Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The WCC is the best, deepest mid-major league in the country

We are no stranger to talented mid-major programs these days.

George Mason and VCU have both made the Final Four in the last six years. Butler is coming off of back-to-back trips to the National Title game. Harvard, Iona and Belmont all have the makings of teams from one-bid leagues that can make a run in the NCAA Tournament come March.

What's rare, however, is when you find a mid-major league that is as deep and balanced as some of the high-majors. Belmont steam-rolled the Atlantic Sun last season going 19-1 and winning the league by three games and returned everyone this season. Iona's only real challenge for the MAAC crown is going to be a Fairfield team that is playing like, well, Fairfield. The Ivy is better than you think, but if Harvard is really as good as they looked in the Bahamas, the likes of Princeton and Penn and Yale don't have a chance at winning the conference.

Enter the WCC.

Gonzaga hasn't been a secret in over a decade, and they've been a nationally ranked powerhouse -- a high-major program, if you will -- since Adam Morrison and his glorious porn-stache graced the Spokane campus. With BYU entering the fray this season, that gives the league another national brand and a program that will, at the worst, consistently be competing for an at-large berth into the NCAA Tournament. St. Mary's isn't quite on that level yet, but if Randy Bennett keeps the momentum building in the direction it has been for the last four or five years, the Gaels will give the WCC as good of a top three as any league outside the BCS conferences.

But what you may not know about the WCC is that the middle of the league is much better than a typical mid-major conference.

Let's start with Santa Clara. The Broncs finished third in a watered-down 76 Classic over the Thanksgiving weekend, but in the process they knocked off both New Mexico and Villanova, two teams thought to be headed for the NCAA Tournament. And while Kevin Foster as been his same old self and Evan Roquemore as been better than we could have imagined, the Broncs are winning these games without Marc Trasolini, their second-leading scorer from last season that tore his acl back in September.

Well, what about Loyola Marymount? Yes, the Lions have lost to Middle Tennessee State and Harvard, they also have notched wins over UCLA and St. Louis. The scary part is that LMU is only going to get better. Their most talented player, Drew Viney, won't be able to suit up for a couple more weeks thanks to a foot injury and Ashley Hamilton, their second-leading scorer this season, hasn't played in the last three games, including Tuesday night's win over St. Louis.

Do the math, and its fair to say that five of the nine teams in the WCC can compete with -- and beat? -- anyone in the country.

There's more, too. Pepperdine knocked off Arizona State (which may say more about Arizona State than about Pepperdine, but still), Portland beat Florida Atlantic and while San Francisco has stumbled out of the blocks, Rex Walters' team finished third in the conference last season and returned basically their entire roster.

In other words, the middle of the WCC is much, much better than a typical mid-major league.

So unless you are playing San Diego, you better come ready to play. Every night in the WCC is going to be a dogfight.
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Wednesday's Pregame Beat: ACC/Big Ten Challenge highlights a great night of hoops

We already previewed the games from the ACC/Big Ten Challenge back on Tuesday, so we're not going to dive back into it again today. I will give you my picks for the challenge's second day, however. For what its worth, I went 6-0 yesterday. No big deal:

Indiana @ NC State: Indiana. I've been impressed with how the Hoosiers have played early in the season. No one on the Wolfpack is strong enough to take advantage of Cody Zeller inside.
Penn State @ Boston College: No one. I think Penn State will outscore Boston College, but no one is a winner in this game.
Florida State @ Michigan State: Florida State. The Spartans should be able to matchup inside, but the Seminoles are the toughest defensive team in the country and Michigan State can't score.
Virginia Tech @ Minnesota: Virginia Tech. The Hokies are underrated and the Gophers are without Trevor Mbakwe.
Wake Forest @ Nebraska: Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are tough defensively and Bo Spencer has the ability to go off for 20+.
Wisconsin @ North Carolina: North Carolina. The Badgers matchup so well -- talented point guard, control tempo -- with UNC, but I think that the Heels will come out pissed after losing to UNLV.

Game of the night: No. 22 Creighton @ San Diego State

Creighton has started off the season on fire, scoring at least 95 points in three of their first five games. Doug McDermott is averaging 23.2 ppg, five more players are averaging between 7.2 ppg and 10.4 ppg and the Bluejays are shooting the heck out of the ball, knocking down a crisp 45.1% from beyond the arc while hitting 11 threes a game. And you're wondering why this team is 12th in the nation in offensive efficiency. The issue, however, is that the Bluejays haven't played anyone -- the wins over UAB and Iowa look less impressive by the day -- but they are still sitting all the way down at 161st in the country defensively.

And while San Diego State doesn't have the front court horses that they did last season, this is a team that has put together a couple of impressive performances this season. They knocked off Arizona on the road and have overtime wins over Long Beach State and UC-Santa Barbara. The Aztecs may not have a player that can match up with McDermott, but it will be interesting to see if Creighton is able to defend the talented perimeter attack that Steve Fisher employs this year -- Chase Tapley, Jamaal Franklin, James Rahon and Xavier Thames are all averaging double-figures.

Who's getting upset?: No. 20 UNLV

The Rebels are primed for an upset. They are coming off of a massive win over the No. 1 team in the country at home and have caught the eye of every college hoops fan and writer. Tonight, they play their first game of the year on the road against a better-than-you-think UC-Santa Barbara team at 10:00 pm. The Gauchos have quite possibly the best 1-2 punch in the country in Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally. Its the epitome of a letdown game.

Mid-major matchup of the night: 7:00 pm: Drexel @ St. Joe's:

I've been trying to tell people -- St. Joe's is better than you think. They are young, but they are talented. And they one of the most talented back courts in the country in Carl Jones and Langston Galloway. Drexel, on the other hand, is arguably the most physical team in the country with guys like Samme Givens. Bruiser Flint's team also has one of the most improved guards in the country in Franz Massenat. Throw in the added bonus of this being a matchup of Philly teams -- one that includes a Big 5 member and a non-Big 5 member -- and this could be some fun.

Be sure to keep an eye on:

- 7:00 pm: Ohio @ Marshall: Ohio has one of the most entertaining guards in the country to watch in DJ Cooper. You should recognize the name; he was the freshman that lit up Georgetown when the Bobcats upset the No. 3 seed Hoyas two years ago. But Marshall is legit. They have their own loaded back court of Damier Pitts and DeAndre Kane and are coming off of an overtime win at Cincinnati.

- 7:00 pm: Bucknell @ George Mason: The Bison are the Patriot League favorite and an experienced team coming off of a conference title. George Mason is the same. But the Patriots have had a rough start to the season, losing to both Florida Atlantic and Florida International. This will be a good test for GMU. Were their early season losses just struggles with a new coach, or are the Patriots issues bigger than that.

- 8:00 pm: Tulsa @ Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have the talent to be a sleeper in the Big 12, but they haven't played like it yet this season. They are coming off of an 0-2 trip to the Garden during the Preseason NIT and have yet to get LeBryan Nash to play up to his potential. Tulsa, on the other hand, has a real chance to win Conference USA if the Memphis struggles are legit. Jordan Clarkson is the name to know, but keep an eye on Kodi Maduka.

- 8:05 pm: Missouri State @ Oral Roberts: Missouri State has been impressive early in the season. How impressive? They are 4-0 despite Kyle Weems failing to play like the Kyle Weems we saw last season. Oral Roberts, on the other hand, is one of the best mid-major teams in the country. West Virginia learned that the hard way. Justin Greene against Weems should be fun.

- 9:00 pm: Denver @ Utah State: The Pioneers are 4-1 on the season, and while they lost by 21 at Cal, Denver also handled St. Mary's pretty easily at home. Utah State is a bit down this season, but the Spectrum is one of the most difficult places to play. Its unclear whether Brady Jardine will be in the lineup. He's a significant piece -- the Aggies lost to Texas A&M-CC without him but beat BYU with him in the lineup.

The rest of the top 25:

8:00 pm: Florida Atlantic @ No. 14 Kansas: FAU is not a pushover. They have a couple of talented guards and already own a win over George Mason. The Jayhawks need to be ready to play.

7:00 pm: No. 17 Pitt @ Duquesne: The Panthers have started to look like the Pitt team we've expected of late, but there are still major question marks about their defense. The Dukes will test that defense, specifically TJ McConnell.

