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)

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Ball Reversal: 24-Hour Marathon Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on November 14th, 2011

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court. Follow him on Twitter @zhayes9.

The idea of an “opening day” has always been a challenging concept for college basketball. Rather than one momentous game-signaling commencement, we’re introduced to hoops by St. John’s and Arizona playing somewhat competitive mid-majors every other night. With football in full swing, the absence of a season-opening celebration often keeps more casual observers out of the loop.

Improvements are slowly being instituted. The unique nature of the near-consensus #1 team in the country playing on an aircraft carrier surely increased awareness. But it’s the ESPN-invented four-year old Tip-off Marathon that has truly registered on the nation’s radar. This season’s slate is so promising that a battle of top ten teams is being overshadowed by the newly formed Champions Classic featuring Duke, Michigan State, Kentucky and Kansas.

For hoops-starved fans whose last memory is the UConn-Butler brickfest last April, merely plopping on the couch for hour after hour of hoops is sufficient enough, but let me take you through the analytical realm of each game, tackling the key question: what does each team need to do to ensure a resume-building victory?

#7 Florida at #3 Ohio State, 8 PM ET

Patric Young holds the key to not only a win at OSU but Florida's entire season

How Florida wins: Patric Young becomes a man. Exactly one year ago, Jared Sullinger announced his presence to the college basketball world by dropping 26 points on an overwhelmed Florida frontcourt. Not only did Sullinger become a household name after that breakout performance, but Ohio State vaulted to the top of the rankings for nearly the entire campaign. He doesn’t have to score 26 points on 17 shots or make an All-America team, but Florida’s success this upcoming season is predicated on Young taking a big step forward as a paint enforcer and capable scoring option. The Gators backcourt is absolutely loaded, but Young must provide some semblance of balance to prevent teams from crowding the perimeter defensively. His first major test: the newly trimmed Sullinger. For 30-32 minutes. On the road. Young doesn’t have to outplay Sullinger, but if he merely keeps Sullinger in check and shows glimpses of effectiveness, Florida’s guards are lethal enough to exact revenge on the Buckeyes.

How Ohio State wins: Perimeter defense. It’s no secret that Florida will be extremely perimeter-oriented this season. Billy Donovan has broached the possibility of utilizing a four-guard lineup at times with Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, stud freshman Brad Beal and Rutgers transfer Mike Rosario all on the floor. Obviously utilizing Jared Sullinger as much as possible is helpful, but if the Buckeye guards can force the Gators into ill-advised shots on the other end (they tend to cooperate), it could be the second straight Buckeye blowout. Aaron Craft is the ideal perimeter defender to harass Walker, while Thad Matta might go with Lenzelle Smith, a player much more defensive-oriented than scorer Shannon Scott, as the starting two-guard and Will Buford at the wing against Florida’s smaller lineup. Craft is as reliable as they come, but Smith didn’t break Matta’s notoriously thin rotation last season and Buford is prone to periodic defensive lapses. If those two step up their game on the defensive end, the Buckeyes will ensure themselves a win that will surely look good in March.

#2 Kentucky vs. #15 Kansas, 9:30 PM ET

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Ball Reversal: ACC/Big Ten Challenge

Posted by zhayes9 on November 30th, 2010

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

Monday night proved one thing for sure: anything can happen in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Who had a Virginia team that was humiliated by Washington in Maui last week leaving the Barn against undefeated Minnesota with a triumphant victory? Hot shooting from Joe Harris and the entire Cavalier lot (10-13 from downtown) paved the way for Tony Bennett’s biggest win since moving cross country to Charlottesville and gave the ACC an unexpected boost to kick off the Challenge. With five other marquee games on the docket the next two nights, now is a better time than ever to introduce my second installment of Ball Reversal, dissecting what each team needs to do to pick up a portfolio-building win in late November. Without further ado:

Jared Sullinger/

Tuesday- Ohio State at Florida State, 7:30 PM (ESPN)

How Ohio State wins: Match defense with defense. There’s one thing Florida State does incredibly well and that’s defend the heck out of you. They finished first in the nation in defensive efficiency last season, second in two-point field goal defense and fourth in block percentage. Through six games this season, the Seminoles are on pace to rival those impressive totals: fourth in defensive efficiency, seventh in two-point percentage defense and second in block percentage. Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s game plan against the Seminoles was to match FSU’s lockdown defense with a 2-3 zone to force FSU to go away from their strengths and take outside jumpers. Florida then won the contest on the free throw line, scored just enough on the offensive end and marched out of Tallahassee with an impressive road win. It would be prudent for Thad Matta to trot out his best defensive lineup down the stretch against a Florida State team that has ranked in the lower portion in most offensive categories the last two seasons. If the Buckeyes get enough stops, their incredible talent level and scoring ability should provide enough ammo for a key road win.

