Duke's Okafor early favorite as player of year

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Duke center Jahlil Okafor (15). (Matt Cashore/USA Today)

As we enter the last full month of regular-season play, who's on your ballot for the all-American team and national player of the year? Many people like Duke freshman Jahlil Okafor, who enters the weekend averaging 18.7 points and 9.4 rebounds while shooting better than 66 percent from the field. Another popular choice is Wisconsin 7-footer Frank Kaminsky, who has exhibited a fantastic inside-outside game to average 17.2 points while hitting 40 percent of his three-point attempts. The ranks of the best also include Delon Wright of Utah, Georges Niang of Iowa State, Jerian Grant of Notre Dame, Kyle Wiltjer of Gonzaga and freshmen D'Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Stanley Johnson of Arizona.

 

The Magee countdown

Longtime Philadelphia University coach and Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Herb Magee shoots for career win No. 999 Saturday at home against Caldwell. The Rams (13-5, 7-2 Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference) saw all five starters finish in double figures Thursday night in an 85-66 victory over Goldey-Beacom. They open a three-game homestand at the Gallagher Center with the game against Caldwell (10-9, 6-5) and, with a win, Magee would shoot for the magical 1,000 figure Tuesday night against Wilmington.

 

No jokes, please

While people have talked about deflated footballs all week, the Associated Press decided to look into basketballs and found that players have to deal with all kinds - slippery ones, light ones, heavy ones, tacky ones, deep-grooved ones, wide-grooved ones. Unlike the NBA, the NCAA has no uniform brand for games, the home team merely has to provide a ball that complies with specifications, including weight and "bounciness." Connecticut point guard Ryan Boatwright grades them this way: "The Adidas balls and the Under Armour balls are a little more slippery . . . but the Nike balls and the Wilson balls have a little more grip for the ballhandlers."

 

Watching the Wahoos

Craig Littlepage played and coached at Penn and is now the athletic director at Virginia, but he'll always remember his time as a Cavaliers assistant coach in 1980-81 when his team started 23-0 and would earn a trip to the Final Four (which took place at the Spectrum). Everyone involved with that team is focused on this season's Cavaliers, who carry a 19-0 mark and a No. 2 ranking into Saturday night's home game against Duke. This current squad has balance as its hallmark, unlike the 80-81 squad that had a superstar in 7-foot-4 sophomore Ralph Sampson, who averaged 17.7 points and 11.5 rebounds. "It was a heckuva lot of fun," Littlepage said in the Washington Post.

 

Madcap Mountaineers

If you're looking for free-flowing, aesthetically pleasing basketball on any given night, you're advised to stay away from any game involving West Virginia. The 17th-ranked Mountaineers love to ugly up a game with their full-court press and a rough-and-tumble style that results in a lot of fouls and the nation's highest number of forced turnovers - 22.1 per game. In a 65-59 WVU win at Kansas State the other night, the two teams combined for 45 turnovers and 54 fouls. "I thought it was beautiful," West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said after the game. "I've never had an ugly win, ever." K-State coach Bruce Weber had a different view. "Awful," he said. "But they're what, 17-3? I'd be happy too."

 

Friars' dynamic duo

Providence enters the weekend in first place in the Big East, thanks to the production of point guard Kris Dunn and forward LaDontae Henton. Dunn, who missed nearly all of last season with a shoulder injury, posted only the 14th triple double (27 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists against DePaul) in Big East history on Thursday. He is first in the conference in assists (7.8 per game) and steals (2.6), sixth in scoring (15.1) and ninth in rebounding (6.2). Henton leads the Big East in scoring (20.8 points per game) and minutes played (36.0). The Friars will play Villanova twice in a two-week span in February.

 

 

Expatriate of the week

Two Philadelphia-area players, juniors Ameen Tanksley of Imhotep and Juan'ya Green of Archbishop Carroll, are the No. 1 and No. 2 scorers for Hofstra. The 6-foot-5 Tanksley averages 17.9 points for the Pride (14-8, 5-4 CAA) and stands sixth in Division I in three-point percentage at 47.1 percent. Green, who is 6-2, averages 17.1 points and 6.4 assists (10th in the nation) and spends a lot of time at the free-throw line where he is 137 for 165, ranking him second and fourth, respectively, in the nation. The two players followed their head coach, Joe Mihalich, another Philadelphia native, from Niagara to Hofstra.

 


Games to Watch

Top Pick

Duke at Virginia, Saturday at 7 p.m., ESPN:

What a grueling week for the Blue Devils, who endured the pressure of getting coach Mike Krzyzewski his 1,000th career victory and then lost at No. 8 Notre Dame before heading into what should be a madhouse in Charlottesville against the undefeated and defense-minded Cavaliers.

Starting Five

North Carolina at Louisville, Saturday at 4 p.m., ESPN: The Cardinals are still looking for their first victory of the season against a team currently ranked in the Top 25, while the Tar Heels have won six straight.

Wichita State at Northern Iowa, Saturday at 4 p.m., ESPN2: The two ranked teams in the Missouri Valley Conference square off; watch the Panthers' Seth Tuttle, a 6-8 senior who averages 15.1 points and 6.7 rebounds and shoots 60.9 percent from the field.

Texas at Baylor, Saturday at 6 p.m., ESPN2: While these two teams are ranked, they enter the weekend tied for seventh in the 10-team Big 12 with 3-4 records, three games behind first-place Kansas.

Virginia at North Carolina, Monday at 7 p.m., ESPN: The Cavaliers face a tough week; first hosting No. 4 Duke, then traveling to Chapel Hill against the No. 13 Tar Heels and returning home next Saturday to take on No. 10 Louisville.

Indiana at Wisconsin, Tuesday at 7 p.m., ESPN: The Badgers, who have a tough test Saturday at Iowa, are playing a ranked Big Ten opponent for only the second time this season.

-Joe Juliano


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq