Ball Reversal: ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Posted by zhayes9 on November 29th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Feast Week is one of my favorite portions of the college basketball season. There’s no better way to celebrate Thanksgiving than hunkering down on the couch, flipping through various tournaments and getting that first glimpse at intriguing players and programs around the country. As enjoyable as those matchups may have been — from Duke outlasting Kansas in a Maui classic to UCF shocking UConn in the Bahamas — this upcoming week is even more delectable. Look no further than the perennially awesome batch of games courtesy of the incomparable ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Here are the five headlining matchups accompanied by the biggest key for victory for both teams:

Will Plumlee's defense frustrate Sullinger tonight?

Duke at Ohio State (Tuesday, 9:30 PM ET, ESPN)

How Duke wins: Repeat performance from Mason Plumlee. One of the most compelling post battles of the early season was undoubtedly Kansas’ Thomas Robinson banging bodies with Plumlee in the post during the Maui final last Wednesday night. Robinson finished with his usual double-double, but Plumlee’s athleticism, size and tremendous post defense limited the centerpiece of the Jayhawks offense to six field goals in 36 minutes. His coach was certainly impressed, calling Plumlee’s efforts to contain Robinson “the key to the game” and declaring that although Ryan Kelly took home MVP honors, Duke doesn’t beat Kansas without Plumlee’s post defense. Life in the paint doesn’t get any easier for Plumlee on Tuesday against near-unanimous preseason All-American Jared Sullinger, but if there has been a chink in the armor for Sully, it has come when facing an athletic post big that can force him off the block. Duke is a heavy ball-screen action team that loves to spread the floor with their plethora of capable shooters. If Plumlee can muscle Sullinger away from a comfortable position on the floor and force him to exert energy defending high ball screens, he’ll be much less effective and Duke will take a big step towards garnering another huge early season triumph.

How Ohio State wins: Dribble penetration from their guards. If there’s one glaring weakness that painfully obvious through Duke’s first handful of games, it is perimeter defense out of their guard triumvirate Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins and Austin Rivers. From Belmont’s Kerron Johnson to Michigan’s Trey Burke to Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor, opposing guards have had a field day breaking down Duke’s guards through dribble penetration. Duke’s best on-ball defender is actually reserve guard Tyler Thornton, so much that Coach K sat Rivers down the stretch against Kansas in favor of Thornton and his defensive acumen. Ohio State’s backcourt, specifically Aaron Craft, offensive-minded reserve Shannon Scott and wing William Buford, must maintain an aggressive mentality for 40 minutes. Craft could be especially effective against Curry, the weakest of the lot, with his repertoire of hesitation dribbles and ability to get into the late and draw help, while Duke doesn’t have a clear matchup against the 6’6” Buford and his explosive scoring ability.

Wisconsin at North Carolina (Wednesday, 9:30 PM ET, ESPN)

How Wisconsin wins: Control tempo. This matchup is such a fascinating contrast of styles with Wisconsin best known for their plodding and efficient pace while Carolina employs their patented primary and secondary fast break as much as possible. Carolina’s forwards, specifically John Henson and Tyler Zeller, are especially proficient running the floor and Marshall’s ability to pass ahead is unmatched in college basketball. Carolina’s run-and-gun attack ranks fifth in the nation in adjusted tempo and has only scored less than 80 points once so far this season. In stark contrast, the Badgers are taking their methodical style to greater heights than ever before; through six games, Wisconsin ranks dead last in adjusted tempo and fifth in offensive efficiency.  With former bench cogs like Ben Brust and Jared Berggren thrust into more integral roles, efficiency poster boy Jordan Taylor has done a commendable job getting his teammates touches and reps before the schedule heats up. The onus is now on Taylor to not only make sure Carolina can’t speed up the game to an uncomfortable pace, but take a page from UNLV’s game plan and involve Marshall as much as possible in on-ball screening action.

How North Carolina wins: Limit threes. Wisconsin’s numbers from behind the arc are totally unsustainable, but suggesting the Badgers could be one of the nation’s most prolific three-point shooting teams is within reason. Through six games, Wisconsin is shooting 47% from three and only Samford is relying on the trifecta for a larger percentage of their points. Josh Gasser (71%), Brust (49%, including seven vs. BYU), Taylor (45%) and Bruesewitz (44%) have all made positive contributions on that front. During their upset loss to UNLV over the weekend, Carolina surrendered 13 threes. A repeat performance against a white-hot shooting Badgers unit where positions one through five on the floor can all shoot from range would put them in jeopardy of losing two in a row. The Badgers are overly reliant on that shot so far this season. If they can force Taylor and his crew into contested, stressful threes and speed up the tempo, a blowout may be in store.

