College Hoops Tuesday: Your Commentary

November 29th, 2011
The Big Ten/ACC Challenge is always good for a few marquee matchups throughout the two-day event, and that's definitely the case on Tuesday night as #4 Duke (7-0) heads north to take on #2 Ohio State (6-0) in Columbus. The last time Mike Krzyzewski's team was on the court in game action, Tyler Thornton knocked down a pair of huge three-pointers to beat Kansas in the title game of the Maui Invitational. The trip to Columbus offers a few challenges: their first true road game, the nation's best big man (Jared Sullinger), one of the top defensive point guards (Aaron Craft) and a win on track to become Ohio State's all-time leading scorer (William Buford). And if this wasn't enough to fire up the masses at Value City Arena, why not expect an appearance from new head football coach Urban Meyer?

However it isn't as if the Blue Devils are lacking experience in this department, with many of their key contributors looking to write their own chapter in the program's history book. Thornton ended up on the floor at the end of the Maui final due to his defensive ability; for perimeter scoring the Blue Devils rely on a three-pronged attack consisting of juniors Seth Curry (15.1 ppg, 3.1 apg) and Andre Dawkins (10.1 ppg, 44.7% 3PT), and highly-touted freshman Austin Rivers (14.4 ppg). Curry's been their most consistent shooter, knocking down 51.6% of his field goals overall and a staggering 57.1% from beyond the arc. Also possessing the trio's best assist-to-turnover ratio, Curry's been the guard entrusted with getting Duke going in their sets more times than not.

Dawkins is an outstanding perimeter shooter who can't be left alone, and it could be fair to consider Rivers to be the "wild card" in spite of the fact that he's third on the team in scoring. The question for the phenom: will be play under control and not try to force the issue? If Rivers plays under control, with his talents it becomes an unbelievable challenge to keep him contained. It will be interesting to see who Thad Matta assigns Craft to. Does the sophomore end up drawing Curry or Rivers? Craft (9.2 ppg, 5.5 apg) isn't called upon to score at the same rate as Duke's guards, but his value both defensively and as the "set-up" man for the Buckeyes' scorers makes him an incredibly valuable asset. And the chief beneficiary is the man the Duke big men have to slow down if they're to win.

Sullinger (18.8 ppg, 10.7 rpg) trimmed down some in the off-season, and as a result he's become even tougher to deal with thanks to improved stamina and quickness. For their interior defense the Blue Devils primarily call on Mason (11.4 ppg, 10.0 rpg) and Miles (5.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg) Plumlee, with the latter being replaced in the starting lineup recently by the more offensively-inclined Ryan Kelly (14.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg). When in a pinch caused by foul trouble Duke may call on Josh Hairston, but with the sophomore averaging just six minutes per game that's a rather unlikely scenario unless they get in serious trouble. The Plumlees have to keep Sullinger off the offensive boards, but more importantly he cannot be allowed to get the majority of his post touches with a foot in the lane. That happens, the reigning National Freshman of the Year is either scoring or going to the foul line.

Kelly will have to be just as valuable for Duke on the defensive end due to the presence of Deshaun Thomas (12.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg), and the Blue Devils' third guard will need to keep Lenzell Smith Jr. (1.7 offensive rebounds/game) off of the offensive glass as well. Ohio State has nine players averaging double-digit minutes, and reserves such as Jordan Sibert and Evan Ravenel will need to be factors in their time on the floor if the Buckeyes are to utilize their superior depth. Ohio State's been the more efficient of the two teams offensively due in large part to their point distribution.

The Buckeyes score 62% of their points on two-point baskets while Duke scores 33% of their points from beyond the arc. Ohio State also assists on 66% of their baskets while Duke only assists on 46% of theirs, meaning that ball pressure will be a key for the Blue Devils if they're to win. One other stat to keep an eye on: turnover percentage. Ohio State's opponents have turned the ball over on 28% of their possessions, but outside of Florida the Buckeyes haven't played a team of this caliber to date. This will be an outstanding early-season test for both teams, as they have designs not just on conference titles but a national crown as well.

In other action Michigan visits Virginia with the Cavaliers looking to pick up a good "resume" win after a rough trip to the Virgin Islands for the Paradise Jam a couple weeks ago. Tim Hardaway Jr. and freshman Trey Burke helped lead the Wolverines to a third-place finish in Maui, and John Beilein's team is among the toughest in the country to prepare for given their style of play. Newly-ranked Saint Louis remained in southern California after winning the 76 Classic, and while Loyola Marymount has been inconsistent the Lions do have a win at UCLA to their credit, meaning that Brian Conklin and company had better be ready to go from the start.

Cincinnati will look to rebound from their loss to Marshall, but there are more preferable coaches to encounter when needing a win than Miami (OH) head coach Charlie Coles. Illinois' trip to College Park should also be interesting to watch, if only to see how Illini big man Meyers Leonard continues to build on his play in Cancun. Maryland doesn't have much depth inside, which could lead to a big night for Leonard. And out west Arizona, with a reconfigured starting lineup thanks to their poor start (down 21-4) in a home loss to San Diego State, had better be careful as they visit New Mexico State. The Aggies have a pair of good front court players in Hamidu Rahman and Wendell McKines who can give their young front court fits if they aren't ready to go.

Top 25 Games
9:30 PM (4) Duke at (2) Ohio State (ESPN)
7:00 PM Eastern Michigan at (3) Syracuse (SNY)
8:00 PM Prairie View A&M at (8) Baylor (ESPN3)
7:00 PM (15) Michigan at Virginia (ESPN2)
10:00 PM (25) Saint Louis at Loyola Marymount

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Yale at Hartford
7:00 PM Manhattan at Pennsylvania
7:00 PM East Carolina at Old Dominion
7:00 PM Texas Southern at Ball State
7:00 PM Oakland City at Butler
7:00 PM Miami (OH) at Cincinnati (FSN Ohio)
7:00 PM Eastern Kentucky at Delaware State
7:00 PM Colgate at Fordham
7:00 PM High Point at Hampton
7:00 PM South Wesleyan at North Carolina Central
7:00 PM Bethune-Cookman at North Florida
7:00 PM Holy Cross at Providence
7:15 PM Northwestern vs. Georgia Tech* (ESPNU)
7:30 PM Howard at American (CSN)
7:30 PM Illinois at Maryland (ESPN)
7:30 PM Georgia State at South Carolina State
8:00 PM LSU at Houston (CBSSN)
8:00 PM North Texas at Texas (LHN)
8:00 PM Washburn at Nebraska-Omaha
8:00 PM Arkansas-Little Rock at Northwestern State
8:00 PM Dallas Christian at Sam Houston State
8:00 PM East Tennessee State at Troy
8:05 PM Southeast Missouri State at Arkansas State
8:35 PM Alabama State at Evansville
9:00 PM Arizona at New Mexico State (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Miami (FL) at Purdue (ESPN2)
9:15 PM Clemson at Iowa (ESPNU)
10:00 PM UTEP at Oregon (CSN-NW)
10:30 PM Lewis & Clark at Portland