It was not just that UCONN won the Big East tournament that gave me the idea to pick them as my 2011 NCAA Champion. It was a combination of that, the fact they are playing their best basketball going into the tournament, but most importantly, they have the most outstanding all around guard in the NCAA. Many would argue that BYU's Jimmer Fredette, who lead the country in scoring with 28.5 PPG. There are also argument's for Duke's Nolan Smith who averaged 20 points and 5 assists per game or Ben Hansbrough who averaged 18.5 PPG and 49% shooting in the 2010-2011 season. Even amongst these powerhouse guards, UCONN'S Kemba Walker sets himself apart.
The 6'1" Walker, who is the shortest player of the bunch, averaged 23.1 PPG, more than Smith and Hansbrough and only second to Fredette. Though Fredette's scoring average is substantially higher than Walker's, you have to consider that Walker plays in arguably the best conference in the nation in the defensive minded Big East Conference, who sent the most teams to the tournament. Fredette plays in the weak Mountain West Conference that, outside of a sensational San Diego State basketball team, ranks below average or poor in comparison to conferences around the country.
Combine Walker's scoring ability with the range of other statistical categories he excels at, he is the best guard in basketball. He actually averaged more rebounds per game than assists; a rarity for a 6'1" guard. It wasn't because he was slacking in either category; Walker averaged 5.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists. An absolute pest on defense, Walker also averaged 1.9 steals per game, marking his superior defense. The nation's other best guards are more pure scorers and do not have the notable defense Walker possesses.
|Kemba Walker(15) hits the game winning shot as time expires against #1 seeded Pitt that sent his team to the conference tournament championship. The Huskies would go on to win the 2010-2011 Big East Tournament.|
What can't be measured by statistics, is what Walker has the most of, though. His skill stretches over to the stat-less intangibles that any winning player needs to succeed. He is the most respected player by his teammates, more than any team in the country. Because of this profound respect, Walker is able to get the best out of his teammates each game. His tenacity creates an indescribable spark that drives his Huskies to victory each night. With Kemba in the lineup, his teammates have the confidence that they can beat anyone. And with Walker, they really can beat anyone.
Walker went for 33 points, 5 assists and 5 rebounds in UCONN's tournament game versus Cincinnati to advance his team to the Sweet 16. A fitting performance for a player who shines his brightest as the stage get's bigger. I picked Kemba and UCONN to win it all before the tournament started and my pick is looking great. Their next challenge is the sensational San Diego State Aztecs, who are the #2 seed in the West bracket, one better than UCONN. Nobody is hotter than UCONN and Kemba Walker though. Expect a high scoring game from both sides, but UCONN should prevail to make the Elite 8 where they will face Duke or Arizona.
Duke has proven it can fold on any given night. They lost to three teams outside of the top 25 during the regular season. Arizona is no powerhouse themselves. They came in to the tournament as the #5 seed and they only had to handle a Texas team that slumped late in the season. The real challenge for Walker and UCONN will be beating SDSU in their next game. From there they can take the West bracket all the way to the championship with a win over the Southeast bracket's representative which will be between BYU, Florida, Wisconson or Butler; all of which UCONN has the capacity to dominate.
My prediction? UCONN beats Kansas in the championship game, 64-61; Kemba Walker named Most Outstanding Player.
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