McCartney: Conley playing out of Oden's shadow; more

Wednesday February 7th, 2007
Mike Conley Jr.
Bob Rosato/SI
The Guy Behind The Guy
He leads the Big Ten in assists and steals and already has the Ohio State freshman record for dimes to go along with a resume that includes three Indiana state titles and McDonald's and Parade All-American honors. But Mike Conley Jr. is playing in the shadow of a phenom.

It's always been that way for Conley, who during his childhood was known as the son of Olympic gold medallist Mike Conley Sr. And no matter what, Conley can't seem to shake the perception of being the Cal Naughton Jr. to Greg Oden's Ricky Bobby. The two played on the same middle school, high school and AAU teams and despite his own exploits, many thought his landing in Columbus was some sort of package deal with Oden.

"I think a lot of people didn't see me as a McDonald's All-American, Parade All-American and things like that," the 6-foot-1, 180-pounder from Lawrence North (Indianapolis) High. "They just saw me coming along for the ride almost."

While he may not escape Oden's sizeable shadow until the big man is in the NBA, Conley has shown he's not riding the coattails of a player who has been called the best American-born big man in a generation.

His 6.4 assists a game are sixth in the nation and his 3.13 assist-to-turnover ratio is tops in the Big Ten. The only knock on Conley (9.7 ppg) has been his struggles with his outside shot, hitting just 28.9 percent from behind the arc. But Conley has excelled in those areas which define a point guard: getting his teammates involved and shouldering the load when needed.

"I want them to see how I can make my teammates better and how I can change the game and take over the game," Conley said. "I want people to know that I can play in clutch situations and not get rattled. [It's] just that overall game that I want people to notice."

He put that complete game on display in last week's win over Purdue. With Oden grieving over the death of his best friend, Ball State's Travis Smith, it was Conley who helped guide the Buckeyes to a victory, scoring a career-high 18 points to go along with six assists. With Oden back to his dominant self in Saturday's win at Michigan State, Conley was again relegated to the background, scoring 10 points and adding three assists while Oden had 16 points, 11 rebounds and four blocks.

But don't think that Conley feels slighted by being the guy behind the guy. He knows having Oden on his side has its advantages.

"I never took anything away from him," Conley said. "Playing with him has made me that much better as a player and as a person. He's a great person off the court to be a friend with and he makes me better and he makes the rest of the team better."

It's that long history that gives Conley a certain insight into what makes Oden tick -- and an ability to set him off like nobody else.

The two live in a four-person suite along with fellow freshmen Daequan Cook and David Lighty, with the fifth member of the Thad Five, Othello Hunter, living across the hall. When they're away form the court and the classroom, Conley says Oden likes his peace and quiet, spending his time in his room watching movies -- and nothing irks the big man more than putting a kink in his relaxation sessions.

"I know I can set him off at any time when I'm bangin' music and he can't hear his movies," Conley said. "That's his favorite pastime and I know how to get to him."

But what doesn't get to Conley is being underrated or under appreciated while everyone focuses on his 7-foot-1 high school chum.

