Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Let the Games Begin!

Monday night tipped-off the 8th annual ACC-BIG Ten Challenge with the ACC historically dominating the event. The early season schedule for most teams typically boasts what everyone’s favorite one-eyed commentator likes to call, “cup cakes,” so this event will certainly be a challenge for a host of teams in each of these power conferences. In addition to annual bragging rights, there are a few streaks capable of being broken such as Illinois’ 51 game non-conference home winning streak and Duke’s undefeated record in the event (as well as their own 42 game non-conference home winning streak). It’s also an opportunity for the average fan to not only see some of the best brand of college basketball and top tier talent, but to also be introduced to players who don’t receive much notoriety such as super freshman Greivis Vasquez of Maryland, hard working Ben McCauley of N.C. State, soon to be star Jack McClinton of the “U” and former walk on with the huge heart, 5ft. 8inch Errek Suhr. In the infamous words of Ron Burgundy, “Let the Games Begin!”


N.C. State 74, Michigan 67
The first game of the eleven that will be played over a span of three days was Michigan at N.C. State in what was made out to be the game of the…wait, never mind, it wasn’t made out to be anything! With Michigan consisting of a senior laden team, there are high expectations amongst fans, administrators and Mike Tyson that anything less than an invitation to this year’s Big Dance is considered a failure – not to mention Tommy Amaker’s job might be on the line as well. Despite differences in styles, both teams rely on balanced scoring and hard-nosed man-to-man defense and there was nothing short of that in this game, at least for N.C. State who had four players in double figures lead by forward Ben McCauley’s 19pts/8rebs. It’s safe to say that if basketball does not pan out for Ben, he will have a lucrative future in waste management because he gets all of the garbage and does most of the dirty work. Forward Brandon Costner finally showed why he was a McDonald’s All-American just two years ago with a well-rounded 17pts/11reb effort. Despite a late game surge, a few highlight reel blocks by the uber-athletic Brent Petway and a one-man offense in Dion Harris (24pts), Michigan couldn’t really put a consistent effort together and N.C. State was able to exploit weaknesses in the Michigan defense with its signature efficient offense. By the looks of this game, Michigan has the athletes to overcome this loss and be competitive in the Big 10, however I see “underachievers” written all over them. On the flip side, N.C. State has the ability to overachieve in the ACC if they continue to scrap and play as a team, however it’s quite crowded at the top of the conference.


Maryland 72, Illinois 66
Maryland is off to a solid start and there senior leadership is showing through players like D.J. Strawberry, Kenny Ibweke and Mike Jones. Against Illinois, MD is without Ibweke however Illinois enters the game minus go-to guy Brian Randle. This is clearly an Illinois team in need of much help. Despite the sluggish start, each team proved to be scrappy with persistent inside play. At times, Maryland’s young backcourt of Grievis Vasquez and Eric Hayes play a bit too fast, entering the game with high energy, but a knack for losing composure. The lead went back and forth for a quite a while until midway through the second half, Vasquez decided to take over scoring 15pts of his 17pts in the second half. Not showing any signs of intimidation by the rautious crowd, Vasquez played with heart, emotion, confidence and the swagger of a surly veteran. Despite the quality inside presence of forward Shaun Pruitt (18pts/11rebs), Maryland seemed to want “it” that much more. I personally like this Maryland team and I like their chances in the ACC and NCAA tournament. This will be Gary Williams finest coaching job ever (06-07 ACC Coach of the Year), meshing solid veteran leadership with high energy freshman and will lead MD back to the top tier of the ACC. Going out on a limb, I’m also calling the Terps my sleeper pick to make Elite 8. Illinois on the other hand, I don’t think they’ll fair as well. It’s hard to judge a team without one of their leaders in Brian Randle, but in the Big 10 there’s Wisconsin, Ohio State, Michigan State and everyone else.

