The Big Ten puts its 6-season unbeaten streak (the conference is 4-0-2 in that span) in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge. Already the Empire has notched one victory and choked away a second, but a number of ranked ACC teams have yet to play, and the conference's first loss in 7 years might be in play.
It's an intriguing night of basketball, though, as Vegas has 4 road teams favored to win and 4 ACC teams favored as well. With four ranked teams (and a "receiving votes" Northwestern woooooo) taking the court, there should be some fireworks. But hey, those have already started popping off: let's recap last night's games and hit the previews!
Wake Forest 69, Rutgers 68
MNWildcat: Ohhhh, Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights led Wake Forest (the team that just beat Indiana and UCLA, mind you) by 12 with just 9:02 remaining in Piscataway. You knew this game was gonna be fun when, on the first possession, the Wake ball-handler attempted to cut back against a Rutgers perimeter defender and fell over. Oh, or when Wake botched two simple in-bounds passes against a light Rutgers press, throwing the ball at the teammate's shoes. (Yes, I watched this game. I'm MNWildcat, and I have a college basketball problem.)
Devin Thomas positively scorched Rutgers, going for 23 and 17, though Rutgers used a packed-in 2-3 zone to deny the Demon Deacons much ball entry, instead inducing them into a sub-40% night from the field, including just 28% from deep. Unfortunately, Rutgers was abysmal from the field as well, often swinging the ball around and getting little in the way of organized offense going: too often the Knights settled for contested runners and wild turn-arounds in the paint, shooting 36.5% from the field and just 20% from long-distance.
Ultimately this game seems to embody the frustrations Rutgers will experience going forward: Greg Lewis is undersized in the middle and struggles to create his own shots, Deshawn Freeman can be bumped off his driving lanes, and if you make Mike Williams shoot from outside, he's probably going to miss. Nonetheless, Rutgers had flashes of competence when they got the ball out in transition from the 2-3, and Jonathan Laurent (10 pts on 5/10 shooting and 7 boards) was a bright spot off the bench for the Scarlet Knights. Eddie Jordan's still got a long rebuilding process ahead of him, but Rutgers has shown they can run with middling programs. Right now, that feels like enough.
Minnesota 89, Clemson 83
MNW: Minnesota's particular brand of organized chaos somehow paid off as they scrapped their way to an 89-83 win over Clemson at Williams Arena. The Barn took a while to get rocking, but a 9-0 Gopher run midway through the second half got the crowd involved and took a lead Minnesota wouldn't give back.
Freshman forward Jordan Murphy had a coming out performance, shooting 9/16 from the field for 24 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. Once again, the Gophers struggled to stop the deep ball off quick rotations (the Tigers shot 14/28 from deep) and failed to keep Clemson's Jaron Blossomgame out of the paint, but their transition game and frenetic defense forced the usually-slower Clemson into a different game.
Ultimately, the Gophers' win seems indicative of what Minnesota has to do: run, run, and scramble. It worked yesterday, but whether or not the Gophers can turn that into a sustainable system will probably determine how far they can go in 2015-16.
Michigan (-1) at North Carolina State || 6pm, ESPN2
Michigan: 4-2, Kenpom #35
North Carolina State: 4-2, Kenpom #57
Graham Filler: Michigan is at PeakMichigan when the team is winning 66-64 and slowing the game down, then hitting clutch outside shots. That's how the Wolverines beat good teams. As discussed before, UM is going to shoot tons of threes and all their shooters are getting big minutes and a decent number of shots so far. Great sign. This doesn't look to be a lockdown Michigan defensive squad yet (bad sign - especially against a talented NC State team).
Northwestern (-2) at Virginia Tech || 6pm, ESPNU
Northwestern: 5-1, Kenpom #68
Virginia Tech: 4-2, Kenpom #139
MNW: Virginia Tech has a team trying to gel with eight (!!!) newcomers under noted sweaty potato Buzz Williams (seriously, he looks like a Sontaran) and already lost to noted juggernaut Alabama State in their season opener. South Florida transfer and junior 6'7", 235# F Zach LeDay is balling out, averaging a double-double (19.0 points and 10.7 boards), Maryland transfer and junior G Seth Allen pours in 12.8 ppg on incredibly inefficient shooting, and freshman 6'6" G Chris Clarke goes for 11.5 points and 8.2 rebounds on his own. The Hokies like to push the tempo (KP #89, 72.3 adjusted possessions), which will be a severe challenge for the more methodical Wildcats (KP #328 in AdjT).
Perhaps most concerning to me is how well Virginia Tech rebounds. The Hokies dominated UAB on the glass, outrebounding the Blazers 46-30 in an OT win. That worries me most because UAB played a lot of zone, which Northwestern will go to when its defenders are failing to keep up with the pick-and-roll. With 7' C Johnny Hamilton and 6'10" F Kenny Blackshear, Jr., VaTech brings the size inside that will test Alex Olah and VaTech transfer Joey Van Zegeren.
