Unless you've been living under a rock, you know about the Marcus Smart incident. Smart shoved a fan toward the end of Saturday's loss to Texas Tech and has been suspended for three games. Watching live, my immediate reaction was sympathy for Smart. Knowing it would be blown out of proportion, and that many would see him as the bad guy.
Don't get me wrong; Smart should not have gotten physical with the fan. That said, Marcus Smart is a 19-year-old college student. He is not getting paid to deal with lunatics launching verbal jabs in his face. A grown man yelled something derogatory directly at a 19-year-old in the heat of the game, in the closing moments of a hotly contested matchup. Smart reacted. By the way, he didn't throw a haymaker, or charge into the stands recklessly a la Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson. He simply pushed a grown man; a grown man who had just insulted a teenager playing basketball.
The counter-argument will always exist: "He's an athlete, he deals with this kind of stuff all the time. He should know better." In the heat of the moment, Marcus Smart made a poor decision. But it wasn't catastrophic. Anyone that has played basketball knows that tempers flare, even on the playground. My father was once punched in the face during a pickup game for giving a hard foul. He was 40 years old at the time; I was 10 and watching from the sidelines. I thought it was so cool that he got a black eye. But I digress.
I'm also not trying to act holier-than-thou. I have yelled at opposing players at games I've attended. Certainly nothing racially charged or ridiculous like that, but let's just say I've told a few players that I do not care for their skills, in so many words. Maybe it wasn't right. It probably wasn't nice. But it happens when you get caught up in the game. It happens to fans just as much as players, if not more so.
Should the player be held to a higher standard than the fan? What about a college player who is young enough to be the fan's grandson?
Marcus Smart apologized. The fan apologized. Life goes on. I just hope that Marcus Smart doesn't get a bad rap for something that quite frankly is not as big of a deal as the media wants it to be.
Here is this week's "Four on the Hardwood Floor:"
1. Did you know that Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis played on the same high school team as Andrew Wiggins of Kansas? Maybe Ennis was making Wiggins look better than he actually is? Ennis has been one of the best freshmen in the country this season; he hit a 35-foot jumper at the buzzer to shock Pitt on Wednesday and keep the Orange undefeated.
2. Kudos to coach Larry Brown and the SMU Mustangs, who broke into the top-25 for the first time since 1984-1985.
3. St. John's got a much-needed win for the program Sunday against Creighton, as the Johnnies took down All-American Doug McDermott and the Bluejays, 70-65.
4. Watch out for the surging Billikens, who haven't lost since the first day of December. Saint Louis has a 16-game winning streak and remains undefeated in the new-and-improved A-10.
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Brett Comer, G, Florida Gulf Coast - Remember these guys? The darlings of last season's NCAA Tournament could be poised for another deep run in 2014. The Eagles are 10-2 in the Atlantic Sun conference and 16-9 overall. The Eagles have won four-straight games, with Comer's play as one of the chief reasons for the winning streak. The 6-foot-3 point guard is shooting an impressive 56.3 percent over that span en route to an average of 15.8 points per contest. Comer's true skill comes in setting up his teammates, though, as he is averaging 8.5 assists over the last two contests for the Eagles. FGCU's main competition for the Atlantic Sun crown will be the Mercer Bears, who actually defeated the Eagles earlier this season. However, Comer and the rest of the Eagles are battle-tested and playing even better of late. Dunk City, set up by the junior Comer, could be turning heads this March once again.
James Bell, G, Villanova - Perhaps because the Big East has been completely revamped, the Wildcats do not appear to be getting the respect they deserve. Villanova is 22-2 on the season, yet the Wildcats are flying under the radar despite being a top-10 squad. Coach Jay Wright's team is deep and experienced, led by the senior Bell. Villanova is currently on a six-game winning streak, and Bell is averaging 21.3 points per contest over that span. He has nearly doubled his scoring production overall from a season ago, while also shooting career-highs percentage-wise across the board. Bell is second on the team in rebounding, averaging 5.9 boards per tilt this season as well. The Wildcats are for real, and Bell is the force behind their success.
Bobby Portis, F, Arkansas - A 6-10 freshman that knows how to use his size, Portis has flashed his all-round skills of late. He was simply dominant against Alabama on February 5th, shooting 14-of-17 from the floor en route to a career-high 35 points. He scored more than half of his team's points in the victory. Portis also snatched nine rebounds and swatted six shots for the game. While he can overwhelm opponents inside, Portis is also not afraid to step out and shoot a jumper as well. He has quietly had a standout first campaign for the Razorbacks, averaging 13.1 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Arkansas could have a budding star on its hands.
Pablo Bertone, G, Florida Atlantic - The silver lining in a difficult season for the Owls has been the play of Bertone. The 6-4 senior has emerged as a dangerous scorer for FAU, averaging 18.9 points per game. He poured in a career-high 34 points in his last game, an 82-71 triumph over UAB. Bertone hit 13-of-20 shots from the field, including three from long distance. An above-average rebounder for his size, the Argentinian has managed 3.8 boards per contest as well. With 2.3 assists per tilt to his credit too, it's tough to say where the Owls would be without Bertone's play this season.