11:15 pm: Notre Dame @ No. 18 Gonzaga: The Irish are playing without Tim Abromaitis, who tore his acl over the Thanksgiving holiday. That means that other guys on their roster -- Scott Martin, Eric Atkins -- are going to have to step up and become leaders for this group. That should mean that Gonzaga rolls over Notre Dame playing at home, but the Zags have yet to be tested this season. It will be fun to see how Mike Brey's team matches up Gonzaga's big front line.

Other notable games:

- 7:30 pm: South Florida @ VCU
- 7:30 pm: Richmond @ William & Mary
- 8:00 pm: UNI @ Iowa State
- 8:00 pm: Colorado @ Colorado State
- 8:00 pm: Alcorn State @ Texas A&M
- 8:30 pm: Grambling @ Washington State
- 9:00 pm: BYU @ Northern Arizona
- 9:00 pm: Idaho State @ New Mexico
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A Watcher's Guide to the SEC/Big East Invitational

Finally, the SEC and the Big East made the decision to expand to a all out, full-fledged conference battle.

We all have loved what the ACC/Big Ten Challenge has turned into. And this year, there are plenty of quality games between the top of both of the leagues.

But the leagues did mess up. For starters, both Kentucky and UConn are playing teams from the bottom of the opposing conference. I know that both St. John's and Arkansas looked like they were heading in the right direction a year ago, but let me give you schedule-makers a tip -- when you are manufacturing a competition, its probably best to pit two of the best teams taking part against each other.

Who doesn't want to see the Huskies play the Wildcats? If your hand us currently up, please never read this site again. Thank ya kindly.

You can miss this game for a wedding, but only if you're the one getting married:

No. 1 Fri 6:30 pm: No. 9 Florida @ No. 3 Syracuse: In a week that gave us three games pitting top ten teams, Syracuse and Florida may actually have the most intrigue. For starters, there is the obvious -- the Bernie Fine scandal. With the speed at which this story has transformed, who knows what will happen between now and Friday night. And, making the story all the more interesting, who knows what questions are going to have to be asked of Boeheim in the press conference after the game. Given his history with the media, the post-game may have more fireworks than the game itself.

For Florida, this will be the first time that they take the court against a real opponent without Erik Murphy. Murphy, if you remember, was the x-factor for this team coming into the season. And through four games, he looked like he was primed to be a serious weapon for the Gators. There aren't many 6'9" forwards that can shoot the ball and spread the floor like he can. He would have been especially valuable against a team like Syracuse that plays strictly zone.

In terms of who will actually be on the court, we get one of the most exciting back court matchups that we've seen this young season. Florida boasts three upperclassmen in Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Mike Rosario, but the best of the bunch may be freshman Brad Beal. It feels like we are saying this every year about the Gators, but keep an eye on the way that Boynton and Walker play. The knock on them throughout their career has been shot selection for mediocre. Walker's making better decision, and Boynton has hit 22-45 from three or 48.9%. Watching them attack the 2-3 zone should be fun.

For Syracuse, their back court starts with Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche and continues with the dynamic Dion Waiters coming off of the bench. But the key for the Orange in this one will have little to do with their guard play. Jim Boeheim's team is loaded up front with size and athleticism, something that the Gators lack behind Patric Young. Players like CJ Fair and James Southerland will be a tough matchup for Florida. Also keep an eye on Kris Joseph. Florida is going to have difficulty dealing with his length on the wing.

Pick: Syracuse

No. 2 Fri 8:30 pm: No. 19 Vanderbilt @ No. 6 Louisville: Injuries have diluted what could have been one of the best matchups of the season. Vandy is without their hoss in the paint, as Festus Ezeli is still battling his eye back from a sprained knee. Louisville? We may be better off listing the players that are healthy with the number of injuries that Rick Pitino's team has had to deal with already this year. Peyton Siva is banged up. Rakeem Buckles and Stephen Van Treese are out. Elisha Justice has a broken nose. Mike Marra and Wayne Blackshear are out for the season. Roll call -- did I miss anyone?

Louisville has thrived this season on the defensive end of the floor as Pitino has tried to control their practices, avoiding compounding their injury problem. Against Long Beach State, Pitino finally let the reins out a bit, and the Cardinals ran LBSU off the court, at least until their legs caught up to them. The biggest issue for Vanderbilt is going to be how they defend Louisville's back court. Siva, Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith are an impressive trio, and Russ Smith has been a pleasant surprise for Louisville fans. (Card Chronicle has the best line I've read on Russ Smith this year, referring to the Smith's questionable shot selection as "Russ things".)

I'm concerned about Vanderbilt's ability to defend Louisville's perimeter attack, but I am also worried about how Vandy is going to be able to break the Louisville press. Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins can both shoot the heck out of the ball, but they have a tendency to struggle against pressure defense. Kevin Stallings is going to want to take advantage of the mismatch that Jeff Taylor creates. He is too big and too athletic for any of Louisville's perimeter players.

Pick: Louisville

These games are worth TiVoing the season finale of Sons of Anarchy:

No. 3 Thu 9:30 pm: Georgetown @ No. 12 Alabama: This one should be fun. Alabama is one of the toughest defensive teams in the country with a physical and athletic front line in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. Georgetown, on the other hand, has been one of the surprises of the young season. Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson have both been terrific, while Henry Sims will get a real test going up against the bigs of the Crimson Tide. I like Alabama's young perimeter attack, but the key to this game is where its being played -- Alabama doesn't lose in Tuscaloosa.

Pick: Alabama

No. 4 Sat 9:00 pm: West Virginia @ Mississippi State: The front court matchup here will be quite entertaining. Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie, for all of the effort and conditioning issues that are present, are as big and as talented as anyone in the country. But West Virginia has their own pair of quality big men in Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli. The rebounding battle is going to be important, but it will be interesting to see how West Virginia's freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds will handle Mississippi State's Dee Bost.

Pick: Mississippi State

No. 5 Sat 5:15 pm: No. 17 Pitt @ Tennessee: Last year, Tennessee went into Pittsburgh and knocked off the Panthers in impressive fashion. This year, however, both teams are way down. Pitt is struggling mightily on the defensive end of the floor, while Tennessee is plain old struggling. After losing to both Duke and Memphis in Maui, Tennessee dropped a roadie to Oakland this week. But the Vols have a talented pair in Trae Golden and Jeronne Maymon, the latter of which will get a chance to showcase his skills against one of the biggest front lines in the country.

Pick: Pitt

Watch the finale of Sons of Anarchy, but TiVo the Law and Order AVU reruns:

No. 6 Thu 7:30 pm: St. John's @ No. 1 Kentucky: Kentucky is probably the most talented team in the country. Their issue is that their point guard, Marquis Teague, has turnover issues. St. John's loves to press, and it could cause some issues for the Wildcats. That said, St. John's is very, very young. And heading into Rupp. This could easily turn into a massacre.

Pick: Kentucky

No. 7 Sat 3:15 pm: Arkansas @ No. 10 UConn: The Huskies have some major question marks. When will Alex Oriakhi show up? Is Andre Drummond ever going to become consistent? Will Shabazz Napier or Jeremy Lamb ever take the reins of this team? How good is Ryan Boatright? UConn has much more talent than Arkansas, but they also had much more talent than Central Florida.

Pick: UConn

Find a beat writer and follow them on twitter for the game:

No. 8 Fri 7:00 pm: Cincinnati @ Georgia: The Bearcats were supposed to be a contender to finish in the top five of the Big East. But they've already lost to Presbyterian and Marshall. When will Yancy Gates become the star he was supposed to be this year? Georgia does have some talent, in particular guard Gerald Robinson.

Pick: Cincinnati

No. 9 Thu 9:00 pm: Ole Miss @ DePaul: This game may look ugly on paper, but there is some intrigue here. Ole Miss has some talent on their roster -- they just knocked off Miami in overtime -- and DePaul has been impressive in this young season. Can Brandon Young, Cleveland Melvin and company pull of the win?

Pick: Ole Miss

Checking the box score in the morning may be too much:

No. 10 Fri 9:00 pm: Auburn @ Seton Hall: Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore are finally playing up to their potential. Auburn is improved, but they had no where to go but up.

