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:
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)