Inside the College Game

Wed, 12/10/2008 - 11:12am

By Brian Cerone

Usual Suspects: Tarheels and Blue Devils Make Big Statements


Ty Lawson

When the ACC-Big Ten Challenge started in 1999, Michigan State was arguably the best program in the country and Ohio State was a Final Four contender, so it seemed like a good idea to have preseason match-ups between two of the top conferences. Almost a decade into the experiment and it's hard to believe that we could've ever considered these conferences to be equal.

While the ACC barely edged out the Big Ten by a 6-5 margin, the total amount of wins and losses hardly tells the story. All eyes were on the two key match-ups: #1 North Carolina vs. #12 Michigan State and #4 Duke vs. #10 Purdue. These games were supposed to be tough battles between the best each conference had to offer, but the only thing tough about these games was having to watch the Big Ten perform.

Duke jumped on Purdue early and never looked back. Purdue's capacity crowd was taken out of the game from the get-go and was never able to rally their troops. Like the game itself, the key match-up between Super Sophs Kyle Singler and Robbie Hummel was also a one-sided affair. Singler was the best player on the court all night, scoring 20 points and collecting 12 rebounds. Hummel struggled early and looked overmatched. He finished with 15 points and 8 rebounds. 10 of his points were in the last six minutes of the game, after the result of the game had already been decided. The win for Duke makes them a perfect 10-0 in the history of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

North Carolina and Michigan State was the headline game for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. This was a match-up between the two preseason favorites to win their respective conference. North Carolina is loaded, we knew that. But even so, did anyone expect this game to be the type of blowout that it ended up being? There weren't too many good things to say about the 12th ranked Spartans after this game. The result was a 35 point win for the Tarheels in a game that was never a contest. North Carolina's Ty Lawson completely dominated the game. He had 17 points, 8 assists, and 7 sevens steals, while never committing a turnover. Tyler Hansbrough decided to play despite the sore shin. He had 25 points and connected on all 13 of his trips to the free throw line.

It is time to change up the preseason challenge between these two conferences. The ACC is still on top of the college basketball world, but the Big Ten is clearly not. For the past few years now, the top two conferences have been the ACC and the Big East. A challenge between these two conferences would be intense. Some of the possible match-ups this December could've looked like this:

#1 North Carolina vs. #2 Connecticut

#4 Duke vs. #3 Pittsburgh

#11 Louisville vs. # 17 Wake Forest

#7 Notre Dame vs. #22 Miami

These games could have given us a better look at just how good the ACC (and Big East) really is. The Tarheels and Blue Devils still may have won their respective games, but I can guarantee the games would've been a lot more exciting than the showing that the Big Ten gave us.

Under the Radar:

Lets turn our attention to the kids who haven't been getting enough this season. Here are 5 players flying under the radar so far:

Pittsburgh's Sam Young: The Panthers are 9-0, winning every contest by at least 13 points. Young is the biggest reason for Pittsburgh's early dominance. The senior is averaging 20.8ppg, 6.2rpg, and shooting 52.6% from the field. Young's teammates are probably part of the reason we don't hear his name enough, because he's got a bunch of good ones surrounding him. But, Jamie Dixon's needs Young if he plans on finally getting the Panthers to the Final Four.

Virginia Commonwealth's Eric Maynor: This 6'2 senior put himself on the college basketball map when he hit the game winning shot against Duke in the NCAA tournament two years ago. Since then, Maynor has done nothing but improve his game. He averaged 17.9ppg last year as a junior, and is up another 6ppg this year again (23.9ppg). Look for Maynor's Rams to be battling for the top spot in the CAA this year, and making some more noise in the NCAA tourney.

Michigan's Manny Harris: The Wolverines have had two huge wins this year (UCLA and Duke). While teammate DeShawn Sims has had big games during those contests, it has been Harris who has steadied the ship on a consistent basis thus far. The sophomore is averaging 20.8ppg, 7.4 rpg, 50% from the field, and 89% from the line.

Memphis's Shawn Taggart: Everyone knows from last year's National Championship game that Memphis struggles from the free throw line (64.3% this year). They also do not thrive from beyond the arc (29.5%). A lot of their mishaps shooting the ball have been covered up by Taggart's play. In only about 25 minutes a game he is averaging a double-double (11.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg). He is also protecting the hoop better than anyone on his team, blocking 2.8 shots a game. Without Taggart's exceptional play this year, Memphis's struggles would be exposed even more.

Ohio State's Evan Turner: The 6'7 sophomore guard might not be flying under the radar for much longer after the week that the Buckeyes just had. In a win against #7 Notre Dame he had 28 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 11/16 from the field. He also led his team to a win over #22 Miami (FL) earlier in the week with 19 points. It looks like Thad Matta has found his go-to guy.

Game Notes:
Michigan got revenge on Saturday on a Duke team that may have taken them lightly after beating them just two weeks earlier at Madison Square Garden ... Texas keeps losing superstars (Kevin Durant in 07' and D.J. Augustin in 08') but never seem to skip a beat. The 6th ranked Longhorns have only one blemish, a 1 point loss to Notre Dame in the Maui Invitational. A.J. Abrams is shooting lights out thus far. Most recently he scored 31 in a big win over UCLA last week … In only 4 games this season, Tyler Hansbrough is even more efficient than he has been in any previous season, including last year when he was the National Player of the Year. Psycho T is averaging 2.00 points per shot. His first three years at Chapel Hill were impressive (1.68, 1.61, 1.65 respectively), but his improved shooting has made him even more dominant scoring the ball … Stephen Curry struggled for the majority of the game on Tuesday night vs. West Virginia at the Garden, but like usual he came up big down the stretch. After West Virginia took a brief lead late in the 2nd half, Curry scored 13 of the final 15 Davidson points and secured the win. Curry went 3/3 from downtown after starting the game 1/13. This kid keeps coming up big when it matters most…It looks like Jim Calhoun has stressed to his big man Hasheem Thabeet that he has to rebound the ball better. The 7'3 junior is averaging 12.5 rebounds a game after only 7.9 rpg last year

There are some great games coming up this week… I'm most interested in seeing an undefeated Butler squad come into Columbus, Ohio to battle the 21nd ranked Buckeyes… The Jimmy V classic should have some fireworks as well… check in next week for results and breakdowns ...