Pick: Seton Hall

No. 11 Sat 7:00 pm: LSU @ Rutgers: LSU has

Pick: Rutgers

No. 12 Thu 7:00 pm: Providence @ South Carolina: South Carolina is terrible. Providence looks to be better this season, and guys like Vincent Council and Gerald Coleman has been putting up some impressive performances.

Pick: Providence

And the winner is?: The Big East, 8-4.
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Wednesday Morning Dump

- We start today with Syracuse of course. First, 'Cuse Chancellor Nancy Cantor gave Jim Boeheim the "vote of confidence" even though sexual abuse support group wants him out. Then Jimmy-B got a standing ovation when he entered the Carrier Dome for his team's game against Eastern Michigan. after the game, Boeheim gave another epic press conference

- An opposing coach tells Jeff Eisenberg exactly why UCLA is struggling

- John Gasaway wonders if this Harvard team is the best Ivy League squad ever (Insiders Only)

- Next season's Battle 4 Atlantis is going to have a loaded field

- A rapid reaction to tOSU's seal-clubbing of Duke. Mike DeCourcy learned some stuff from last night's game

- More on Austin Rivers and the improvements he needs to make

- Southern Cal's Dwayne Dedmon will miss 4-6 weeks due to a stress fracture in his right foot

- Despite tweaking his ankle against UNLV on Saturday night, Harrison Barnes will be good to go against Wisconsin

- Austin Hatch, the Michigan recruit who was badly injured in a plane crash over the summer, will not play basketball at all this season

- The Mikan Drill breaks down the "pack the line" defense that Virginia executed in their victory over Michigan last night

- The Minnesota Golden Gophers have a lot of things to figure out now that Trevor Mbakwe is done for the year

- Marquette is a lot better than people think. Oh yeah, if you turn the ball over them, they will make you pay

- Bruce Pearl's daughter takes after her old man

- A preview of Chattanooga's December schedule (Yup, that's right, a Chattanooga blog. Gotta love it)

- The VCU Rams will help you get some Christmas shopping done

- Yeah, I'd think about cancelling the season if I lost 100-2 too

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Wednesday's Shootaround: 1st day of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Loyola Marymount 75, No. 25 St. Louis 68: Fresh off of getting climbing their way into the top 25, the Billikens blew a 12 point first half lead as the Lions used a 20-6 run that spanned both halves to take a 36-34 lead early in the second half. LMU slowly gained control of the game down the stretch as they earned their second win over a ranked opponent on the season. LaRon Armstead led the way with 22 points off the bench while Anthony Ireland and Jarrod DuBois went for 17 and 16, respectively. Most impressive? The Lions were without second-leading scorer Ashley Hamilton and have yet to get a minute of playing time for their best player, Drew Viney.

Its easy to write this game off as the Billikens being over-rated after a hot start to the season, but consider this: St. Louis, who is 6-1 on the season, are now on their sixth day on the west coast after playing in the 76 Classic. They've played five of their first seven games away from home -- with one of those home games being a whooping of Washington -- and dropped a competitive game on the road to a team with talent that is better than people think. No loss is a good loss, but losing this game is far from terrible for St. Louis.

Arizona 83, New Mexico State 76: This is a good win for Arizona. New Mexico State is a talented team that will compete for the WAC title and tough to beat at home. More impressive? The Wildcats got this victory despite NMSU's two best players -- forwards Wendell McKines (28 points, 10 boards) and Hamidu Rahman (13 points, eight boards) -- going off against Arizona's young front line. Nick Johnson was terrific, scoring 19 points and making a number of big plays down the stretch, while Jesse Perry had 15 points and 12 boards. Solomon Hill went for 12 points, seven assists and six boards while Josiah Turner had 12 points and three assists, but three turnovers as well.

No. 8 Baylor 90, Prairie View A&M 54: I think its safe to say that Perry Jones has made his entrance into the 2011-2012 season. Prairie View opened up a 11-2 lead in the first four minutes, but that's when Jones woke up. He finished the evening with 27 points on 10-14 shooting, a performance that included a couple of high-flying dunks. Of note: Pierre Jackson had 17 points and six assists.

No. 3 Syracuse 84, Eastern Michigan 48: There were all kinds of story lines heading into this game. It was the first game that the Orange had played since the latest news cycle on Bernie Fine went public and the longtime Syracuse assistant coach was fired. It was also the first time that former assistant Rob Murphy, now the head coach at Eastern Michigan, had returned to his old Carrier Dome stomping grounds. What happened in this game didn't matter to, well, anyone, but the postgame press conference had some fireworks.

ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Yeah, I went 6-0 on Day 1. And yeah, I'm going to brag about it.

Ohio State 85, Duke 63: See here.

Virginia 70, No. 15 Michigan 58: Well, it looks like Mike Scott has healed from his ankle injury. Virginia's star forward had 18 points and 11 boards, taking over for a stretch in the second half that spurred a 19-2 run from Virginia to gain control of this game. Michigan was stifled by Virginia's pack line defense, their offense that was so beautifully run in Maui stifled. Joe Harris added 18 for the 'Hoos.

Illinois 71, Maryland 62: Terrell Stoglin scored 25 points while James Padgett added 16 as the Terps put up an impressive fight against the Illini, but in the end Sam Maniscalco was too much. The Bradley transfer hit three big threes in the second half and knocked down the game-clinching free throws. He finished with 24 points and Brandon Paul added 17.

Purdue 76, Miami FL 65: Robbie Hummel had 17 points and five boards while Lewis Jackson added 15 points as the Boilermakers countered Miami's small lineup by pounding the ball inside. They went 22-31 from two-point range. Of note: the Johnsons -- Anthony and Terone -- combined for 21 points and a number of key plays late in the game.

Clemson 71, Iowa 55: Andre Young had 19 points, TJ Sapp added 13 off the bench and Tanner Smith had seven points, eight assists and 14 boards as Clemson rolled their hosts.

Northwestern 76, Georgia Tech 60: The Wildcats got 25 points and eight boards from John Shurna as they jumped on Georgia Tech at the start of both halves.

Other notable games:

- Texas 73, North Texas 57
- LSU 59, Houston 58
- Providence 82, Holy Cross 77
- Cincinnati 56, Miami OH 47
- Oregon 64, UTEP 59

Top performers

Gerard Coleman and Vincent Council, Providence: Council had 19 points, 11 assists and seven boards and Coleman added 18 points, eight boards, six assists and three steals as Providence knocked off Holy Cross 82-77.

Chris Gaston, Fordham: Gaston has 15 points and 11 boards as Fordham knocked off Colgate. Gaston scored the 1,000th point of his college career.

Emil Jones, Troy: Jones was a fantasy all-star as they knocked off ETSU, finishing with 14 points, eight boards, five assists and five steals.

Perry Jones, Baylor: In his first game back from suspension, Jones went for 27 points on 10-14 shooting as the Bears knocked off Prairie View A&M.

Jonathon Loyd, Oregon: Loyd had 24 points and hit 6-7 from three as the Ducks outlasted UTEP 64-59.

John Shurna, Northwestern: Shurna went for 25 points, eight boards, three steals and three blocks to lead the Wildcats past Georgia Tech for the second straight year in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
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Don't jump to conclusions after Ohio State's beatdown of Duke

This post can also be found at Beyond the Arc.

Aaron Craft hit a three. Then William Buford and Craft made layups on back-to-back possessions. Buford followed that up with another layup of his own, and after Duke used their second timeout of the half less than three minutes into the game, Jared Sullinger hit a short jumper.

It was only 3:38 into the much-hyped battle between two of the teams ranked in the top four, but with the score already 11-0, they may as well have called the game at that point.

Duke was able to get within a point on two separate occasions in the next five minutes of gametime, but the Blue Devils never tied the game and they never took the lead as they watched -- almost literally, based on the lack of effort Duke displayed on the defensive end -- Ohio State carve up their defense like a Thanksgiving turkey, taking a 47-28 lead into the break and cruising to an 85-63 win.

The loss was equally embarrassing and impressive, depending on what colors your favorite team wears. Ohio State looked every bit as good as last year's team. They played like a team that deserves to have their name mentioned with North Carolina and Kentucky when talking about this year's national title contenders. Blowing out a team ranked in the top four will have that effect on people.

And Duke? Well, all of the flaws that this team possesses were exposed on a national stage. They lack playmakers. Their bigs aren't physical enough. Their defense would struggle to stop good high school teams.