Wisconsin 81, Florida State 66
Coming off a tough loss to a highly ranked Pitt team, it was a sluggish start for Florida State posting “0” points in the first five minutes of play. With Alondo Tucker taken to the locker room for a scratched retina, Florida State could not take advantage as Wisconsin proved they’re much more than their All-American combo-forward. They received great contribution by Chris Rock look-alike, Kammron Taylor (18pts) and solid inside play as Florida State struggled to defend the post. Late in the first half and early second half, the Seminoles athleticism, pressure defense and scoring from Auburn transfer, guard Toney Douglas (24pts) helped to mount a slight comeback, but in the end Tucker (22pts/5 boards) and Wisconsin throwing it into old-school Dick Bennett mode, proved to be too much to handle. The duo of Tucker and Taylor create quite a formidable backcourt and as long as Brian Butch remains a consistent inside presence, Wisconsin should do no worse than runner-up, Big 10 conference champs (Ohio State?) and an Elite 8 birth. Florida State remains an enigma, especially with zero inside presence and 10 points out of Al Thornton doesn’t help either. I don’t see Florida State qualifying for the tournament unless they make a stellar showing in the ACC tournament. On a side note, interesting attire by Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan; for all you Division III lovers out there, Ryan made a bold move by sporting the Dave Madeira (Head Coach, Muhlenberg College) rust colored sport jacket, sands the corner-of-the-lip fungus.

Duke 54, Indiana 51
Much is at stake in this game as both teams are struggling to find their identity and put together 40 minutes of consistency on either end of the floor. Sluggish starts are becoming the MO of the tournament and this game did not disappoint. Turnovers plagued both teams early (Coach K even removed Greg Paulus from the starting lineup as the sophomore point guard is having trouble adjusting to game speed after injuring his foot AND has been a turnover machine). Both teams had a hard time finding their rhythm offensively (9-7 Duke at the 10 minute mark); only DeMarcus Nelson enjoying a solid start scoring seven points out of the gate. Duke went into halftime with a 12 point cushion due to a combination of signature pressure defense along the perimeter and the very Jerry’s Kids-like decision making by Indiana. Indiana made a formidable comeback lead by freshman Armon Bassett’s 16pts and the all-out hustle play of former walk-on Erekk Suhr. Throughout the game, McRoberts was nowhere to be found on the offensive end and his over-willingness to share the rock is becoming his weakness. Duke’s defense is way beyond their offense at this point in the season (54 points was the fewest points scored by a Blue Devils team since 1982 – Coach Krzyzeweski’s second season in Durham), however the extended early minutes for the freshman should pay off late into the season. Inconsistent point guard play will certainly remain a problem in conference play should that continue and don’t be surprised to see teams like Maryland, Virginia, and Georgia Tech finish ahead of the Blue Devils in the conference. I don’t see them making it beyond the 2nd round of the NCAA’s. Indiana flat out has problems. They can’t get the ball in the hole and don’t seem intent on running the offense through potential All-American D.J. White; at the same time, White appeared much like McRoberts in that he did not display the assertiveness that he showed as a freshman. Indiana will finish in middle of the pack in conference play and might, might just gain an at-large bid to the tournament however the NIT is more realistic.

Northwestern 61, Miami 59
After the Duke game, I was pretty spent and the inside of my lip looked like the skin of Edward James Olmos from biting it so much. I caught only glimpses of the game, but did see enough to witness a star being born in Miami guard (Sienna Transfer) Jack McClinton with his 30pt effort including hitting five from down-town. Anthony King adds some beef in the middle (8pts/10boards) and if they can get some additional support, look for Miami to challenge a few teams in ACC play. Northwestern was lead by guard Craig Moore’s 24 points on 7 three’s – I have no comments on Northwestern as they’ll never be a player in the Big 10 conference or NCAA tournament play – Coach Bill Carmody would’ve been better off staying at Princeton.

Wednesday (Analysis to come)

Michigan State at Boston College
Virginia at Purdue
Iowa at Virginia Tech
Ohio State at North Carolina
Clemson at Minnesota


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