Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Jimmy V and Philly

No, Jim Valvano was not from Philadelphia — he was born and bred in Queens, New York. But in last night's Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden, Philadelphia hoopsters stole the show.

In the opener, No. 4 Kansas pounded No. 13 Memphis inside, outrebounding the Tigers 39-26 to come away with an 81-68 victory. The reason the Jayhawks were able to dominate inside was simple: Marcus and Markieff Morris.

The Morris twins were dominant during their high school days in Philadelphia, winning back-to-back state titles in 2006 and 2007 at Prep Charter, where they took on Tyreke Evans' American Christian squad, then transferring to APEX Academy in Jersey for their senior season.

The junior twins out of Philadelphia have steadily progressed each season in Lawrence, with both Marcus and Markieff seeing their minutes, points and rebounds rise every year. Now as juniors, the Jayhawks are their team.

Marcus was named to the preseason All-American second team, and through 8 games leads Kansas in scoring at 18 points per game. He's second in rebounding, and his offensive efficiency has been ridiculous, shooting 63.2 percent from the field and 52.6 percent from three. Markieff leads the team in rebounds at 8.9 per game, and trails only his brother in scoring, putting up 12.4 points a night on 55.2 percent from the field himself.

Last night was more of the same. Marcus and Markieff were the best players on the court period, combining for 30 points on 14-22 from the field, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals and 3 blocks. Markieff led all scorers with 16 points (tied with Will Barton of Memphis) on 8-11 shooting and had 7 rebounds. Marcus scored 14 points on 6-11 from the field himself, putting up a tremendous all-around game with 8 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals and 2 blocks. Along with a helping hand from Thomas Robinson's 10 and 10 double-double, Kansas owned the paint and won fairly convincingly thanks largely to the twins out of Philadelphia.

In the nightcap, it was an inside-outside Philadelphia combo that put on a clinic. High school teammates at Neumann-Goretti, Scoop Jardine and Rick Jackson went to Syracuse as a packaged deal.

Much like the Morris twins, the Neumann-Goretti teammates have seen their numbers and minutes increase each and every year, though Jardine missed what would have been his sophomore season in 2008-09 due to a medical redshirt, making him a junior-eligible player while Jackson is a senior. Now in their fourth year in the program, Jardine and Jackson are the undisputed leaders of the Orange.

Through 9 games, the 6'9" Jackson leads Syracuse in rebounds, averaging 12.8 per game, and blocks at 1.7 per contest. His 13.6 points per game are second only to Kris Joseph, and he's shooting 56.5 percent from the field. Jardine leads the Orange in assists (6.4) and steals (2.1) per game, and is right behind Jackson in points, scoring 13.2 a night. This duo is largely responsible for Syracuse's 9-0 start.

They were certainly more responsible than anyone else for the Orange holding off Michigan State 72-58 last night. Jackson was nothing short of the player of the game, scoring 17 points on 8-15 shooting and hauling in a game-high 16 rebounds. The Spartans had absolutely no answer for Jackson inside, which is why he was able to put up such an impressive double-double.

Jardine was just as good on the perimeter. He netted a game-high 19 points on an obscenely efficient 7-9 shooting, had three assists and two steals, and hit one of only two three-pointers Syracuse made all night. The other, by the way, came off the fingertips of another Philadelphia product, freshman Dion Waiters from Burlington Life Center Academy.

Jim Boeheim sure does love his Philadelphia players. Hakim Warrick won a national title at Syracuse, and Rakeem Christmas — who Dickie V mentioned by name last night —  is on his way to Cuse next year.

It was quite an impressive showing for Philadelphia up in NYC last night. Hell, even the biggest cheerleader for the Orange in the Garden has Philadelphia ties — former Philadelphia 76er and Syracuse alum Derrick Coleman.

There must have been something in the air giving good vibes to Philadelphia basketball last night. Because not only did the Morris twins and the Neumann-Goretti grads put on a show in the Garden, but the Sixers defeated the Cavs for their second straight win behind an absurd game by Thaddeus Young: 26 points and 11 rebounds on 11-12 shooting. Don't look now, but the Sixers have won four of their last five and no longer occupy last place. I'm not sure if I should be happy about this or not.

To make Philadelphia basketball's night even more complete, former Villanova star and Pennsylvania High School Player of the Year Kyle Lowry, from Cardinal Dougherty, went off for the Rockets in their 97-83 win: 22 points, 12 assists, 6 steals, 3 rebounds, 7-13 from the floor, 4-6 from three and 4-5 from the line.

In case you haven't been paying attention, Lowry is having himself a breakout season. Since Aaron Brooks went down with an ankle injury, Lowry has been running the show and doing a masterful job. Thanks to the increased playing time and his maturity in his fifth season, he's averaging career-highs in minutes (33:42), points (10.7), rebounds (4.2), assists (7.1) and steals (1.9). And last night, he went off, just like a slew of Philadelphia ballers.

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