Ben Hansbrough has led Notre Dame to an undefeated home record, and the Fighting Irish are currently second in the Big East, which is no easy feat considering the talent level of college basketball’s most competitive conference this season.
“We've seen a lot of great players this year so far. After that performance, I'd say he's the best I've seen now," Villanova coach Jay Wright said after Hansbrough scored 30 points and handed out 10 assists as Notre Dame defeated the Wildcats 93-72 last night.
"That kid just dominated the game," continued Wright. "He did a great job on Corey Fisher. He defended, he controlled the tempo. He broke the press by himself, he made shots and got everyone else shots."
This is about a player who is not even listed among the top ranked seniors by the good people at Draftexpress.com. Yet he runs his team efficiently and brings to mind Gerry McNamara, who previously starred at Syracuse with a “won’t lose” mentality.
Like McNamara, Hansbrough, the Notre Dame product by way of Mississippi State, can shoot, as he is hitting 43 percent from downtown, but that’s where the similarities end (ignoring the obvious). Hansbrough is just as comfortable shooting from way deep or beating the likes of Corey Fisher off the dribble.
Or if you need more proof of Hansbrough's abilities, ask 6'7" Marquette senior Jimmy Butler, who had the misfortune to be posterized by Hansbrough in a half-court set!
"On the dunk, I had the angle and I had been missing some bunnies earlier," said Hansbrough after the come-from-behind victory. "I’ve been working on doing that in practice and the opportunity came up there. I just went up strong and it went in. I think the coaching call to go to the zone changed the whole momentum of the game."
Hansbrough caught the ball just in front of the three-point line on the left side of the court, faked Butler, then beat him to the baseline. With Butler trailing him by a hair, Hansbrough took a drop step then jammed with his right hand to take the lead for good.
"Ben makes us believe," Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said. "He drives us. At crunch time, he is the guy who made us think we could win."
Ben is doing great things for Notre Dame; he is leading them in scoring with 18.4 points and 4.2 assists per game. Currently Notre Dame is 25-4 (13-4) and ranked eighth in the Associated Press Top 25. The Fighting Irish can make a deep run into the tournament, and that can be enough to see the younger Hansbrough join his older brother, Indiana Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough, in the NBA, especially after that dunk proved his athletic ability.
The 6'3" guard is making a name for himself after being known mostly as the younger brother of Tyler Hansbrough, who was a dominant force from day one of his freshman year at North Carolina to his senior year when he won a national championship.
Ben is currently in the running for Big East Player of the Year, and if Notre Dame can beat Connecticut on the road next Saturday, it will win the Big East provided the Pittsburgh Panthers lose their next game against Villanova on the same day.
"You have to look at the team in first place and look at its best player. If you look at scoring, you could go with Marshon Brooks or Kemba Walker. If you slate it toward production and winning in conference play, you have to go toward Ben Hansbrough and Ashton Gibbs," said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin regarding Big East Player of the Year candidates.
Marshon Brooks leads the Big East in scoring with 25.1 PPG and is second overall, but his bark has no bite as Providence has only won three Big East games so far. Brooks scored 52 in a one-point loss to Notre Dame, and Hansbrough scored a career-high 32.
If the Fighting Irish win the Big East, Hansbrough will have to be seriously considered for Naismith Player of the Year, even if it is currently Jimmer Fredette’s to lose. Jimmer may be the most entertaining player to watch, but Hansbrough could lead his team to the top of the most entertaining conference.
However, at the moment, he just wants to enjoy his last year in college.
"Any time you're approaching the last opportunity in anything you do, you want to maximize your experience," says Hansbrough. "If someone is going to beat me, they're going to get my best shot."