But how much perspective does the 40 minutes that the Blue Devils and the Buckeyes shared a court give on the season as a whole?

How much weight can we put into a win like this?

Frankly, not a ton.

Look, games like this happen. Don't believe me? Last year, Duke went into Garden and got pasted by St. John's 93-78, a game where the final score didn't indicate just how badly they had been beaten down. That Duke team lost the ACC regular season title on the last day of the regular season, but got their revenge on North Carolina by winning the ACC Tournament. The year before, Duke went into the Verizon Center and got worked by Georgetown, trailing by as much as 21 in the second half, just 10 days after losing to NC State by 14. That Duke team won the national title.

Still need more evidence? Last season, Ohio State, who went into the NCAA Tournament as the favorite to win the national title, beat Wisconsin and Purdue in Columbus by a combined 51 points. The Buckeyes lost to Purdue by 14 at Mackey Arena and blew a 15 point second half lead to Wisconsin at the Kohl Center. The year before, Ohio State lost by 22 at Wisconsin before avenging that loss at home and going on to win a share of the Big Ten regular season title and the Big Ten Tournament title.

Like I said, games like this happen.

The same way that players can be on fire or ice cold, teams have off nights and teams have great nights. And when the visiting team is having an off night while the home team, especially a home team as talented as Ohio State, is having a great night, blowouts happen.

So take this result with a grain of salt.

Ohio State is not as good as they looked on Tuesday. And Duke is not as bad as they played.

But that doesn't mean we can't learn from this game:

Ohio State:

- On nights when the Buckeyes have their Big Four going, they are going to be extremely difficult to beat. Jared Sullinger had 21 points and eight boards. Aaron Craft went for 17 points, eight assists and five rebounds. DeShaun Thomas had 18 points -- including a stretch where he scored 12 straight. And William Buford went for 20 points, five boards and four assists.

- William Buford is as good as any shooting guard in the country. And he's an NBA player. He comes off of screens so well and he has become a lethal three-point shooter. He's also a much better passer than anyone gives him credit for.

- While we're on the subject of passing, what makes Ohio State so dangerous is how well they move the ball offensively. They space the floor and swing the ball incredibly well for a team that has so many quality offensive weapons. They give up good shots to get a great shot as well as any team in the country because they know that on the next possession, their teammate will make the extra pass to get them a wide-open look.


- The Blue Devils are going to go as far as Austin Rivers takes them. He's the only player on the roster than is capable of creating his own shot, and he's as good as any player in the country -- regardless of age -- at using his dribble to create space for himself. He still has plenty to learn, however, and he has to get better at finishing the looks that he creates. That will come with time. But for Duke to be a top ten team, Rivers has to have the kind of impact that Nolan Smith had last season. Rivers finished with 22 points, but he needed 18 shots to do so and finished with just three assists.

- Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins cannot disappear like they did tonight. There's nothing else to add here. Those two have to be offensive weapons, because they bring very little to the table on the other end of the floor.

- Mason Plumlee continued his excellent play from Maui and looks like he may be the first Plumlee to come close to living up to his potential. But Duke is in trouble is Ryan Kelly is their best option at the four. He's not physical enough to battle in the paint and he hasn't shot the ball well enough to be effective as a face-up four.

- The biggest issue with Duke, however, is on the defensive end of the floor. I don't think its unfair to say that the only starter they have that can even be discussed an above-average defender is Mason Plumlee. If they are going to win, they are going to have to beat teams with a powerful offense based on their three-point shooting. They won't be doing much of that if Kelly, Curry and Dawkins play the way they did tonight.

- Duke is ranked way to high as the No. 4 team in the country. But don't ignore who they have already beaten this season -- Belmont, Kansas and Michigan. This is still one of the 10 or 15 best teams in the country, and when their threes are falling and Austin Rivers is playing like the all-american he was in high school, they are going to be a tough team to beat.
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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday's Pregame Beat: ACC/Big Ten Challenge predictions!!!

ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Seeing as we've already done a preview for the event, I'm not going rewrite everything that I wrote in this space. That'd just be wasting your time. But since I'm a space cadet and didn't remember to make my picks, I'll do that right here, right now, for you.

Tuesday, Nov. 29th:

Miami (FL) @ Purdue: Purdue. I just think the Boilermakers are going to be too tough in Mackey Arena,
Northwestern @ Georgia Tech: Northwestern. I don't think the Yellow Jackets have the defensive discipline to slow down Drew Crawford, John Shurna and company.
Illinois @ Maryland: Illinois. If Maryland had Pe'Shon Howard and Alex Len, I'd say they had a puncher's chance at home.
Michigan @ Virginia: Virginia. The key to beating Michigan is figuring out their offensive sets. I think Tony Bennett will be able to.
Clemson @ Iowa: Clemson. The Tigers haven't been playing well this year, but the Hawkeyes just aren't that good.
Duke @ Ohio State: Ohio State. In a close one. The Buckeyes are giving 7.5, however. Take the points.

Wednesday, Nov. 30th:

Indiana @ NC State: Indiana. I've been impressed with how the Hoosiers have played early in the season. No one on the Wolfpack is strong enough to take advantage of Cody Zeller inside.
Penn State @ Boston College: No one. I think Penn State will outscore Boston College, but no one is a winner in this game.
Florida State @ Michigan State: Florida State. The Spartans should be able to matchup inside, but the Seminoles are the toughest defensive team in the country and Michigan State can't score.
Virginia Tech @ Minnesota: Virginia Tech. The Hokies are underrated and the Gophers are without Trevor Mbakwe.
Wake Forest @ Nebraska: Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are tough defensively and Bo Spencer has the ability to go off for 20+.
Wisconsin @ North Carolina: North Carolina. The Badgers matchup so well -- talented point guard, control tempo -- with UNC, but I think that the Heels will come out pissed after losing to UNLV.

Scoreboard: Big Ten 7, ACC 5.

Game of the night: 9:00 pm: Arizona @ New Mexico State

The Wildcats have been one of the early season's most enigmatic teams. Well, maybe enigmatic isn't the right word. Overrated is probably better. Arizona is loaded with talent and potential. The problem is that all of their star power is in the form of underclassmen, specifically freshman guard Josiah Turner. As Sean Miller waits for his club to learn and develop and become the team that lives up to rankings of their recruiting classes, Arizona is susceptible. Ask Mississippi State, who picked off the Wildcats at Madison Square Garden 10 days ago. Or ask San Diego State, who went into the McKale Center and dropped Arizona over the holiday weekend.

And New Mexico State isn't a bad team. They are 5-1 on the season, which includes a win over New Mexico in The Pit, and they finally have Wendell McKines healthy and playing the all-league caliber player that he is. This will be a good test for Arizona. Can they beat a quality team on the road in a hostile environment?

Who's getting upset?: Texas

The Longhorns take on a young -- but talented -- North Texas team at 8:00 pm tonight in Austin, and UT better come ready to play. The Mean Green have a roster loaded with talented freshmen and high-major transfers. The problem? UNT has yet to figure out how to play together, and is still not at full strength. Roger Franklin, a transfer from Oklahoma State, and Alonzo Edwards, a transfer from Nebraska, are still trying to earn minutes while Tony Mitchell and Justin Patton are not yet eligible (it looks like Patton won't get eligible this year after all). The 1-3 start is not indicative of how good this team can be.

Mid-major matchup of the night: 10:00 pm: No. 25 St. Louis @ Loyola Marymount

St. Louis is an interesting team to watch. They are tough defensively, they control the pace of the game (keeping is slow) and they fire up a lot of threes without turning the ball over. Wisconsin-lite. Or diet Wisconsin. Either way, you get my point -- this is a team that thrives on the offensive and defensive execution of Rick Majerus' game-plan. LMU, on the other hand, is a team that is more free-flowing. They rely more on the natural talent of guys like Anthony Ireland and Ashley Hamilton. It should be fun.

The rest of the top 25:

7:00 pm: Eastern Michigan @ No. 3 Syracuse: As if there wasn't enough drama surrounding Jim Boeheim and Bernie Fine, this is the first time that Rob Murphy will be coming back to Upstate New York. The longtime Cuse assistant is now the head coach of EMU.

