Tuesday, November 29, 2011

B1G/ACC Challenge: Day 1 - I Fear The Tide Has Swung

First, I'm happy that this is now a two day, six game a day event.  The fresh start on Tuesday is refreshing as opposed to being up 1-0 because N.C. State slogged to a win over Minnesota or down 0-1 because Virginia failed against Iowa on Monday.

And yes, this is a turf war for me.  Maryland basketball is a part of a larger ACC basketball culture.  Thusly, if my predictions are correct, it will be another sad example of the decline of ACC hoops.

Other than UNC and Duke, of course.

(and Florida State's pretty good this year too.)

On to tonight's games:

# 14 Michigan @ Virginia - The Cavalers are actually favored.  Would you believe that?  They've recovered well since the shock loss to TCU, suffocating Winthrop and Drexel.  Tony Bennett's begining to install the slowdown defensive system that he did at Washington State when he took over from his dad and took them to the tournament.  The Wolverines are the kind of team who can be sucked in to a poor shooting night, scoring just 59 against Ferris State and Western Illinois, but they placed an impressive third in Maui and if Memphis had trouble scoring on John Beilein's defense, Virginia probably will too.  The Wolverines won't play as well as when they went to the wire with ACC top dog Duke, but Tim Hardaway Jr. and Darius Burke will continue to be one of the best young backcourts in either conference.  Michigan 63-52.

Northwestern @ Georgia Tech - Wildcats won this matchup by twenty last year and have an even better 1-2 punch than their B1G rivals in Ann Arbor.  John Shurna and Drew Crawford are averaging a combined 40.2 a game and should be able to handle a Yellow Jacket roster that features little scoring talent other than Glen Rice Jr.  Particularly glaring in this matchup is the mismatch in terms of 3 point shooting.  Northwestern is 34th in the country with 8.4 threes a game.  Georgia Tech is 251st with 5.0.  As a team, the Wildcats shoot just 33% from deep but Shurna's 37% and Crawford's unrealistic 46.4% mean that the Jackets could get shot out of their own building tonight.  Oh, wait,, they're not playing in their own building because they're getting rid of the Thrillerdome.  This one's at Philips Arena.  Expect attendance in the vicinity of Hawks games circa 6 years ago.  Northwestern 73-64.

Illinois @ Maryland - Oh dear lord.  The good news is that the Illini have played no one.  Their strength of schedule is 332nd and their best win was a 70-61 triumph over a Richmond team that lost its entire backcourt and most of its core from last year's Sweet 16 team and is rebuilding.  They barely got by in-state rival Illinois State, a mediocre Missouri Valley program, in a holiday event.  But that's more than the Terps can say.  Blasted by Alabama and then blasted even more by Iona in Puerto Rico, my boys came home and beat Florida Gulf Coast by all of 6 points.  The Illini are 3rd in the nation in 2 point percentage defense (33.8%) and 226th in the country in 3 point percentage D (36.0%.)  Maryland's probably gonna have to hit its threes to win.  Ranking 235th in the country in 3 point percentage (30.7%), we need Sean Mosley to keep shooting 47.4% from beyond the arc.  We're screwed.  I'm going a bit cynical on the final score.  Forgive me, I just endured the worst collapse in the history of college football.  Illinois 71-54.

Miami (FL) @ Purdue - As an objective fan of college basketball, I'm particularly interested in this game.  The Boilermakers are 9 point favorites and KenPom agrees, giving it 69-61 to the home team.  Jim Larranega's boys are coming off of a heartbreaking Black Friday afternoon OT loss at Ole Miss and now they have to go in to the cauldron that is Mackey Arena.  Purdue won a shootout with Iona, which is much more impressive than people will give them credit for because people don't know about Iona yet, and Robbie Hummel is leading an offense that's clicked on all cylinders except for the Puerto Rico final against Alabama and not many D up like the Tide do.  Larranega has his team 40th in the country (40.9%) at defending twos...but 227th at threes (36.1%) and against Hummel and bandmates Ryne Smith and Kelsey Barlow, that could mean disaster.  If it does become a defensive war, the Boilers - as they always are under Matt Painter - are methodically dominant defensively; 13th in KenPom in adjusted efficiency.  I see a wide open game as Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant can match Hummel and co. for a time but they'll fade out in the second half.  Purdue 83-71.

