Daily Word: Wrapping the Challenge
Every weekday, Andy Katz leads a panel of our college hoops experts in a discussion of the biggest issues, trends and themes happening in and around college basketball.
1. Can you explain North Carolina?
Andy Katz: Yes. The Tar Heels have inconsistent players and lack focus defensively. But the talent is still in place with Marcus Paige, J.P. Tokoto, Kennedy Meeks, Brice Johnson and, when he plays well, James Michael McAdoo. The Tar Heels have two shelf-life wins against Louisville on a neutral court and at Michigan State that most teams won't get all season.
Eamonn Brennan: On Wednesday, Roy Williams barely tried to explain North Carolina; his strategy is probably the best. But my guess is UNC is a mix of talented kids who tend to float when the stakes aren't self-evident -- but can be brilliant when they are. Emphasis on "guess."
Dana O'Neil: No, but I can't explain how the pyramids were made, either. Some things are just mysteries. I know the answer being offered most often is that Carolina plays to the level of its competition. Maybe, but I also think that the Tar Heels caught Michigan State flat-footed and Louisville out of sync, and that might be the most logical explanation of all.
2. What was the biggest takeaway from the ACC-Big Ten Challenge?
Katz: Syracuse and Ohio State are legitimate national title contenders. The Orange backcourt is playing at a high level, can defend at the top of the zone, make shots and get out in transition. The frontcourt scoring of the Buckeyes was a mystery prior to the season, but Ohio State is finding balance early and often.
Brennan: People need to look out for Ohio State. The Buckeyes confirmed their tenacious early start against Maryland Wednesday, with Shannon Scott playing harassing perimeter defense alongside Aaron Craft, and with LaQuinton Ross scoring with relative ease. It's an impressive group already.
O'Neil: Who "won" doesn't really matter because the real winner will be declared in March. What the challenge showed is what I suspected all along -- that the Big Ten has far more depth than the ACC. In the push games -- Iowa-Notre Dame, Minnesota-Florida State -- the Big Ten came out on top.
3. Which undefeated team in action Thursday do you have more faith in -- Ole Miss or Missouri?
Katz: Missouri. The Tigers host West Virginia and have the advantage in Jordan Clarkson and a terrific home court. Ole Miss has played well in going undefeated so far, but the young Rebels have to go to Kansas State, and the Wildcats are always a tough out in Manhattan.
Brennan: Is "neither" acceptable? "Both" sounds more friendly. I'll take Missouri, I suppose, if only because the Tigers get West Virginia at home -- a vastly preferable scenario to the Rebels' trip to Bramlage Coliseum.
O'Neil: Missouri. The Tigers have more experience, even if that experience is new together, and have beaten opponents handily in their 7-0 start, while Ole Miss has had to battle against teams like Penn State and Georgia Tech.
Games To Watch
Despite playing without coach Frank Haith for its first five games, Missouri is quietly undefeated. But the Tigers have played only one team from a major conference (Northwestern). West Virginia should provide more of a challenge.
Fresh off two close wins at the Barclays Classic, Marshall Henderson -- one of three players averaging 15 or more points -- and the Rebels gear up for their second true road game. Their first was a two-point win at Coastal Carolina.
The Aztecs, led by senior Xavier Thames (17.2 points PPG), vaulted into the top 25 thanks to an impressive outing at the Wooden Legacy, where they beat Marquette and Creighton. Their lone loss came to Arizona at home. Their first true road trip amounts to an 8.9-mile drive toward the coast.
They Said It
First BIG/ACC Challenge win for me in my career. Needed it. It was a fun night in the locker room post-game in East Lansing tonight #UNCBBall #GoHeels pic.twitter.com/hsV2CYPUle— Carolina Basketball (@UNC_Basketball) Dec. 4, 2013
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