Where Marcus Smart was coming from

ASSOCIATED PRESS Marcus Smart was in the wrong, but it's not impossible to see how skirmish happened.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Marcus Smart was in the wrong, but it's not impossible to see how skirmish happened.
Posted: February 13, 2014

I AM NOT going to defend Marcus Smart, but I do understand how and why it all went down Saturday night at Texas Tech.

Smart should not have pushed Jeff Orr. He should have been suspended three games.

So many forget in their zeal to back their teams that teenagers or just-past teenagers are far from finished life products. That they have earned a college scholarship to play basketball is all we really know about most of them. We see them on the court. Somehow, they become just players, but not people.

I don't know Smart or much about Oklahoma State's program. I do know he would have been a lottery pick last year, but chose to stay in school.

I remember a Big 5 player in a similar situation a few years ago. He chose to come back to play. After that season, his coach told me the player had held him and his team hostage the entire season, dangling the fact that he decided to come back to play for the team over them. The coach was powerless, the player enabled and the team underachieved.

Smart, 19, had been acting out recently. His play had fallen off. His team's 15-2 on Jan. 15, was about to be 16-7 when Smart went careening into the stands.

Then, Orr called him at least "a piece of crap." The woman to Orr's right started clapping real fast in Smart's face, essentially taunting him, reminding him his team was about to lose.

Smart pushed Orr. Again, wrong. No defense. But I thought his reaction was human. It all had built up to the moment and he lost it.

Nobody was injured. No lives were altered. No lasting damage was done.

There was, shockingly, an immediate overreaction. ESPN, that master of understatement, immediately went wall-to-wall Smart shove on its Saturday night "SportsCenter," ignoring the NBA, the rest of college hoops and the start of the Winter Olympics, which, of course, was on that network owned by Comcast.

A good friend who works at ESPN told me a few years ago that he had been told if he did not have a story that involved Tiger, A-Rod, Brett Favre, Kobe, LeBron and a few others, don't bother. They want to cover what sells.

Well, Marcus Smart was selling, at least until Michael Sam came out the next day.

Orr is an air-traffic controller. Remind me to find out whether he works at DFW and, if so, to check out his shift when I fly in and out of Dallas for the Final Four in April. I might ask to be diverted.

Orr is also a buffoon, emblematic of the middle-aged fan who yells at college kids and officials and who knows what else away from the court. I have watched bozos like him for decades. I never understood them. I still don't.

Put fans such as Orr in the same space as an athlete feeling the heat and you get Smartgate. This is 2014. We really should be better than this.

Why not just go to the game, cheer for your team, admire the athletes and go home?

Bell a near lock as Big 5's best

It might be only the second week of February, but Villanova senior James Bell has about clinched the Geasey Award as Big 5 Player of the Year. More than anything, Bell, the best player for what statistically is the most dominant team in City Series history, is a testament to perseverance.

I remember watching high school videos of him, thinking he might be 'Nova's next superstar. He was just an incredible athlete.

Then, the injuries started. He averaged 2.4 points as a freshman, 7.0 as a sophomore and 8.6 as a junior, when he became "Big Shot Bell."

This season, Bell is averaging 16.0 points and 5.8 rebounds. He shoots 45.4 percent, 39.9 percent from three and 79.7 percent from the foul line. And he keeps getting better. In his last seven games, he scored 17, 19, 30, 16, 19, 27 and 20.

And he has learned the secret to taking the big shot. He is not scared of missing and is willing to deal with the consequences if he does. The last two seasons, it has been 'Nova's opponents that have been dealing with the consequences.

Speaking of Wildcats

I do not remember a Big 5 player improving as much during as a season as Daniel Ochefu. The 'Nova big man has been off the charts good for 2 solid months. Since the Dec. 7 rout at Saint Joseph's, Ochefu is 45-for-55 (an insane 81.8 percent) from the field. He rebounds, passes and blocks shots with great skill and passion. And Jay Wright says Ochefu is his team's best defender.

Speaking of schedules

Villanova plays DePaul in Chicago tonight, Creighton in Omaha on Sunday and Providence in Providence on Tuesday. When exactly did the 'Cats join the NBA?

However they do in this brutal stretch, it should only help when they begin their NCAA journey in March. This team has been tested all season.

Champs in town tomorrow

Louisville is at the Liacouras Center tomorrow night to play Temple. It has been an uneven season for Rick Pitino's team, which has lost players to an inability to follow the rules and injury. But anybody who plans to dismiss them in March is making a mistake.

There was little doubt Louisville was the best team in the country when the 2013 NCAAs began. The Cardinals then proved it on the court. That Louisville team had a perfect balance between offense and defense, finishing fourth and third in offensive and defensive efficiency.

These Cardinals are 13th and 14th, respectively, in those categories, still Final Four-worthy. Any team with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell is dangerous. Put them with the only coach to win the championship at two schools and I would advise moving them along for a while when filling out brackets. How far you should advance them will be determined by matchups, styles and level of play at the time.

This and that

* Did you catch the show Delaware senior Davon Usher put on last Wednesday against College of Charleston? UD was trailing, 51-31, with 8 minutes left. Usher then proceeded to score 27 of his team’s final 36 points as the Blue Hens rallied to win, 67-64.

How improbable was the win? C of C shot 57.5 percent and killed UD on the glass, 38-17. So how did Delaware win? It forced 26 turnovers. Usher had seven steals and, oh, yeah, 42 points, the second-highest total ever in a CAA game.

The highest? David Robinson had 45 for Navy against James Madison on Jan. 10, 1987. The Admiral in the CAA? Not fair.

* Delaware is one of only eight teams that entered last night still unbeaten in conference play. The others were Syracuse (ACC), Saint Louis (Atlantic 10), Wichita State (Missouri Valley), San Diego State (Mountain West), Florida (Southeastern), Stephen F. Austin (Southland) and Georgia State (Sun Belt).

* There are three unbeaten teams among the 1,044 across three divisions — Syracuse, Wichita State and Cabrini.

* Scoring is up 4.04 points (6 percent) per game this season over 2012-13. If the 71.68 point average holds, it would be the highest-scoring season since 1995-96. Scoring was up 5.89 points in November, 3.27 points in December and 3.84 points in January.

Fouls are up 9 percent this season after an all-time low of 17.68 fouls per game last season. Turnovers are down 8 percent. Still too many offensive fouls, but it is better than it has been. And, now that the officials are starting to get beyond the default charge call, it should be even better next season.

Email: jerardd@phillynews.com

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