March and its Madness will be here before you know it. With that in mind, some college basketball observations:
• Flying under the radar: Delta State’s Statesmen, winners of five straight, are now ranked 24th nationally in Division II. They feature the nation’s fifth-ranked scorer, Devin Schmidt, who averages 24.9 points per game. The Statesmen, who play at Valdosta State Thursday night, are coming off a 90-81 victory over No. 21 Alabama-Huntsville, a game in which Schmidt scored a career-high 47 points.
“We certainly needed all 47 points,” said veteran DSU coach Jim Boone, who has won more than 500 games as a college coach. “That’s the best individual performance I’ve seen in a long, long, long time. Around here, we all know he’s special.”
Schmidt, a senior guard from Sevierville, Tenn., already has accomplished one of the most productive careers in Mississippi college basketball annals. He averaged 15 points as a freshman, 21 as a sophomore and 25 last season. He became DSU’s all-time leading scorer in February of his junior season.
He has been All-Gulf South Conference for three years running and was a first team All-American last year. He was a finalist for the C Spire Bailey Howell Trophy as a sophomore and appears one of the favorites this time around.
• Not so under the radar: Ben Howland has something strong brewing at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs, 12-5 and 3-2, had won three straight Southeastern Conference games before losing to Kentucky Tuesday night, but here’s the deal: None of the victories were more impressive than the Bulldogs’ effort against No. 5 Kentucky.
The Bulldogs, the least experienced team in Division I, played the sneakers off the Wildcats before falling short.
As the season progresses, it has become obvious Howland has found a special talent in 6-foot freshman guard Lamar Peters, a left-handed sharpshooter, who scored 25 points and gathered seven rebounds against perhaps the most talented team in college basketball. Against Kentucky, you either rise to the occasion or you get get flattened. Peters does not back down from anyone.
In basketball, you have shooters and scorers and rarely you get both in one package. Peters is both. He can knock down 3-pointers, but he can also drive past you and somehow get a shot in the lane against much taller opponents. A shot doesn’t exist that Peters doesn’t think he can make.
Yes, he can become more disciplined and less mistake-prone (five turnovers and two assists against Kentucky), but you can’t teach his aggressiveness. He plays hungry and is a big piece of the basketball puzzle Howland is piecing together at State.
• If you had radar, you’d look away: One of the scariest moments of this or any hoops season occurred Tuesday night at Oxford during Ole Miss’s 80-69 victory over Tennessee, which was far more hard-earned than it sounds.
In the early moments of the second half, Rasheed Brooks, a 22-year-old senior guard from Kalamazoo, Mich., collapsed to the floor after he suffered a seizure during a timeout.
“He’s good now,” Andy Kennedy texted Wednesday morning. “Scary moment. They are still running a plethora of tests.”
Kennedy said Brooks has no history of such seizures.
Ole Miss trailed 44-39 before calling the timeout when the Brooks scare occured. The team was obviously stunned and trying to comfort one another as Brooks was taken from the floor on a stretcher.
Not surprisingly, the Rebels fell behind by 13 shortly afterward. That they rallied to win was critical to any post-season hopes Ole Miss (11-7, 2-4) retains.
Sebastian Saiz, another leading candidate for the Howell Trophy, had 17 points and 10 rebounds and provided badly needed leadership during the Ole Miss rally.
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