Thursday, March 02, 2006

Hard Hits: Redick or Morrison

The debate has raged for months during an exciting college basketball season. If you needed a player to take one final shot with the game on the line, who would it be? Duke's J.J. Redick or Gonzaga's Adam Morrison?

Both have enjoyed remarkable seasons in which each are averaging 28 points-or-better. Morrison currently leads the nation in scoring (28.8 PPG) while Redick ranks second (28.1 PPG).

So how does one determine which is better? Redick plays in the tougher conference in the ACC while Morrison competes in the West Coast Conference. Most experts believe that should give Redick an edge for National Player of The Year. But is he really better than Morrison?

There's little doubt that the all-time leading scorer at Duke is the most dangerous outside shooter in the country. He has unlimited range, turning a wide open 30 footer into a layup. Even if contested off a screen the sharpshooting Blue Devil shows no fear. If he's on, nobody is more lethal. Redick enters the weekend shooting 48.9 percent from the field including 42.6 on trifectas.

Playing against opponents such as North Carolina, Maryland, Boston College, Wake Forest and Florida State make those numbers even more remarkable. Even though it's been a down year for the ACC, it's still coming against some of the best competition.

What's most impressive about the Duke senior is how hard he's worked to improve his game off the dribble. At one time, Redick was just a stand still shooter who needed room to be effective. But that's no longer the case. He can beat opponents off the dribble and doesn't force as much when it's not there, which makes him a very difficult player to defend.

While Redick has been ripping it up, Morrison has risen to new levels as well starring for Gonzaga out west. The Bulldogs have gotten a lot more respect the last several years since a miraculous run to the Elite Eight in '99. But Morrison's scoring prowess has them ranked fifth and thinking bigger things this year.

For as great a season as Redick's had, Morrison is actually a little bit better statistically. Remarkably, he's shooting over 50 percent (50.9) from the field, including an impressive 43.8 on three's. He might not attempt as many as Redick but certainly doesn't lack any confidence in pulling the trigger when it's needed.

Just ask Oklahoma State earlier this season about that. They were within an eyelash of upsetting the Bulldogs and snapping their home winning streak. But when they didn't convert at the charity stripe, Gonzaga called timeout. Afterwards, they quickly marched down the court and got the ball to Morrison. Tightly guarded, he dribbled to his right and fired from 25 feet out with seconds to spear. The ball calmly banked in off the glass sending Zags' supporters into a frenzy. It gave them a two-point win.

The 6-7 junior small forward has demonstrated this season that he can take over a game when his team needs it. As evidenced, he can do it from the outside. But also, Morrison has the ability to break defenders down off the dribble. Without the ball, he routinely comes free for open looks, which makes him tough to handle.

Over two weeks ago, with his team again in danger of falling at home, Morrison scored 12 of his 34 points in the last three minutes to rescue them to a four point win over Stanford.

It's that kind of calm under pressure which makes Morrison a truly special player. He wants the ball with the game on the line. Just watch a Gonzaga game. When it's tight, no player commands it more. He has said that he wants to decide whether or not Gonzaga wins or loses. That is the mark of a player who is not afraid to put himself on the line for the good of his team. It's what makes this college basketball season a lot of fun to watch.

When the stakes are higher in a couple of weeks at The Big Dance, that's when the best players ratchet up their level and take over games to carry their teams to championships. Carmelo Anthony did it for Syracuse three years ago. Emeka Okafor led Connecticut to its second title in 2004 and Sean May propelled North Carolina to the championship last year.

That's why I can't wait to see if Morrison or Redick can do the same thing when the lights shine brightest. Maybe that's what decides once and for all which player is better.

Tune in for March Madness. If you blink, you might miss something worthwhile.

Hitting Back:

-Speaking of Duke, they were upset by Florida State Wednesday. Considering how some rabid Seminole fans stormed the court prematurely, it's amazing they were able to conclude the game. Just imagine if they were only up two points when that happened. The two double technical free throws J.J. Redick made would've tied it. You think maybe these educated fans realized they could've cost their school the game?

-It's fun to hear a few aggravated Uconn fans call up WFAN's Mike Francesa and give silly reasons why Rudy Gay doesn't have to be the Huskies best player for their school to win another championship. Judging by their reactions, you'd think maybe they weren't around two years ago when Emeka Okafor carried their school to its second title. Bandwagon?

-By now, everyone knows the deal with Garden owner Jim Dolan. It doesn't matter how poorly the Knicks play under Coach Brown and it's not about how poorly run they have been under CBA failure Isiah Thomas. In Dolan's eyes, they can do no wrong. Scary revelation: Why do I have a feeling Dolan wouldn't change his mind if the Knicks still hadn't won this season?

-An injured Stephon Marbury outplayed latest acquisition Steve Francis by a mile in a two-point loss at Memphis. But somehow, Francis wound up taking the final shot. Only in Knicks land.

-When do the New York papers finally stop putting this laughingstock on the front page and start recognizing the kind of job the Rangers are doing playing under the same roof. They do it with Coach Tom Renney, who commands a lot less money and doesn't act like he's God's gift. You'd think the Rangers turnaround would be the perfect model for how to get the Knicks back on track.

-After how he's backstopped the Rangers to the top of the Atlantic and lifted his home country Sweden to a gold medal with a remarkable save in the waning seconds, is there anything Henrik Lundqvist can't do?

-Martin Brodeur is so good in shootouts, the NHL is probably thinking of eliminating them altogether. Can someone say trapezoid?

-So what's this about the Yankees having a top pitching prospect in 19-year-old Philip Hughes? I thought they couldn't evaluate talent. Try telling that to a certain Daily News columnist who thinks their words are gospel.

-It's nice to see Jose Reyes taking pitches. Even if it's in an intrasquad game.

-What was more predictable? Joe Torre tabbing Randy Johnson for Opening Day or Carl Pavano being close to put on the disabled list?

-What would've happened if Pedro didn't get his custom-made Nike shoe for his toe? Just wondering.

-I still can't believe Sasha Cohen fell twice and took silver. Whatever happened to higher standards? But she is Juliet at least. And NBC wonders why ratings are down the tubes.

-The Olympics would have been better if Bode Miller had crashed on the slopes. Think of how symbolic it would've been. Almost like Paula Abdul going from having the hit song "Opposites Attract" to being an American Idol judge. What a country.

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