Closing out the month 4-1 looked like a very real possibility for the Zhejiang Guangsha Golden Bulls on December 30. Facing a winless Shanghai squad devoid of anyone really able to stop NBA loaner Wilson Chandler, Guangsha seemed like a shoe-in. Chandler has averaged 33 pts per game over the first four games of the season and reports have been that no one has been able to stop him from filling it up.
But oh how expectations were dashed.
Last night saw the opening of the SEC/Big East Challenge, which like the ACC/Big 10 Challenge pits two major conferences against each other in a series of contests. Of course, this weekend also boasts some major marquee match-ups. Conference play is just around the corner and we are going to get a strong picture of which teams are contenders or pretenders. Let's kick off the Daily:
Player of the Week
Aaron Craft, Ohio State
The Buckeyes sophomore certainly looked like the Big Ten’s top point guard in an 85-63 blowout win Tuesday against No. 3 Duke that sort of summed up the Big Ten’s dominance (8-4 record) over the ACC in the Conference's annual challenge. Craft totaled 17 points, eight assists, five rebounds and a steal for No. 2 Ohio State, but his contributions far outweighed his stat line. Craft was everywhere — setting up the offense, finding seams in the Duke defense to drive and dish down low for easy baskets, hitting key shots, diving for loose balls … you name it, Craft did it Tuesday. He was a big reason the Buckeyes had three other players (Jared Sullinger, 21; William Buford 20; Deshaun Thomas 18) score in double figures.
Somebody has to initiate the offense for coach Thad Matta, and Craft seems to make all the right decisions. Only a sophomore, every once in a while he does throw a bad pass, but more often than not it’s a quality look. His 2.7 (41-15) assist-to-turnover ratio ranks fourth in the Big Ten, as it did last year at 2.24. The first-year starter (he backed up Jon Diebler last season) averaged 6.9 points per game last season but is up to 10.3 this year.
His defense is also a key reason the Buckeyes are the favorite to basically run away with the Big Ten. Craft marginalized Duke junior Seth Curry to just seven points (his lowest output of the season), five of which came when Craft was trailing another guard. Curry finished just 3-of-8 (37.5 percent) from the field and 1-of-6 from long range. Curry came in shooting 51.6 percent, but had a tough time even being able to call for a pass with Craft shadowing him.
Craft also had 15 points, eight assists, four steals and three rebounds last Friday, Nov. 25 in an 80-47 win against Valparaiso, making his average stat line for the week: 16 points, eight assists, 2.5 steals, four rebounds per game.
William Buford and Jared Sullinger, Ohio State
Buford, a senior guard, and Sullinger, a sophomore forward, continue to score mostly at will for the Buckeyes. Sure, against Duke, Sullinger didn’t collect double-digit rebounds for the first time since Nov. 15 against Florida, but no worries. He just grabbed eight, plus put up 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting. His defense still needs some work (Duke’s Mason Plumlee and brother Miles combined for 22 points Tuesday), but he stayed out of foul trouble in the process. The 6-9 NBA prospect played smart for a team that needed him to remain on the court to keep the Blue Devils at bay. Last Friday, Nov. 25, Sullinger put up his fourth double-double of the season against Valparaiso by scoring 14 points and tallying 14 rebounds.
Meanwhile, William Buford played a team-high 39 minutes while scoring 20 points and dishing out four assists. This came four days after he put up 25 while hitting four threes against Valparaiso.
Why not just include the entire Buckeyes team after a dominating performance? You could throw sophomore forward Deshaun Thomas in here too for his performance against Duke (18 points, five rebounds, 8-of-12 shooting) but he hasn’t shown that type of flair consistently. Buford and Sullinger are offensive weapons that just don’t come around very often on the same collegiate team. Simply put, it’ll be entertaining to watch how teams go about defending the Buckeyes.
Player of the Week
Jorge Gutierrez, California Bears
Over the past week, Jorge Gutierrez averaged 15.5 ppg and 4.5 rpg and has once again established himself as the heart and soul of the #23 ranked Bears as well as a strong candidate for conference player of the year. Despite a respectable 4-1 record, it was a down week overall for Mike Montgomery's team as they were embarrassed by Missouri in a match up that really stung for the Pac 12 as a whole, looking to get a quality win. But don't blame Gutierrez for the disappointing outcome as he has been rock solid as expected and will look to lead the team back into the good graces of hoops analysts around the nation.
