PROJECTED SCORE AFTER DAY 1: 4-2 ACC
DAY 2: Wednesday 11/28
7:00PM -Virginia @ Wisconsin (ESPN2) – In what will be a knock-down and-drag out affair between 2 teams that really like to slow the tempo, Virginia travels to the Kohl Center to take on Wisconsin in the opening game of day 2 of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Seriously, if you like free flowing, high octane basketball, this one is not for you, as both teams like to bleed the shot clock before getting into their half-court offense. This will be a game to 50, as the 1st team to reach the 50 point plateau will likely be the winner. Playing at the Kohl Center where they are always so tough, Wisconsin will get the win, as they have more skill than UVA and are also more experienced. Wisconsin’s trio of Jared Berggren (15.2ppg), Ben Brust (11.8ppg) and Sam Dekker (11.5ppg) is better offensively than most give them credit for and for that reason I like the Badgers to win comfortably. Wisconsin doesn’t have rebuilding seasons, as the Badgers have made the NCAA Tournament 14 straight times and despite a slow start should be back in the thick of things in the Big Ten once again come March. Virginia really misses graduated star Mike Scott and against a stout defensive team like Wisconsin, in a very unforgiving building like the Kohl Center, I expect the young Cavs to really struggle. Wisconsin will win comfortably at home, as Virginia doesn’t have anyone to stop 6’10” senior Jared Berggren or enough scorers around Joe Harris (15ppg) to keep up with Bo Ryan’s Badgers.
7:15PM- Purdue @ Clemson (ESPNU) – In another matchup many of you won’t lose any sleep over missing, the rebuilding Boilermakers visit Littlejohn Coliseum to take on the Clemson Tigers. Both teams are in transition mode, as the Boilermakers are adjusting to life without Robbie Hummel, while Clemson is off to a 4-1 start despite losing their top 2 scorers from a year ago, in Tanner Smith and Andre Young. Purdue has really struggled early on this season, as the Boilermakers are just 2-3 on the season and have really had a tough time shooting the basketball as a team (42%). Clemson on the other hand is off to a solid 4-1 start, with their lone loss coming against a very good Gonzaga team in a very closely contested game (57-49) at the Old Spice Classic. The Tigers are led by their frontcourt, as seniors Milton Jennings (10.8ppg, 5.6rpg) and Devin Booker (10.4ppg, 7.4rpg) spearhead the offensive attack for Brad Brownell’s Tigers. In a game between 2 teams that will finish near the bottom of their respective leagues, I like Clemson at home, as Milton Jennings is poised for a big game against a mediocre Purdue team. If Purdue is to win they will have to ugly up the game, as the Boilermakers don’t have the athleticism or talent necessary to win a track meet on the road at Clemson. Purdue offensively will rely on the Johnson Brothers, as junior Terone (11ppg, 2.8apg) and freshman Ronny (7ppg, 3.6apg) anchor the backcourt for Matt Painter’s club and will look to spur the upset. Clemson has played above their ability so far this season and at home look for the Tigers to continue their winning ways behind 20 points from senior Milton Jennings.
7:30PM- #13 Michigan State @ Miami (ESPN)- Potentially one of the sleeper games of the ACC/Big Ten slate, the 13th ranked Spartans literally limp into Coral Gables to take on a talented but often inconsistent Miami team. The Spartans have been all over the map this season, as they disappointedly lost their opener to Connecticut in Germany before rebounding with a big win over Kansas at the Champions Classic. Since then, MSU has had a couple of close calls, as the Spartans narrowly escaped Boise State (4pts) and Louisiana Lafayette (3pts) during the last 2 weeks. Part of the problem for Sparty has been injuries, as MSU has missed point guard Travis Trice (concussion) and freshman standout Gary Harris (shoulder) the past few times out and hope both will be available Wednesday against Miami. Switching gears to Miami, the Hurricanes once again on paper look to be a tournament team but after losing an exhibition game to St. Leo’s and their 2nd game to Florida Gulf Coast, consistency questions are starting to surround the Hurricanes. Miami’s starting 5 is good enough to knock off the Spartans, as guards Shane Larkin (17.3ppg, 4.5apg) and Durand Scott (15ppg) and big men Reggie Johnson (11.7ppg, 10rgp) and Kenny Kadji (11.5ppg, 8.8rpg) all are capable of playing with the upper echelon of college basketball. In this game though, I like the Spartans on the road, as Keith Appling has shown he is ready to be the guy so far this season, averaging 16.8 points and 4.2 assists, while also hitting clutch buckets down the stretch in games against Kansas, Boise State and Louisiana Lafayette. Another player making strides so far this season is Branden Dawson, who looks to have fully recovered from a gruesome ACL injury and looks to be his old self averaging 11 points and 6.5 boards. MSU is the tougher and more battle tested team and on the road look for Appling and the return of Gary Harris to spark the Spartans to an impressive victory for the Big Ten. Miami has an awful lot of talent and is at home but their inconsistency and tendency to underachieve scares me too much to pick the Hurricanes in an upset. MSU on the road, as Tom Izzo’s Spartans are battled tested and have a clutch closer in Keith Appling.
