Thu Dec 05 11:00am EST
The ACC-Big Ten Challenge concluded Wednesday night with each league winning six games. I've already written about Indiana's two-three zone woes, Nik Stauskas' rough night with the Cameron Crazies, LaQuinton Ross' breakout game and North Carolina's baffling unpredictability. Here's a look at some of the other winners and losers from this year's Challenge:
STOCK UP: WISCONSIN'S RESUMÉ
Michigan State entered the week as the top-ranked team in the nation. Ohio State boasts the best perimeter defense in the nation. Michigan returns three stars from last season's national runner-up team. So you know which Big Ten power boasts the best collection of early-season wins? Surprisingly, it's Wisconsin. In storming to the first 9-0 start of the Bo Ryan era, the Badgers have beaten a handful of high-quality opponents including SEC contender Florida, defending Atlantic 10 champ Saint Louis, improving St. John's and West Virginia and quality mid-majors Green Bay and North Dakota. The Badgers added another notable pelt to the list Wednesday, taking down Virginia 48-38 in a grind-it-out defensive battle. The style of the game was noteworthy because Wisconsin had played at a faster tempo this season and won with its offensive efficiency more than its defense. The Cavs found a way to slow the Badgers down with their pack-line defense, yet Wisconsin still found a way to emerge with a quality road win.
STOCK DOWN: MICHIGAN STATE'S HEALTH
Lost amid all the talk of how confounding North Carolina has been so far this season were concerns about the health of some of Michigan State's top players. Some of the issues were minor: Keith Appling seemed no worse for wear despite a nasty first-half spill that resulted in a hip pointer and Matt Costello was Michigan State's most effective interior rebounder and defender despite a case of mononucleosis. Of more concern, however, are Gary Harris' nagging right ankle injury and Adreian Payne’s plantar fasciitis. Harris lacked his usual explosiveness once again Wednesday night and Payne has missed a lot of practice time, perhaps contributing to the cramps that sidelined him for stretches of the second half against the Tar Heels. With its other stars hurting, Michigan State certainly could have used a strong performance from Branden Dawson to pick up the slack. Didn't happen. The junior forward scored only two points in 17 listless minutes and spent much of the second half on the bench after giving up consecutive baskets.
STOCK UP: ROY DEVYN MARBLE
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery always likes to praise how many different scoring options his high-octane offense has at its disposal. That's certainly true, but there's also no doubt the Hawkeyes have a go-to scorer too when they need one. Slashing wing Roy Devyn Marble is leading Iowa at 16.8 points per game, a slight increase over his production from a breakout junior season. Though his big scoring games against Xavier and Villanova at the Battle 4 Atlantis required 20-plus shots, he shot 7 of 14 in lighting up Notre Dame for 17 points in Iowa's 98-93 win on Tuesday night. Marble had 13 straight points in the second half as Iowa fended off run after run from the Irish to bounce back from its first loss of the season against Villanova just three nights earlier.
STOCK DOWN: GLENN ROBINSON III
The more Robinson plays without Trey Burke, the harder it is to believe he probably would have been a first-round pick had he turned pro last spring and he was projected by some to be taken in the lottery next June. Robinson has shown neither the aggressiveness nor the ability to create his own shot as his production has stayed constant and his efficiency has dropped way off without Burke setting him up for open shots. The lack of development of Robinson was especially glaring in Tuesday night's loss to Duke because the Blue Devils' perimeter defense was geared almost entirely toward denying Nik Stauskas the ball. That should have created opportunities for Robinson to pick up the slack, but he instead finished with a quiet eight points on 4 of 9 shooting. It was Caris LeVert who took advantage of Duke's defense and carried Michigan the way Robinson was supposed to, finishing with 24 points.