8:00 pm: Prairie View A&M @ No. 8 Baylor: Perry Jones. Welcome back.

Other notable games:

- 7:00 pm: Miami OH @ Cincinnati
- 7:00 pm: Holy Cross @ Providence
- 8:00 pm: LSU @ Houston
- 10:00 pm: UTEP @ Oregon

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A Watcher's Guide to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge kicks off their 13th installment this evening, but for the first time in its history, every team from both conferences will be participating.

The Big Ten added their 12th member in Nebraska during the summer, which means that instead of having one of the ACC teams forced to watch from the sideline, we will have a full round-robin. It also means that, for the first time in Challenge history, there is the chance that it could end up in a tie.

That would be bad news for the Big Ten. They've won the last two challenges, although they may find it difficult to win a third.

Seeing as you aren't a full-fledged hoops junkie like yours truly, I figured that I would give you a full-fledged breakdown of which games to tune in for, and which games to avoid.

You are welcome.

Only miss these games to see the birth of your FIRST child:

No. 1: Tue, 9:30 pm: No. 4 Duke @ No. 2 Ohio State: Its easy to write off Duke as overrated. Its easy to say that this team is no different than any other Duke team -- a group of soft jumpshooters and overrated big men. And while that very well be true, keep in mind that Duke has performed very well against one of the tougher schedules in the country. Only two teams on their schedule don't look like tournament teams: Tennessee, who is better than they are actually being given credit for, and Presbyterian, who went into Cincinnati and knocked off the Bearcats.

Ohio State has been impressive as well, as they have proven to be deeper than in the past. The Buckeyes are going 10 or 11 deep right now, and while that rotation will likely get cut down by the time conference play comes around, its a good sign early in the season that Thad Matta feels that comfortable with that many different players. Will Buford has blossomed into one of the best scorers in the country, while Aaron Craft has proven to be an even better defender and playmaker.

The key to this game is going to be whether or not Duke's big men -- the Plumlees, Ryan Kelly -- are able to prevent Sullinger from establishing position. While they did a good job defensively on Thomas Robinson -- he had just 16 points on 6-15 shooting -- they allowed him to get 15 boards. Sullinger is a bit of a different post player in that he's much better at establishing position that Robinson is. Keep Sully off the glass and limit his post touches, and Duke has a good chance at winning this.

No. 2: Wed 9:30 pm: No. 7 Wisconsin @ No. 5 North Carolina: UNC is coming into the game off of their first loss of the season. The Tar Heels went into Orleans Arena out in Vegas and lost to UNLV. The Rebels played well, but UNC not only shot themselves in the foot on a number of different occasions, they also had their weaknesses exposed for the entire country to see.

The Tar Heels struggle defensively -- particularly their point guard, Kendell Marshall -- allow too many open looks from the perimeter as the result of penetration. That's precisely what Wisconsin does. When they are playing their best, the ball is in Jordan Taylor's hands and he is making decisions. They also put him in a lot of pick-and-roll situations. Wisconsin has quite a few shooters in their lineup -- headlined by leading scorer Ben Brust and big man Jared Berggren -- which means that Marshall's ability to keep Taylor out of the paint (until Roy Williams makes the inevitable decision to put Dexter Strickland on Taylor) will be the difference in this game.

The other problem for the Heels is that Wisconsin loves to control the tempo. The Badgers play at a slowed down pace and execute very well offensively. By taking the air out of the ball, they force UNC to play in the half court. We all saw on Saturday night just how much the Heels struggle when they aren't able to get out and run the floor. If the Badgers can execute offensively and score, negating the fast break, Wisconsin has a chance to win.

You can miss these for a hot date, but they have to be at least a nine and NOT already your significant other:

No. 3: Wed 7:30 pm: Florida State @ Michigan State: This is going to be a tough matchup for Michigan State. They are struggling to execute offensively, meaning that their strength right now is the ability to over power opponents in the paint. Florida State is the best defensive team in the country and has the biggest front line in the country. That's tough. The good news? Florida State struggles to score even more than the Spartans.

No. 4: Tue 9:00 pm: Virginia @ No. 15 Michigan: The Cavs were predicted by many to be a sleeper in the ACC, but they made that prediction look a bit silly when they lost to TCU earlier this year. Mike Scott is back to his double-double ways, but unless UVA solves some of their three-point shooting and play-making issues, they are going to have some issues against the zone that Michigan plays.

You can play bridge with your Grandmother, just make sure you have the game on in the back ground:

No. 5: Wed 7:15 pm: Indiana @ NC State: This looks like it may be the best Indiana team that we've seen since Kelvin Sampson, but with their only real competition of the year coming against a young and rebuilding Butler team, its difficult to know exactly what the Hoosiers are dealing with. NC State is rebuilding as well, but this team has some talent. CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown both have shown flashes of the star potential that had people picking the Wolfpack as high as fourth in the ACC heading into last season.

No. 6: Wed 9:15 pm: Virginia Tech @ Minnesota: This game held much more intrigue on Sunday afternoon, prior to Trevor Mbakwe tearing the acl in his right knee. But the Gophers still have some talent on that team, with a young back court to play alongside Rodney Williams and Ralph Sampson. Virginia Tech, however, looks like they are a much better team than expected coming into the season. Jarell Eddie, Dorenzo Hudson and Erick Green provide a solid perimeter punch while Victor Davila has become a tough, physical presence in the paint over the course of his career.

No. 7: Tue 9:00 pm: Miami (FL) @ Purdue: Purdue has had a solid start to the season but there are still question marks on their roster. Miami, on the other hand, was thought to be a contender in the ACC before Reggie Johnson hurt his knee. Without their big fella, the Hurricanes lost to Ole Miss in overtime over the weekend. The Boilermakers struggled against the back court of Iona, what are they going to do against Miami's Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant?

No. 8: Tue 7:30 pm: Illinois @ Maryland: How good are the Illini? Are they the team that's 7-0, or the one that nearly blew an 18 point halftime lead against Richmond before barely hanging on to knock off Illinois State. The good news, thus far, is that Meyers Leonard and DJ Richardson both have been playing like stars. Maryland, on the other hand, is playing without Pe'Shon Howard and Alex Len, and while Terrell Stoglin has looked like an all-american at times, he's still inconsistent.

At least follow along on gamecast:

No. 9: Tue 7:15 pm: Georgia Tech @ Northwestern: Can Northwestern finally make the push into the NCAA Tournament? It was last season's impressive victory over the Yellow Jackets that got people talking about the Wildcat's chances.

No. 10: Wed 9:15 pm: Wake Forest @ Nebraska: Wake Forest and Nebraska look like they are headed for better-than-expected seasons. The Demon Deacons have a legitimate star in Travis McKie and have been playing much better since the defections. Nebraska, however, plays tough defense and finally has a big-time scorer in Bo Spencer.

You know what? Go ahead. Get some sleep. I won't even be mad:

No. 11: Tue 9:15 pm: Clemson @ Iowa: Clemson lost to Coastal Carolina and College of Charleston. Iowa lost to Campbell by 16.

No. 12: Wed 7:15 pm: Boston College @ Penn State: Yuck.
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Breaking Down: The John Beilein 'System'

When you talk about Michigan, you always hear about the 'John Beilein system' and how its so difficult to defend and prepare for.

But what, exactly, is the Michigan attack all about? How is Beilein able to so consistently take a group of over-achievers and turn them into a nationally competitive basketball team? What is it about this 'system' that has been so good to Beilein at so many different stops?

In the latest edition of our Breaking Down series, we dive into the attack of the Wolverines.

Past Breaking Downs:

- How Jared Cunningham defended John Jenkins
- The breakdowns in the Pitt defense

The first thing that comes to mind when talking about John Beilein is the 1-3-1 zone that his employs. And while that zone is effective, its rarely used by the Wolverines. According to Synergy Sports database, Michigan has operated against a zone offense on fewer than 13% of their defensive possessions. While that number can be a bit misleading because of how often teams will use their man offenses against zone -- it helps create movement, as teams unaccustomed to playing against a zone have a tendency to get stagnant offensively -- the fact of the matter is that Beilein uses his zone defense as nothing more than a change of pace, the same way that any other coach will throw on a full-court press from time to time.

