This article breaks down the matchup between two of the top small forwards in the country, Adam Morrison and Rodney Carney, two terrific scorers that otherwise can be considered exact opposites of each other. The matchup left us with a lot to think about regarding both players, with Morrison getting the upper hand in the boxscore, but Carneys team coming away with the win.
FedEx Forum, a state of the art arena in its second season that also hosts the Memphis Grizzlies as well as the Tigers. Memphis arena and practice facilities are considered one of the biggest lures recruiting wise that Coach Calipari has to offer, and a main reason that Memphis is expected to remain extremely competitive despite playing in the now watered down Conference-USA. The game was a sellout and the 18,000+ fans in attendance created the type of outstanding atmosphere that the Grizzlies could only dream of.
This was a huge game for both Memphis and Gonzaga as our resident bracketologist Drew Barnette explained in his weekly column: This is a monster game for both teams because neither will get the chance to knock off the heavyweights once they get into conference play. Both teams have done a very nice job in scheduling tough out of conference teams in order to offset not getting shots at big wins in conference play. This is big because it is probably one of the last chances either team has at a massive win. Id say that this would be the biggest win of the season for either team, which is saying a lot because both teams have knocked out some heavyweights.
21 year old junior Adam Morrison, the #1 scorer in the NCAA, matched up with fellow 21 year old Rodney_Carney, possibly the most athletic wing player in the country.
Carney was a high school track star as well as a state champion High Jumper. Not regarded as a Top 100 recruit coming out of high school, Memphis Coach John Calipari offered him a scholarship after Qyntel Woods decided to jump straight to the NBA. Morrison is another player showing how off the recruiting services can be at times. Playing for a small high school far from the AAU spotlight, Morrison was not recruited by any other school except for Gonzaga until he signed. Barring a disaster, Carney is almost a surefire first round pick and a potential lottery pick, while Morrison has done everything humanly possible so far this year to show that he is worthy of consideration for the top 10 or maybe even top 5 when its all said and done.
While Morrison went off for 34 points shooting 45% from the field, 66% from behind the arc and a perfect 12-12 from the charity stripe, and Carney had 17 points in 24 minutes shooting 50% from the field and 3-point line, there was a lot more to be learned from this game than what you will find in the boxscore
This game was a story of hot and cold streaks for both players.
Morrison started off on fire, scoring 21 points in the first half on a perfect 3-3 from the 3-point line and 10-10 at the free throw line. He showed beautiful touch around the rim in his trademark fashion, converting on a number of difficult jump hook shots, floaters, and high arcing turnarounds, driving his matchups insane with his incredibly quick and high release that makes him almost impossible to guard at this level. Despite not being an amazing athlete, he has an uncanny knack for getting to the free throw line, whether its with an assortment of outstanding head and body fakes, taking the ball with absolutely no fear straight into potential shotblockers at the rim, or by using his smarts and savvy to bait the refs into making calls a la Reggie Miller or Rip Hamilton.
Coming into the season a major knock against Morrisons pro potential was that he was a below average shooter from behind the arc, hitting less than one three pointer per game on average on a mediocre 31% clip. Morrison was red hot from behind the arc in the first half, coming off screens perfectly and getting his shot off in the blink of an eye. In one trademark Morrison play he took Carney off the dribble with 6 seconds left on the shot clock at the end of the first half and pulled up out of nowhere for an extremely difficult contested three pointer that went in and sent the Zags to the locker room up by 5.
Carney started the game off on the bench as has been the custom for him over the past few games. Coach Calipari seems to be hell-bent on showing him that the team really doesnt need him in order to win games, thus getting him to improve on his defensive effort and shot-selection. From what we saw today, Calipari doesnt seem to be that far off.
Carney came in after 4 minutes and seemed intent on making his presence felt immediately on the game. He got three fairly open looks from behind the arc created for him by the offense and missed all of them, with the last missing everything. He may have gotten the message at that point and instead of taking the next open three decided to use his athleticism for a change instead; pump-faking his defender, blowing right past him with an incredible first step on the baseline and elevating for a highlight reel caliber one-handed jam that finally got him going. Being the type of player that needs these types of sparkplugs the way most regular human beings need oxygen, Carney proceeded to knock down three consecutive 3-point shots in just over a minute of game time. Carney has deep, but extremely streaky range on his jump shot and is able to elevate high and straight off the ground in the blink of an eye to get it off. When he gets hot, he is absolutely on fire. In the midst of this scoring fury, as is often is the case with him, his athleticism started to show on the defensive end as well and he used his quickness and leaping ability to force Morrison into a very difficult shot from the baseline that had just too much arc on it this time. This explosive two minute burst of pure athleticism and skill is exactly the type of sequence that makes NBA scouts salivate over his upside, while the rest of the game for the most part is the type of stuff that can make those same scouts shake their head in disgust.
The 2nd half saw much of the same from both players up until the mid-way point. Morrison continued right where he left off, scoring 13 points in the first 10 minutes in a variety of ways despite a swarming Memphis defense that made every effort imaginable to get a hand in his face every time he touched the ball. Carney again came off the bench, again knocked down a deep three shortly after coming in, but for the most part was a non-factor and was eventually benched down the stretch in favor of Memphis freshmen who did a much better job with the team defense and ball-movement.
Memphis coach John Calipari decided to put Shawne Williams on Adam Morrison and for the most part this strategy paid off. It was the entire team that made the effort here, though, doing a great job denying him the ball, giving him little space and forcing Gonzagas other players to beat them instead. With big man J.P. Batista having one of his worst games of the season, point guard Derek Raivio not yet recovered from his injury and unable to knock down his shots, and with no other offensive threats to speak of, the stage was set for the deeper, more talented and athletic Tigers to come away with the win. Morrison looked tired and did not score for the final 10 minutes, partially thanks to Memphis defense but also partially because of the Zags inability to get him the ball in a position to score. He only took 5 shots during this stretch and missed all of them.