How Florida State wins: Keep the Buckeyes out of the paint. Ohio State’s statement victory at Florida a few weeks ago looked like a layup drill for a good portion of the game, a combination of an effective pass break and halfcourt teamwork resulting in easy opportunities for Jared Sullinger and other Buckeyes for the entire second half. Ohio State has been tremendous inside the arc all year along, ranking seventh in two-point percentage. Where they’re slightly suspect–although one would anticipate William Buford’s 27% mark from deep to increase sooner than later–is behind the three-point line where they’re 96th in the nation in marksmanship. Along with stellar defense, Leonard Hamilton’s teams are perennially very tall and very long. Chris Singleton, Bernard Young and Xavier Gibson do the honors on this year’s squad. FSU should try to frustrate Sullinger as much as possible with this trio’s length and take chances with Jon Diebler, David Lighty and William Buford shooting contested threes. If successful, the Noles have an outside chance to pull off an upset and avoid two straight home losses against ranked teams.

Tuesday- North Carolina at Illinois, 9:30 PM (ESPN)

How North Carolina wins: More production from their preseason All-American. This one is fairly obvious and doesn’t take any efficiency stats to calculate: the Heels need a coming out party by Harrison Barnes (and the first half against Hofstra doesn’t qualify). Unfair expectations or not, Barnes came into this season as the far-and-away #1 freshman prospect, projected number one overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, a preseason All-American and savior of the Tar Heels program. So far, Barnes hasn’t totally figured it out at the collegiate level. Through six games, he’s averaging 12/6/2 on 35% FG and 33% from three, respectable totals for a really good freshman but clearly below expectations. Barnes is UNC’s best player and to avoid picking up their third loss in seven contests he needs to perform admirably on this considerable stage, utilizing his versatility, smooth jumper, rebounding prowess, passing ability and that all-around repertoire that has wowed so many basketball evaluators over the last couple of years. This Illinois game and the meeting with Kentucky on Saturday are crucial: with every defeat, the pressure in Chapel Hill only mounts.

How Illinois wins: Take advantage of UNC’s perimeter-oriented bigs. As talented as North Carolina may be, this is really an ideal matchup for the Fighting Illini. Illinois is vulnerable when their lanky forwards Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis have to spend too much time in the paint defending bulky, strong, powerful big men. Tisdale and Davis are more suited playing more of a perimeter, face-up game than getting dirty in the post. Luckily for them, Carolina’s bigs are very similar. John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes are incredibly skilled and talented, but none of them are known as bruisers down low. Tisdale and Davis should be able to spend a lot more time in their comfort zone excelling in the mid-range game and knocking down jumpers and are much less likely to fall into foul trouble. Tisdale, specifically, hasn’t been able to stay on the floor at much as he’d like this season. He fouled out in a combined 38 minutes in the two 2K Sports Classic games against Pittsburgh’s plethora of bigs and Maryland’s Jordan Williams, two matchup nightmares. The style in which the Carolina forwards operate does not pose the same problem.

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Ball Reversal: 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon

Posted by zhayes9 on November 15th, 2010

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

Even though nearly every team has at least one game under their belt this season, Tuesday’s 24-hour hoops marathon is the unofficial day college basketball gets underway. ESPN did a fantastic job scheduling games that are meaningful, including a battle of top ten teams in Gainesville, reigning national runner-up Butler helping to open Louisville’s new arena and a matchup of two of the West’s best. In order for these teams to pick up resume-building wins at this early stage, here is one facet of the game they absolutely must control to give themselves the best chance at victory:

How Malcolm Grant shoots from 3 could make a difference vs. Memphis

Miami at Memphis (12 AM ET)

How Memphis wins: Win the turnover battle. The Canes ranked a paltry 206th in the nation in turnover percentage a year ago and ranked just 195th in the country in forcing turnovers at the other end. Although departed senior Dwayne Collins was the biggest offender, starting guards Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant had a major hand in piling up the giveaways. If the Tigers unleash their speedy new backcourt, led by freshmen Joe Jackson, Will Barton and Chris Crawford, turning Miami over and taking care of the basketball on their end should lead to a sufficient number of possessions to take advantage of a Canes defense that was equally mediocre in 2010-11.

