Key Questions in the Wednesday Big Ten/ACC Challenge Late Games

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on December 4th, 2013

The first day of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge is over with the ACC up 4-2. Now, we’re on to day two. With that in mind, Matt Patton and Lathan Wells from the ACC microsite and Jonathan Batuello and Brendan Brody from the B1G microsite got together to answer some key questions concerning this year’s Challenge. This post will preview the three late Wednesday night games, but be sure to read the earlier post previewing today’s early games. Also be sure to check out both microsites over the next few days for further reaction and analysis as the Challenge finishes up.

North Carolina at Michigan State, 9:00 PM, ESPN

Gary Harris and Michigan State are heavy favorites in the match-up against North Carolina (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Gary Harris and Michigan State are heavy favorites in the match-up against North Carolina (Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

B1G: What was billed as one of the biggest games in the Challenge doesn’t appear like it will be close considering UNC’s early struggles. Still, it did beat Louisville so the potential for an upset is there. For UNC to win in East Lansing tonight, it has to find a way to guard Adreian Payne. Should the Tar Heels put Brice Johnson on him or go with a committee approach with the other bigs they have on the roster?

ACC: Payne’s ability to go outside probably precludes UNC from just putting one player on him. James Michael McAdoo may be the most versatile big man they have, but the Heels can’t afford for him to fall into foul trouble chasing Payne around all over the place. This will likely be a by-committee approach with Johnson, McAdoo and several other big men splitting duties throughout. For North Carolina, there’s no question that they have been most successful when Marcus Paige is scoring from all over the floor. How does Michigan State make sure that Paige doesn’t beat them, something a team such as the defending national champion was unable to do?

B1G: Paige has most definitely been on a roll to start the season, but aside from some flashes from James Michael McAdoo and Brice Johnson, he has proven to be UNC’s only real offensive weapon. Tom Izzo wouldn’t do anything as drastic as playing a box-and-one against him, but it makes sense to put Branden Dawson on him. He is Michigan State’s best defender and can defend four positions reasonably well. Another option would be to play Travis Trice more minutes on the floor at the same time as Keith Appling, with Appling handling the play-making duties and Trice concentrating more on the other end. Either way, defending Paige has to be priority number one for MSU. If Izzo focuses his defense on shutting down Paige, then Roy Williams will have to look to McAdoo. How can he be most effective offensively against Michigan State? Do they try to get him going down low or have him use his quickness on the wing?

ACC: McAdoo has been the biggest enigma on this team so far and it appears he’s struggling in bouncing between playing the three and four positions. The team will need to get him involved more often on the blocks, but it may come down to his aggressiveness and and restored confidence more so than any designed offensive schemes. He’s best when he can turn and face the basket or get out in transition; the latter would be helped by a solid rebounding effort from the Tar Heels. Michigan State doesn’t give many opportunities, though, as by most metrics it is one of the most efficient offensive teams in the nation.  But is there one player who would be tasked with taking over the game if the team unexpectedly goes cold from the floor for an extended stretch?

B1G: If you asked this question before the season the answer would have been Gary Harris. Right now it would have to be Keith Appling. Appling is the team’s second leading scorer and he’s doing it very efficiently, shooting over 50 percent from the field and from three. If things break down, he’s someone who can take his man off the dribble or punish defenders from the outside.

  • ACC on why North Carolina will win: McAdoo resumes his early-season play to complement Paige on the offensive end; the team outrebounds MSU by a wide margin; and free throw shooting is at the very least serviceable.
  • B1G on why Michigan State will win: They simply have too many offensive weapons for North Carolina to slow them down.

Boston College @ Purdue, 9 PM, ESPN2

AJ Hammons (AP).

AJ Hammons is the Key to Purdue’s Defense if He Can Stay on the Floor (AP).

ACC: Neither team has had a spectacular start to its season with Boston College at 3-4 and Purdue struggling with two recent losses and a last-minute comeback win over Siena. If there’s one constant with Steve Donahue’s teams, though, it’s exceptional offense. Do the Boilermakers have the defense to limit Boston College, or an offense to match points with the Eagles?

B1G: Purdue has had a decent season offensively in averaging 80 PPG, but it still isn’t where it should be. Defense has been a huge issue. Matt Painter teams like to be known for defense but last year and once again this year it has struggled on that end of the floor. It is anchored with AJ Hammons inside clogging up the lane and getting blocks, but unfortunately for the Boilers, Hammons has a knack for getting in foul trouble and his play so far this season landed him on the bench to start Purdue’s last game. When he is on the floor, does Boston College have anyone who can match up against him?

