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Some Challenge Thoughts

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This week is the Challenge Week as the ACC and Big Ten square off. This year, the ACC enters with several teams getting refurbished.  Among them: Maryland, Georgia Tech, B.C.,  Wake Forest and NC State. Some of the matchups are really interesting.

Michigan at Virginia is really intriguing: both programs are trying to get back to the national spotlight, with Michigan farther along at this point. But Virginia really knows how to shut down the lane and if they can also control the three point shooting, they can win this one.  But Michigan is favored, to be sure.

Bill Carmody learned the Princeton offense from the master, Pete Carrill, and he knows well how to apply the jujitsu of the system to turn an opponent's superior athleticism against it.  If this were a Paul Hewitt coached Tech team, we'd concede the game now, because you have to have patience against that offense, and if you let up, even briefly, they'll kill you.  And when you get behind, catching up is even harder.

Carmody has put together three NIT seasons in a row - that'll get you fired at Tech but at Northwestern it's a tremendous accomplishment.  They did lose their point guard from last year, who was a dominant player, but they return enough talent to make a run for their first ever NCAA spot.

John Shurna is a force down low for the Wildcats.  Based on experience and solid coaching, we'd favor Northwestern, but our gut wants to take Georgia Tech.

Illinois is 6-0 but their biggest win is Richmond. Not a cakewalk necessarily, but still. The best thing Maryland has going for them is that this game is at home, but we'd be very surprised, not to mention impressed, if they turn things around quickly enough to win this one.

We don't know a whole lot about Purdue this season, but they do have Robbie Hummel back.  However, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore are both gone, and they were responsible forslightly more than half of Purdue's offense last year.  If Miami had Reggie Johnson, we'd feel a lot better about their chances. They are athletic and quick.  If they can get a really good game out of Kenny Kadji, they could pull an upset.  As far as it goes, Matt Painter is an excellent coach, but it won't be the first time that Jim Larranaga goes into an opponent's gym with a team that's not supposed to win.  Thing is, he's a masterful coach but it's still a new team.  Hard to pick against Purdue here.

Iowa has most of their team back though they only won 11 games last year.  Still, they have more talent and depth than they've had in awhile.  Iowa fans are among the most passionate in the country, too.  They love wrestling, so they should appreciate Clemson's defense.

Clemson's record is somewhat deceptive: they have losses to Charleston, a team that has the capacity to beat a lot of teams, and Coastal Carolina, where Cliff Ellis has done a spectacular job.

Iowa has lost to Creighton - forgivable - and badly to Campbell - unbelievably - at home.  How does a Big Ten team lose to Campbell by 16 at home?

Clemson has a real shot at this game.  Certainly their schedule has been tougher.

As for Duke's opponent, Ohio State, the Buckeyes are pretty young: they have one senior, a junior transfer, six sophomores and five freshmen.

One of the sophomores is the sensational Jared Sullinger, and they also return William Buford, Aaron Craft and Deshaun Thomas.

The closest game they've had was with Florida, which OSU won by seven.

Their average margin of victory thus far is 30.5.

Additionally, the freshmen are really good.  This will be Duke's biggest challenge to date, much stiffer than Michigan State, Michigan or Kansas.

On the other hand, win it and Duke claims first place in the Big Ten.

So much for the Tuesday games.

On Wednesday, Indiana brings their sensational rookie big man Cody Zeller (yes, that Zeller family) to Raleigh to take on the Pack.

To date, Zeller is shooting a phenomenal 80.6%.  Stopping him will be a major challenge.

Still, we like what Mark Gottfried has done in Raleigh so far.  His team is playing harder, smarter and more together than State has done in years. This is a great test for them and they may well pass it. But don't underestimate what Zeller is doing: it's pretty amazing.

If BC had anything else to offer, we'd pick them over Penn State because really, picking against Penn State is pretty reliable.

But it's a whole new team and they're struggling.  The best hope they have is that Penn State is an eternal sad sack in basketball and the scandal there has to weigh on everyone.  But going in, it seems like a lot to ask of 11 new players, nine of them freshmen.

Normally we'd say no way FSU beats Michigan State on the road, but the defense there is superb and the rebounding is just about as good as MSU's.  They'll have a lot of confidence after the UConn near-miss too.  We like their chances in this one, but they'll have to deal with Draymond Green.

Virginia Tech has stepped up a level, though they still have a thin frontcourt, by which we mean skinny.  Still, rookie Dorian Finney-Smith is off to a superb start and has to be a strong candidate for ACC Rookie Of The Year.  His shooting could certainly improve, but he's averaging 7.4 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 3.4 apg.  He's already had a 14 rebound game and a 10 rebound game as well.

Just for a comparison, Duke's Mason Plumlee is averaging 11.4 ppg, 10 rpg and 2.1 apg.  Finney-Smith is doing very well.

Tubby Smith is an excellent coach, and he'll be ready.  The game Tech gave Syracuse should have opened some eyes.  We'll take Tech in this one, though we'll probably end up feeling like Charlie Brown trying to kick the ball.

Wake Forest is improving a good bit over last year, even if it's just because they got rid of a bunch of malcontents.  Whatever works.

Win or lose, this game is a good gauge for Wake Forest. They've played a weak schedule and lost to Dayton (close) and Arizona State (not at all close). We're intrigued.  Are they ready?

Finally, we wouldn't want to be in Wisconsin's shoes.  Carolina is likely to blow their doors off after losing to UNLV. No one is going to be happy about that.

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