How Miami wins: Control the offensive glass. Memphis struggled mightily preventing their opponents from gathering offensive rebounds last season, ranking 305th in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage surrendered. The Tigers allowed opponents to snatch a second chance opportunity on 36.4% of their possessions compared to the Division I average of 32.7%. Trotting out 6’11 Angel Garcia for more than 12 games this season should aid the cause, but if the Hurricanes can use their glut inside (most notably 6’10 behemoth Reggie Johnson who collected eight boards in Miami’s opening win over Jacksonville) for extra kick-out threes to Malcolm Grant (41% last year), Frank Haith’s squad may have the firepower to upset a Memphis team still trying to figure out rotations.

St. John’s at St. Mary’s (2 AM ET)

How St. John’s wins: Feed the big fellas. Remember Omar Samhan? The fun-loving, quotable, double-double machine that crept into the lexicon of every college basketball fan last March? Samhan and his 21/11 average graduated as a senior last year, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the Gaels frontcourt. Samhan was as important to his squad as any player in the nation, playing over 80% his teams’ minutes and placing  in the top 60 in the nation in numbers of possessions used, percentage of shots taken, offensive and defensive rebounding percentage and block percentage. The Gaels will try to plug the gap in the middle with Rob Jones, Clint Steindl, Kenton Walker and Mitchell Young, but a Big East-level talented bunch like the Johnnies should feed the paint over and over again. Justin Brownlee, Justin Burrell, Sean Evans and freshman Dwayne Polee all stand over 6’7 and leading scorer D.J. Kennedy is 6’6. It’s not like the Gaels were that proficient in defending two-point buckets with Samhan, anyway, ranking 116th in the country.

How St. Mary’s wins: Stick with your bread and butter: three-point shooting. St. John’s might be returning nearly all of their scoring from a year ago, but they also return the same core that allowed opponents to sink 36% of their threes, ranking 264th in the nation. This is splendid news for Randy Bennett and a Gaels team that averaged a stellar 41% from the same range a year ago and returns their two most accurate gunners — Mickey McConnell (51%, not a typo) and Matthew Dellavedova (40%). While St. John’s did a respectable job at guarding the paint in 2010-11, their perimeter defense is suspect.

Virginia Tech at Kansas State (4 PM ET)

How Virginia Tech wins: Let Malcolm Delaney draw fouls. Few players in the nation were as proficient as Delaney at finding the charity stripe last season. The all-ACC candidate ranked 32nd in the nation in fouls drawn per 40 minutes and in the last two seasons his free throw percentages are 87% and 84%. Delaney gets to the line plenty and takes advantages of those opportunities. His opponent on Tuesday, Kansas State, followed Delaney’s lead by getting to the line fewer than only three teams last season, but they also ranked near the dregs of Division I at allowing opponent free throw opportunities. This plays right into the hands of Delaney, especially when one considers the player that fouled with the lowest frequency is departed senior guard Denis Clemente. If Seth Greenberg can isolate Delaney 1-on-1 with Pullen, Tech may coax Kansas State’s All-American guard into foul trouble and leave Manhattan with a stunning victory in the process.

How Kansas State wins: Utilize their superior frontcourt depth. The story of this game isn’t necessarily the Delaney-Pullen duel in the backcourt, but how Virginia Tech can manage to keep this game competitive in a tough road environment with so little depth among the trees. Without J.T. Thompson or Allan Chaney to man the paint, it’s up to 6’8 Victor Davilla, 6’7 freshman Jarell Eddie and 6’6 wing Terrell Bell to contain the Wildcats assembly line of big men. Kansas State, meanwhile, can rotate Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels, Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge in a fearsome foursome against the over-matched, outsized and likely fatigued Tech big men. Dominate the paint and Pullen may not even have to contribute too much scoring-wise. What could help Tech is Curtis Kelly’s appearance in Frank Martin’s doghouse at the end of the bench last Friday. We’ll see if the UConn transfer suits up for this one.

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