Through the first three rounds of the Big Dance, Russ Smith has been tap dancing around defenses like Gregory Hines at the Apollo. Smith has a common name, but he does not have a common game. Not much about Smith is generic. Besides, he’s more commonly known as "Buckets by Russ" or Russdiculous.
When Peyton Siva committed his second foul four minutes into the first half against Oregon, Rick Pitino sat him down. Russ Smith picked up the baton and scored 14 points in the first half.
Rick Pitino once said, “It may be 1-on-5 in practice and he's coming down on the break and he thinks advantage Russ." On one fast break, Smith took on three Oregon defenders in the lane and squirmed past them to score two points the easy way.
Whenever Oregon mounted a run, Buckets by Russ responded. However, Buckets by Russ’ best play of the night wasn’t a basket. On the night Smith matched his career-high, it was an assist that made the difference.
After Oregon cut the lead to 8 in the final four minutes, Smith darted into the lane, drew in an Oregon post defender and flicked a bounce pass to Gorgiu Dieng, who stepped up and flushed a two-handed slam.
Smith gets it done on both ends of the floor though. His quickness off the dribble allows him to infiltrate the paint, but his confidence is as impervious as his perimeter defense. Smith is one of the best on-ball defenders in the nation for the nation's best press defense. It's not by accident either. Smith is a black hole on D.
That boy Russ Smith gone be better than his brother Jr Smith!
— Shawnteze (@Stix_Dibiase) March 30, 2013
Another misconception about Smith is that he’s related to Knicks guard J.R. Smith. Russ dominates the ball like J.R., he hails from the New York metropolitan area like J.R., displays a similar lack of impulse control within the offense and he played in the same backcourt as J.R.’s brother Chris last season. But he’s not J.R. Smith’s brother. He’s also five inches shorter, but his reckless abandon is eerily similar.
Midway through the second half against Oregon, Smith darted through the lane, and launched himself for a one handed jam over 6-7 Oregon senior Arselan Kazemi. Unfortunately, Kazemi’s shoulder clipped Smith’s hip causing him to lose control of the ball and go splat on the hardwood.
Smith is just as likely to make your jaw drop as he will have you scratching your head in confusion over his confounding decision making. His high school coach Jack Curran passed away on the first day of the Big East tournament, but he understood what made Smith tick.
"Russ never maddened me because he scored a lot of points. We don't get mad at those guys. As long as they put it in, they can shoot as much as they want,” Curran told Sports Illustrated last year. “It's in his DNA: When he gets the ball, he thinks he's supposed to score. He really can't help himself with that."
Sound like anyone to you?
Smith is Jekyll and Hyde, but for most of this tournament he’s been worth the hassle for Pitino as well. After putting up 27 against Colorado State, Smith exuded confidence.
"I do whatever I can on the court and sometimes it's not the best, but I give an 'A' effort."
Smith’s name was mistakenly left off of most First-Team All-American lists, but he’s making everybody’s All-Tournament team; and his 26 points per game make him the early favorite for Midwest Regional MVP. He’s not J.R. Smith and he may never even be an NBA starter, but game recognize game and while J.R. Smith simultaneously scored 37 Friday night against the Charlotte Bobcats, Russ looks real familiar. Get to know that man’s name.