Wednesday, November 30, 2011
TMA: The Big Ten pulls ahead
By Eamonn Brennan
The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of last night's best basketball action. Now that college hoops season is starting to settle into something resembling a normal schedule, it plans on being around more often.
As you probably already know, the Big Ten opened a slight lead on the first night of the 2011 Big Ten/ACC Challenge, going ahead 4-2 thanks to wins by Ohio State, Northwestern, Purdue and Illinois. Virginia toppled Michigan and Clemson got a sturdy win at Iowa. I, as well as my colleagues Andy Katz, Fran Fraschilla and John Gasaway, went 6-0 picking these games. (I just hurt my arm patting myself on the back. I have to stretch better next time.) Anyway, there, you're all caught up!
No. 2 Ohio State 85, No. 4 Duke 63: For a full recap of the game, check out the story Myron filed from Value City Arena last night. There isn't much more to say: Ohio State was very, very good on both offense and defense. Duke was ugly offensively and even worse on the defensive end. Ohio State deserves all of the love that has been or will be aimed in their direction in coming weeks; this was a dominant win over a good team. The Buckeyes are a national title contender of a certain sort. Duke isn't. That was abundantly clear.
That said, there are a few things to keep in mind, at least from Duke's perspective. For one, the Blue Devils just this weekend returned from a grueling trip to Maui, and looked every bit as tired as they were overmatched, which only exacerbated the result. Two, playing on the road is always hard. Three, Ohio State is a particularly bad matchup for this group of Blue Devils. Coach K's team is perimeter-oriented and not particularly athletic; it relies on penetration, spacing and screen action to free its coterie of spot-up shooters for open looks. When it runs into a team as uniquely deep and tough on the perimeter defensively as the Buckeyes are, Duke is always going to struggle. Fortunately for Coach K, there aren't very many Ohio States in the country this season. (There may be just one.)
Virginia 70, No. 15 Michigan 58: I'm going to leave this game be for now; instead, I'm going to spend my time discussing it in the Hoopsbag today, because I got a bunch of questions about why Virginia beating Michigan should have been considered "an upset" as I termed it in my Big Ten/ACC Challenge preview Tuesday. (That'll come later this afternoon.)
Northwestern 76, Georgia Tech 60: Is this what a healthy John Shurna looks like? The sharpshooting Northwestern forward lost much of his 2010-11 season to nagging injuries, injuries which kept him off the court for long stretches and made him ineffective in spurts. But Shurna appears to be in much better shape in 2011-12. His 25 points in a solid road win for Northwestern (against a tough defensive team to date) boosted his average to 21.8 points per game, leading all scorers in the Big Ten. But Shurna isn't just scoring; he had eight rebounds, three blocks, three steals and two assists at Tech, and he's averaging 6.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.8 blocks and 1.3 steals per game. This is a newer, more versatile Shurna, and he's leading the way for a Northwestern team that might be just a little bit better than we all think. (We'll get a good idea Sunday, when the Baylor Bears come to Welsh-Ryan. That one should be fascinating.)
Illinois 71, Maryland 62: It's hard to get a good feel for what this result means. Maryland, feisty though it was, is a shallow and injury ridden squad right now. Illinois, even a younger, more inexperienced group, should beat this Maryland team. The fact that it took the Illini so long to figure out -- Illinois trailed at the half and led by just one with eight minutes remaining before Sam Maniscalco knocked down two 3s to build an insurmountable lead -- is probably not the most encouraging sign. But there were some noticeable bright spots. Illinois forward Brandon Paul was great in the first half; he presents a strange, exciting new form of offense for Bruce Weber's formerly jump-shot-obsessed Illini. (It's called driving to the rim.) Maniscalco was excellent, too, scoring an efficient 24 points on 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. And Meyers Leonard -- perhaps Illinois's most promising and most important player -- went 6-of-9 from the field. Last season, Illinois couldn't get easy shots. Nor did it take enough 3s. Instead, the Illini frequently settled for long 2s. This season, Weber's combination of players and their various styles seems like it will be more efficient by default. It's a start.
Purdue 76, Miami 65: Hey, Jim Larranaga had to try something. The new Hurricanes coach had seen the tape on Purdue. He knew they were a perimeter-oriented team. He knew his team's bigs have been decimated by injury, but hey, Purdue plays so outside-in, maybe he didn't need bigs at all. So Larranaga started a lineup in which no player was taller than 6-foot-6. It did not pay off. Purdue, showing a bit of versatility previously unseen in its offensive attack, got the ball into the paint and scored with will inside the arc. Things were never particularly difficult. In the meantime, Robbie Hummel's comeback tour continues to roll on: Hummel shot 5-of-8, scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds in his 32 minutes Tuesday night. He looks healthy. If it weren't for the two big knee braces, you could convince a novice Hummel had never been injured at all.
Clemson 71, Iowa 55: Year 2 of the Fran McCaffery rebuilding project has officially hit a snag. Or maybe that was last week, when Iowa lost at home to the Campbell Fighting Camels. (Amazing nickname, by the way. I would not want to fight a camel.) Either way, the Hawkeyes shot -- get this -- 16-of-56 from the field last night, including 3-of-11 from beyond the arc. That ice-cold shooting work graded out as an effective field goal percentage of 31.2. The Hawkeyes scored just .80 points per possession. It's a little baffling: This team could score in stretches in 2011, it appeared to be more balanced and improved all over the floor, forward Melsahn Basabe was coming off a breakout year -- there appeared to be signs of progress in Iowa City. Let's not take anything away from Clemson, which has defended very well to begin this season. But 16-of-56 on your home floor? I mean, look at this box score! Yikes.