ACC: Yes, Dennis Clifford! Unfortunately, he’s sidelined with nagging knee injuries. In Clifford’s probable absence, look for the athletic (but slim) Eddie Odio to defend Hammons most often. Look for the Eagles to spread the floor on offense to keep him uncomfortable. With defending star players so important, who does Purdue put on Boston College’s Olivier Hanlan?

B1G: Purdue will look to senior Terone Johnson. He has the ability to slow down Hanlan, but he can’t shut him down. The Boilers don’t have a Chris Kramer walking through that arena door. Bryson Scott has shown a tenacity that could prove to be shutdown-worthy later in his career but he would give up a few inches to Hanlan. The best hope may be to get him in to foul trouble like what Purdue did to Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart. That, or just let him get his points and shut everyone else down. Despite what Hanlan does, Purdue is a top 20 offensive rebounding squad and Boston College is a bottom-tier rebounding team. Can the Eagles limit Purdue’s second chance opportunities?

ACC: Definitely not. But rebounding is just one part of Boston College’s horrific defense this season. The only area the Eagles fall above average according to Ken Pomeroy is in two-point field goal percentage (and even there, they’re just above average). If I were Steve Donahue, I might even try and throw two bodies on AJ Hammons to try and neutralize him on the glass.

  • B1G on why Purdue will win: Hanlan gets his points, but Purdue uses its advantage on the glass and inside to put it away as AJ Hammons finally has his breakout game this year.
  • ACC on why Boston College will win: There’s a reason everyone was high on this team coming into the season, and Olivier Hanlan is due for a jaw-dropping performance.

Miami @ Nebraska, 9:30 PM, ESPNU

Larranaga is All Smiles After an Upset Win (Credit: Nick Wass/Associated Press)

Larranaga is All Smiles After an Upset Win (Credit: Nick Wass/Associated Press)

B1G: Both of these teams have won two in a row coming into the Challenge after losing the two games before that. Nebraska’s defensive numbers aren’t great, but Miami is struggling to shoot the ball so far. Who has to break out offensively for Miami to get a win here?

ACC: It has to be Rion Brown. The guard is playing the most minutes and leading the team in scoring, but is shooting a paltry 37 percent from the field and 19 percent from three. Brown is their most capable scorer, so if he’s off it will take an unexpected contribution from elsewhere for Miami to emerge victorious. If Brown and the guards finally have a lights-out shooting performance from the perimeter, does Nebraska have shooters of its own capable of matching their outside production?

B1G: One name that people don’t necessarily know yet who could have a big game is Deverell Biggs. He’s more of a slasher, but he’s shooting well from out there (5-of-8) when he takes them. Walter Pitchford and Ray Gallegos also have shown they can make shots thus far. Pitchford is a stretch four or a five shooting 45.5 percent from distnace, and Gallegos was the leading scorer last year who is shooting 46.2 percent. If Nebraska could get all three of these players hitting shots at once, then the answer is yes. They’ve yet to show that level of consistency so far, however. With all of these rangy, athletic wings that like to get to the basket, who from Miami is the best perimeter defender on the wing and can lock them down to force them to have to shoot from deep?

ACC: One thing this team does have is length. Garrius Adams leads the team with 16 steals, and Brown is a capable on-ball defender as well. The rotational defense from Miami’s rangy forwards may be the key forcing the Huskers to operate from the outside, but it will be that backcourt that is the key to forcing bad perimeter shots. If Miami can do that, with Nebraska near the bottom of the national rankings when it comes to assists per game, how is this  team manufacturing points? Is their brand of offense sustainable against a Miami team whose defensive prowess seems to be ahead of its offense thus far?

B1G: They are inexperienced at the point guard position, with freshman Tai Webster showing that he’s not quite ready to handle the full responsibilities of running  a team just yet. They get a lot of their points from drives to the basket with Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields both doing a good job of getting to the basket and manufacturing points or getting to the line. They will need more shooting from the outside and better ball movement if they want to beat Miami, especially with the Hurricanes coming off an impressive win against Arizona State.

  • ACC on why Miami will win: Miami’s outside threats finally connect on a consistent basis and their length on the defensive end frustrates Nebraska’s ball-handlers. It would help if Rion Brown had a huge game, too.
  • B1G on why Nebraska will win: They have the wings to match up with Miami’s size, and they will get an outstanding shooting game from Ray Gallegos, who is primed for a breakout performance.
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