Kemba Walker’s weekend’s performances was thrilling

Mar 15, 2011 6:00 AM

We’ve spent a lot of years watching basketball, first during five seasons with the Harlem Globetrotters 60 years ago and ever since, but nothing thrilled us more in all that time than last weekend’s performances by freshman Harrison Barnes of North Carolina and the amazing Kemba Walker of Connecticut.

Walker is just what Steve Serby of the New York Post called him – a smiling assassin – after Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun had said of Walker, "He’ll smile at the referee and smile at the opponent, and then run you over. That’s who he is."

He also was the most valuable player of the Big East conference, and arguably of the nation’s college basketball players, as he starred in five games in five nights at New York’s Madison Square Garden. He was playing before a hometown crowd – he came from the Bronx – and he showed them what they came to see, averaging 26 points a game as he scored 130 in the five nights of super stardom. And all of that with incredible gymnastic shots and moves for a guy who is only 6 feet 1 in what now is a game for giants.

While Walker was stunning opponents and crowds with his brilliance, a new potential major star was arriving on the scene. He was 18-year-old Harrison Barnes, who had been called an all-American prospect before ever playing a college game. He fit the mold physically far better than Walker, being 6-8 and weighing 210 pounds.

Playing his first year of college ball for North Carolina, he came out of Ames, Iowa, and had scored in double digits for the Tar Heels in 25 of their 31 games before last Saturday’s explosion against Clemson, when he scored 40, the most ever by a freshman in the ACC tournament playoffs.

Walker was devastating, hitting on 12 of his 17 shots in the second half, and scoring 14 of North Carolina’s 19 points in their overtime victory.

Much had been expected of Barnes, and last Saturday he showed why. The next day, however, a bit of the bombast was dispelled as the Tar Heels moved on from Clemson to face a far tougher foe, Duke, which effectively shut Barnes down, although he did reach double digits once again.

I mentioned a month or so ago that whoever wins the Madness that starts this week will have to beat Duke to do it. That includes, in the West division (west of what in Duke’s case, the Atlantic Ocean?) rampaging San Diego State 32-2, which will have the underdog’s popular role, and Texas, or perhaps Arizona, which could be a surprise.

In the East, it is Ohio State’s to lose, although Syracuse or North Carolina, or possibly Kentucky, could make it interesting.

Kansas rules in the Southwest, with scrappy Notre Dame the most likely challenger.

In the Southeast, I find it hard to buy Pittsburgh’s favoritism, and will be rooting for Utah State and Brigham Young to cage the Panthers, despite BYU being stripped of its popular and effective 6-9 sophomore center Brandon Davies by suspension.

We all are left to wonder what transgressions brought Davies down. BYU is not saying, but the Salt Lake Tribune reported it was premarital sex, forbidden by BYU’s Mormon code. Despite his loss, BYU still has the intriguing national scoring leader Jimmer Fredette, who scored 52 points in BYU’s victory over New Mexico last week.

So once again it is time to go Mad. Enjoy the rest of the month, and stock up on plenty of beer and chips. You’ll spend far too much time in front of your TV, but the Madness will not let you loose.