Big Ten/ACC Challenge Preview
And some extra games on the side.
WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 1
No. 16 Florida Gators (5-1) @ UCF Knights(5-0) in Orlando, FL at 7 p.m. ET: Besides the second half meltdown verse Ohio State early in the year, the Gators have been quite impressive to date. Fresh off a bragging rights win against Florida State, Kenny Boynton and company will have to recharge the batteries against an underrated UCF team that is definitely on the rise. Chicago native Marcus Jordan has taken a major scoring role for the Knights, cranking out nearly 17 points per game. His high school teammate at Whitney Young, AJ Rompza, almost dishes out 5 assists per game. These two plus the likes of Keith Clanton and Isaac Sosa will be vital pieces for the upset minded Knights on Thursday. But an incredibly balanced lineup of speed on the perimeter, athleticism down low, and skilled scorers at every position for the Gators makes this task easier said than done. Alex Tyus and Erik Murphy will be a load under the basket, and the backcourt of Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker can be argued as the best in the SEC. The Gators hope they won’t need Chandler Parsons to use his late-game heroics in order to pull out a win, but they cannot sleep on this game.
Indiana Hoosiers (6-0) @ Boston College Eagles (4-2), Big Ten/ACC Challenge, 7:15 p.m.: As our Indiana Hoosiers (remember, we are both IU undergrad students) take their first road trip of the season and put their perfect record to the test, I must say that I couldn’t be happier that we are playing BC rather than almost anybody else in the ACC. BC, while not even close to a cakewalk, will provide us with a fair test that will allow us to evaluate our team while also keeping an eye on the rest of the season. IU has slowly been coming along since the exodus two seasons ago, but has been plagued by turnovers so far this season (18 per game). In their first true road game, the Hoosiers decision making will be put to the test. Junior point guard Verdell Jones, sophomore shooting guard Maurice Creek, and sophomore forward Christian Watford are Indiana’s main offensive weapons. Sophomore lead guard Jordan Hulls will set his teammates up with crisp passes, freshman Vic Oladipo will play aggressive defense (which should be used on Reggie Jackson at certain points), and forwards Tom Pritchard, Bobby Capobianco, and Derek Elston have to control the boards. The Hoosiers will switch up defenses regularly—Crean is a master of throwing the opposing team off guard with combinations of match-up zone (2-3, 1-3-1) and man defenses. Containing forwards Joe Trapani and Corey Raji will be the key for the Hoosiers. If they can keep them off the boards while slowing down Reggie Jackson, they can sneak away with a victory. If BC pounds IU on the boards and turns the Hoosiers over 20+ times, IU will find themselves tough out of luck.
No. 23 UNLV Runnin’ Rebels (6-0) at. Illinois State (5-1) in Bloomington, IL at 8:05 p.m.: UNLV made some early season noise by knocking off Wisconsin, Murray State, and Virginia Tech so far this season. A new entry to the polls, UNLV has starpower in junior G/F Chace Stanback and senior guard Oscar Bellfield. These two provide a bulk of the scoring for the Rebels, and sophomore guard Anthony Marshall can flat out play as well. If Illinois State wants any chance of protecting Redbird Arena, they will have to find a way to slow down the Rebels potent offense. Sophomore forward Jackie Carmichael and seniors Tony Lewis, Alex Rubin, and Austin Hill will all need to crank up the defensive intensity for all 40 minutes. Carmichael, the Redbird’s leading scorer, has all the tools to be an all-league player. If he can catch fire and keep the Rebels pace down to a lull, the Redbirds will stay alive.
Duquesne Dukes (3-1) @ Pittsburgh Panthers (7-0), 9:15 p.m.: In a battle of two in-state teams, both Pittsburgh and Duquesne are worthy of paying attention to. Pittsburgh is ranked in the Top 5 in every poll, as they have size, depth, shooting, slashing, and tough defense in the backcourt with Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wannamaker, Travon Woodall, and JJ Moore. Their frontcourt has also been solid this season—Dante Taylor is getting better game by game while Talib Zanna, Nasir Robinson, and Gary McGee have all been rebounding and defending at high levels to start the season. But Duquesne, with their versatile wing play and adequate backcourt, should not be taken lightly by Coach Jamie Dixon’s group. Freshmen Mike Talley and TJ McConnell, along with sophomore Sean Johnson will have their hands full with Pittsburgh’s guards on D, but they are capable of facilitating their offense under pressure. The wing play advantage might go to the Dukes, as they have seniors Bill Clark and Damian Saunders along with junior BJ Monteiro—each of whom helps this team in various ways. Duquesne, however, is simply overmatched in the frontcourt, where they just don’t have the size or experience to keep up with the Panthers. If Pittsburgh rebounds and defends as they normally do, Duquesne is in for a tough night. But if Duquesne plays with some fight (especially the wings on the boards) then this could turn into a game.
Michigan State Spartans (5-1) @ Duke Blue Devils (6-0), Big Ten/ACC Challenge, 9:30 p.m.: In the match-up of the week, Izzo’s Spartans face off against Coach K’s Dukies. Many analysts have come into this season with the thought that MSU has the best chance to dethrone Blue Devils in March, and although that may be the case come tournament time, I’m not sure the Spartans are ready to challenge Duke in Durham tomorrow night. The Blue Devils offense has been terrifically balanced and consistent so far, and has shown no signs of slowing down any time soon. Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Kyrie Irving, Andre Dawkins, and Mason Plumlee are all averaging in double figures and Seth Curry is averaging 9 ppg. What makes this teams oh so dangerous is that any one of these six players can break out for 25+ at any time—they are all talented enough to do so. Michigan State on the other hand, is led by their senior leader at the lead guard position, Kalin Lucas—who has picked the Spartans up in times of need so far. Durrell Summers is averaging over 15 ppg, but when the defense has keyed in on him he’s had an especially difficult time being consistent on the offensive end. Draymond Green is the Spartans do-it-all small forward, but they will need him to be more assertive, looking for his own points instead of dishing off to open teammates, during this one. MSU has struggled to find role players who will step up consistently on the offensive end. Guards Korie Lucious and Keith Appling and forward Delvon Roe will need to step up in a big way if MSU wants to challenge Duke on their home floor. If MSU doesn’t come together for this one, they will be exposed by, in my opinion, a far superior Duke team at this point in the season.
Saint Marys Gaels (6-1) @ San Diego State Aztecs (6-0), 10:30 p.m.: In an early season battle of west coast powers with very high aspirations, two upper classmen headline the showdown. Saint Mary’s consistent playmaker and shooter Mickey McConnell leads a very talented and deep team on the road to take on 6-7 NBA bound Kawhi Leonard’s athletic San Diego State team. McConnell has been the model of consistency in his time as the floor general for the Gaels and has started off the season shooting 57 percent from beyond the arc. Four other players on Saint Mary’s average in double figures, but with three sophomores in their top seven rotation players, there is still a lot to learn about true road games in college basketball, especially as they face this experienced Aztecs team. Kawhi Leonard has stepped his play up to an even greater level—he has been handling the ball and making plays excellently and his rebounding (especially on the offensive end) and scoring have been awesome so far. Lefty forward Billy White has had his moments this year, and the supporting players have all stepped up at various times to help this team get by in times of distress. Since they are home, I think San Diego State has just a little too much for the Gaels at this point in the season. Their consistent pressure defense will prove too much to handle.