Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Katz [Print without images]

Thursday, February 12, 2009
Boeheim endorses Thabeet for Big East POY


STORRS, Conn. -- A second has been made on Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun's unofficial motion to tab Hasheem Thabeet as the Big East player of the year.

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim is on board with the decision. He is endorsing Thabeet's candidacy.

"He changes the game," Boeheim said after Thabeet had 16 boards, seven blocks and eight points in the 63-49 win over the Orange on Wednesday.

"You can't go near the basket," Boeheim said. "He scores enough and he rebounds. He dominates and he blocks shots. He blocked 14 points -- all layups. He scared us in at least seven more shots. That's 28 points. How valuable do you have to be? Some guy will score 26 points, is that guy more valuable than a guy who scares you away from 28 points? And he gets 16 rebounds as well as score a little. He's by far the most dominant player in our league."

Syracuse lead guard Jonny Flynn said the Huskies are a "totally different team" with Thabeet on the court. He said the shots are altered by having to shoot it a few inches higher. He said Thabeet isn't going for ball fakes, either.

Thabeet is getting more rugged, too. He clobbered Kristof Ongenaet a few times. Ongenaet had the ball blocked off his face. He was hanging onto Thabeet at one point on the court, with Thabeet almost tossing him aside like a dummy.

"People get caught up in stats, but I think Jimmy and I would both say the same thing about Hasheem," Calhoun said. "If [Notre Dame] was winning and Luke Harangody [last season's Big East MVP] was scoring all those points, then you would say Notre Dame was winning with offense. We're winning with defense, and he's the focal point. They just scored 49 points. They average 80 [now 78.7]."

Calhoun said he doesn't know who is having a bigger impact on the game than Thabeet. Calhoun even tossed around comparisons to Georgetown's Patrick Ewing and Dikembe Mutombo, saying he's not sure there has been a player who has affected the game defensively as much as Thabeet is doing now in his three-plus decades of coaching.

The one thing Calhoun said Thabeet has to watch is throwing down "smaller guys." He said officials will call that on him, and they did against Michigan. But as soon as he tells Thabeet, he said, Thabeet listens and responds appropriately.

• Syracuse should be fine -- for the NCAAs. The Orange, now at 18-7 overall and 6-6 in the Big East, have lost six of the last eight games, but Boeheim isn't fretting. He said that if the Orange take care of their home games -- four of the next six -- then they should be fine. He said he impressed that on them in the postgame locker room. Flynn echoed those thoughts by saying they are realizing their situation. Having bankable wins over Memphis, Florida and Kansas puts the Orange at ease. A year ago, they didn't have anything to lean on from the nonconference schedule.

"A year ago we had to do everything in the Big East," Flynn said of the Orange's inability to get a bid.

"We have to beat the teams we're supposed to beat," Flynn said. "That's what got Georgetown and Notre Dame in trouble. They lost to teams like Cincinnati, Seton Hall and St. John's." (Georgetown lost to the first two, Notre Dame to the third.)

Defensively, the Orange were a different team against UConn than they were against Villanova. They held the Huskies to only 63 points after having given up 102 and 100 in losses to Villanova and Providence, respectively.

"We went out there and fought hard," Syracuse's Eric Devendorf said. "We were digging in, hustling and going after loose balls."

It wasn't enough to beat the Huskies, but if the Orange can mimic the effort, they should be able to beat Georgetown -- maybe. Boeheim said the reason he's not sweating was what he saw in the win over West Virginia after the loss at Providence. He doesn't anticipate another drop at home with Georgetown and Villanova coming to the Carrier Dome for the next two games. Still, those won't be a walk. If the Orange win, they won't have to worry even a bit.

• Connecticut's Jerome Dyson knocked knees and was expected to be in a pool for rehab late Wednesday night, an MRI on Thursday and then a diagnosis. Calhoun said he is hoping for just a bad bruise. But if Dyson has nothing more than a bruise, it will be interesting to see how Calhoun decides to use him, if at all, against Seton Hall on Saturday with Pitt looming Monday in Hartford.