If there is one player that can be pointed to as the difference maker for Memphis in this win, it was Darius Washington. Despite noticeably playing on one leg thanks to a deep-thigh bruise that has hampered him for 6 weeks now, the sophomore Washington showed incredible poise and leadership carrying his team down the stretch. He was there to push the tempo and distribute unselfishly when Memphis had the horses to run in transition, but was also there to pull back and set up a patient and effective half-court offense when it was time to slow down the tempo. Washingtons terrific ball-handling skills made the full-court press a non-option for Gonzaga, and when the half-court offense started to bog down, he had no problem hobbling on one leg into the lane and scoring with a gorgeous floater. Washington finished with 22 points, 10 assists and 2 turnovers, completely eradicating any argument his critics had of him being too selfish or trigger-happy while also wholly justifying his ranking as the top point guard prospect on our draft board. His team came away with the win, 83-72.
Adam Morrison: 34 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 turnover, 9-20 FG, 4-6 3P, 12-12 FT
Rodney Carney: 17 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist, 6-12 FG, 4-8 3P, 1-2 FT, 24 minutes/b]
Unless youve never seen Morrison play before, there wasnt much new to be learned from this game. He is the #1 scorer in the NCAA for a reason, and even though he came up empty in the last 10 minutes, he still finished with what would be a career best game for almost any other player in the NCAA.
Morrisons ability to score from anywhere on the floor and in many different ways against all of the top defenders and athletes in the country puts him in an elite class of players that can be expected to step onto an NBA floor and contribute from day one. While some general managers will continue to swing for the fences and draft players they hope can someday develop into a potential all-star, Morrison already has a wider array of offensive skills in his arsenal at age 21 than most NBA small forwards will ever have. There is something to be said for being able to consistently contribute the way he does time in and time out on these types of stages. The fact that he is able to get his shots off with absolutely no daylight to be found speaks volumes about his ability to continue his production once he reaches the next level.
His competitive nature was on display once again tonight when he was challenged by Memphis freshman Shawne Williams in a dead-ball situation after giving him a cheap shove that Williams foolishly reacted to. As always, Morrison refused to back down and used this incident as fuel to continue an already awesome scoring display. Going up and repeatedly challenging the type of tall, long and strong athletes that Memphis packs underneath the basket also speaks volumes about Morrisons fearlessness and confidence that will surely translate to the NBA level. The fact that he only had one turnover in 37 minutes despite the offensive load he is expected to carry shows just how under control he plays and how wisely he is able to pick his spots on the floor and execute. Being an excellent passer and a fighter on the glass makes him that much more intriguing in his versatility.
The biggest flaw that continued to arise again and again was his poor ability on the defensive end. Morrison has serious trouble keeping anyone in front of him and is regularly burned on defensively by being too slow to get out and guard the perimeter
On the other end of the spectrum we find almost the exact opposite type of player in Rodney Carney. Carney is much more of a prototype of what the NBA usually looks for in draft prospects, as he is a world-class athlete who can run and jump as well as just about any wing player in the NBA. Being a solid outside shooter with terrific range and elevation on his jump shot, he is that much more intriguing.
Unfortunately, despite already being a senior, Carney has still not found his groove at the NCAA level and is still prone to troubling bouts of inconsistency not just from week to week but also within games as we saw tonight. Coming off an awesome 37 point performance against Louisiana Tech exactly a week ago, probably the best game of his college career so far, it was expected that he would be able to build off that momentum under the national spotlight. But besides the explosive 11 point burst described above, that never really materialized looking at the game as a whole.
One of Carneys biggest weaknesses is his inability to maintain his focus and sustain a consistent level of intensity for more than a few minutes, as his whole game depends on knocking down his streaky outside shot. When its falling, he hustles, rebounds, slashes to the hoop and finishes in impressive fashion. When its not, he drops his head, floats passively in and out of the action and is non-existent in virtually every other facet of the game. An athlete of Carneys caliber should not have to rely solely on being a catch and shoot three point specialist, as his first step and leaping ability should definitely be his bread and butter to get to the hoop and either finish or go to the line a 8-10 times or more a game at this level. Instead, Carney has only been to the free throw line 37 times in 11 games this season (3.36 free throw attempts per game) as opposed to much less athletic Adam Morrison for example who gets there over 8 times a game.
In addition to that, despite having all the physical tools and then some to be able to keep up and slow down Morrison, Carney often gave him too much space defensively and was eventually benched in favor of the freshman Shawne Williams who did a much better job. Again, this has more to do with being focused and maintaining a consistent level of intensity than anything, as just being a freak athlete with long arms is not going to cut it against scorers like Morrison or in the NBA. The fact that his team was at its very best with him on the bench in the last five minutes is not a good sign for Carney.
Fortunately for Carney, despite the harsh criticism, he is actually having a good senior year so far and is playing and contributing heavily to one of the best teams in the country as we saw tonight. Once private workouts roll around, his stock will likely rise as its not hard to imagine him having a couple of workouts with NBA where he looks like a Vince Carter clone with the way he jumps out of the gym and knocks down NBA three pointers effortlessly. His ceiling is certainly the highest of any senior prospect in the NCAA, and possibly of any wing player in the entire draft. If the light does come on for him one day he is capable of becoming a devastating force in the up-tempo NBA, capable of possibly making an allstar game or two with his explosive scoring potential. In the bizarre world of the NBA draft in which going for the home run pick is so tantalizing, he could very well be looked at as a grand slam.