve."
You're often referred to as a shot-blocking specialist. Do you embrace that or wish you weren't thought of as so one-dimensional?
"It can be a nice reputation. I've been known as a defensive stopper since high school, but I really want to improve my offensive game so it's kind of Catch-22. But it motivates me to do better."
Who is the most underrated player on your team?
"I would probably say Charles Thomas (junior forward). He gets overlooked, but he's really proven to be a great rebounder, free-throw shooter and defender. He takes a lot of charges for us. He went to a lot of camps this past summer and is one of the team's hardest workers."