STOCK UP: SYRACUSE'S BACKCOURT
If the biggest question facing Syracuse entering the season was whether the Orange could replace guards Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche, so far the newcomers have done a terrific job of answering it. Tyler Ennis, Syracuse's highly touted freshman point guard, has blossomed in his last three games, averaging 18.7 points, seven assists and only one turnover. And shooting guard Trevor Cooney has taken advantage of increased playing time to get in a rhythm he could never achieve off the bench last season, sinking 47.3 percent of his tries from behind the arc despite attempting nearly seven threes a game. Both Ennis and Cooney were particularly efficient in Syracuse's 69-52 rout of Indiana on Tuesday night. While the Orange's vaunted two-three zone got most of the attention -- perhaps rightfully so -- Cooney scored 21 points and sank five threes and Ennis finished with an efficient 17 points, eight assists and only one turnover. Pair that production with Syracuse's long, athletic frontcourt, and the Orange are going to be tough for anyone to beat.
STOCK DOWN: MARYLAND POINT GUARDS
When Maryland coach Mark Turgeon announced before the season that he intended to play Dez Wells at point guard while starter Seth Allen recovered from a broken foot, it seemed like a decision steeped in desperation. Wells is a wing with little experience as a distributor, yet Turgeon didn't feel comfortable entrusting the position to freshman Roddy Peters yet. Questions about Maryland's point guard situation have only increased eight games into the season with the Terrapins sporting a disappointing 5-3 record thanks in part to an inefficient offense that ranks second-to-last in the ACC in assist-to-turnover ratio. Those problems not surprisingly were accentuated facing Ohio State's vaunted perimeter defense on Wednesday. Wells scored 17 points but didn't effectively set up his teammates and Peters committed five turnovers off the bench as Maryland finished with more than twice as many turnovers as assists.
STOCK UP: DUKE'S DEFENSE
With no true rim protector to clean up mistakes by altering shots in the paint, Duke likely is going to have to outscore some teams to win this season. Still, the Blue Devils deserve credit for improving defensively during the three games since surrendering an astonishing 90 points at home against Vermont. Duke did a better job containing dribble penetration in a win over Alabama and a loss to Arizona during the NIT Season Tip-Off in New York. The improvement continued Tuesday night as the Blue Devils shut down high-powered Michigan en route to a 79-69 victory. Tyler Thornton and Matt Jones combined to do an excellent job on Michigan leading scorer Nik Stauskas, denying him the ball and limiting him to just two shots. Michigan shot under 40 percent much of the night until a late surge in the final minutes after the game was out of reach.
STOCK DOWN: BOSTON COLLEGE'S DEFENSE
Like many people, I thought Boston College's young nucleus would improve enough to vault the Eagles into fringe NCAA tournament contention this season. Turns out we were all probably wrong. The primary culprit for Boston College's horrendous 3-5 start is a defense that lacks the physicality or athleticism necessary to force turnovers, guard the 3-point line or keep opponents off the offensive glass. In all but two of Boston College's eight games this season, its opponent has scored 78 or more points and averaged more than 1.1 points per possession. The Eagles are also the worst rebounding team in the ACC. That trend continued Wednesday as a Purdue team not exactly known for its potent offense shot 52.2 percent from the floor and gobbled up 14 offensive boards en route to an 88-67 rout. The duo of Olivier Hanlan and Ryan Anderson is a nice one-two punch on offense, but it won't matter unless Boston College becomes less porous at the other end of the floor.
Thu Dec 05 12:33am EST
No opponent is too formidable for North Carolina to beat or too inferior to beat the Tar Heels.
North Carolina cemented its reputation for the bizarre and unpredictable on Wednesday night in East Lansing, toppling No. 1 Michigan State 79-65 in one of the marquee games of the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. The outcome secured a 6-6 tie for the ACC in the challenge and ensured the Tar Heels would end the night with an unrivaled collection of quality wins and surprising losses.
The roller coaster ride started when North Carolina lost at home to Belmont on Nov. 17. It continued when the Tar Heels bounced back by upsetting defending national champion Louisville a week later in the title game of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off. Next came a road loss to unheralded UAB on Sunday night. And finally Wednesday's road win at Michigan State, which made North Carolina the first team in five seasons to defeat the No. 1 team and the defending national champion in non-league play.
It's difficult to make sweeping judgments about a team as schizophrenic as North Carolina, but this much is clear after watching the Tar Heels pull away from Michigan State in the second half just like they did against Louisville two weeks earlier. North Carolina would be a better team were wings P.J. Hairston and Leslie McDonald available to play, but it's still capable of playing with anyone as long as its young big men score enough to help make up for the loss of perimeter production.