Dexter Strickland's defense will be key against Wisconsin's shooters

Florida State at Michigan State (Wednesday, 7:30 PM ET, ESPN)

How Florida State wins: Limit turnovers. For as imposing as their defense has been over the last half decade under Leonard Hamilton, Florida State’s offensive output has been unimposing. The Seminoles haven’t ranked in the top-75 in offensive efficiency since the Al Thornton/Toney Douglas era. The biggest reason for the offensive woes is a putrid turnover rate. Last season, FSU ranked #311 in the country in turnover percentage and, with potential starter Ian Miller sidelined, there hasn’t been any improvement in 2011-12. The ‘Noles turned the ball over 16 times and totaled a meager five assists in their 46-41 loss to Harvard, a game that was apparently played using peach baskets. Florida State better come with the mindset of finishing possessions with shots rather than letting the likes of Keith Appling, Travis Trice, Brandon Wood and even point-forward Draymond Green score easy baskets at the other end after live-ball turnovers. If their porous turnover habits continue, Hamilton’s team could be staring at an unexpected three-game losing skid.

How Michigan State wins: Crash the offensive boards. Overall, the Spartans have done a decent job on the rebounding front this season, most notably in the first half against North Carolina during the Carrier Classic. Last year’s team was much maligned for their apparent disinterest in crashing the boards, but this year’s unit is actually grabbing a nearly identical percentage of available offensive rebounds as in 2010-11. With a slimmer Derrick Nix, a healthier Adreian Payne and the addition of rebounding hound Brendan Dawson, Tom Izzo would surely agree that this year’s team should out-pace last season’s mediocre unit, especially since Izzo’s teams finished in the top ten in offensive rebounding percentage every year from 2007-2010. Although Florida State has size, they rank a lackluster 234th in allowing offensive rebounds, a rate consistent with previous seasons under Hamilton. There’s no better time to shoot a three than after an offensive board, so crashing the glass could also boost Sparty’s embarrassing 24% mark from beyond the arc.

Michigan at Virginia (Tuesday, 7 PM ET, ESPN2)

How Michigan wins: Exhibit patience. Virginia is strikingly similar to Big Ten foe Wisconsin in the way they grind out every possession on both ends of the floor. The Wolverines were a last-second banked three away from upsetting the Badgers late last season, so there’s precedent and experience for nearly every key rotation player aside from Trey Burke against this type of style. Whether it’s Douglass as a calming senior influence or Burke showing maturity beyond his years, the Wolverines offense can’t panic in the face of a Cavs team surrendering just 46 points per game and ranking in the top 15 in both two-point and three-point field goal defense.  Their superior firepower will eventually rise to the top as long as Michigan continues to be patient and run their stuff.

How Virginia wins: Make Michigan one dimensional. One common thread among John Beilein-coached teams is a propensity to attempt a lot of three-pointers. The problem for Beilein since he arrived in Ann Arbor is that none of his teams have been particularly proficient shooting from deep. For example, 36.9% of the Wolverines’ points last season have come threes, an alarming rate considering Michigan only made 35% of their long range attempts, good for 115th in the country (plus, their best playmaker, Darius Morris, was much more comfortable off the dribble). Michigan isn’t taking quite as many threes early this season, but their percentage has dropped to 33%. Astoundingly, their two-point percentage actually leads the country largely due to the mid-range artistry of Tim Hardaway. Although Beilein may be comfortable with his team jacking up 20 threes, it may actually work to Michigan’s detriment and Virginia’s advantage. By employing Tony Bennett’s halfcourt defense for 30 seconds and frustrating Michigan into late shot-clock threes, the Cavs improve their chances of picking up a resume-building win.

Miami at Purdue (Tuesday, 9 PM ET, ESPN2)

How Miami wins: Experienced guard tandem carries the load. Miami is very reliant on their guard tandem of Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott for production. These two upperclassmen have played 25+ MPG in every season since arriving at Miami and are clearly the focal point of the Canes offense under new coach Jim Larranaga, so much so that both guards played over 40 MPG in the overtime loss at Ole Miss last weekend. Scott and Grant are the only two Canes averaging double digits and they’ll need both to bring their A-game in a difficult road environment. Luckily for Larranaga, the backcourt duo has played in Cameron, the Smith Center and at FedEx Forum over the course of their careers and won’t be intimidated. He’ll need a big night from both to upset the strong-willed Boilermakers.

How Purdue wins: Kelsey Barlow’s locks up Malcolm Grant. Yes, Durand Scott is a capable alternative option for Miami, but the Canes go-to offensive weapon is Brooklyn-bred point guard Malcolm Grant. Grant plays over 33 MPG, averages 17.8 PPG and shoots nearly 14 times per contest, a number that will only increase as the Canes face stiffer competition into the ACC slate (although Reggie Johnson returning will help ease the burden). With backcourt mates Lewis Jackson barely measuring in at 5’9” and Ryne Smith limited defensively, Barlow is Matt Painter’s preferred stopper around the perimeter. With his length, athleticism and instincts, Barlow is more than capable of making it a miserable trip to West Lafayette for Grant. With Grant ineffective and Johnson injured, Miami will have an awfully difficult time scoring at a place that Purdue almost never loses.

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