"I don't look at it like that," he said. "I just try to keep an open mind and stay focused in what my goals are and not really think about what people are saying or who the highlights are of on TV."
The Perfect Storm
Ten years ago who would have believed Indiana fans would storm the court after a win over Wisconsin? Somewhere, Bob Knight's red sweater must be turning in its grave ... or in the back of his closet. The Hoosiers lead the series 79-19 and had a 31-game winning streak at one time, but there were the white and red-clad Hoosier faithful, flooding the court after a 71-66 win over then No. 2 Wisconsin last week. It's not an indictment of the state of Indiana basketball -- Kelvin Sampson has already proven he has IU heading in the right direction -- but more of a testament to just how far the Badgers have come. This is a team that has never been ranked No. 1, and until this season, had never cracked the top 5; a team that didn't make the NCAA tourney between 1947 and '94, but here they are en route to a ninth-straight trip to the Dance. The Hoosiers fans were the ones dancing on the Assembly Hall court after the biggest win at home since beating then No. 1 Michigan State on Jan. 7, 2001, but Wisconsin shouldn't feel too bad about its 17-game winning streak ending. Look at it this way, Badgers: when you get beat in a building with five national championship banners in the rafters and the home team is the one storming the court, that means you've officially reached the top.
Razing Arizona
Arizona supplied a Band-Aid, but should we believe the Wildcats have stopped the bleeding? On the heels of the worst loss of the Lute Olson-era and the first sweep by Washington State during his tenure, 'Zona found its shooting touch, hitting 57.4 of its shots in Saturday's 30-point rout of Washington. Is it enough to keep the 'Cats in the Top 25? Or should we be asking 'What do these guys have to do to get out of the rankings?' Somehow Arizona remained in the rankings despite the 28-point loss to UNC, which was the Wildcats' fifth loss in seven games. There was a sliver of hope for the 'Cats in the win over the Huskies, freshman Jordan Hill made his third start of the season, scoring a career-high 16 points. Olson has reaffirmed his faith in his club, publicly comparing this team to the 1997 squad, which finished fifth in the Pac-10 but went on to win the national title. But, Arizona fans may not want to get overly geeked quite yet: The 'Cats' 22-year streak of NCAA appearances isn't secure and Thursday the 'Cats play at Oregon State, where they've lost two of the past three, before heading to Oregon. Could Olson wind up with the most talented team in the NIT? Wait and see.
North Carolina State Wolfpack
Lowe and behold. Sidney has his first big win at the helm of his alma mater. The first-year coach guided North Carolina State to a stunning win over red-hot North Carolina, the Wolfpack's first in the rivalry since 2003.
Clemson Tigers
Remember when Clemson was the last remaining unbeaten? The ACC schedule has made that ancient history. The Tigers have lost five of six, including a defeat to Georgia Tech in which they committed 22 turnovers.
Virginia Cavaliers
Virginia is proving to be a sleeper in the ACC. Sean Singletary and the Cavaliers are suddenly tied for first place in the conference after beating Duke (their third ranked victim) and Miami in winning their sixth straight.
Oregon Ducks
You know Ernie Kent's crew can't wait to get back to Eugene. Oregon, which was ranked ninth, went 1-3 on its recent road trip that ended with a loss to USC that gave the Trojans their first sweep of OU in six years.
Texas A&M Aggies
Welcome to the Big 12's top spot, Aggies. Acie Law killed Kansas down the stretch, scoring 10 of Texas A&M's last 13 points, including a clutch trey with 25 seconds left as A&M beat the Jayhawks for the first time.
Duke Blue Devils
As if the rivalry wasn't heated enough, North Carolina could put Duke in dire straits. Losses to Florida State and Virginia mean the Dukies must beat UNC on Wednesday to avoid their first three-game skid since 1999.
"This was something I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy."
--Iona coach Jeff Ruland after the Gales won their first game of the season by dropping Rider. Iona (1-22) hadn't won since beating St. Peter's in the MAAC title game last March.
"That was a great finish and one of the wackier ones, I guess. We dodged a bullet."
--Nevada coach Mark Fox on final moments of the Wolf Pack's win over Hawaii in which the Warriors had two potential game-winning shots waved off after officials reviewed the plays.
"The fact that they've got the Wooden Award list out and he's not even on it is mind-boggling to me. ... Al Horford is one of the best big men in the country in my opinion."
--Florida coach Billy Donovan on Horford, who scored a career-high 22 points to along with his 13 rebounds, five assists and three blocks as the Gators cruised past Tennessee.
Kevin DurantF - Texas
I was serious about reserving a BMOC spot for KD. Durant became the second Big 12 player to post a 30-20 game when he had 37 points and 23 rebounds against Texas Tech, then followed it up with 32 and nine against Kansas State.
Jared DudleyF - Boston College
The ACC's leading scorer and rebounder tied his career-high with 30 points on 11 of 15 shooting, including four three-pointers in five attempts, and added 13 rebounds in keying Boston College's hot start in its rout of Virginia Tech.
Drew LavenderG - Xavier
How hot is Lavender from outside right now? He nailed a buzzer-beater from beyond half court to end the first half as Xavier ripped Charlotte. He finished with 31 points, hitting 7-of-8 treys and is shooting 65 percent since Jan. 11.
8, 15
Mike Rose tied his own school record with eight threes as BYU hit 15 treys, eclipsing the team mark of 14, as it beat UNLV. Both previous marks were set in '03 vs. Southern Utah.
Only Oregon State can appreciate this kind of ineptitude. The Beavers' 82-35 loss to UCLA tied the lowest points scored at the Bruins' Pauley Pavilion -- set by Oregon State in 1966.
Air Force cruised past Wyoming 88-43, with the 45-point margin of victory marking the biggest point differential in conference play in the Mountain West's nine-year history.
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