In The Paint

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Blake Griffin
Blake Griffin/AP

Who's the most dominant force in America now, eh?

1. Blake Griffin, Oklahoma, So. (Last week: No. 1)

Last game: 40 points, 23 rebounds, two assists, two steals, one block in 31 minutes in a 95-74 win over Texas Tech on Feb. 14.

Season averages: 22.8 ppg, 14.2 rpg, 2.5 apg, 1.3 spg, 1.3 bpg, 63.8 fg%

Wooden Worth: Make sure to read Pat Knight's Texas Tech-Oklahoma postgame comments closely. Skim them, and you'll risk coming away thinking the Red Raiders coach made the understatement of the year when describing Griffin thusly: "That kid is good." Uh. Yeah. Good. Read them from start to finish, however, and you'll understand why Griffin may be next-in-line to lead the fine people of California to a brighter energy future.

"Have you guys ever seen the movie The Terminator?" Knight asked assembled reporters after Griffin's 40-point, 23-rebound mauling. "That's what that kid is like. That kid has no facial expressions. He just plays and it's like every kid out there on him is like Sarah Connor, and he's just going to take his time and kill him."

It's easier to kill one guy than two. Tech knew Griffin, coming off seven-straight double-doubles, would have a big game, and so decided to defend him with single coverage in the hopes of neutralizing the Sooners' other weapons at the very least. Big mistake. Plus, Griffin didn't really take his time. After the game, he stressed that he tried not to rush his offensive attack once he saw the single coverage, but his record-setting performance -- he joined Wayman Tisdale and Alvan Adams as the only OU player to put together 40-20 games, and he set the OU single-season record by recording his 22nd double-double of the season -- took a mere 31 minutes to achieve. Even worse for Raiders' fans: He'll be back (sorry, couldn't help it!). The two teams face off again on Feb. 28.

2. Stephen Curry, Davidson, Jr. (Last week: No. 2)

Last game: 25 points in 29 minutes on 4-for-9 shooting from beyond the arc in a 75-60 win over Furman on Feb. 14.

Season averages: 29 pp, 5.8 apg, 4.1 rpg, 2.7 spg, 38.8 3p%

Wooden Worth: Curry on crutches. There's a horror-inducing image for most Davidson fans. This week, however, it was the sad, sorrowful reality. A bum ankle kept Curry out of Wednesday's game against The Citadel, and right on cue, the Wildcats fell, 64-46. Do we need any more proof of Curry's value? Before losing to the College of Charleston on Feb. 7, the Wildcats had gone two years without suffering a Southern Conference loss. Now, they've dropped two in two weeks, the latest in blowout fashion. Curry hopes to be ready for Davidson's key Saturday matchup against Butler, but the Bulldogs are fifth nationally in scoring defense, so he'll have his work cut out for him even if he's healthy enough to play.

3. James Harden, Arizona State, So. (Last week: No. 3)

Last game: 13 points, five rebounds, three assists, one rebound, one block in a 65-53 win over USC on Feb. 15.

Season averages: 21.3 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 4.2 apg, 1.7 spg, 35 min

Wooden Worth: It's not every day the losing coach storms to midcourt, argues with officials over a charge call against his starting point guard, draws two technical fouls, earns an ejection and, while composedly discussing the outburst with the assembled media, suggests the leader of the free world enhance freedom of speech rights for college coaches. But that's how Tim Floyd spent his Sunday.  While the USC coach's tirade dominated the postgame headlines, this one was chock-full of other noteworthy nuggets. For the second game this season, Trojan guard Daniel Hackett (who committed the charge that set Floyd's blood a-boilin') limited Harden's offensive productivity. When the teams met last month, Hackett's stingy defense prevented Harden from hitting a single field goal. With Hackett shadowing him on Sunday, Harden, the Pac-10's leading scorer, only managed to get off six shots. But this was actually good news for Arizona State, because the Sun Devils finally proved they can compensate when Harden has a slow night. But make no mistake, he's still the key to their success. With the victory, the Sun Devils put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 1979-81, and Harden's the reason why. 

4. DeJuan Blair, Pitt, So. (Last week: No. 4)

Last game: 22 points, 23 rebounds, two assists, one block in a 76-68 win over No. 1 UConn on Feb. 16.

Season averages: 15.7 ppg, 12.8 rpg, 1.6 spg, .8 bpg, 59.9 fg%

Wooden Worth: Last week, everyone was talking about Hasheem Thabeet, the "most powerful force in America." A week later, everyone's talking about Blair, the guy who totally dominated UConn's defensive wunderkind. Blair neutralized Thabeet, and not just by attempting to rip off his arm while battling for a rebound (though that certainly didn't hurt). Unlike Thabeet's recent challengers, Blair played smart, driving the ball into Thabeet's body instead of altering his shots in mid-air to avoid a block. The result: a 22-point, 23-rebound masterpiece that helped Pitt unseat No. 1 UConn. Blair's put together a player of the year-worthy season, but here's what separates the current WW top three from Blair: team balance.

Blair's been Pitt's MVP, but Sam Young and Levance Fields have been hugely important to the team's success as well, which could cost Blair some votes.

5. Luke Harangody, Notre Dame, Jr. (Last week: No. 6)

Last game: 26 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, two blocks in a 79-68 loss to West Virginia on Feb. 18.