Sophomore forward Brice Johnson continued his strong start to the season, protecting the rim on defense and scoring 14 points by attacking the offensive glass and finishing in transition. Freshman Kennedy Meeks provided a perfect complement to Johnson by playing his best game since delivering a double-double against Louisville, using his girth and soft touch around the rim to score 15 points, grab seven rebounds.
Surprisingly enough, North Carolina also got some production from its wing position, a rarity with Hairston still unable to play. J.P. Tokoto and Nate Britt combined for 25 points, helping to make up for off shooting nights from standout point guard Marcus Paige and struggling forward James Michael McAdoo.
What had to be most troubling for previously unbeaten Michigan State was the way the Tar Heels outclassed the Spartans in areas previously considered strengths.
Effort plays? North Carolina beat the Spartans to loose balls all night. Rebounding? The Tar Heels produced numerous second-chance opportunities and emerged with a 49-38 edge on the glass. Fast break chances? North Carolina repeatedly turned errant Michigan State jump shots into transition buckets on the other end.
Michigan State deserves some slack considering Gary Harris was hobbled by an ankle injury, Adreian Payne was slowed by cramps and Keith Appling missed time late in the first half with a hip pointer caused by a scary fall that sent him tumbling to the ground. Still, this was not a performance on either end of the floor befitting a team expected to contend for the national championship this season.
As for North Carolina, this win will leave everyone from fans, to analysts, to even its own coaching staff puzzled.
At its worst, North Carolina has shown it is susceptible to upsets by opponents who can't match its talent or pedigree. But at their best, the Tar Heels have also now proven they can't be overlooked by anyone.
Wed Dec 04 09:39pm EST
It was then that enigmatic Ohio State forward LaQuinton Ross caught a kick-out pass from point guard Aaron Craft and buried a wide-open right-wing 3-pointer to give the Buckeyes an early lead.
A basket in the opening minute proved to be a good omen for the once-struggling Ross. The ultra-talented 6-foot-8 junior continued to show signs of emerging from his early slump, erupting for a season-high 20 points to lead fifth-ranked Ohio State to a 76-60 rout of visiting Maryland in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.
Ross' breakout performance reinforced how good Ohio State can be when he's confident, aggressive and in a good rhythm offensively. An elite perimeter defense, a balanced offense and the leadership of Aaron Craft are enough to keep the Buckeyes in contention in the Big Ten this season, but there will be some games when Ohio State (7-0) needs a go-to scorer to fill the shoes of departed forward Deshaun Thomas.
The obvious choice to fill that role before the season was Ross because of his dynamic play late last season.
Having finally improved his defense enough to crack Ohio State's rotation as a sophomore, Ross played an increasingly large role for the Buckeyes as last season went along despite coming off the bench behind Thomas and Sam Thompson. He averaged nearly 18 points per game in Ohio State's final three NCAA tournament games and sank the game-winning shot to send the Buckeyes past Arizona in the Sweet 16.
Maybe it was the pressure of greater responsibility. Maybe it was that he hasn't always given a consistent effort. Whatever the reason, Ross did not live up to his preseason billing during the first five games of Ohio State's season.
Ross sank just 10 of 44 shots in those five games and went scoreless in Ohio State's 52-35 win over Marquette. It didn't hurt the Buckeyes because the schedule was soft and their defense was stingy, but Ohio State coach Thad Matta still offered vague criticism of Ross and admitted the team needed greater consistency from the junior.
A 17-point, 8-rebound performance against North Florida last week offered hope that Ross was breaking out his slump, but the competition wasn't strong enough to provide a true litmus test. The Maryland game was a better measuring stick, and to say the least Ross measured up just fine.
He sank four threes in the opening six minutes of the game. He matched his season high of 17 points by halftime. And though he only scored three points in the second half, Ohio State didn't need more production from him since Maryland already trailed by 17 at the half and never seriously threatened afterward.
If Ohio State added consistent perimeter offense from Ross to go with Aaron Craft's forays to the rim, Sam Thompson's aerial skills and Amir Williams' improving low-post output, the Buckeyes would have a potent offense to go with their formidable defense. History suggests, however, that Ross is likely to remain streaky.
