Year after year, people can always count on the Big Ten/ACC Challenge to provide viewers with dramatic, exciting, and quality games. This year is no exception, as one of the best early season match-ups thus far pits Coach Izzo against Coach K on Wednesday night in Durham. As Virginia showed against Minnesota last night, anything can happen in this “tournament” that pits conference pride on the line with every showdown.
Besides the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, there are also a handful of other games that are more than worthy of keeping an eye on for the avid college basketball fan. Here’s your guide of what to watch for from Tuesday through Thursday this week.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 30
Ole Miss Rebels (3-1) @ Miami Hurricanes (4-2) 7 p.m.: This match-up of SEC and the ACC teams will display two teams with quick and dominant guard play in the backcourt. Miami is led by junior Malcolm Grant, who is lightning in a bottle with the basketball but has a tendency to take ill-advised shots all too often (though he is a tough shot maker at times). 6-4 sophomore Durand Scott, who does most of the ball-handling for the Hurricanes, is more than capable of scoring his own points. His ability to create quality looks for his teammates will be crucial against the Ole Miss backcourt. Ole Miss has shown a deep and balanced scoring attack from guards Chris Warren (lighting quick scoring point guard), Nick Williams (powerful scoring guard), Trevor Gaskins (shooter), and Zach Graham (do-it-all guard). Importantly for them, even when Chris Warren struggled (10 points, 5 assists, 6 turnovers against Murray State), the other guards lifted the team to a 77-61 win. The key to this game, though, should be on the interior where the Hurricanes 6-10 Reggie Johnson should be able to take advantage of his massive size and abilities. His 10.5 rebounds per game average are nearly double that of any player on Ole Miss (highest average is 5.5 rpg for any player). The guard play will be crucial, but in the end it might come down to post play in this one.
Ohio State Buckeyes (5-0) @ Florida State Seminoles (5-1), Big Ten/ACC Challenge, 7:30 p.m.: Early this summer, I was talking to a high-major division one assistant, and he made the claim that Jared Sullinger has a good chance of winning Big Ten Player of the Year. At first, the claim seemed a little too much for me, but that day I realized that this coach was right. Sullinger has played well so far, netting over 15 points and grabbing over 8 rebounds per game. Sharpshooters Jon Diebler and all-purpose guard David Lighty add the necessary perimeter game for the Buckeyes, and fellow freshmen Deshaun Thomas continues to keep his “man amongst boys” status rolling. If anyone has a say in the Buckeyes dominance in Tallahassee, it will need to come from Florida State’s Mr. Everything: Chris Singleton. Sporting almost a double-double so far this year (9.8 rebounds/game), Singleton has the ability to single handedly keep the Seminoles in this game. The X-factor for the Seminoles might end up being 3-point specialist Michael Snaer. If Snaer can toss in a few triples and break up the Buckeye’s momentum, the Seminoles can stick around for a while. Also, look for William Buford to raise his intensity level a notch this game. Buford has all the tools to take over this game and causes a match-up problem on the court. If Buford plays to his potential the Buckeyes can be scary good this season.
Georgetown Hoyas (6-0) vs. Missouri Tigers (5-0) (Kansas City), 9 p.m.: Big East vs. Big 12. Slow-it-down vs. speed-it-up. Both the Hoyas and the Tigers have gotten off to phenomenal starts this year after narrowly surviving their season opener’s against supposedly unthreatening schools. Through Feast Week it has been smooth sailing, but one of these teams will have to go home with an L. Georgetown plays their trademark disciplined, pick-you-apart offense coupled with stingy half-court man defense, which has held their opponents to just 62 ppg. Chris Wright provides the Hoyas with a dose of creativity at the point guard position, while Austin Freeman has simply been on fire, scoring 20.2 ppg this year. Missouri, on the other hand, looks to speed the tempo up with their vaunted pressure that, just a few seasons ago, almost landed them in the Final Four. Their rotation of ten players with at least 10 mpg so far this year ensures that all five players on the court are always fresh and ready to run at a breakneck tempo. All of the Tigers have played proficiently this year, but junior transfer power forward Ricardo Ratliffe (ironically from DC), junior power Laurence Bowers have been especially consistent on the interior while upperclassmen guards Marcus Denmon and Kim English have provided a scoring punch from the backcourt. The key to this game is likely to come in the turnover department. If Georgetown can win this battle, they have a chance. If not, the Tigers should prove too much to handle.
North Carolina Tar Heels (4-2) @ Illinois Fighting Illini (6-1), Big Ten/ACC Challenge, 9:30 p.m.: A senior-heavy starting Illinois lineup will give the Fighting Illini the much needed experience and toughness that many experts claim they have been lacking since Deron Williams and company left a few years ago. Demetri McCamey, learning from some of last year’s blunders, should bring a new sense of leadership to the table. McCamey has been the lifeblood of the Figting Illini for the past two seasons. When he plays well, they can compete with anyone in the country. Coming to his aid will be super sophomores DJ Richardson and Brandon Paul, plus senior forward Mike Davis. But, unlike a few other freshmen around the nation, Harrison Barnes has yet to have his coming out party. Considered by almost every media outlet to be the top freshmen in the country, Barnes is capable of breaking out at any minute. Throw improving big man John Henson and scoring-machine Reggie Bullock into the mix and you have a dangerous Tar Heel team. One major match-up that fans need to pay attention to lies in the hands of 7-1 Mike Tisdale. If Tisdale can control Tyler Zeller in the paint, the Illini’s battle to protect Assembly Hall just got a lot easier.