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ISSUE 120 VOL 14 PUBLISHED 3/9/2007

Inside the Lines: Big men on campus

By Matt Tiano
Sports Editor

Friday, March 9, 2007

Ohio State'’s Greg Oden and Texas’' Kevin Durant lead the best freshman college basketball class since 1979-80, when Ralph Sampson, Sam Bowie, James Worthy, Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins and Clark Kellogg took the college basketball world by storm.

Unfortunately for the college game, we are 27 years removed from the game's glory years. The discussion of this unbelievable talent does not revolve around the supporting cast in place at these respective schools for Oden’'s and Durant’'s sophomore campaign. Instead, media outlets everywhere contemplate if fireworks will continue to explode in Austin and Columbus, respectively, for the 2007-08 season.

Currently, Oden leads the Buckeyes in scoring (15.3/game) and rebounds (9.3/game). Durant, conversely, averages a double-double for the Longhorns with 25.1 points/game and 11.4 rebounds/game.

I see Oden returning for at least his sophomore season for a couple reasons. Oden is a humble guy. Every time he is interviewed, he responds with improvements he needs to make, whether it be his footwork in the paint or his ability to play in transition. The seven-foot, 280-pound center, it seems, doesn't think he is ready to make the jump to occupying the lane with Yao Ming and Ben Wallace.

Oden speaks of the university he represents ever so fondly and the students adore his warm personality. There is no doubt that Oden would love to bring Thad Matta and the Buckeye faithful a National Championship under his guidance. Frankly, that will not happen his freshman season.

"“But what's he going to gain from that [going back to Ohio State]?"” challenged a skeptical GM. "So he's going to go back to college and get double- and triple-teamed? How is that going to help him get ready for the things he has to do in the NBA?"

This GM said it exactly right: There is no way that Oden will draw double and triple teams in the NBA because he's not as big a force as the media makes him out to be. A year more of experience, and there's a possibility. Two? He can only get better.

"If Oden is the number one pick, then he's coming out," an NBA Insider said. "That's the story."

The real story, however, is that Oden is not the best NBA-caliber player in this year's class;– that honor belongs to Durant.

Simply put, Durant is the best player to set foot on a college basketball floor in a long time. His ability to create his own shot off the dribble or with a guy practically poking his eye out is simply remarkable. The way Durant creates space in the open floor is a thing of beauty.

On Saturday, I saw something I never thought possible. Kansas, arguably the nation'’s hottest team, hosted Texas in a Big-12 showdown between the conference’'s first and second-place teams. Durant scored 25 first-half points at hostile Allen Fieldhouse, shocking not only the Jayhawk faithful, but journalists and media alike.

A traditionally tough defensive team triple-teamed Durant, but the Longhorn stud was smart, creating effective opportunities for his teammates. Durant went 8-for-10 from the field in the first half, capitalizing on all five of his three-point attempts.

Kansas ringleader Bill Self made adjustments at halftime, as his team trailed by 14. Whether an ankle injury to Durant was the gameplan is unknown. It turned out to be the perfect gameplan.

As Durant scampered to the locker room, Texas'’ offensive sets looked desperate, guards dribbled eternally in desperation and the phrase “offensive set” had no meaning to guard D.J. Augustin.

Saturday'’s showdown made one thing clear: No team relies on one player as much as Texas does. If there is another explanation for the Jayhawks’' 16-point turnaround Saturday, I haven'’t found it.

Durant has had scoring performances of 37 (twice), 34 and 32 (three times). He has scored 25 or more points, 16 times.

Monday, Durant was named Big 12 Freshman of the Year as well as Player of the Year, the first time both awards have been given to the same player. Oh, Durant takes pride in his defense too, landing on the All-Defensive Team.

This is the first time that I have ever suggested that the NBA may be the best option. Durant is simply too good a talent to risk injury in his sopohmore year.

Texas head coach Rick Barnes cannot teach much more to the mature Durant. We saw Saturday that the guards for Texas will not prepare Durant for NBA waters. If he is going to touch the ball more than anybody on the floor, why not do that against players not as embarrased when defending him off the dribble, in the NBA?

Moreover, the men from Austin simply don't have the ingredients for a national championship next year, as demonstrated with scenes from Space Jam in the second half Saturday.

Oden has maturing to do, but Durant can do it all. Barnes needs to encourage his future All-Star to leave so he can develop a realistic college offense around his four-year contributors.

An offense free of spectacular drives, off-balance treys, and ridiculous individual numbers.

Back to earth, Mr. Barnes. You had your year.

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