I know that I’m stating the obvious leading up to the Final Four betting matchup between Kentucky and UConn, but we have to make an important distinction here. Walker is facing one of the better point men in the league this weekend in Brandon Knight and a very complete team from Kentucky. Can the rest of UConn’s starters step up?
Kemba Walker (PG) – 23.9 points per game, 5.3 rebounds, 4.5 assists
Walker is clearly the best player in the country. It’s not even close. At times, even Jimmer Fredette fizzled in prime time but Walker has come through whenever his team needs him. The sharps love this team, and their 9-0 SU and 8-1 ATS record through 9 tournament games (including the Big East tournament) is a huge reason why this team is leading the charge in Final Four betting.
Through that run, Walker is averaging a ridiculous 26.3 points per game and is shooting a very strong .465 percent from the floor. What really pops out here, however, are Walker’s assist and rebounding numbers. Nobody boasts a more complete all-round game than Walker and even at 6-foot-1 and just 172 pounds, Walker is asserting himself as an assassin.
His work ethic is what got him here. Glossed over by the major recruits three years ago, Jim Calhoun has praised Walker’s commitment to getting better. That kind of attitude is what’s steadied the Huskies through a highly unlikely run through the Big East and March Madness. You know all about Walker already, so let’s cut this to his teammates.
Jeremy Lamb (SG) – 11.1 points, 4.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists
It’s almost cosmic that Lamb plays for Calhoun. Twenty-seven years ago, Rolando Lamb, Jeremy’s father, drained a game winning shot in the tournament for VCU against Northeastern University. The coach of Northeastern at that time was Jim Calhoun.
When recruiting time came, Calhoun called the Lamb house and Rolando answered. Calhoun asked him, “You owe me something…your son.” And that was that. Lamb has come in and averaged 18.3 points per game during the tournament, making UConn the most formidable backcourt remaining in the Final Four betting round. If Walker is getting doubled like he deserves, Lamb can make teams pay, and he is unfortunately lost in the very large spotlight Walker hordes.
Shabazz Napier (SG) – 8.0 points, 2.4 rebounds, 3.0 assists
With Lamb and Walker boosting the scoring, you’d think that Calhoun would stick a better rebounder in this spot but his preference is to use Napier as a third guard. The 6-foot-0, 170 pound slasher is a nice distributer who is a natural point man which allows Walker and Lamb to flow to their spots on the court nicely. Napier loses his starting job at times due to his size and freshman experience, but against Arizona he logged 30 minutes and banged in 10 crucial points for his team.
Roscoe Smith (PF) – 6.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, 1.2 blocks
As a freshman, Smith has plenty of time to develop and from what we’ve seen of him, his unselfishness sticks out the most. He is by no means a natural rebounder, but has averaged 5.3 boards through the tournament. His style compliments Oriakhi’s nicely and he does what he has to do keep his team steady in Final Four betting. His commitment to rebounding may not be what he wants to do, but it’s what his team needs and Smith should be praised for that alone.
We get glimpses of his scoring ability from time to time. He scored a season high 17 points against Bucknell in a 81-52 rout during the opening round, and also logged 12 points against Louisville in the Big East tournament final. He isn’t to be underestimated offensively.
Alex Oriakhi (C) – 9.6 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks
Though he’s destined to be more of a power forward in the NBA, Oriakhi does plenty right for the Huskies. Their leading rebounder has averaged 12.0 boards per game, bolstering his team where they need him most. His strength and physicality underneath the rim compliment what Lamb and Walker try to do in the backcourt.
He very much reminds me of Al Horford, who helped the Gators claim back-to-back National Titles, and if he decides to stay in school the sophomore could help UConn reach back-to-back Final Four betting rounds. His offensive game needs lots of work, but it’s progressing nicely. Honestly, he is there to grab rebounds and he does that with panache.