There are situations where the Wolverines will go almost exclusively zone. Against Memphis, 24 of Michigan's 63 defensive possessions were played in zone. Against UCLA, however, the Wolverines only played zone on four possessions. Another thing to note is that the 1-3-1 is not the only zone that Michigan is able to play; 20 of the 24 zone possessions that Beilein played against Memphis was in a 2-3.

But the 1-3-1 is effective, and its worth discussing because there will be times this year that Michigan will go almost exclusively to that defense depending on their matchup.

Beilein's zone isn't much different than a standard 1-3-1. He uses one of his bigger wings -- in this case, Tim Hardaway Jr. -- at the top, with two guards on the wings, the point guard under the basket and the center in the middle. Hardaway's job is to force the ball-handler, in this case Lazeric Jones, to pick a side. When Jones crosses half court, Hardaway and the strong side wing, Eso Akunne, will put a soft trap on the dribbler. Stu Douglass, who is on the baseline, hedges out on the baseline to be able to get to the man in the corner, while Zack Novak, the weak-side wing, drops on the opposite wing to protect a lob pass (click on the images to enlarge):

When the ball gets rotated to Jerime Anderson, Novak and Hardaway get another soft trap to prevent dribble penetration while Douglas rotates over to the other side of the lane and Akunne drops to protect the lob:

When the ball eventually makes its way to the corner, Akunne, the strong side wing, and Douglas, the baseline defender, trap the ball. Novak, the weakside wing, drops all the way to the rim while the center, Jon Horford, matches up with the opposing big man and Hardaway drops to the foul line to protect the high-post:

Here's the full video of the possession, which ends with what was very nearly a steal:

And here's another example of a possession in the 1-3-1 zone from the Memphis game:

On the offensive end of the floor is where Beilein's coaching style gets so interesting. Michigan has so many different plays and wrinkles off of those plays that they run, but their offense is fairly simple. It starts in a 2-1-2 set, with the two guards up high, a big man at the high-post and two more wing plays in the corners. From there, a play is called and the offense in initiated by one of the guards passing to the strong side wing. In this example, Trey Burke passes the ball to Novak while Douglass and Hardaway are on the weak side of the floor and Horford is at the high-post:

This is when it gets fun.

Out of this set, the Wolverines have a number of different options and reads that they use, but they all center around the idea of cutting hard, off-ball screens and rolls to the rim. In this particular example, Burke clears to the corner after passing the ball to Novak. Horford flashes out to rotate the ball while Douglass sets a screen for Novak at the high-post, and as Novak cuts across the lane using the screen, Horford swings the ball to Hardaway:

Horford than steps over and sets a ball-screen for Hardaway. Since Novak wasn't open on the cut, he and Douglass set a double back-screen for Horford as he rolls off of the Hardaway ball-screen:

The defense is so focused on defending Horford that they lose track of Novak, who is left wide-open on the three point line:

Here is the full play:

The beauty of this play design is that just five minutes of game-time earlier, Michigan ran a similar set that ended up in a wide-open layup for Horford. As Akunne passed the ball to Novak, both he and Douglas, who was the other guard at the top of the offense, cut through:

Novak, instead of swinging the ball, dribbled over to the other side of the floor. Hardaway, who was the opposite side wing, cut through as Douglass came up to receive the pass:

Horford set a ball-screen for Douglass while Novak set a down-screen for Hardaway, who curled through and popped to the top of the key:

As Horford rolled off of the ball-screen, his defender -- Josh Smith -- lost track of him in the confusion, and Hardaway found him for a layup:

Here is the full play:

The majority of Beilein's sets start with the guards at the top cutting through. Here's a perfect example from the Memphis game, where Novak sets a back screen for Hardaway before receiving a downscreen from Jordan Morgan:

And since Beilein is the king of the counter option, here is Douglass taking advantage of guards anticipating his cut through the lane and using a flare screen from Evan Smotrcyz:

John Beilein is the ultimate tactician when it comes to designing plays at the college level, and this is just a fraction of the playbook that he has given his Michigan team. When his offense is run correctly, it truly is a pleasure to watch.
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Tuesday's Shootaround: Xavier wins a big one on the road, St. Mary's knocks off Weber State

No. 11 Xavier 82, No. 19 Vanderbilt 70: See here.

That link is to what we've written on Vanderbilt coming out of this game, but Xavier's back court needs to get recognition after their performance on Monday night. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons are, simply put, as good as any duo in the country. Yes, I know they struggled for most of the game against a fairly pedestrian Vanderbilt defense. But those struggles disappeared when Xavier needed a bucket. Lyons hit five of his last ten shots of the game, sparked the game-changing, 10-0 that erased the lead that the Commodores had built up and then made the coast-to-coast drive and spinning lay-up that sent the game into overtime.

Holloway was even bigger. After failing to find any kind of rhythm for the majority of the game, the senior hit two daggers on back to back possessions to push Xavier's overtime lead from two to eight. The best players make the biggest plays in crunch-time, whether or not they have played well during the game. Lyons and Holloway did just that, and they did it to beat a top 20 team on the road. That's impressive.

No. 6 Louisville 79, Long Beach State 66: Louisville got 18 points from Chris Smith and jumped out to a double-digit lead early in the first half, hanging on to beat a scrappy LBSU team. Louisville hasn't been running as much as we've expected early in the season as Rick Pitino deals with depth issues stemming from his team's injuries, but the Cardinals looked like the Louisville team we all expected on Monday night.

For the 49ers, this is their third loss after knocking off Pitt on the road, as they dropped close decisions to San Diego State and Montana. That shouldn't diminish how good this team can be, but unless they string together a couple of wins against some of their big-name non-conference competition, this is a team that is going to have to earn an automatic berth if they want to go dancing.

St. Mary's 87, Weber State 70: The Gaels got 25 points and 11 assists from Matthew Dellavedova and 24 points and 12 boards from Rob Jones as they used a huge second half to knock off Weber State. The Gaels scored 56 points in the second period and shot 69% from the floor as they managed to outlast Damian Lillard, who was on fire. Lillard finished with 36 points, including 21 straight in the second half to get the Wildcats within six with seven minutes left, but St. Mary's responded with a 14-2 run to put the game away. Kenton Walker added 14 and 11 off the bench for St. Mary's.

Oakland 89, Tennessee 81: On the night that they retired Keith Benson's jersey, Reggie Hamilton did his best to make Grizzly fans forget their standout big man. Hamilton went for 35 points to lead five Grizzlies in double figures as Oakland notched their second consecutive win against the Vols.

UCLA 62, Pepperdine 39: UCLA finally earned their first Division I win of the season as they got 14 points from Laz Jones and held the Waves to just 11 first half points. Perhaps the most notable part of this win? Playing in an arena 17 miles from their campus, UCLA had just 34 students show up to watch the game.

The rest of the top 25:

No. 9 Florida 96, Stetson 70: The Gators were led by 22 points, 10 boards, three blocks and three assists from freshman Brad Beal as Billy Donovan notched his 450th win as a head coach.

No. 16 Marquette 88, Jacksonville 56: Jae Crowder had 27 points, Darius Johnson-Odom had 19 and Vander Blue added seven assists, nine boards and four steals as the Golden Eagles improved to 6-0 on the season.

No. 21 Memphis 70, Jackson State 45: Joe Jackson had 15 points and Chris Crawford added 14, but Memphis struggled through the first 25 minutes before finally turning on the after burners and running Jackson State out of Fed Ex Forum.

No. 23 Cal 73, McNeese State 57: Jorge Gutierrez had 26 points and five assists as Cal sloughed off a poor first half.

Other notable games:

- Georgetown 81, IUPUI 58
- Iona 100, Long Island 84
- West Virginia 77, Akron 56
- Colorado 70, Georgia 68
- Stanford 79, Pacific 37

Top performers

Matthew Dellavedova and Rob Jones, St. Mary's: Dellavedova had 25 points and 11 assists and Rob Jones added 24 points and 12 boards to overcome a 36 point performance by Damian Lillard.

Michael Glover and Scott Machado, Iona: Glover went for 28 points and 14 boards while Scott Machado continued to stake his claim as the best passer in the country, notching 10 assists to go along with his 14 points.