Team of the week
The Cardinal were expected to be a solid but unspectacular squad this season. However, they have jumped out of the gate and looked as impressive as any team in the Pac 12 with a 7-1 start to the year. They had an opportunity to send a message that they were a team to look out for with their NIT championship game match up versus the 5th ranked Syracuse Orangemen. The boys from Palo Alto California hung right with their Big East foes, leading.for the majority of the game before wilting over the final minutes getting outscored 15-3 to finish the game and eventually losing by a score of 69-63. But it wasn't the type of loss to hang your head about, and they earned a lot of respect along the way.
Keala King, Arizona State Sun Devils
After a slow start to the season, 6-4 combo guard Keala King has come on strong in his last 2 games vs Wake Forest and Depaul averaging 23.5ppg and 6.5rpg while connecting on 14-22 field goal attempts. Keala is an intriguing player with his versatility and willingness to create off the dribble either for himself or his teammates. If he continues his play of late, he and junior SF Trent Lockett will combine to make of the more dangerous duos out West.
With a resounding 8-4 victory, the Big 10 beat the ACC in the challenge between the two conferences. This being the first year the Big 10 has 12 teams. Beyond the obvious mathematic confusion involved, the Big 10 has claimed the last three inter-conference challenges. They still have a ways to go in the all-time numbers, as the ACC claimed the first ten. This challenge showed there was a great deal of depth in the Big 10 this season, while the ACC is in rebuilding mode with a few of their schools.
November 30, 2011
It's the last day of November and we have gotten a decent read on the NCAA Basketball landscape. There is still a lot more to come, but last night we saw the first contest between top 5 ranked teams this season, which starts off our Daily:
Ohio State Downs Defenseless Duke
(Rick Bonnell/McClatchy Newspapers)
Player of the Week
Virginia's super-senior Mike Scott isn't a high-level NBA prospect, but he's very much the difference between a bad Cavalier team and a good Cavalier team. The double-double machiene has returned from his red-shirt senior season with a vengence, and is averaging 15.3 points and 10.1 rebounds per game. He claims to have lost about 20 pounds over the summer by cutting junk-food out of his diet and this is evident when you watch him move on the court. He is just as tough and strong as he ever was, but is significantly more agile and explosive. As the team's centerpiece, Scott has led Virginia to an excellent 6-1 start to the season, including a vicory over #15 Michigan on Tuesday. Not a lot of people had the Cavaliers as significant players in the ACC this season, but they've proven to be a strong defensive squad with great size and several different offensive options. With the slimmed-down Scott performing like one of the top players in the ACC, Virginia could be a very competitive team come conference play.
If you followed the Hokies last season, you know that they were struggling to win games until Erick Green took control of the point guard position. Once he became a starter, Virginia Tech went on a tear and won nine out of their following ten games. This season, Seth Greenburg did not waste any time and made Green the starting point guard as soon as he could. Unsurprisingly, this has worked out in favor of both Green and the team's record so far. Scoring in double-figures in every game he's played in this season, Green is averaging 14.8 points on an efficient 52.2% shooting from the floor. Perhaps most impressive is the improvement the junior guard has made from the perimeter; shooting 61.1% on 2.2 made threes per game, up from 24.8% on 0.8 makes a year ago. The Hokies will be counting on the much-improved Green to lead them to that oh-so elusive NCAA Tournament bid, but it's way too early to be considering such things.
Ehhh... Somebody from UNC was bound to inherit the "Cold" distinction following the former top-ranked team in the nation's shocking loss to UNLV. It wouldn't be very fair to blame Zeller for the loss, but the skilled 7-footer was really unable to contribute anything that may have altered the embarrasing final outcome. Zeller finished the game with a line of 5 points on 1/6 shooting, 7 rebounds and 4 fouls. But what the game on Saturday exposed really didn't have anything to do with Zeller; rather it highlighted the questionable depth of UNC's frontcourt. John Henson and James McAdoo each had 4 fouls of their own, and without their star bigs, the Tar Heels (one of the best rebounding teams in the country last season) were outrebounded 46-37 to an unranked team. Zeller will surely bounce back from his poor performance quickly, but if UNC wants to make it to the Final Four, they're going to have to keep their post players out of foul trouble.
Top 5 Starting Point Guards