College Hoops Thursday: Your Commentary

January 20th, 2011
The game of the night on Thursday takes place in the Pacific Northwest as Arizona (15-3, 4-1) takes on Washington (13-4, 5-1) in Seattle. Before the season began these were the two teams many people expected to be atop the Pac-10 standings at season's end and thus far both have lived up to those expectations. Also on display will be two of the best players in the country, including a sophomore power forward that has proven to be near unstoppable for much of the season. Arizona's Derrick Williams leads Sean Miller's team in both points (19.7 ppg) and rebounds (7.3 rpg), meaning that he's the top line of any opponent's scouting report. Williams has the physical strength to go to work on the block, boasting a solid array of post moves, but he can also step out onto the perimeter. Williams can knock down the mid-range jumper when given room but more times than not he'll drive the ball to the basket (especially from the right wing), a welcome sight in an era that feature so many big men who would rather hang out on the perimeter even if their skill set blatantly shows they're incapable of such skill.

But if there's any team in the Pac-10 who can throw a variety of bodies at Williams with the hope of slowing him down it would be Washington, who has at least three players they can call on. At the top of the list is Matthew Bryan-Amaning, who played very well for the Huskies down the stretch last season and has built upon that progression in 2010-11. The London native is second on the team in scoring (15.2 ppg) while also grabbing an average of 7.7 rebounds per game, which leads the Huskies. Bryan-Amaning has the muscle to bang with Williams inside while also possessing the footwork required in dealing with the sophomore's forays to the basket from the perimeter. Seven-footer Aziz N'Diaye and junior Darnell Gant could be called upon as well but the key will be to keep Bryan-Amaning out of foul trouble in order to slow down Williams. Arizona has other capable frontcourt players such as wings Solomon Hill, Jamelle Horne and Kevin Parrom while junior college transfer Jesse Perry does a lot of the dirty work inside.

On the perimeter may be where the Huskies enjoy an advantage, even with point guard Abdul Gaddy done for the year with a torn ACL. In Isaiah Thomas, Lorenzo Romar has one of the most prolific offensive players in the country much less the Pac-10 and when the 5-9 junior gets going he's tough to stop. Thomas leads Washington in scoring with an average of 16.5 points per game, and with a field goal percentage above 45% that's usually a good indication of the quality of shots he regularly takes. Senior Venoy Overton isn't as offensively inclined as Thomas is but that's OK given what he brings to the defensive end of the floor. Overton's ability to pressure opposing guards for 94 feet will test Arizona point guards Momo Jones and Jordin Mayes, and both will need to be sound with the basketball if the Cats are to have a chance to win. And the question of the most improved player in the Pac-10 can likely be answered as well by Washington, with senior Justin Holiday raising his scoring average nearly seven points from last season and helping the Huskies make up for the graduation of Quincy Pondexter.

Given what the Huskies can bring to the table in the frontcourt Arizona's chances of winning will more than likely rest on the shoulders of the players not named Derrick Williams. In addition to Jones and Mayes junior Kyle Fogg will need to play well, but in terms of long-term impact Momo may be the guy. Immensely talented, the Harlem native can get in trouble when the focus is on an individual challenge instead of running the team. Arizona's had a storied history of point guards who can light it up while also making sure their teammates get their opportunities as well, and in an environment like the one the Wildcats will encounter on Thursday night making sure the team runs its sets efficiently will be Jones' most important responsibility. Not too many people nationally have talked much about Arizona since their hard-fought loss to Kansas in Las Vegas. Thursday night allows them a good opportunity to get the folks talking about them again, but it won't be easy.

The other important game on the schedule with March implications is Virginia Tech visiting Maryland in a matchup of teams who have allowed golden opportunities slip away. Maryland most recently went cold in the second half and lost a game at Villanova that one can argue they should have won. Jordan Williams has been outstanding for the Terps inside and given the Hokies' many injury issues up front he could be on his way to another double-double. But can Maryland's freshman guards deal with senior Malcolm Delaney? Given Virginia Tech's lack of depth a lot rests on his shoulders, and Delaney is more than capable of getting the job done. But the key for the Hokies in College Park will be Jeff Allen. It's been said countless times but he's got to show up fully invested if they're to win. Wagner host Quinnipiac in an important NEC contest, Coastal Carolina is at UNC Ashville in hopes of further separating themselves from the pack in the Big South and Gonzaga joins Florida as teams in good NCAA Tournament shape looking to avoid stubbing their toe on the road.

Top 25
9:00 PM Indiana at (17) Wisconsin (ESPN)
10:30 PM (25) Arizona at (20) Washington (FSN)

NCAA Division I Games
6:30 PM SIU-Edwardsville at Northwestern
7:00 PM Florida at Auburn (ESPN)
7:00 PM UMBC at Hartford
7:00 PM Sacred Heart at Mount St. Mary's (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Vermont at New Hampshire
7:00 PM USF at Rutgers (ESPN2)
7:00 PM Samford at Furman
7:00 PM Western Carolina at Charleston
7:00 PM Binghamton at Albany
7:00 PM Florida Gulf Coast at Campbell
7:00 PM Northern Illinois at Central Michigan
7:00 PM Davidson at Elon
7:00 PM Arkansas-Little Rock at Florida International
7:00 PM Charleston Southern at Gardner-Webb
7:00 PM VMI at Liberty (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Jacksonville at Mercer
7:00 PM Coastal Carolina at UNC Asheville
7:00 PM Georgia Southern at UNC Greensboro
7:00 PM High Point at Presbyterian
7:00 PM Marist at Rider
7:00 PM Long Island at Robert Morris
7:00 PM St. Francis (NY) at St. Francis (PA)
7:00 PM Appalachian State at Citadel
7:00 PM Quinnipiac at Wagner
7:00 PM Radford at Winthrop
7:00 PM Chattanooga at Wofford
7:00 PM Fairleigh Dickinson at Bryant University
7:30 PM Stony Brook at Boston University
7:30 PM Detroit at Cleveland State
7:30 PM North Florida at Kennesaw State
7:45 PM Central Connecticut State at Monmouth
7:45 PM Wright State at Youngstown State
8:00 PM Manhattan at Loyola (MD)
8:00 PM Troy at Middle Tennessee (ESPN3)
8:00 PM IPFW at North Dakota State
8:00 PM Oakland at South Dakota State
8:00 PM Southeast Missouri State at Tennessee-Martin
8:05 PM Western Kentucky at South Alabama
8:30 PM Dillard at New Orleans
8:45 PM Eastern Illinois at Murray State
8:45 PM Tennessee Tech at Austin Peay (ESPNU)
9:00 PM Virginia Tech at Maryland (ESPN2)
9:00 PM Western Illinois at Southern Utah
9:00 PM Louisiana Tech at Utah State
9:00 PM Arkansas State at Denver
9:00 PM North Texas at Louisiana-Monroe
9:00 PM Gonzaga at Santa Clara (ESPNU)
9:00 PM Jacksonville State at Tennessee State
9:05 PM Montana at Idaho State
9:30 PM Utah Valley at North Dakota
10:00 PM Cal Poly at UC Riverside
10:00 PM Arizona State at Washington State
10:05 PM Northern Colorado at Sacramento State
10:05 PM Northern Arizona at Eastern Washington
10:05 PM Weber State at Portland State
10:30 PM California at UCLA
10:30 PM Stanford at USC
10:30 PM New Mexico State at Nevada
10:30 PM Portland at San Francisco
12:00 AM Fresno State at Hawaii