Pick: Michigan State
9:00PM- Georgia Tech @ #22 Illinois (ESPN2) – Prior to the season this game might have been viewed as an afterthought but after Illinois’ surprising run to the title at the Maui Invitational and Georgia Tech’s impressive showing in the Direct TV Classic, this game just got a whole lot more interesting. Illinois is still a big favorite in this one, as the Illini are 7-0 on the season and will be playing in front of their ruckus student section “the Orange Crush”. Illinois’ strength is their backcourt, as seniors Brandon Paul (18.7ppg) and D.J. Richardson (12ppg) are playing the best basketball of their careers. Paul has been outstanding thus far this season, averaging 19 points, 4 rebounds and almost 4 assists, while also winning MVP honors of the Maui Invitational. Georgia Tech on the other hand has far surpassed expectations early on, as not much was expected of the young Jackets coming into the season. Brian Gregory’s club comes in at 4-1 on the season and have already knocked off Saint Mary’s and played a good Cal team very tough to the final horn. Tech’s best all-around player this season has been point guard Mfon Udofia (10.2ppg, 3.2apg), who continues to improve as he adjusts to the point guard position. Georgia Tech also has a pair of impressive young freshmen, as wing Marcus Georges-Hunt (11.4ppg, 5rpg) and bullish forward Robert Carter (8ppg, 5.4rpg) have been impressive early on for the Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech may be better than a lot of the experts projected this season but in a hostile environment at Assembly Hall, I don’t see the Jackets pulling off an upset. Illinois has 2 big time veteran guards in Paul and Richardson and at home against a lesser opponent, look for Illinois to flex their muscles and snatch another win for the Big Ten.
9:15PM- Boston College @ Penn State (ESPNU) – If you weren’t in to Wake Forest/ Nebraska you probably won’t be in to this one either, as Boston College visits Penn State in a game that has “ESPNU” written all over it. This game features 2 teams that are really reeling, as Penn State is just 3-2 and have already lost their best player and leader Tim Frazier (18.8ppg, 6.3apg in 2011) for the season with an ACL tear. Boston College on the other hand is one of the youngest teams in the entire nation, as 7 of the Eagles top 8 players are freshmen or sophomores(with the other Andrew Van Nest being a 1st year transfer from Harvard). What BC does have though is a young star to build around, as sophomore Ryan Anderson has shown major growth so far this season leading Steve Donahue’s club in scoring (15.8ppg) and rebounding (10.8rpg). Anderson is one of the brightest young stars in the ACC and due to that fact I like BC to get the win on the road. Boston College is coming off one of their worst ever losses as a program (Bryant), so look for BC to come out with purpose, as the Eagles will be anxious to get that sour taste out of their mouths. BC will ride Ryan Anderson and freshman point guard Olivier Hanlon (12.5ppg) to victory, as the Eagles are better than they have shown of late and should have enough to beat a shorthanded Nittany Lion club. Tim Frazier meant as much to Penn State as any individual player in the country means to his respective team, as the senior was at the heart of everything Penn State did both offensively and defensively. It’s not often that you will find someone pick a team that is coming off a loss to lowly Bryant but that is exactly what I am doing, as the Eagles have the best player in this game(Anderson) and will take advantage of a “Frazier-less” Penn State club.
Pick: Boston College
9:30PM- #4 Ohio State @ #2 Duke (ESPN) – The marquee matchup of this year’s event, #4 Ohio State heads to Durham to take on the #2 Blue Devils in a star studded affair that could wind up deciding who take’s home the Commissioner’s Cup. This should be a good one as this will be the Buckeyes 1st true test, while the Blue Devils come in with the most impressive resume in the country with wins over #3 Kentucky, #2 Louisville, Minnesota and VCU. OSU leans on their veterans, as juniors Aaron Craft (14.3ppg, 5.3apg) and Deshaun Thomas (24ppg, 7.3rpg) have accounted for almost half of the Buckeyes scoring so far this season. Thomas has become the star now that Jared Sullinger and William Buford are gone, as the junior forward has become the #1 guy for Thad Matta and is making the most of his scoring opportunities. Craft on the other hand is the life blood of the OSU program, as the gritty guard is one of America’s most relentless defenders and hustlers, and has really improved his overall offensive game. The question for OSU will be whether or not their young and talented supporting cast is ready to take on the burden necessary for the Bucks to be a Final Four contender? Sophomores LaQuinton Ross, Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson need to progress quickly for OSU to maximize their potential, as all 3 will need to aid Thomas, Craft and junior Lenzelle Smith Jr. in terms of the scoring load. Duke on the other hand has answered the bell every time out, as the Blue Devils are 6-0 and already boast wins over top 5 teams Kentucky and Louisville. The Blue Devils have silenced their critics so far this season (myself included), as Mason Plumlee (19.7ppg, 10rpg) and Seth Curry (17ppg) are playing by far the best basketball of their careers. Plumlee has been a National Player of the Year candidate thus far this season, as the senior has made tremendous strides this season offensively and even has his free throw percentage up from 52 percent to 80 percent. While Curry and Plumlee have been huge, maybe the biggest development so far this season for the Blue Devils has been the development of point guard Quinn Cook. The former Oak Hill graduate has really matured and progressed as a sophomore, as Cook leads the Blue Devils in assists at 5.5apg, while also chipping in just under 11 points per contest. Young guards Quinn Cook and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon have been impressive so far for Duke and with the veterans Plumlee and Curry having career years, Duke is firing on all cylinders right now. Deshaun Thomas will have a big game for OSU but it will be in a losing effort, as the Blue Devils have more experience, more depth and are more battle tested at this point of the season. The Battle 4 Atlantis Champs will continue their winning ways, as Plumlee, Curry and Cook will guide Coach K’s boys over a good but still improving Buckeye squad.