THE MOST IMPORTANT THING WE LEARNED THIS WEEK
Ohio State is a Big Ten contender ... and Dallas Lauderdale is not only a shot-blocker extraordinaire, he's a historian.
No one had a better week than the Buckeyes, who began the year out of the Top 25, being regarded as a bubble team ... and now have solid early NCAA tournament resume after beating Miami on the road and Notre Dame on a neutral court. Asterisk those wins if you must -- Jack McClinton did get ejected in the first half, and Luke Harangody was recovering from pneumonia -- but those circumstances weren't what made super-sophs Evan Turner a budding national star and Dallas Lauderdale a game-changing defender.
My favorite Buckeye, without question, is Lauderdale, who's the primary reason OSU is second in the nation in block percentage, swatting 23.4 percent of opponents' two-point attempts. Lauderdale is averaging 4.8 blocks per game, second only behind Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado and UMass' Tony Gaffney. I caught up with Lauderdale in Indianapolis following the Notre Dame game, in which he had six swats, including one of a Kyle McAlarney three-point attempt that was crushing to the Irish's comeback hopes. Lauderdale said that despite being just 6-foot-8, his wingspan is 7-5, or at least it was when it was last measured at the end of the summer. "My arms just keep growing," he said. "I don't know when they're going to stop."
Lauderdale believes blocking shots is art form, and the Michelangelo of shot-blocking is former Boston Celtic great Bill Russell. "Coach Major" -- OSU assistant Alan Major, the big-man guru who helped develop Michael Olowokandi, David West and Greg Oden -- "gave me a couple of books on Bill Russell this summer," Lauderdale said. "I caught some tips on the way he blocked shots and how he played mind games with his opponents. I read about the stances he was in, and how sometimes he just walls up, and sometimes he actually goes and gets it. And I'm trying to do that stuff. I'm not saying I'm Bill Russell. But I try to mimic him."
One of the books Lauderdale said he's been reading: Russell Rules: 11 Lessons on Leadership From the Twentieth Century's Greatest Winner. Lauderdale would probably liked SI's Chris Ballard's January 2007 story on the art of the block, which contained this paragraph on Russell:
The NBA didn't keep statistics on blocked shots until 1973-74, but if it had, Boston Celtics great Bill Russell, who retired in 1969, would have put up astounding numbers. The 6'10" Russell played as if he'd sworn an oath to protect the basket, using quick leaping and superior timing and anticipation to contest every shot. "I remember there were times when Russell wouldn't come past the top of the key on offense," says Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, whom Mutombo recently relegated to third on the career blocks list. "He'd let the Celtics run the fast break and stay back because that's where he thought he belonged."
SI.COM'S STARTING FIVE
Wearing K-State Lavender throwbacks, not because the Wildcats are any good this year, but because those jerseys look ridiculous without matching shorts ...
1. Stephen Curry, PG, Davidson: In his first game back since the Patsos Incident, Curry dropped 44 on N.C. State, pointing at No. 1 fan LeBron after draining the longest bomb of the afternoon. Curry's shot-to-assist ratio in that game was 11-to-1, making him the ultimate shoot-first point guard.
2. A.J. Abrams, SG, Texas: Scored 31 -- on 5-of-9 three-point shooting -- and played 39 minutes in the Horns' 68-64 win over UCLA last Thursday. For the first time in his Texas career, he's not playing the role of sidekick.
3. Lee Cummard, SG, BYU: I'm opening this up to a three-guard lineup, because Cummard's 12-of-13, 30-point effort against Weber State last Wednesday needs to be honored. Guys who take only two-footers struggle to make them at a 92 percent clip ... and Cummard is a shooting guard.
4. Evan Turner, SF, Ohio State: He was the dominant force in the Buckeyes' neutral-court upset of Notre Dame on Saturday in Indianapolis, scoring 28 points on 11-of-16 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds.
5. DeShawn Sims, PF, Michigan: Sims went for 28 and 12 in the Wolverines' upset of No. 4 Duke on Saturday. How he wasn't in the starting lineup the last time they faced the Blue Devils is beyond me.
MY ONE WISH FOR THIS WEEK
Other than that Stephen Curry goes off at the Garden tomorrow, when I'm in press row? That Leonard Washington begin to understand the concepts of 1) decency ... and 2) television cameras. A charter member of the all-thuggery team, the USC freshman forward punched Oklahoma's Blake Griffin in his nether region last Thursday night during a nationally televised game. After referees consulted slo-mo, full-screen replays of the incident and ejected Washington, he offered the explanation of the year to coach Tim Floyd: "I didn't do it." Said Floyd of Washington, "He's a freshman. He doesn't know that we film everything. But he's a good guy."
Definitely a good guy. That was the impression we all got from watching the game.
THE GAME YOU SHOULD CARE ABOUT
Memphis at Georgetown, 2 p.m. Saturday. This is the best of a non-marquee week. Both teams are hoping to redeem themselves in a big-game atmosphere; the Tigers flopped against Xavier in Puerto Rico and the Hoyas blew a lead against Tennessee in the Old Spice Classic. Mildly hyped freshman Greg Monroe, I think, will have a bigger game than massively hyped freshman Tyreke Evans.
YOUR MONDAY MOMENT OF ZEN
"Lookout. Oh My!" Indiana's Matt Roth sets up to take a charge in roughly the same spot human props are situated in dunk contests. Wake Forest's James Johnson seizes the opportunity to treat it like a dunk contest.