Reggie Hamilton, Oakland: Hamilton had 35 points and six boards as Oakland knocked off Tennessee for the second straight season.
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Tuesday Morning Dump

- You would think that tonight's home game against Duke would be a perfect time for tOSU to introduce Urban Meyer as new head football coach

- In case you missed our first installment of "The Emery Board", Big Apple Buckets provides some extra info on the win less teams in college

- Jim Boeheim ain't stepping down

- Did anyone actually think Fab Melo was ready for the NBA already, Zagoria?

- A pretty awesome read from BC Interruption about the effect ACC expansion will have on Holiday tournaments

- Billy Donovan got the 400th win of his career with Florida's win over Stetson last night

- A great-read from Grantland on Kansas' Thomas Robinson

- Don't be surprised if St. John's beats Kentucky. Why? Because Steve Lavin has a history of slaying giants

- Is Iona's Scott Machado the best point guard in the game today? Personally, I'd take Jordan Taylor and Kendall Marshall over him, but he's definitely in the top-3

- Sean Miller is going to make some changes to the Arizona starting lineup

- Run The Floor explains why the ACC will win the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

- John Calipari wants to know who you would drop from the UK schedule. The SEC will move to a larger conference schedule next season, which will for teams to drop two non-conference games from the schedule

- Jerami Grant remains committed to Syracuse despite the Bernie Fine allegations. DaJuan Coleman is unsure of his.

- The Mikan Drill breaks down Vanderbilt's out of bounds play

- Definitive evidence that Andre Drummond is having a negative effect on Alex Oriakhi. More on Oriakhi's frustration with new role

- ESPN Senior VP and Director of News Vince Doria disccuses the coverage of the Bernie Fine case (Not exactly hard-hitting questions)

- Vermont center Ben Crenca blogs about his love for pro wrestling

- Curtis Kitchen provides some thoughts on the early non-con season in the Big-XII

- Chris De La Rosa, a preseason first-team all-conference guard from UMBC has decided to leave the program

- UNC-Wilmington is one of the youngest teams in the country and has yet to win a game. On top of that, starting point guard Chris Ponder will miss the rest of the season due to a ankle injury

- St. John's head coach Steve Lavin may not be on the sidelines for the Johnnies game against Kentucky on Thursday

- Trevor Mbakwe is done for the year thanks to a ACL tear

- Harrison Barnes' status for the Wisconsin game is still undetermined after head rolled his ankle in the Tar Heel's loss to UNLV on Saturday night

Ray McCallum must be the world's best H-O-R-S-E player

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Monday, November 28, 2011

Will Festus Ezeli solve the problems that Vanderbilt has?

When it comes to college athletics, calling a team "controversial" generally means that they are playing by the Jim Calhoun rules of recruiting.

Not so with Vanderbilt.

The Commodores, who are probably as clean as a program can be playing at the high-major level, are the most controversial team in the country not because of the way that they landed their three first-round picks, but because of the product that Kevin Stallings puts on the court.

I made the argument a week ago that Vanderbilt cannot be judged as a team until they get Festus Ezeli back, and I still believe it. Festus Ezeli is a first round pick and one of the best big man in the SEC, if not the country. He's a force on both ends of the floor. There is no way that inserting that presence into your lineup won't have an effect.

But the question that can be asked is if Ezeli's presence can fix the flaws of this Vanderbilt team.

Are Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins going to be able to defend a talented back court? For the majority of the Commodore's 82-70 loss to Xavier on Monday night, they did a solid job. While the Musketeer back court of Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons finished 13-38 from the floor against Vandy, they made all the big shots and big plays down the stretch. Lyons went coast-to-coast for a pretty, spinning layup to tie the game and force the extra period while Holloway hit two huge threes in overtime that put Xavier up eight points.

The other problem is that a number of the misses from Xavier were the result of over-dribbling and bad shots being forced by those two. Some of that credit has to go to the defense, but a lot of it is also the result of poor decision-making for the first 35 minutes of the game.

A bigger issue, however, is Vanderbilt's offensive execution in the clutch. The Commodores pushed their lead to as much as ten early in the second half, but a flurry of bad turnovers allowed Xavier to make a run and take the lead. Much of that came against Vanderbilt's bench, and once the starters came back in the game, they were able to regain control of the game on a John Jenkins three with 4:03 left that pushed the lead back up to 66-62.

For the next 6:39, however, Vanderbilt went scoreless. Their offense, which is supposed to be their strength, lost all of its flow. When Vanderbilt needed a bucket, the ball ended up in the hands of Tinsley. On Vanderbilt's last possession of regulation, Jenkins wasn't even looked at as Tinsley forced a tough 15 footer that squirted out of his hands. After Vandy had cut the lead to four in regulation, the next two possessions ended with Tinsley threes.

Vanderbilt is not complete. They will get better when Ezeli returns.

But if tonight proved anything, its that the boost they get from their big man may not address the weaknesses that are costing Vanderbilt games early in the season.
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POSTERIZED: NCCU must stand for "New Charge Cirlce Unnecessary"

A week before North Carolina Central guard Justin Leemow got arrested for carrying 13 ounces of marijuana, Ray Willis, a former-Oklahoma forward, was tearing up the mid-major ranks. Over the course of three games, he averaged 22.6ppg, 3.7rpg, 4.3apg, 2.0bpg and 2.7spg. For his efforts, he was named MEAC Player of the Week.

But what wasn't mentioned in the press release was the fierce, nasty and humiliating dunk he threw down on Wagner's Jonathan Williams.

But thanks to YouTube, and the good people at the NCCU Sports Information Department, we can finally bring some of Willis' achievements to light.

Jonathan Williams, if you, or any of your family members are watching this, cover your eyes:


Just, wow.

But on a side note. Can we take a minute to recognize the awesome side-panels on NCCU's uniforms? They remind me of the Georgetown kente-cloth designs from the mid-90's.

Another side note: If I remember correctly, I believe CBS' Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanCBS) was in attendance for this game, or at least he was suppose to be. If he was there, and he didn't get the scoop on this dunk, we clearly have to start wondering if the "ScoopMaster" is losing his touch.

But was it as good as these?

Anthony Marshall, UNLV vs. UNC, 11/26
Michael Kidd-Glichrist, Kentucky vs. Portland, 11/26/11 (DotY Candidate)
Markel Brown, Oklahoma State vs. Virginia Tech, 11/25/11
Rodney Williams, Minnesota vs. DePaul, 11/24/11
Thomas Robinson, Kansas vs. Duke, 11/23
Stan Okoye, VMI vs. Ohio State, 11/23
Kyisean Reed, Utah State vs. Southern Utah, 11/19
Ra'Shad James, Iona vs. Western Michigan, 11/18
Alandise Harris, Houston vs. Arkansas, 11/18
Sam Thompson, Ohio State vs. Jackson State, 11/18
Tony Mitchell, Alabama vs. Wichita State, 11/18
Eric Griffin, Campbell vs. North Carolina A&T, 11/18 (DotY Candidate)
Olek Czyz, Nevada vs. Pacific, 11/17
Chris Watson, Pikeville vs. Mountain State, 11/16
Mike James, Lamar vs. Ohio, 11/15 (DotY Candidate)
Quincy Acy, Baylor vs. San Diego State, 11/15
Deniz Kilicli, West Virginia vs. Kent State, 11/15
Chris Evans, Kent State vs. West Virginia, 11/15
Tony Mitchell, Alabama vs. Oakland, 11/14
Isaiah Brown, East Tennessee State vs. Virginia Tech, 11/12
Michael Lyons, Air Force vs. Army, 11/11
Dezmine Wells, Xavier vs. Morgan State, 11/11
Jeremy Lamb, UConn vs. Columbia, 11/11 (DotY Candidate)
Andre Drummond, UConn vs. CW Post, 11/4
Moe Harkless, St. John's vs. CW Post, 10/26

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Monday's Pregame Beat: Xavier vs. Vandy, Louisville on upset watch?

Game of the night: 7:00 pm: No. 11 Xavier @ No. 19 Vanderbilt

It may be late November, but there is a surprising amount of good hoops on tonight. It starts with the Musketeers and the Commodores tonight. Vanderbilt will be playing the host, but Xavier has been more impressive this season.

