— Mr. Mister, one of the 1980s’ most impressively mulleted bands, scored a No. 1 hit with “Kyrie”, a synth-heavy song with the repeated chorus “Kyrie eleison”, Greek for “Lord, have mercy.” They said “Kyrie” 21 times in four minutes, which had to be some kind of record, at least until the first rounds of the NCAA tournament when TV announcers out Kyrie-d the band with their breathless and incessant coverage of Kyrie Irving’s return.
Unlike the song’s chorus, the Duke freshman’s name is pronounced with a long “I” sound and every time I heard it, I gave an equally long “Whhhhyyyy?” Yes, he’s a phenomenal talent who probably will be an early draft pick. But he’d also been sitting on the bench since Dec. 4, nursing the most talked about toe since Bunny Lebowski lost one of hers.
There was serious curiosity surrounding Irving’s comeback; everyone wondered whether he’d be the player he was 26 games ago. The answer? Not quite, not yet. He played 20 minutes against Hampton and scored 14 points, but the Irving who rehabs on an underwater treadmill isn’t the same guy who used to run the court for 27 minutes. His first field goal didn’t fall until 5:28 in the second half, when the Blue Devils already had a 32-point lead. And on Sunday against Michigan, nine of Irving’s 11 points came from the free-throw line.
Yes, he’ll be good again, maybe even while he’s still wearing Duke blue. He started the season as a Player of the Year candidate, although his name has since been dropped from the discussion. Someone else can decide who will be the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Instead, I’ll nominate three of the Most Watchable Players, the ones that make you drop your remote, drop your jaw, then drop their names into sentences that end with more than one exclamation point.
Jimmer Fredette (BYU): The Brigham Young senior is the only player who could match Irving for unrelated midgame mentions last weekend. Fredette has become the most popular player-turned-verb since we all got Pittsnogled in 2005, and the Jimmer bandwagon has become a traveling carnival. But he’s earned it. The Naismith Award finalist averaged a Division I-best 28.8 points per game during the season and he’s topped that mark in the first two games of the tournament.
Fredette has been on the court for a cumulative 79 minutes, averaging 33 points and leading BYU to its first Sweet 16 in 30 years. Against Gonzaga, he went 7 for 12 on 3-point attempts and is will shoot from beyond the college arc, the NBA arc, and possibly from the plastic seat where he’s eating his pregame meal.
Jimmer has scored more than 30 points in seven of his past 10 games, making BYU the scariest collection of Cougars this side of a Sandals resort. The Florida Gators — playing star defender Kenny Boynton, who is nursing an ankle sprain — could end up on the wrong side of a Jimmering for the second straight season.
Derrick Williams (Arizona): The play-by-play recaps tell the whole story in seconds and sentence fragments. Against Memphis, three seconds left. Wesley Witherspoon rebound. Wesley Witherspoon layup attempt. Derrick Williams block. End game. Arizona 77, Memphis 75.
And again, against Texas. Nine seconds. Derrick Williams layup. Game tied at 69. Foul on Jordan Hamilton. Derrick Williams free throw. End game. Arizona 70, Texas 69.
With two game-winning plays tucked into the waistband of his shorts, the Pac-10 Player of the Year has become Must-See TV. After Sunday’s win, Wildcats coach Sean Miller said, “At the very very clutch moment, after playing — in his mind — probably sub-par, he finished the game off. He’s like Mariano Rivera. When the game is on the line, he finished them off.”
Williams was mortal for the middle part of Sunday’s game — he missed a layup and two tip-ins in one ugly two-second stretch — but that was way out of character. Williams shot 60 percent during the regular season and opened his NCAA tournament with 22 points and 10 rebounds against Memphis.
Thursday night’s game against Duke might not come down to the final possession, but if it does, the Wildcats want the ball in Williams’ hands.
Joey Rodriguez (VCU): You might not recognize Rodriguez, even if he’s the guy ahead of you in the Walgreen's line. That’ll change if VCU’s unexpected run through the tournament continues. Rodriguez is a throwback pass-first, shoot-second guard who can do a little of everything. Double-digit point totals. Double-digit assists. Double-doubles. If he were an appliance, he’d definitely have an infomercial.
In VCU’s three games, including their play-in win over USC, Rodriguez averaged 12 points and eight assists while leaving backcourts littered with snapped ankles and empty sneakers. During their 94-76 dismantling of No. 3 seed Purdue, Rodriguez had a double-double with 11 assists, one block and zero turnovers. The stunned crowd could’ve used their wrecked brackets to clean up the carnage VCU left on the court.
It’s late in the season, but Rodriguez is verb-worthy. Can you get Joey-ed? Florida State will find out on Thursday night. If VCU wins in their first-ever Sweet 16 appearance, that’ll be something worth talking about.