A taste of March as Arizona, OSU stand tall
NEW YORK -- OK, America, are you done with your college football fix for a while, at least until Ohio State-Florida next month?
If you are, if you can finally say you're ready to dive into college basketball, then you got a taste of what is out there Tuesday night.
On the first real marquee night since the BCS matchup was decided, you, the general fan, the one who hasn't checked into the game as of yet, got to see quite a sampling.
Sure, it wasn't crisp, turnover-free basketball. But it is December. Still, there was plenty to see and gawk at.
Such as: an Arizona team that, when it shares the ball like it did in the first half, can shoot with any team in the country and has more options than most.
There shouldn't be a need for an introduction to Arizona freshman Chase Budinger anymore. Not after the tight-curled blonde cut to the open spots as if he had just left the drill station at a nearby basketball camp. Budinger showed no fear in taking the big shot late in Arizona's 72-65 victory over Louisville in the late-night Jimmy V Classic game that was pushing past syndicated reruns on your local affiliate.
And, if you still don't know his name, senior forward Ivan Radenovic, a slender Serbian, found his way to the ball on the offensive and defensive end for a 22-point, 13-board effort.
As for Louisville, the nation got its first look at 6-foot-8, 275-pound Derrick Caracter, a New York-New Jersey-area talent who was hyped for years, ever since he was the big kid in middle school who seemed destined for the elite program unless everyone else caught up with him. Well, they didn't. Caracter was suspended for the season's first three games for receiving benefits from a friend prior to enrollment. On Tuesday night, he fouled out in 11 minutes, but he got busy with six points and seven boards. He took eight shots in 11 minutes, meaning he's getting a longer leash than most.
Oh, and for those who were paying attention earlier in the night, Oklahoma State put on quite a display under new coach Sean Sutton, the son of legendary Cowboys coach Eddie Sutton. The Cowboys, who had already taken out Wisconsin-slayer Missouri State in a tournament in South Padre Island, showed how up-tempo, athletic, energetic and, yes, entertaining an OSU team can be in beating Syracuse 72-68.
And for those that didn't know anything about Syracuse freshman Paul Harris prior to Tuesday night, you probably took note of his fullback-like body and ability to steamroll anyone in his path to the basket for a dunk and a likely trip to the line.
So that should be your primer. There was plenty to digest here, but let's dive in with two of the lasting images:
First: Budinger and the Wildcats can play some defense.
"He's going to be special," Arizona coach Lute Olson said of the 6-7 freshman from Encinitas, Calif. "He knows he needs to work harder defensively, and he will."
Budinger may have had his best defensive game, coming up with three steals and three blocks with no turnovers to go along with a 17-point effort.
"He's playing unbelievable, and he knows where his shots are and when to take them," Arizona senior point guard Mustafa Shakur said. "He's unselfish. He makes such good basketball cuts off the ball. He reminds me of Steve Kerr, but bigger. He's so smart and so athletic, and he can take the 3 or put it on the floor and go by you."
Budinger, who entered the contest leading the Wildcats in scoring at 19.8 points per game, said he's still feeling his way on the court. But he's pleased Olson has the confidence to give him the green light whenever he's open.
"We're a fun team to watch," Budinger said.
Former Arizona forwards Richard Jefferson and Hassan Adams were in the locker room after the game, coming over from the Meadowlands where their Nets had just lost to the Mavericks.
"[Budinger] has the ability to take the tough shots and has such a high basketball IQ," said Jefferson, who had one of those sentimental former player moments when he and Adams hugged Olson in the hallway and told him how much they loved him.
"He's a young, talented player," Jefferson said, who then added if the Wildcats play defense "they can win the national championship."
And that's not far from the truth after the Wildcats hunkered down to hold Louisville to 28.6 percent on 3s (6-of-21).
"We showed that we're a team that is going to the Final Four," Radenovic said. "Now we've just got to go out and prove it."
The second lasting image from Tuesday night: Oklahoma State under the younger Sutton is relaxed, versatile and powerful.
"I had a great time out there," Sean Sutton said of his first game on national television as the full-time head coach of his alma mater.
"This is the biggest win of my career," said Sutton, whose father was sitting a few seats behind the bench. The younger Sutton took over on an interim basis last February when his father had to take a leave of absence due to a substance-abuse problem.
"We've always tried to play fast, but I do let some things go that my dad didn't," Sutton said. "The only thing I ask is that they play hard on the defensive end, and with that I give them more offensive freedom to make plays. I'll live with some of the mistakes."
A great example came when the Cowboys were up only one point, 67-66, with 22 seconds left. Instead of working it around the perimeter or trying to go inside, Oklahoma State junior guard JamesOn Curry waited for Syracuse to relax for a second and popped a 3-pointer for a four-point lead. Game over.
"We're playing with a lot of confidence," Curry said of the 10-0 Cowboys (No. 24 ESPN/USA Today; No. 22 AP) who are surely to climb higher in the polls and approach top-10 territory soon.
"People are having fun and it's contagious," Curry said.
Sutton didn't waste any time finding the right mix of eight players. He has dumped disruptive seeds Gary Flowers, Jamaal Brown and Torre Johnson since last year.
"We had some heartbreaking losses last year [17-16 overall] and lost eight games in the last possession," Sutton said.
"And I think our guys finally got the understanding of Oklahoma State basketball," Sutton said. "I had to dismiss a couple of players, and that was the right thing to do if we're going to have the proper chemistry and attitude. This team reflects more of the teams in the past."
These aren't the Final Four Cowboys of 2004, but they are still a good squad with Curry stroking shots, Marcus Dove defending and dunking, and Mario Boggan doing his best imitation of the incredible shrinking power forward.
When the 6-7 Boggan was at Florida he was, let's just say, a large man. He tipped the scales at 310 but now he said he's down to 250. He poured in 21 points to complement Curry's 20.
"I feel so good," Boggan said. "[Florida coach Billy] Donovan told me I had to lose the weight to play. To this day I respect him so much, and he's still a mentor to me. He helped me lose the weight."
But passing on the late-night pizzas in junior college in between the two schools as well as becoming more committed to his strength and conditioning program were all a must for Boggan. And now he and the rest of the Cowboys are benefiting.
"It's real fun out there," Boggan said. "We're not scared to play on offense. Coach is letting us go."
And so there you go: If you watched, and if you digested, you saw a slice of what college hoops has to offer. It was enough, we think, to keep you hooked and check out the rest of the menu from around the country.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.
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