Clemson @ Iowa - To be curt: Iowa is bad.  It lost by 16 to Campbell on its home floor a week ago and beat IPFW by just 10 over the weekend.  Of course, their opponents are third best in their own state at the moment as the Tigers have eaten home losses to Palmetto State rivals Charleston and Coastal Carolina.  An optimist would say that maybe leaving the confines of home for the first time all season will be an antidote.  Or maybe a moribund Hawkeye program is still struggling to find its footing under Fran McCaffery.  I like McCaffery, the coach of those Siena teams from a few years ago, but I like Brad Brownell too and the former UNC-Wilmington and Wright State man has proven he can win, nearly taking last year's underdog unit to the NCAA tournament.  Freshman Milton Jennings is more athletic and perhaps more talented than anyone on that team and he may be the best player on the court tonight by a healthy margin.  He put up 22 points and 14 rebounds in a 59-49 win over lethargically slow Furman.  I see him taking over in the second half.  McCaffery comes from the high tempo, high scoring MAAC so he's basically the antithesis of Todd Lickliter's typical B1G teams - which means there will be adjustments and growing pains, particularly on defense. Start with this and keep an eye on it during the commercials of that game that starts a half hour later at 9:30 if you want some offensive fun during commercials of that.  Clemson 89-79.

# 3 Duke @ # 2 Ohio State - 9:30.  That's when the early favorite for game of the 2011-2012 college basketball season tips off.  Two of the top four or five teams in the country in what should be an absolutely ridiculous atmosphere that Ohio State students have been waiting all day for.  This is why the people who say that college basketball doesn't matter until March simply don't get what the sport's all about.  Say what you will about the polls, but the fact that this is pretty much for the # 1 ranking if top-ranked Kentucky goes down at last week's # 1 North Carolina over the weekend makes both this game and that one all the more special.  A novel thought, all the top teams playing each other.  Anyhow, to me, this game is simple: it's your classic backcourt versus frontcourt war.  Duke does a better job of containing Jared Sullinger down low than the Buckeyes do Seth Curry and Austin Rivers, it will walk out of Value City Arena with a victory.  Ultimately, it could be the games played by the Ryan Kellys and Aaron Crafts that make the difference tonight.  Somewhat surprisingly, the Buckeyes are healthy favorites at home, with KenPom predicting an 8 point victory and Vegas favoring the hosts by 7.5, surprising considering how much the public tends to favor Duke.  The message to me seems clear - we all know that the Buckeyes are national title contenders and that means it's time for them to show it and win a home game like this.  Behind Sullinger and William Buford, Craft's workrate and some clutch Deshaun Thomas contributions, they will.  Rivers perhaps shies away a bit in his first hostile atmosphere as a college player and Curry cannot continue to shoot 57.1% from beyond the arc like he has.  But this should be absolutely terrific and I wish it didn't come on the same night as part 1 of the Sons of Anarchy finale to what has been an unbelievable season of television.  But the 9:30 tip means that I'll get the final 10 minutes in full, which is when this will be won.  Ohio State 88-81.

Conclusion: Unless the Blue Devils can snag the monster road victory - which will obviously have major seeding implications in March as well, lost in all of this - it's looking like a tough night for my ACC if superior B1G road teams take care of business like they should.  I'm calling a whopping 5-1 night for the B1G.

An even scarier thought: let's pretend the B1G/ACC Challenge is the first night of a two night presidential election and each of the games are states.  Here's how I'd classify my projections for tonight's "states" from the ACC perspective based on spreads, KenPom and my own opinions:

Strong ACC - Clemson/Iowa
Lean ACC: None
Lean B1G - Michigan/Virginia, Northwestern/Georgia Tech, Illinois/Maryland
Strong B1G - Miami/Purdue, Duke/Ohio State

That means that we need to take 2/3 of the lean B1G "states" and one of the strong B1G "states" to go in to Wednesday with the lead...and that's only if Clemson doesn't brick the relative layup in its first road game of the season in the one strong "ACC state."  Outlook: bleak.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to Comcast to hopefully be proven wrong.

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