Game Plan is our Monday morning primer designed to give you everything you need to know about games that were and the games that will be in college hoops this week. Send us feedback and submissions via email and Twitter.
The 2013-14 North Carolina Tar Heels have been so inconsistent and so difficult to analyze that even noting as much has become a running joke. The best strategy is unconditional surrender -- to admit that we can’t impose rationale on chaos and, worse yet, that we’ve already run out of funny ways to say how much the Tar Heels make our brains hurt.
Surrender it is, then. Besides, we have other mysteries to unravel. Such as Maryland.
Thankfully, the 2013-14 Terrapins are not as enigmatic as UNC; their results don’t vacillate in quite so wide a range. But they are confusing in their own right, in that their not inconsiderable talent has thus far yielded a downright brutal 7-5 start -- and a very confused head coach.
"I've been trying to fix it ... a little inconsistent ... go and lose at home and then play pretty well in the Paradise Jam and then lose a couple. I don't know. That's the perplexing thing ... can't score 77 at home and lose, so maybe it's on the defensive end. ... no presence at the rim ... just defend better ... trying to do all of this stuff to kick-start us ... fouling too much ... I can keep going, but I don't want to keep you guys here all day ... trying to figure it out ... feeling too much pressure and just need to relax ... and have a little bit more fun, and see if we can play better that way."
That is a significantly shortened version (courtesy of Testudo Times) of Maryland coach Mark Turgeon’s answer to a question Saturday after his team’s latest -- and easily its worst -- loss of the season. It was less a news conference answer than a disoriented soliloquy, a man reaching out and grasping at any possible explanation for why his ostensibly talented team gave up 83 points in 77 possessions to Boston University at home.
He’s not alone. The lack of Alex Len is a good place to start, but the inconsistency of the effort overall -- and the fact that the combination of Dez Wells, Jake Layman and Evan Smotrycz hasn’t been able to keep pace offensively -- is truly confounding. The Terps aren’t really bad at any one thing. But they aren’t good at anything, either.
Christmas feels like an early time in the college basketball calendar. For Maryland, it’s officially time to panic: The Terps will need a wholesale ACC turnaround to avoid missing the NCAA tournament for the third straight year. Turgeon has to find what’s broken and fix it with less time than you might think to spare.
ICYMI: TOP STORIES
1. Notre Dame had the worst weekend ever. We, as an Internet, tend to go overboard with the "bests" and "worsts" and "evers"; it’s something we should all really try to work on in 2014. But in the subcategory of "two-day college basketball stretches," you’d struggle to find a worse entrant than Notre Dame, Dec. 21-22, 2013. On Saturday, Notre Dame was on the verge of a massive win over No. 3 Ohio State in Madison Square Garden -- a rest-on-your-NCAA-tournament-resumé-laurels type of victory -- up by eight with 50 seconds left to play. Somehow, in a flurry of deflections and turnovers and big Buckeyes buckets, the Fighting Irish lost. Wait, what? "I don't really know what happened," Ohio State senior guard Aaron Craft said. "It was a big blur." (The play-by-play sheet hardly provides clarity.)
An exasperated Mike Brey called the game "thoroughly disappointing." It was most certainly that, but it was just one loss. What came Sunday was far worse.
In an open letter on the Notre Dame athletics web site, senior guard Jerian Grant announced that he was "no longer enrolled at the University of Notre Dame due to an academic matter that I did not handle properly." Of course, that ends Grant’s basketball season. He’ll return to school as soon as possible after the spring 2014 semester. As ESPN.com’s Matt Fortuna noted Sunday night, Notre Dame students took final exams last week.
See? Worst week ever.
2. Kyle Anderson is balling. Jabari Parker’s brilliance in Duke’s win over UCLA Thursday (rightfully) overshadowed another takeaway: Bruins forward Kyle Anderson wasn’t far off of a triple-double, and in any case finished with a crazy line: 15 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals. He was even better against Weber State (23 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 6-of-9 shooting) Sunday night. Anderson is beginning to unleash the promise of his unique blend of size and skill, and he has a super-productive running mate (Jordan Adams) too boot. If the Bruins just played a bit more defense ...
3. Oregon keeps winning. This one didn’t finish quite as late as Oklahoma State’s 78-73 win over Colorado in Las Vegas Saturday, but it was close. And man, was Oregon 100, BYU 96 good. (Also, poor BYU. The Cougars might be the most entertaining team in the country; they’re also a snakebitten 8-5.)
STAT OF THE WEEK: Courtesy of ESPN Insider John Gasaway: "Marshall Henderson may become just the 2nd player with more 3FGAs than any teammate's total FGAs. The 1st may have been Henderson last year." A disclaimer, also from John: "'May' meaning research is ongoing. [Jimmer] Fredette 2011 and [Robert] Vaden 2008 came to mind but both just missed 'pulling the Henderson.'"
THE GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE
Christmas means a lackluster Monday, no games Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, and a quiet Friday. Thankfully, there is Saturday afternoon:
Saturday: Villanova at Syracuse, 2 p.m. ET (CBS): No one saw this game coming, mostly because no one saw Villanova coming. But the Wildcats are playing the best overall defense in the country outside of Ohio State; perhaps only No. 1 Arizona is better at keeping opponents from easy shots in the lane. Can the Orange score against that? Will this be a physical, defensive game, or will both teams force enough turnovers and long rebounds to attack in transition? Will everyone pine for the long-lost Big East? I know the answer to exactly one of those questions.
Saturday: Louisville at Kentucky, 4 p.m. ET (CBS): This game requires no atmospheric introduction; it’s as big and angry and caustic as any rivalry in any sport anywhere. It is also a very important basketball game, though more so for Kentucky than for Louisville. While the Wildcats have been a matter of national fascination -- seemingly teetering on the edge of personnel implosion while nonetheless remaining as exciting as any group in the country -- Louisville has been chugging along well out of sight, with Russ Smith playing the best basketball of his life, feasting on guarantee-game cupcakes. It has been like a two-week tuneup. Saturday afternoon is going to be fascinating.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
Happy holidays, everyone.