Raphielle Johnson's Blog
Thursday is a light evening in regards to the schedule with just two ranked teams playing. #2 Texas played a USC team that was gutted by scandal and the departure of Tim Floyd; Kevin O'Neill is now the man running the show at the Galen Center. North Carolina transfer Alex Stepheson and returning starter Dwight Lewis will likely have to play the games of their lives offensively for the Trojans to have any chance at the upset in Austin. A trickier matchup awaits #10 Washington in Lubbock, where Pat Knight's Red Raiders are 7-0 but in need of a headline victory.
Just like the MAAC the Northeast Conference is a league that starts league play in December due to its eighteen-game schedule and early March conference tournament. And the league schedule-makers gave their fans a treat with the last two conference champions meeting on Thursday night. Mount St. Mary's (2008 champ) heads to Moon Township to take on Robert Morris (2009 champ) in the league's opening night showcase game. The game will be the Colonials' first home game of the season and their current record (1-4, 0-3 on the road) could mean that a return home is welcome.
The first week of December also marks the beginning of conference play in leagues like the Metro Atlantic who play their conference tournaments the first weekend in March as opposed to the second. The conference picked up some good results in the first month of the season, with Rider opening the season by beating Mississippi State in Starkville and beating St. Joseph's earlier this week.
Tuesday night's national title game rematch was billed as the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, with the experienced Spartans heading to Chapel Hill with revenge on their minds. But as Mick Jagger noted, "you can't always get what you want", and the young Tar Heels grabbed control of the game early with their offensive execution. Larry Drew II, who has played good basketball recently, ran the offense with speed and consistency in the first stanza and Dexter Strickland ended the half with a three-pointer as time expired.
Wednesday marks the final night of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and the two leagues go into the evening tied at three victories apiece. So which game could this come down to? Many are pointing towards Minnesota visiting Miami in a game that on paper before the season began looked to be a Golden Gophers victory. But it's a likely candidate for a tight finish provided the Hurricanes can keep big man Dwayne Collins out of foul trouble. Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson are solid young bigs but are they physical enough to hand with the senior?
According to numerous outlets including FOX Sports' Jeff Goodman this is indeed the case, with the highly touted freshman forward out of Benin by way of Montrose Christian missing the remainder of the season with an undisclosed medical issue. Yarou played in the first two games of the season but was sent home from the Wildcats' trip to Puerto Rico due to a viral infection.
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge, which the ACC has never lost, takes center stage for the next two days with Michigan State visiting North Carolina in the event's showcase game. The Tar Heels won both meetings last season by double-digit margins, at Ford Field in December and right back on that same floor for the national title in April. But many of the faces in Carolina blue have changed and the young Heels will be tested by a seasoned group of Spartans. The individual matchup to watch: North Carolina's Larry Drew going up against the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year in Kalin Lucas.
Things didn't look too good for Florida State at the half of the Old Spice Classic title game against Marquette, going into the locker room down 30-18 after having shot just 29.6% from the field with more turnovers (13) than field goals (8). But they were able to fight back thanks to a change in strategy from Leonard Hamilton, who went smaller to better match the quickness of the Golden Eagles. The end result: Florida State winning the game on a Solomon Alabi baseline jumper with 11.9 seconds left in the game to provide the 57-56 final.
Monday's a quiet day on the schedule with many sports fans paying attention to the Patriots/Saints game in New Orleans. But there's also the first game of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge with Penn State visiting Virginia in what should be an even contest. Two of the better players in college basketball who aren't talked about often, PSU's Talor Battle and Virginia's Sylven Landesburg, will face off in Charlottesville with the Big Ten needing a good start in this event.
Las Vegas can be a dangerous trip for ranked teams. The sights and sound can be enough to distract anyone, much less a group of people in the 18-23 year-old age bracket. But there's also another issue, one that #16 Louisville ran into on Saturday afternoon: there's a pretty good college basketball team in that town. UNLV, expected by many to be a factor in the Mountain West, using a run that covered about a twelve-minute stretch from the end of the first half to the beginning of the second, knocked off the Cardinals 76-71 in front of a frenzied crowd.