Fortunately for Ohio State, it can still beat top teams on nights Ross is cold. The Buckeyes will just be that much tougher to beat when he's a factor.
Wed Dec 04 10:56am EST
Krzyzewski didn't go into much detail after Tuesday's game about why Sulaimon didn't play a minute, but his brief explanation makes it clear he intended to send a message to the struggling sophomore. Said Krzyzewski when reporters in Durham asked him about Sulaimon, "He has to play better than the guys who played tonight."
Spending an entire game on the bench is the culmination of a stunningly poor start to the season for a player who started every game for Duke as a freshman and was expected to be one of the team's best players this season.
Sulaimon has been lackadaisical on defense at times, has averaged 4.5 points per game less than he did a year ago and has shot only 36.2 percent from the floor. In the four games prior to Tuesday night, he sank only 3 of the 20 shots he attempted.
Though balky knees and sagging confidence certainly appear to have affected Sulaimon so far this season, another factor is that he simply doesn't fit as well with this year's roster as he did a year ago. Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood now provide the slashing ability from the wing that Sulaimon delivered last season, and the Blue Devils need elite shooters and tough defenders around them more than they need another wing who can attack the rim.
The good news for Duke is shooting guard is by far the team's deepest position. If Sulaimon doesn't respond well to his benching or can't emerge from his early-season funk, Andre Dawkins is available to provide outside shooting, Tyler Thornton can bring defense and energy and freshman Matt Jones offers a little bit of both.
Thornton and Jones were masterful in denying the ball to Michigan star Nik Stauskas on Tuesday night, while Dawkins came off the bench to bury a pair of key second-half threes as the Wolverines were mounting a mini-rally.
Sulaimon, meanwhile, watched it all from the bench, an unlikely spot to be in for a guy of his talent. Perhaps it will be a motivational tool for him to make sure he never has to take another DNP in the box score again.
Wed Dec 04 12:16am EST
Having accidentally flung his shoe into the third row of Duke's infamous student section after it slipped off during Tuesday night's first half, Michigan sophomore Nik Stauskas faced an unusual problem at the next stoppage of play.
Not only did the Duke student who caught Stauskas' shoe actually return it, a handful of Duke fans also jokingly offered their shoes too. That was about the only thing that went right the whole night for Stauskas, who scored only four points and missed his only two shots from the field as 10th-ranked Duke throttled 22nd-ranked Michigan 79-69 behind an uncharacteristically strong defensive effort.
Aware that Stauskas entered the game averaging 20.3 points per game, Duke focused its defensive efforts on limiting his touches. Tyler Thornton and freshman Matt Jones shadowed Stauskas everywhere he went on the floor in an effort to make someone else on Michigan play the role of go-to scorer.
The combination of Duke's defense and a sprained ankle suffered the previous week kept Stauskas from having his usual impact on the game. Caris LeVert carried the Wolverines with 24 points and Mitch McGary padded his stats with some late buckets after the game was out of reach, but minimal production from Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III was too much for Michigan to overcome on the road.
Another strong defensive effort from Duke was an encouraging sign for the Blue Devils. Questions about their ability to defend the dribble or protect the rim emerged after Vermont scored 90 points at Cameron Indoor Stadium last month, but Duke responded with two solid defensive games against Alabama and Arizona in the NIT Season Tip-Off and its best game of the season against Michigan.
Stauskas was so quiet during the game that his most memorable moments both involved interactions with Duke fans. In addition to his shoe throwing incident, he also high-fived members of the Cameron Crazies as they were doing their trademark spirit fingers in his direction as he went to inbound the ball.
Tue Dec 03 09:39pm EST
The last time Indiana attempted to solve Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone in the Sweet 16 last March, it took the Hoosiers six minutes to score their first field goal, 10 minutes to score their second and more than 18 minutes to sink their first three-pointer.
Indiana fared no better eight months later in Tuesday night's rematch.
Unable to efficiently score inside against Syracuse's long, athletic front line or to knock down shots from the perimeter with any consistency, the Hoosiers fell out of striking distance early in the second half and lost 69-52 in a Big Ten-ACC Challenge matchup. The ferocious Orange defense held Indiana to 36.6 percent shooting and 34 points shy of its season average.