Season averages: 24.4 ppg, 12.7 rpg, 2.3 apg, 1.1 bpg, 1 spg, 79.2 ft%

Wooden Worth: If you're in the top five nationally in rebounding and scoring, you're not going to stay out of the WW top five for long. Notre Dame's seven-game skid probably put the nail in Harangody's player of the year quest coffin, but while the Irish are nine for their last 13, they're two for their last three, and that has to count for something. Notre Dame has two winnable games coming up against Providence and Rutgers before running into UConn and Villanova. One of the biggest knocks on Harangody this season is that while he's put up monster numbers, his big games haven't translated into Irish wins. If the Irish want to rekindle their fledgling tournament hopes and Harangody wants to stay near the front of the POY pack, they need to win three of their final five. 


***

6. Tyler Hansbrough, UNC, Sr. (Last week: No. 5)

Last game: 27 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two steal, 7-for-7 from the line in an 89-80 win over N.C. State on Feb. 18.

Season averages: 21.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1 apg, .9 spg, .5 bpg, 84.5 ft%

Wooden Worth: Poor N.C. State. Twice this season, teams (Florida State and Miami) held Hansbrough to single-digit points. And twice this season, Hansbrough faced the Wolfpack after those eight-point outings, exploding for 31 and 27 points, respectively. Seven-foot freshman Tyler Zeller's return from injury gave the Tar Heels a boost against N.C. State, but so did Hansbrough's fast-break points, steady hand from the line and 20 second-half points. Carolina fans were doubtlessly thrilled to see Hansbrough return to form. N.C. State coach Sidney Lowe, however, can't wait to be rid of Psycho T forever: "I'd love to watch him on television in the NBA," Lowe said. "I don't mind seeing him, just with another jersey on."

7. Hasheem Thabeet, UConn, Jr. (Last week: No. 7)

Last game: Five points, four rebounds, two steals, two blocks in 23 minutes in a 76-68 loss to Pitt on Feb. 16.

Season averages: 13.2 ppg, 10.6 rpg, 4.3 bpg, .6 spg, 64.3 fg%

Wooden Worth: Before Blair brought Thabeet down to earth on Monday, Thabeet had quite the Saturday, going for 25 points, 20 boards and nine blocks against what had been a hot Seton Hall team. He was so good during his second near-triple-double in two weeks that Pirates coach Bobby Gonzalez gushed shamelessly about him, saying, "I don't know who has a better player than him, who is a more dominant guy than him in the country. He, to me, is the No. 1 player in America. In my opinion from what I have seen, you know I am not trying to push him out the door, have him go pro, but if I was an NBA franchise I would take him No. 1 in the draft." Wonder where he'd take Blair.

8. Ty Lawson, UNC, Jr. (Last week: No. 9)

Last game: 17 points, nine assists, two rebounds, two steals in 35 minutes in an 89-80 win over N.C. State on Feb. 18.

Season averages: 15.9 ppg, 6.5 apg, 3.52 a/t, 2.6 rpg, 2.1 spg

Wooden Worth: Before the N.C. State game, Hansbrough sat out of practice Monday and contact drills Tuesday to recover from the numerous blows to the head he sustained against Miami. Lawson didn't have to deal with any severe noggin-knocking, but heading into the Miami game, he did have to overcome a cold. But it seems like the second half of the season nothing -- phlegm, human, or otherwise -- has been able to shutdown Lawson, who's picked up his scoring while maintaining his sterling assist-to-turnover ratio. And for those of you counting at home, that's the second phlegm mention in Wooden Watch this season.

9. Jerel McNeal, Marquette, Sr. (Last week: No. 10)

Last game: 13 points, eight turnovers, seven assists, six rebounds, five steals in a 79-67 win over Seton Hall on Feb. 17.

Season averages: 19.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 4.0 apg, 2.2 spg

Wooden Worth: McNeal's known for his stingy defense, and his two-straight five steal games helped get the skidding Golden Eagles back on track. A couple areas of concern, though: McNeal coughed up the ball an uncharacteristically high eight times against Seton Hall, and in the last two games, he's 1-for-10 from long distance. Marquette's about the enter the epic stretch all 2009 Big East squads must face -- Georgetown, UConn, Louisville, Pitt and Syracuse remain -- and McNeal needs to help the squad maintain the tempo and scoring that have aided its success thus far. 

10. Jeff Teague, Wake Forest, So. (Last game: No. 6)

Last game: 15 points, five turnovers, four steals, three assists, one rebounds in 25 minutes in an 87-69 win over Georgia Tech on Feb. 18.

Season averages: 20 ppg, 3.8 apg, 3.5 rpg, 2.2 spg, 50.5 fg%

Wooden Worth: The Deacs lost to the Yellow Jackets once this year, and they weren't going to do it again. James Johnson deserves most of the credit for this one, but Teague certainly contributed to the cause. He has a chance to rekindle his player of the year spark against Duke on Sunday when he can lift his squad to 3-0 against UNC and Duke on the season.


***

On the cusp: Cole Aldrich (Kansas), Jon Brockman (Washington), Eric Maynor (VCU), Jodie Meeks (Kentucky), Terrence Williams (Louisville)

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