To the victors go the spoils. And so most of the press surrounding Kentucky's 72-69 win over Maryland at the swaggy Barclay's Center has been about Wildcats walk-on Jarrod Polson and his unlikely night. And who doesn't love a good walk-on story? But starting point guard Ryan Harrow is going to kick the flu, Kentucky's freshmen are going to get better every day, and Polson will fade into semi-obscurity as a backup on the nation's most watched college team.
But on the other side of the court, a player emerged who is capable of leading Maryland back into the national spotlight. Sophomore center Alex Len hit it big, and he did it on the national stage in about as good a basketball atmosphere as can be found in November.
Last season Len had to sit for the first ten games as the NCAA did whatever it is that the NCAA does. And despite a strong start, Len was playing from behind all season. The Ukrainian couldn't understand what he was being told to do. He was skinny. He wasn't in game shape. And so he just went on the court and did the best he could. His career began with four straight double-digit scoring efforts, but then only featured two more over the final 18 games. He averaged 6 points and 5.4 boards a game.
And then this year began and the newly beefed up Len is officially ready to roll. Against Kentucky he had 23 points, 12 rebounds and 4 blocks – all setting or tying career bests.
More importantly, the sophomore showed that he can be counted on to takeover stretches of the game, even against the best competition.
Here's a :50 second span in the first half that shows not only how Maryland will use him this year, but also the talent he brings to the court. It starts with Maryland coming out of timeout and calling a shot for Nick Faust. Maryland sends Faust baseline and has Len ready to set the screen. But his man (Archie Goodwin) loses him, and then tries to cut through traffic to catch up. Len steps up and delivers a massive screen.
But Faust misses the shot. No problem. The 7-1 Len goes up in heavy traffic, grabs the board and kicks it out.
Maryland resets the offense, and then clears out the left side so that Len can post up.
Len gets the ball, and then makes a nice move for a bucket over freshman 7-footer Willie Cauley-Stein.
On the other end of the floor Kentucky sets up a nice lane for Alex Poythress to drive, but Len is there to shut the play down.
Poythress chases down the ball in the corner and is guarded by Len. Poythress drives but can't convert, and (guess who) is there to rebound the ball.
Here's the complete video.