Not having success against the zone had to be especially frustrating for an Indiana team motivated to avenge last March's season-ending loss. Victor Oladipo, Cody Zeller, Jordan Hulls and Christian Watford led the high-scoring Hoosiers to a Big Ten title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, but they fell behind fourth-seeded Syracuse by 18 early and never seriously threatened in a 61-50 loss.
Whereas last year's Indiana team had an array of shooters capable of hitting from over the top of the zone, this year's Hoosiers needed to counter Syracuse with strengths it didn't have last season. Greater length and athleticism gave Indiana a better chance to score in transition before the zone was set and to attack the offensive glass for put-backs and second-chance points.
That strategy helped Indiana (6-2) claw back from an early 10-0 deficit to briefly take the lead late in the first half, but the youthful Hoosiers faded quickly once Syracuse (8-0) clamped down after halftime.
Too many times they settled for contested jump shots early in the shot clock. Too many times they failed to take care of the ball. Were it not for the 3-point shooting of point guard Yogi Ferrell (12 points) and the ability to get to the foul line of forward Noah Vonleh (17 points), Indiana might not have managed to crack 40 points.
Highlighting Indiana's woes further was Syracuse's offensive efficiency. Trevor Cooney sank five threes and Tyler Ennis and C.J. Fair tallied 17 and 15 points respectively as the Orange shot 51.1 percent from the floor and got to the foul line 25 times.
The lopsided result reaffirmed conventional wisdom about both Indiana and Syracuse this season.
The underclassmen-heavy Hoosiers flashed bursts of promise but generally looked like a team a year away from contending in the Big Ten or making a deep NCAA tournament run. The Maui Invitational champion Orange, on the other hand, look like a national contender, especially if freshman point guard Tyler Ennis continues to develop and Jerami Grant can provide further frontcourt scoring help for Fair.
A huge game from Grant wasn't necessary Tuesday, however. Just like last March, the zone was all Syracuse needed.
Tue Dec 03 06:17pm EST
Florida may have to endure the remainder of the most daunting part of its schedule without a point guard.
Two weeks after decorated freshman Kasey Hill suffered a high ankle sprain expected to sideline him at least through mid-December, incumbent point guard Scottie Wilbekin went down with a similar injury Monday night at UConn. X-Rays on Wilbekin's right ankle came back negative on Tuesday and the timetable for his return is unknown.
The timing of Wilbekin's injury is not ideal with games against Kansas and Memphis up next on Florida's schedule. Assuming neither Wilbekin nor Hill can return to the lineup for either of those two contests, ball handling and distributing responsibilities will fall to players unaccustomed to that role.
Sharpshooter Michael Frazier is the most likely candidate to shift to point guard, a dicey solution since the wing lacks either the lateral quickness on defense or the distributing ability on offense to be effective at point guard. Frazier also filled in at point guard when Wilbekin and Hill missed a win over Middle Tennessee last month, scoring 13 points but dishing out just two assists and committing two turnovers.
Beyond Frazier, there simply aren't many options for a Gators team ravaged by injuries to guards. Freshman Dillon Graham is out for the season because of bone spurs in his hips and Rutgers transfer Eli Carter may redshirt this season thanks to complications in his recovery from a broken leg.
Florida has split the first two games of its hellacious three-week stretch, edging rival Florida State by one before falling at the buzzer Monday night at UConn on a Shabazz Napier jumper.
Another December loss or two won't be fatal for a team with top 15 talent when fully healthy, but it would leave the Gators with work to do in SEC play to reclaim their high preseason ranking.
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Tue Dec 03 02:19pm EST
The Battle 4 Atlantis clinched that honor Tuesday with the announcement of an eight-team field rife with marquee programs.
National powers North Carolina, UCLA and Florida headline the 2014 incarnation of an event that has quickly emerged as one of the premier tournaments on the college hoops calendar. Recent Final Four teams Butler (2010, 2011), Georgetown (2007), Oklahoma (2002) and Wisconsin (2000) also will participate in the tournament, as will a UAB team that is on the rise under second-year coach Jerod Haase.