• It's hard to figure how some programming decisions are made in particular conferences. LSU at Mississippi State on Wednesday, which was a first-place showdown in the SEC West, wasn't televised. LSU won 97-94 in double overtime. Tasmin Mitchell went for 41 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and zero turnovers in 49 minutes. There were 57 fouls and 91 free throws, seven players fouled out, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury got a technical after the buzzer sounded in regulation (so overtime started with free throws), and LSU's Bo Spencer sprained his ankle with his status unknown. LSU is now 20-4 overall and 8-1 in the SEC West. LSU's InsideRPI rank is No. 46. So that raises the question: If the Tigers get a bid (and they likely will, as a convincing SEC West champ), how much will their seed be affected? LSU got blown out by 30 at Utah and didn't beat Texas A&M in its two main nonconference games before the SEC schedule. LSU then lost to Xavier by 10 at home. LSU's nonconference strength of schedule is ranked 244th. I wouldn't be shocked if LSU ended up wearing road jerseys in the first round.

• Keep an eye on Drexel as a possible spoiler in conference tournament play. The Dragons won by four at Northeastern on Wednesday and moved to 9-5 in the CAA. Drexel is more than capable of winning the conference tournament. Northeastern fell into a first-place tie with VCU at 11-3. (NU did beat VCU for the tiebreaker, though.) The CAA will get one bid this March.

• Vermont crushed Boston University 75-47 to assume control of the America East.

• Iowa State held Colorado to nine first-half points Wednesday. Not much more to add.

• Dayton beat Xavier to improve its NCAA resume (adding to a bankable Marquette win) but lost key guard Rob Lowery to a knee injury in the game.

• Purdue won its first game since Robbie Hummel was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his back -- the Boilermakers broke away from Penn State by 14. Hummel hasn't played since a win over Michigan on Jan. 31. After that, Purdue lost at Ohio State and Illinois. Penn State hung around in the NCAA discussion after the Michigan State win, but the Nittany Lions have lost three straight to drop to 6-6, 17-8 overall.

• Wake Forest's seed continues to take a hit with each loss to a bottom team in the ACC. The loss to NC State, in addition to the one at Georgia Tech, means the Demon Deacons could be giving up Greensboro to Duke (and, obviously, North Carolina) in the first round, unless the Demon Deacons can sweep the Blue Devils.

• Utah assumed control, for a day, of the Mountain West with a solid 12-point win over San Diego State to move to 17-7, 8-2 in the league. I'm not sure whether this is a lock, but I feel strongly that Utah will be in the NCAAs regardless of who wins the MWC tournament.

• File away the name Jermaine Taylor of Central Florida. He will likely be a first-round draft pick. He scored 38 points in the Golden Knights' loss to UTEP on Wednesday.

• Frank Martin deserves plenty of praise for putting Kansas State in position to get an NCAA berth after losing Michael Beasley and Bill Walker. The Wildcats beat Texas Tech to move to 6-4 in the Big 12 and 17-7 overall.

• Good nuggets from one of the most aggressive information men in the Pac-10, ASU's Doug Tammaro. UCLA, which plays at Arizona State on Thursday and at Arizona on Saturday, has won 32 straight at the front end of such conference sets. In addition, the Bruins haven't been swept in the Pac-10 since Washington did it in 2005-06. (Ben Howland arrived at UCLA in 2003.) Here are the last Pac-10 sweeps of the Bruins: Washington (2005-06), Arizona (2004-05), Stanford (2004-05), USC (2003-04), Oregon (2002-03), ASU (2002-03, and a chance to do it again Thursday), Cal (1993-94) and Oregon State (1987-88). Washington State? Umm, never.

• Miami's Jack McClinton has been making a strong case for All-America status. McClinton is averaging 28.5 points (4.8 3s a game), four rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.5 steals (52.5 percent from the field, 55.9 on 3s) in the four games the Hurricanes have played against current or former No. 1 teams this season.