On offense, Olah and Van Zegeren (who Buzz ran out of the program for a "lack of control in practice") will need to establish position inside and actually get the ball from Northwestern's perimeter players. Entry passes have been a particular bugaboo for the 'Cats early this year, and with athletic perimeter defenders like Buzz prefers, the 'Cats will need to win part of this game from the inside-out. A repeat of the New Orleans performances from F Gavin Skelly and G-F Scottie Lindsey would be huge--they've got the athleticism to hang with VaTech but are streaky on offense. The 'Cats will have to survive Buzz WIlliams' hallmark stifling half-court defense, and good ball movement and strong post play will be how they do that.
Finally, I've said it before and I'll say it again: Bryant MacIntosh is phenomenal, and he's going to be the Northwestern player you hate. He's like Dave Sobolewski in that regard, but BMac is a talented point guard who can create his own shot--he's dropped 13 or more in every game this season and is particularly deadly when he gets dribble penetration. If he is operating around at least average efficiency and Tre Demps can find his stroke from deep, the 'Cats steal one in Blacksburg.
Prediction: Virginia Tech, 73-70.
#10 Virginia (-8.5) at Ohio State || 6:30pm, ESPN
Virginia: 5-1, Kenpom #3
Ohio State: 2-3, Kenpom #72
When I asked DJ Carver if he'd be able to preview the Cavaliers from his eastern seaboard vantage point, he had this to say:
I have nothing but hate and discontent for UVA, so my analysis would of just focused on "lol they lost their inside presence and have no offensive presence at all." [London] Perrantes doesn't have the killer mentality and I'm not sure anyone on the Virginia team has it in them to take over a game when it's needed.
If you want keys to beating UVA, it is: 1) get out into the break quickly so it does not allow UVA to get set into its pack line defense; 2) make someone else other than Malcolm Brogdon score; 3) if UVA does get into their defense, drive and take advantage of the new rules. The pack line defense has been somewhat minimized by them.
#21 Miami (-6.5) at Nebraska || 8pm, ESPNU
Miami: 5-1, Kenpom #17
Nebraska: 5-2, Kenpom #99
Jesse Collins: Nebraska is hosting the Miami Hurricanes in the B1G-ACC challenge, and not unlike the Gavitt Tipoff, this isn't exactly a great matchup on paper. Miami was this year's Puerto Rico Tipoff Champion with a win over Butler on top of it. They are shooting lights out with a shade under 90 points averaged per game this year at a 52% shooting percentage. This team can - and has - scored at will.
That said, this team also ran into a suddenly very competent offense in Northeastern, and if we are being honest, the overall issue of defense seems to be a problem for Miami this year. KenPom lists Miami at 17th overall because of the number 2 offense, but that #72 defense could get tested by Nebraska. The Huskers are still looking for a third scorer behind Andrew White and Shavon Shields, but things are getting better if you watched any of the last week of games. Tai Webster looked great at the Barclays Classic, and if he emerges along with the growing assertiveness by the young kids, this team will be problematic for all of their opponents.
Still, Nebraska is 0-2 against ranked teams. Will they break that trend at home? I say yes, but I also said we'd beat Villanova, so don't listen to me.
#11 Purdue at Pittsburgh (-1) || 8pm, ESPN2
Purdue: 6-0, Kenpom #7
Pitt: 4-0, Kenpom #32, It
babaoreally: Purdue travels to the banks of the three rivers to take on Pitt. Kenpom has Pitt at 32, so it won't be an easy game for the Boilers. The Panthers also have great crowds and usually take care of business at home. It's a shame for Pitt that the NCAA tournament isn't played there, since they usually have trouble in the tournament.
Raphael Davis is questionable with a knee injury; if he is back to 100% Purdue is a very solid team. Outside shooting had been improved this season overall, but the shots weren't falling during Saturday's game against Lehigh.
The Boilers have the B1G's best challenge record at 8-6, so they are usually up for these games. It feels weird to be optimistic about a Purdue sports team, but I think the Boilers grind out a 65-60 win.
#2 Maryland at #9 North Carolina (-6) || 8:30pm, ESPN
Maryland: 6-0, Kenpom #20
North Carolina: 5-1, Kenpom #8
DJ Carver: Maryland is traveling down to Chapel Hill for the B1G/ACC Challenge to take on #9 UNC, tonight, at 9:30pm ET. To say this is a big game for Maryland is probably an understatement. We still do not know if Maryland can put all of their individual tools together into a stellar performance against a big time team, but the fact that Georgetown is playing much better than expected makes me feel like Maryland has a good chance in this game.
- Contain the inside scoring and force UNC to rely on its guards
- Get Sulaimon and Trimble going early on inside drives to force foul trouble
- Avoid their own foul trouble (I'm looking at you Diamond Stone)
- Contain Melo Trimble off the drive
- Force Maryland's other bigs to step up by containing Robert Carter Jr
- Get at Jake Layman early; when he starts slow it gets to his head and he'll defer the rest of the game
This preview will serve as your open thread for tonight's B1G-ACC Challenge games! Usual rules apply: No illegal steams, no porn, no personal attacks, and no being a general jackwagon to others. Be sure to vote in the poll and leave us your picks for the games tonight!