That the Battle 4 Atlantis was able to draw such a loaded field reflects its desire to unseat the Maui Invitational as the most prestigious holiday tournament. In the first few years of its existence, the Battle 4 Atlantis has drawn the likes of UConn, Duke, Louisville and Kansas to the Bahamas.
One of the advantages the Battle 4 Atlantis provides marquee programs is a shorter, less expensive flight than Maui offers. The Maui Invitational and other top tournaments were able to counteract that with their partnership with ESPN, but the Battle 4 Atlantis just signed a multi-year deal with ESPN that begins in 2014, ensuring its games will be spread to wider audiences than NBC Sports Network could provide.
Don't cry too hard for the Maui Invitational, however, because it's unlikely to go the way of the Great Alaska Shootout anytime soon. The 2014 Maui field was announced last week and includes Arizona, Misouri, Pittsburgh, BYU, San Diego State, Kansas State, Purdue and host Chaminade.
Tue Dec 03 11:40am EST
Members of the Florida basketball team were boarding the plane they were supposed to be taking to Atlanta.
The Gainesville Sun reported Monday night that Delta canceled the Sunday afternoon flight from Gainesville to Atlanta so the Gators could use the plane instead to fly to Storrs, Conn., for their game against UConn. A maintenance delay had grounded the charter flight the team was originally scheduled to take.
Asked to explain why Delta appeared to give priority to a college basketball team over the 50 regular customers on the Atlanta-bound flight, spokesman Morgan Durrant told Yahoo Sports that Delta's intention was to try to get both flights off the ground as close to on time as possible.
Florida's charter flight was originally supposed to take off at 3 p.m. and the flight from Gainesville to Atlanta was scheduled for 3:26 p.m. Delta hoped to accommodate Florida by having them use the aircraft originally bound for Atlanta, then fix the mechanical issue with the other plane in time for the Atlanta-bound passengers to take off with minimal delay.
"They used that aircraft to cover the charter because they were confident they could rectify that mechanical issue and then it's a win-win," Durrant said. "Maybe you take a slight delay on the scheduled side, you protect the charter and everyone is happy. That was the intention behind which that decision was made, but unfortunately the issue with the other aircraft was not rectified and ultimately the delay became a cancelation as a result of the mechanical issues.
"I want to emphasize this was done without the team's knowledge. From their perspective, they had signed up for a charter and in cooperation with Express Jet, we got them an aircraft. We had to make an equipment swap, but they were not aware there was a mechanical issue that was going to drive cancelations over on the scheduled side of our business."
That a college basketball team received better treatment than regular paying customers has sparked headlines on numerous national sites Tuesday morning. The Sun reported some passengers had to be driven to airports in Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa to catch other flights. One was going to miss the moving truck scheduled to take his furniture to to his new home and another missed a funeral.
Durrant said that the 50 passengers from the canceled flight were able to get on other flights later Sunday or Monday and were given vouchers valid for use through Delta for future trips.
If it's any consolation for the passengers who had to reconfigure their travel plans, the Florida basketball team surely didn't enjoy its trip to Storrs. UConn beat the Gators 65-64 on a Shabazz Napier jump shot at the buzzer.
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Tue Dec 03 12:31am EST
Austin Texas is known for its bats and one of them earned some national television time Monday.
For the second time in 10 months, a bat disrupted a college basketball game. This one swooped into the action on numerous occasions at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin where the Longhorns defeated Vanderbilt 70-64.
In January, a bat interrupted a Marquette home game against Providence. It turned out to be hilarious entertainment for hoops fans that Saturday. The arena sound system blared the Batman theme song and an Ozzy Osbourne song at one point and players and coaches threw white towels into the air in an effort to snare the little troublemaker.
Rick Barnes' young Texas team managed to hang on to a slim lead in the final 30 seconds thanks in part to a costly unforced Vanderbilt turnover. The Longhorns earned their first victory over a team from a major conference and improved to 7-1 as part of the Big 12-SEC Challenge. Vanderbilt slipped to 4-3.
Oh, and apparently Texas cheerleaders caught the bat. No word on what they did with it.
Cheerleaders trapped the bat under a megaphone when it flew into South O-Zone. I couldn't tell you what happened in last 2 mins of the game
— Ryan Clark (@LonghornRdTrip) December 3, 2013
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