It is going to be interesting to see how Xavier matches up with Vanderbilt defensively. Dez Wells is the best athletes on the team and, generally speaking, will be the best defensive weapon on the perimeter. But he is going to have to matchup with Jeff Taylor because neither Mark Lyons or Tu Holloway have the size to battle with Taylor. That is going to put the pressure on Chris Mack's two best scorers on the defensive end as they take turns trying to slow down Vandy's John Jenkins. Kevin Stallings loves to run Jenkins off of screens and defending that takes away the legs of an opponent. Jared Cunningham had just nine points when he was tasked with chasing Jenkins around for 40 minutes.

For Vanderbilt, it will be interesting to see if-- not how -- they are able to slow down Xavier's back court. Tu Holloway is one of the best point guards in the country, but his scoring load has been diminished this season as Lyons has become a more dangerous and consistent scorer. Jenkins and Brand Tinsley are not known for their defensive prowess.

Who's getting upset?: No. 6 Louisville

I'm a big fan of the Cardinals, I really am. But I think that Long Beach State -- who they tip off against at 7:00 tonight -- is a very good matchup. For those that have trouble following these things -- like me -- Louisville will have Peyton Siva tonight, but they will be without Rakeem Buckles and Stephen Van Treese, who are both dealing with knee injuries. What intrigues me about LBSU is their ability to play in the full court, the talent they have on their perimeter and the number of threats they have from three point range. The 49ers matchup very well against Louisville's press and zone. Ask Pitt what happens when this team gets rolling.

Mid-major matchup of the night: 10:30 pm: Weber State @ St. Mary's

In an event titled the "Shamrock Office Solutions Classic" -- umm, ok -- we'll get a matchup of two of the best teams out west. If you like guard play, you'll want to tune in for this. Weber State is lead by Damian Lillard -- a dynamic, 6'2" scoring guard -- and his sharp-shooting counterpart Scott Bamforth. The Gaels back court is anchored by Matthew Dellavedova, Stephen Holt and Jorden Page. This will be a big game for St. Mary's, as they just lost to Denver on the road. That's not a good look for a team that will be fighting for an at-large berth come March.

For what its worth, this game is a return for the game that Weber State scheduled against St. Mary's late last season.

Be sure to keep an eye on:

- 7:00 pm: Akron @ West Virginia: Akron is a quality team out of the MAC. West Virginia already lost to a quality team out of the MAC in Kent State. The Zips have also already notched a quality, non-conference win by beating Mississippi State. If you are into the NBA, keep an eye on Akron center Zeke Marshall.

- 9:00 pm: Oakland @ Tennessee: This will be a good gauge for Tennessee. They competed out in Maui in their first two tests of the season, but they lost to both Duke and Memphis. Oakland is not quite as good as they were last season, but this is still a quality mid-major team.

- 11:00 pm: Pepperdine @ UCLA: Can UCLA finally get their first Division I win of the season?

The rest of the top 25:

7:00 pm: Stetson @ No. 9 Florida: We'll get another look at Florida without Erik Murphy. They'll need all the work they can get without him.

8:00 pm: Jacksonville @ No. 16 Marquette: Marquette looked terrific in their first four games of the season, but they struggled against Norfolk State. Which Marquette team shows up tonight?

8:00 pm: Jackson State @ No. 21 Memphis: After struggling through Maui, the Tigers need to make a statement.

10:30 pm: McNeese State @ No. 23 Cal: We are still waiting to see the real Cal Bears. Was it the team that lost by 39 to Missouri or the one that beat a good Denver team by 21?

Other notables games:

- 7:00 pm: IUPUI @ Georgetown
- 7:00 pm: Long Island @ Iona
- 10:00 pm: Pacific @ Stanford
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Hoops Housekeeping: Tim Abromaitis, Trevor Mbakwe with serious knee injuries

Tim Abromaitis has never had knee problems.

Every athlete goes through the typical aches and pains that come with being a college basketball player -- banged knees, twisted ankles, sore backs -- but Abro had never missed time because of knee problems. Which is why, when his right knee gave out has he came to a jump-stop in a 2-on-2 drill in practice on Friday morning, the severity of his injury was shocking. No one saw this coming. And now, one of the best kids is all of college basketball may finish his collegiate career on the bench in street clothes.

"Going on the court [at practice], it felt like one of those first four games where it's just waiting to get back out there," Abromaitis told the South Bend Tribune. "I kind of had to remind myself that it's done for the season.

"I'll eventually come to grips with it, I guess. I don't know if there's any technique to getting used to it."

The injury is a crushing blow for the Irish. Already in a rebuilding year, Notre Dame will now be forced to face the rigors of the Big East schedule without their leading scorer and best player. Abro's minutes will likely end up going to freshman Pat Connaughton, another 6'6" shooter that has played well in the first seven games of his career. Scott Martin and Jerian Grant are going to be expected to boost their scoring, while sophomore point guard Eric Atkins will continue his transition to becoming the star for this team.

If there is a silver lining to the suspension that Abro had to deal with earlier in the year, its that Notre Dame has had to play without Abro.

The question now becomes whether or not Abro will apply for a sixth-year of eligibility. This is his fifth-year in college. He redshirted his sophomore season, a decision that was actually the cause of his four-game suspension earlier this year as he played in two exhibitions games. If Abro, who already has two degrees from Notre Dame, does decide to return for a sixth-season -- which isn't a guarantee at this point -- there is no indication of whether or not the NCAA will actually clear him.

Its a shame to see a great kid and a good player have his college career ended this way. Abro deserved better. Life is just unfair sometimes.


Trevor Mbakwe tears his acl: We knew this was bad as soon as it happened.

Mbakwe crumpled awkwardly to the ground during the second half of Minnesota's loss to Dayton in the Old Spice Classic finals. He had to be carried off the court and spent the remainder of the game in tears on the bench with his knee wrapped in ice. He even tweeted from the locker room "Lord please get me through this."

All of a sudden, all the depth that Minnesota had in their front court is gone. Colton Iverson transferred to Colorado State, Mo Walker is still battling a knee injury that ended his freshman season and Ralph Sampson is battling a sprained ankle. That leaves redshirt freshman Elliott Eliason up front. I would say that Minnesota will be forced to play at a faster pace now, but they are without a point guard this season thanks to a number of transfers.

One year ago this week, Minnesota was in the top ten after a dominating performance at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Tournament. My, how things have changed.

"My family and I would like to thank everyone for their support," said Mbakwe in a statement.

"Trevor's done everything we've asked him to do in his time here at the University of Minnesota. He's been through an awful lot," said Gopher head coach Tubby Smith. "That says a lot about his toughness to be able to recover from the things he has already endured. He had a knee surgery before (at Marquette) and for it to happen a second time, you hurt for him, but you know he's a guy that has the will power and has been through it before and can recover again."

Michael Eric reinjures his knee: Temple fans will be waiting with baited breath over the next week as the status of their team's starting center is reevaluated.

Eric injured his right patella in practice on Friday. Its the same knee in which Eric fractured his patella in February of last season, an injury that caused him to miss the final ten games of the season. Without Eric, the Owls have almost no interior presence. The 6'11" senior had been averaging 10.5 ppg, 11.3 rpg and 2.0 bpg while replacing Lavoy Allen up front.

Erik Murphy tears his meniscus: Florida's starting power forward suffered the injury last Thursday in practice and sat out the Gator's game against Stetson on Friday. Its unclear how much time he is going to miss, although Billy Donovan has speculated that it can be anywhere from a week or two to a couple of months.

Murphy is a major loss for Florida. His ability to shoot the ball from the four spot really spread the floor for the Gators and opened up the paint. It allowed them to use pick-and-pops in the half court and created space for penetration from Florida's talented back court. No Murphy will be a major blow heading into Friday's trip to Syracuse.

Harrison Barnes is fine: We all saw North Carolina's loss to UNLV in Vegas over the weekend, which means we also all saw the nasty fall that Barnes had in the second half. He rolled his ankle in the process and immediately headed for the bench, where he sat with his head down for the next couple of minutes. He left the arena on crutches, but that appears to have been a cautionary move, as he was off of the crutches when the team left the airport the next day.

Stephen Van Treese reinjures his knee; Rakeem Buckles returns to practice: After being healthy for just two weeks, Van Treese was injured in practice over the weekend. The timing was good, at least. Rakeem Buckles has been cleared to return to practice and should be back on the court within a week or two.

Travis Wear cuts foot while snorkeling: Exactly what it says. He needed five stitches.
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