If you’re a basketball fan, you probably like to watch good point guard play. If you like good point guard play, there isn’t a better matchup Tuesday than the one in your backyard.
Twenty years ago, tonight’s matchup between Demetri McCamey and Talor Battle would have been thrilling, but nothing too out of the ordinary.
Now, given the state of college basketball and the rate at which young players jump ship and enter the NBA draft, the matchup between two seniors, who have led their programs for four years, is almost unheard of.
Both players will tell you tonight’s game isn’t about them or their head-to-head duel. That’s fine. They’re playing to win the game, not to outshine the other.
But purely from a fan’s perspective, if you go to the game for the sole reason of watching two probable first-team all-conference players compete, no one would blame you.
After all, right now, Demetri McCamey is the best player in the Big Ten.
Not the best scorer — that’s Battle with his 20.5 per contest. Not the best NBA prospect — that’s Ohio State freshman Jared Sullinger, who has plenty more raw talent. But so far this season, McCamey is with little doubt the league’s most valuable player, and don’t expect that to change anytime soon.
He is ninth in the league in scoring, and tied for first in assists. His court vision is second to none. He can score with his jumpshot and now off the dribble, too.
At a family dinner during the holidays, McCamey said a relative convinced him to attack the basket more. He listened, and it resulted in his winning the Oscar Robertson National Player of the Week award the following week.
The threat of McCamey scoring off the dribble is a scary thought considering he also leads all point guards with his 52 percent field goal shooting and is second in the conference in 3-point percentage.
The Nittany Lions know his talents first-hand. Last season it was McCamey who hit the game winner with a minute to go in the Illini’s 54-53 win over Penn State. In their next meeting, McCamey didn’t make a shot until he hit a dagger 3-pointer with two minutes to go. But even when he wasn’t scoring, he dished out nine assists.
That’s what makes these two so good. McCamey and Battle both understand their game, and know what they need to do. Even when they have off-nights shooting the ball, they’re the ones providing for teammates, who can pick up the slack.
Then, when the game is on the line in the final minutes, it’ll be Battle or McCamey with the ball, calling for either a screen or an isolation, no questions asked. It’s rare for a point guard to also be a team’s go-to crunch-time scorer, because of all the other responsibilities in directing the offenses. Tonight there are two of them on one court.
Where Battle falls short of McCamey is ultimately the area he’d call most important. McCamey’s team is in the hunt not only for the NCAA tournament, but the Big Ten title.
After Battle helped lead Penn State to an upset over Michigan State on Saturday, Spartan coach Tom Izzo said the loss especially hurt his team because it lost to a team that wasn’t a “contender” for the Big Ten crown.
Attaining contender status is all Battle has ever wanted, but anyone who thinks the Nittany Lions are capable of that right now is dreaming. Back-to-back wins over top-25 teams would at least solidify them as one of the middle-of-the-pack squads, out of the conference’s basement.
Throughout Battlle’s career, signature wins haven’t been a problem. The Nittany Lions have had plenty of those, including Michigan State. Building on those wins has proved most difficult.
Tonight provides Battle the perfect opportunity to do so. The rest of Penn State’s offense is clicking, and the student section will return after winter break.
The most complete player in the Big Ten — a familiar foe of the last four years — is standing in his way.