Still room for bigs like Sanogo, Timme in college basketball
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — UConn center Adama Sanogo punctuated one of the best games of his career by nailing a jumper from around the top of the 3-point line that brought a roar from Huskies fans.
After a review, it only counted as a 2, but the points weren’t really the point. At 6-foot-9, 245 pounds, Sanogo is a force in the paint, with a combination of quickness and power. He wants to be something more.
“You can be a good player, but if you want to be a great player, you have to be able to do a little bit of everything,” Sanogo said. “So being able to shoot was something in my mind that I wanted to do.”
Having a dominant post player is not the advantage it used to be. Just ask top-seeded Purdue. The Boilermakers and 7-4 All-American Zach Edey were eliminated Friday night by 16th-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson, the shortest team in the tournament.
Modern basketball has marginalized big guys who play close to the basket and the NBA is no longer coveting their skills.
But there is still a place for them in the college game, and it will be on display when fourth-seeded UConn from the Big East takes on fifth-seeded Saint Mary’s, and when No. 3 Gonzaga faces No. 6 TCU, on Sunday in the second round of the NCAA Tournament’s West Region.
The Gaels of the West Coast Conference will counter Sanogo with Mitchell Saxen, a 6-10, 242-pound junior who had 17 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the first round against VCU.
“I would rather play against guys like him,” Sanogo said Saturday. “I feel like it’s better for me to bang with people, play against people that are the same size as me.”
Sanogo was overwhelming in the first round against Iona. He scored 28 points on 13-for-17 shooting, most of it from right around the rim.
The junior has added some range to his game this season, taking 48 3-pointers (and making 17) after trying just one in his first two years.
Behind Sanogo, UConn has 7-2 freshman Donovan Clingan, who had 12 points and nine rebounds in 13 minutes against Iona.
Clingan said sometimes he wonders if he was born too late to maximize his basketball talents.
“At the same time, I’m trying to develop my game behind the 3-point line, which is what the NBA is nowadays: 3s and layups,” he said. “Just trying to adapt to the new style of basketball.”
Clingan might even get to play against another 7-footer Sunday. Saint Mary’s freshman Harry Wessels (7-1, 255) averages about six minutes per game, but UConn would seem to present a matchup suitable for his skills.
“You’re not winning our league playing small,” Gaels coach Randy Bennett said. “Gonzaga’s going to play big. They always have. They have pros in there at their fours and fives. You can’t play small ball and beat them.”
The Zags are led by All-American big man Drew Timme, who had 21 points, six rebounds and three blocks in a first-round win over Grand Canyon.
“They have a history of having skilled big guys that can play inside and out, pass, dribble, shoot, score in the post,” Horned Frogs coach Jamie Dixon said when asked to explain the Zags’ long run of success. “I think it starts there.”
Timme, a 6-10 senior, has been one of the top players in the country for the last three seasons, despite being only 17 for 74 in his career from beyond the arc. In another era, he probably would already be in the NBA.
“I think you see a lot of great bigs around the country, this year especially,” Timme said. “I just think other people don’t value it as much. I wouldn’t say it’s lost, I just say it’s not as appreciated as it was 15, 20 years ago.”
But now, with college players permitted to earn money off their names, images and likenesses, staying in school can make sense and dollars.
“I think for those guys, for a guy like Adama, obviously it’s lucrative to stay in the college game with NIL valuations,” UConn coach Dan Hurley said.
Bennett said post play on the offensive end still has a lot of value. It’s on defense where it can be a challenge to keep the fives on the floor.
Bennett said coaches are better than ever about using screens to create defensive switches that force big players to guard small ones away from the basket.
“Those guys have to be athletic enough to defend, and I think that’s why people have gone away from it a little bit is because offensively people have gotten so good with using on-balls to attack them,” he said.
HALF A WIN
TCU coach Jamie Dixon can proudly say he has never lost to Gonzaga’s Mark Few. Still, he didn’t walk out of their only meeting feeling like a winner.
Their only head-to-head matchup came at the Armed Forces Classic in Japan in 2015, when Dixon was coaching Pitt. The game got called at halftime due to intense humidity and bad ventilation that caused the court to become too slippery to play.
The Panthers were leading 37-35 at halftime when the game was called. Gonzaga’s coaching staff left the game to press the program’s recruiting of Rui Hachimura. The Japanese big man came to the U.S. and played three seasons for the Bulldogs. He helped them to one national final before becoming an NBA lottery pick in 2019.
“We got a half a win and they got Rui,” Dixon said, “so I think they won out on the deal.”
AP Sports Writers Pat Graham and Eddie Pells in Denver contributed.
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