Joel Embiid, C, Kansas - Embiid has had a meteoric rise to prominence this season. The freshman has emerged as a possible No. 1 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft should he decide to turn pro. Scouts have compared him to a young Hakeem Olajuwon. However, Embiid has not been at full strength lately, battling knee and back injuries. As such, coach Bill Self has hinted that he might give his star center some rest due to the various ailments. Embiid is averaging 10.7 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per contest, but has failed to score in double figures in three of the last four games for the Jayhawks. Embiid still has great upside, but monitor his status for the next week or two.
Jonathan Holmes, F, Texas - On the bright side for the Longhorns, a knee injury for Holmes does not appear to be as severe as initially feared. Still, the 6-8 junior forward sat out Tuesday's blowout win over Oklahoma State, and coach Rick Barnes may choose to proceed cautiously with his leading scorer. Texas faces a mediocre West Virginia squad Saturday at home before entering a crucial stretch of away games with ranked opponents in Iowa State and Kansas. As a result, Holmes is a candidate to sit out Saturday with an eye towards returning for the February 18th matchup against the Cyclones. Holmes is averaging 13.1 points and 7.4 points per game for the surprising Longhorns.
Trae Golden, G, Georgia Tech - A transfer from Tennessee, Golden is averaging 13.4 points, 2.8 boards and 3.1 assists per game for the Yellow Jackets. He is the leading scorer for Georgia Tech, a squad tat has been racked by injuries. However, Golden suffered a groin injury of his own n February 1st at Wake Forest, and missed the subsequent game at Clemson due to the ailment. Golden returned against Virginia this past Saturday, but was clearly not himself, playing just 18 minutes while failing to score in the lopsided loss to the surging Cavaliers. Keep an eye on Golden's progress in recovering from the injury, as groin issues tend to linger. As such, he could be negatively impacted for a brief time.
Kevin Pangos, G, Gonzaga - The junior point guard for the ‘Zags came out of the gate firing on all cylinders this season, but has come back down to earth of late. Despite averaging 15.0 points per game this year, Pangos has failed tor each double-figures in three of his last four games for the Bulldogs. A reliable three-point shooter at 42.1-percent from downtown on the year, Pangos is just 4-of-19 in his last four contests from long range. Nagging injuries could be the cause as well. Pangos has been battling a turf toe injury on right foot for the better part of the season, and he tweaked his left ankle in practice last week. Pangos hasn't been able to move fluidly for some time now. Though he has still been able to fill up the stat sheet with dimes and some rebounds as well, Pangos may finally be feeling the effects of the wear and tear of the college basketball season.
Keith Appling, G, Michigan State - The Spartans have certainly taken their lumps this season, with injuries to star players in Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson and Gary Harris. Add Appling to the list, as the point guard aggravated a previous right wrist injury suffered in December. The senior floor general will miss a couple of weeks. Expect backup Travis Trice to see a significant uptick in his numbers in an attempt to replace Appling's production. Appling was averaging 15.0 points, 3.5 rebounds and 4.9 assists prior to the injury.
Cedrick Lindsay, G, Richmond - The Spiders suffered a crushing blow last week when it was determined that Lindsay, the team's leading scorer, tore menisci in both knees against VCU and will miss the remainder of the season. The senior was the leading scorer for the Spiders, averaging 18.3 points per tilt. He was no slouch as a distributor either, averaging a career-best 4.0 assists per game. Unfortunately for Lindsay, the injuries end his career at Richmond prematurely. A fringe-NCAA Tournament squad, the Spiders will be forced to rely even more heavily on junior shooting guard Kendall Anthony for points. The 5-8, 140-lb Anthony has responded by averaging 26.3 points over his last three games.
Demetrius Jackson, G, Notre Dame - It's been a rough year for guards in South Bend. First, veteran leader Jerian Grant was suspended for the remainder of the season due to an academic issue. Now, a similar situation has befallen the freshman Jackson, who had seen an uptick in playing time in the absence of Grant. Jackson will take some time off from the basketball team to focus on his studies. An admirable decision, though one that will obviously hurt the Irish on the floor. Jackson was averaging 6.1 points, 2.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game in a reserve role. Notre Dame is now paper-thin at guard, with 6-6 freshman Steve Vasturia as the only remaining reserve who has received minutes this season, behind point guard Eric Atkins and swingman Pat Connaughton.
Zach LaVine, G, UCLA - After throwing down some monster dunks earlier this season, LaVine's name emerged as a possible lottery pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, mostly due to his raw athleticism. The rest of his game may take some time to develop, though, and the freshman has slumped recently as well. LaVine is shooting a ghastly 21.7 percent in his last four games. As a result, he has failed to reach double-digits in scoring in any of those contests. A 43-percent shooter from three-point land, LaVine missed all five of his treys in a four-point loss to Oregon State on February 2nd. The 6-5 guard has also recorded just one total assist over that same span. LaVine has the talent to be a special player, but the freshman has been unproductive for the Bruins recently.