Duke's Driving Force

The ACC-Big Ten Challenge ended in a draw as each conference posted 7 wins in the three-day span. Louisville, Duke, Florida State, Syracuse, and Virginia tallied another impressive win to their resumes. Other conference contenders such as North Carolina, NC State, and Virginia Tech were unable to get the job done.

Player of the Week

RJ Barrett, Duke Blue Devils

RJ BarrettRJ BarrettAfter receiving a lot of backlash for his last-minute shot selection against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, RJ Barrett responded with two incredible performances for the Blue Devils this past week. Duke’s two opponents this week—Indiana and Stetson—were unable to stop the
6-foot-7 guard in transition. The Blue Devils hosted the Indiana Hoosiers, in which Barrett dropped 22 points and was one rebound shy of a double-double. Barrett took command on offense and was just as effective on defense, leading his team to a 21-point victory versus Indiana.

On Saturday, the Blue Devils played a struggling Stetson team and took advantage of their weaknesses. Barrett’s stat line included 26 points, seven rebounds, and a season-high seven assists in what was a 64-point beatdown on the Stetson Hatters. There was a 30-second
span that exemplified how gifted and determined Barrett is. The freshman converted a jumper, snatched a pass from his opponent, dunked, stole the following inbounds pass and dunked again. Barrett is a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the court. The 5-star frosh leads the ACC in scoring at 23.1 points per game.

Who’s Hot

Ryan McMahon, Louisville Cardinals

The Louisville Cardinals fed off Junior guard Ryan McMahon’s energy to sneak past the ninth-ranked Spartans and capture their first significant top-25 win of the season. Coming off the bench, McMahon scored a career-high 24 points in only 20 minutes of playing
time. While the Florida native was a remarkable 4 of 7 from behind the arc, it was from the charity stripe where he contributed most. Overall, McMahon was nearly perfect from the foul line, converting on 12 of 13 attempts.

The junior drilled a three to give the Cardinals their largest lead of the game, making the score 32-20 five minutes before heading into halftime. The Spartans fought back with several late second-half surges, but McMahon always had a response in crunch time.
All of the junior’s seven points in overtime came from the free throw line, making two key ones with 7.1 seconds remaining. His free throws gave his team an 82-78 edge over the Spartans in the extra session.

The Cardinals capped off their week with a solid road win against Seton Hall. Once again, McMahon was an effective and productive bench player. In 17 minutes against the Pirates, he added 9 points and recorded 4 defensive rebounds. Chris Mack’s team showed many
signs of resilience this week. After falling short to Tennessee and Marquette several weeks ago, the Cardinals are playing with a confident swagger and are learning how to close out games.

Boston College Eagles

After failing to beat IUPU several weeks ago, the Eagles seem to be back on track. Their 4-game winning streak includes a solid win against last season’s Final Four sleepe —Loyola Chicago. In the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, the Eagles knocked off an improved Minnesota team thanks to an impressive outing from junior forward Nik Popovic. He scored all of his 18 points in the second-half and was a perfect 9-9 from the field.

Who’s Not

Roy Williams, North Carolina

Losing early in November sounds awfully familiar for Tar Heel fans. It is a cycle that has happened repeatedly under Head Coach Roy Williams. The North Carolina-Michigan game was the most anticipated match-up of this year’s ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but unfortunately did not live up to its expectations. The Wolverines ran the Tar Heels out of the building in a 17-point rout, which was generous considering Michigan’s lead neared 30 at one point. While Roy Williams is without a doubt one of the country’s most accomplished coaches, it his responsibility to have his team prepared for big-time games. The team lacked defensive intensity and was unable to successfully guard Michigan’s screens set in the middle of the court, resulting in many easy layups and dunks for the Wolverines. Although the past two weeks have raised concerns for the Tar Heels, Williams’ team has too much talent to have a disappointing season. North Carolina will be a threat come March.

Top Five December Games to Watch:

1. #11 North Carolina vs. #1 Gonzaga (Dec. 15)

The Tar Heels have one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country. Upsetting the #1 team is the perfect opportunity to push aside any doubts that the North Carolina coaches and players have after their two early season losses. Luckily, the Tar Heels are playing at home in the Dean Dome and will be able to feed off the crowd for a competitive advantage. Both the Tar Heels and Bulldogs possess many offensive weapons, which is the perfect recipe for an entertaining and high-scoring game.

2. #3 Duke vs. #20 Texas Tech (Dec. 20)

In a few weeks, the Blue Devils face a physical Texas Tech team in Madison Square Garden. So far, the undefeated Red Raiders are led by sophomore guard Jarrett Culver. Duke’s point guard Tre Jones—who leads the conference in assists—will likely be tasked with guarding Culver who is averaging a team-high 19 points per game along with 4.6 assists for the Red Raiders.

3. #11 North Carolina vs. #10 Kentucky (Dec. 22)

The Battle of the Blue Bloods is expected to be another thrilling matchup as the Wildcats travel to North Carolina to take on the Tar Heels. The last time these two teams squared off was in the 2017 Elite Eight when Luke Maye hit the dramatic game-winning jumper to send the Tar Heels to the Final Four.

4. Louisville vs. #10 Kentucky (Dec. 29)

Although the Louisville-Kentucky rivalry has been one-sided—with the Wildcats leading the overall series 35-16—the average margin of victory is usually fairly small. This year, the Cardinals play the Wildcats at home with an opportunity to knock off another top-25 opponent.

5. Syracuse vs. #21 Buffalo (Dec. 18)

The Orange host the undefeated Buffalo Bulls mid-December. The three leading scorers on Buffalo are all seniors and are the reason for the Bulls’ hot start. It will be compelling to watch if the Bulls’ senior experience can outlast Syracuse’s talented duo in Tyus Battle and Oshae Brissett.

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