Players of the Week
JaJuan Johnson and E’Twuan Moore
Even with Moore and Johnson, Purdue can be a hard team to watch at times. They are prone to stretches where they struggle to score, and while the team is really good defensively do, at times, struggle on the glass. Without them, however, they probably would not be good. While the team as a whole deserves credit for the defensive success of the team, the senior duo is doing a tremendous job of carrying the load on offense. This week, Moore and Johnson scored 43 of 58 against Virginia Tech and 40 of the 66 points when they hosted Alabama. The two play off one another really well. Moore had trouble finding himself breathing room for much of the Virginia Tech game, though he did hit big shots down the stretch, including a three to cut the Hokie lead to one with a minute to go in regulation. For the most part it was a JaJuan Johnson showcase. He showcased a nice game inside and out finishing with 29 points. Against Alabama, Johnson was facing consistent double teams inside. The focus on the part of Alabama to protect the interior ended up opening things up for E’Twuan Moore to have a big game from the outside. He hit five three-pointers and finished with 23 points.
The heavy load heaped on the two seniors to handle the scoring load does not figure to get lessened anytime soon. Third leading scorer John Hart will undergo surgery to repair a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his right foot. The initial estimate for how long he will be out is four to six weeks. The good part is that Moore and Johnson have been up the challenge, and there is no reason to believe that will change.
Illinois’ Three-Point Shooting
As a team on the week, the Illini were 20-35 from behind the arc as a team, a scalding rate by anyone’s estimation. The fact that they did it against North Carolina and Gonzaga, and not two patsies, just makes it all the more amazing. They hit eleven three-pointers in a stretch of just over 10 minutes against Gonzaga. Starting with Brandon Paul’s three with 1:16 to go in the first half, the Illini’s bombardment from three opened up a tight two point game to an 18-point blowout. On the year, the Illini are shooting 41.4 percent from distance, which is good for second in the conference and 22nd in the nation. Six of the nine members of the Illini’s regular rotation have hit threes. Demetri McCamey is shooting 52.8 percent, D.J. Richardson 50 percent, Brandon Paul 42 percent, and even 7’1” center Mike Tisdale is 5-12 for 42 percent.
Penn State scores 39 on 20.6 percent shooting at home to Maryland
If that does not sound bad enough, it is made worse when one considers the Nittany Lions jumped out to a 7-0 lead before the first media timeout. They went on to score 32 points in 35 minutes and lost 62-39. Head Coach Ed DeChellis had some perspective afterwards chalking it up to missing some easy shots early, and with the players losing confidence the situation snowballed. It might have been the best approach as Penn State was able to bounce back to beat Duquesne on season-best 54.9 percent from the floor.
Top 5 Reactions to the Big Ten/ACC Challenge
1. It did not take long for teams to center their defensive game plan to limit Jared Sullinger. He did not have an easy time with the length and athleticism of the Seminoles, but it more impressive to the level that his man would not leave him to rotate to give help. They collapsed the entire defense when he got the ball in the post. Florida State treated him like a star, probably deservingly so, but Ohio State has too many threats to overvalue the threat of Sullinger. David Lighty, William Buford, Jon Diebler, DeShaun Thomas, and Aaron Craft can beat them too.
2. Indiana does not stink, but this is a bad year to be mediocre in the Big Ten. While the Hoosiers lost to Boston College, they went on the road to a likely tournament team and played reasonably well. Given that they won all of one true road game in the past two seasons (at Penn State last year), this has to be considered progress. They are probably going to win more than one road game this year, and they certainly won’t be taking 20-30 point beatings on a regular basis this time around.
3. Much of the praise for the early season success of Illinois should go to Demetri McCamey. Not only is he hitting his shots, but he has been a tremendous playmaker in the secondary break to find Paul and Richardson on the sidelines or the big men at the hoop. He is third in the nation in assists at 7.7 per game, and the team as a whole is 11th with 17.9. Unlike Washington and Kansas (which are first and second in assists per game), it is not a result of skewed performances against weak opposition. He has been dealing in the showcase games as well. Right now, the Illini are operating at high level they showed themselves to be capable of playing last year, but only rarely. They have been incredibly consistent in their defensive commitment as well as shown unselfish play on the offensive end, and it is paying big dividends for them.
4. Minnesota’s strategy of protecting the hoop and forcing teams to shoot from the perimeter is theoretically sound, but it is harder to argue for it the way things have gone this year. Once again, the Gophers were victims of tremendous perimeter shooting by their opponents in their game with Virginia. Mustapha Farrakhan, who had been removed from UVA’s starting lineup earlier in the year in part to his poor shooting, went off for 23 points on 8-14 shooting and 4-5 from three against Minnesota. The Gophers are still a really good team, but it is hard to see that through the prism of a game where they had 13 point lead early in the second half and at one point later in the half were down 14.
5. I’m probably going to be alone on this, but Harrison Barnes is not bad or overrated, he is just missing shots. Having seen him in a few games, including those against Minnesota and Illinois, there is nothing wrong with the way he is playing. He is making good decisions and has gotten himself good looks. He just hasn’t been making them. Now, everything Barnes has put onto his resume leading up to this season has been impeccable. He scored 27 points in the Nike Hoops Summit, and was named co-MVP of both the Jordan Brand Classic and McDonald’s All-American Game. He was the consensus number one freshman as well as the entered this season as consensus number one pick for the 2011 NBA Draft. He went on the preseason vacation trip to the Bahamas and shot 19-27 from the floor and 7-10 from distance. Does that sound like someone who would struggle to hit 35 percent from the floor over his first month of college? The situation reminds me the painful debut of Chris Carter- the Oakland Athletics prospect not the wide receiver. Carter won the Oakland Athletics 2009 Organizational Player of Year and MLB Overall Player of The Year. He displayed elite power at all levels of the minors. He got called up to the majors, and started out 0-19 with 12 strikeouts before getting sent back to AAA. When they later recalled him towards the end of the year, his hitless streak was extended to 0-33. Once he got the first hit out from under him, he ended up hitting .350 (13-37) from there on. For the year, it looks like he stunk, and cumulatively he did, but it is hard for a young player who had rarely faced extended periods of adversity to look up and see that he is playing poorly. It had to be hard for Carter to look up at the scoreboard in centerfield and see .000, zero for his MLB life, and it has to be hard for Barnes after being tabbed preseason All-American to see his numbers. All players go through streaks, both bad and good. Bad streaks to begin seasons or careers are painful because there is no body of work to mask the slump. Young players might get down on themselves and prolong the problem, but in the end it is just a slump. When the year is over and the body of work for Barnes is 35 games and not 8 I think that will clear.
Anyone, anytime, anyplace- With finals fast approaching at most universities, basketball schedules at the big programs tend to get softer, road games are nearby, and the overall frequency of games decline. And then there is Michigan State. The Spartans have already played South Carolina, Connecticut, Washington, and Duke, but now head to New York Wednesday to play Syracuse in the Jimmy V Classic. The “softening” of the schedule for Michigan State will come in the form of Summit League champ Oakland University. Once the semester ends, they do ease their way into the Big Ten slate with Texas on December 22.