The lack of basketball being played right now is upsetting, and though Midnight Madness draws near, the gap between that and actual games is still disconcerting. To add even more heartache, NBA labor talks broke down yesterday making the possibility of at least some professional games soon less likely. The San Antonio Spurs’ French star Tony Parker showed his lack of confidence in the labor process by signing with the French team ASVEL recently. Things are not looking good for basketball fans who want to see their favorite players in action. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so without further adieu, I’d like to present the ACC Fan’s Guide to French Basketball.
The Ligue Nationale de Basketball is actually one of the better international leagues outside of Spain and it has the added benefit of being chock full of former ACC players. The league is divided into two divisions: Pro-A and Pro-B. Each division has eighteen teams and follows a relegation model where the worst two teams in Pro-A are relegated to Pro-B while the winner and runner-up of Pro-B is promoted to Pro-A. For now, let’s just talk about Pro-A, which begins its season on Friday, October 7, conveniently providing the basketball junkie with a quickly delivered fix.
Malcolm Delaney is Gone From Virginia Tech, But For Now, You Can Watch Him In France
The highlight for ACC fans might be seeing recent Virginia Tech standout, Malcolm Delaney playing on Élan Sportif Chalonnais based in Chalon-sur-Saône. Chalon is a talented team and features another ACC veteran in Alade Aminu out of Georgia Tech. For North Carolina fans, Paris-Levallois Basket offers a chance for Tar Heel fans to witness a reunion of 2005 national champions Jawad Williams and David Noel. For those who want to see a reunion of the 2009 national champions, I have to direct you to Slovenia where Danny Green and Deon Thompson play together for Union Olympija.
Game of the Night #8 Syracuse at #12 Georgetown, 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: It’s hard to believe that these two powerhouses are only the 3rd and 4th highest ranked teams in their own conference. [Calm down ACC folks. I realize that you have 4 teams ranked ahead of Georgetown, but the ACC doesn't even come close to the Big East in terms of depth. Look for the next ACC team in the top 25. There are none.] Looking at these teams, I still have a hard time believing that the Orangemen can compete with Pittsburgh, UConn, or Georgetown if all of those teams are playing up to their potential. However, Jim Boeheim has his team playing solid basketball and is one miracle 60-footer away from being undefeated (or at least being in OT to stay undefeated). Syracuse has been able to do this despite the distraction created by the suspension of Eric Devendorf for assaulting a female student as noted extensively here at RTC. Boehiem has been able to do this thanks to solid play from Jonny Flynn (seen below getting away with the most blatant charge that wasn’t called that you will ever see) and Devendorf (when not interacting with the co-eds) on the perimeter and Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku on the inside. The embarrassingly weak early schedule (SOS: 56th in the nation) has certainly helped the Orangemen have a gaudy record.
Tonight the Orangemen will face their first true test against the Hoyas on the road. Unlike Syracuse, Georgetown has already faced a difficult schedule (SOS: #2 in the nation behind only 6-10 Oregon) including 3 brutal games in the Big East (road games at Connecticut and Notre Dame and at home against Pittsburgh). While the Hoyas lack the depth inside (or thugs according to JT2), they will have the most talented player on the court playing for them on the inside in Greg Monroe who has shown glimpses of brilliance this year. Having seen him in person at the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving Break, I can definitely see why he has NBA scouts drooling, but at times he appears too passive at times to dominate games. While neither Harris nor Onuaku can match Monroe’s talent, it will be interesting to see if he can match their intensity the entire game. The other key match-up will be how DaJuan Summers, Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman do against Flynn and Devendorf on the perimeter although I’m not sure how John Thompson III will utilize Summers if Boeheim opts for his patented 2-3 zone. I’m not sure what to make of his experiments with man-to-man, but I would venture that he will go with the more familiar now that he is finally playing some solid teams. I’m guessing that Georgetown has too much talent, the home court, and experience from playing actually competition to lose this game. Syracuse should be able to keep it close until the final 5 minutes when the Hoyas should pull away.
Others to Watch #2 Duke at Georgia Tech, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This has trap game written all over it. Duke just came off a win at FSU, which has shocked Duke several times this year, and the Blue Devils have a nationally televised showcase at Cameron against the aforementioned Hoyas on Saturday. Georgia Tech is mediocre enough (9-6) that the Blue Devils may overlook them, but just talented enough that they could shock Duke particularly since the game will be played at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The key thing to watch here will be how the Yellow Jacket bigs–Gani Lawal (16.8 PPG and 10.0 RPG) and Alade Aminu (13.5 PPG and 9.4 RPG)–do since interior play will continue to be Duke’s Achilles’ heel (except when they go 3 for their first 27 from 3-point range). If Lawal and Aminu can dominate inside against Kyle Singler and Brian Zoubek, Paul Hewett just may be able to pull out the win.
#3 Wake Forest at Boston College, 9 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: RTC will be at this game (look for the male equivalent of Erin Andrews typing away on his keyboard) to bring you the latest scoop on Wake Forest, the most intriguing team in college basketball. Even after the Demon Deacons win at BYU to end the Cougars nation-leading 53 game home winning streak, there remained a healthy skepticism of Dino Gaudio‘s young squad. However, after they held off everyone’s national title favorite UNC people have really started to come around on this team (I don’t think their rise of 1-2 spots in the polls reflects the magnitude of the change in perception). On the other hand, Boston College may be the most confusing team in the nation. After pulling off one of the bigger upsets of the season (and ending the media’s speculation of an undefeated season for UNC), the Eagles followed it up with a loss at home against Harvard and then to Miami. While the loss to Miami (preseason #17) is excusable, the loss to the Crimson isn’t. Wake will try avoid a letdown similar to the one BC had by relying on Jeff Teague, James Johnson, and Al-Farouq Aminu. Teague will likely be guarded very closely after his explosion against UNC. Wake also hopes to get a big contribution out of Chas McFarland, who was last seen outsprinting Ty Lawson down the court for a crucial lay-up on Saturday. If the Eagles are going to rebound for their back-to-back defeats, they will need a huge game out Tyrese Rice along with solid contributions out of Joe Trapani and Corey Raji. Much like the Duke-Georgia Tech game, this is one to watch to see if the favorite is looking ahead to their next game, which is also a monster match-up for Wake (against undefeated Clemson).
#21 Baylor at Texas A&M, 9:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: A match-up of two lightly regarded teams with impressive records (13-2 and 14-2, respectively). These two teams are my pick to compete with Kansas for the #3 spot in the Big 12 this year. Baylor appears to have recovered from the Dave Bliss fiasco and comes into the game with a top 25 ranking. They have done this with their entire starting 5 averaging double figures, but the unquestioned leader of this team is Curtis Jerrells who will need to have a big game tonight to get a win on the road. Looking through their results so far, I’m having a hard time finding any good wins. A win at College Station would mean a big jump for the Bears in the eyes of the voters. I think a lot of people forget just how good Texas A&M was last year. They were one blown call against UCLA away from potentially forcing OT in the Sweet 16. The Aggies will rely on a balanced attack with Josh Carter, Donald Sloan, Bryan Davis, and Chinemelu Elonu to try and defend their home court.
#24 Michigan at Illinois, 8:30 PM on The Big Ten Network: It looks like a year after his program looked like it was going implode after the Eric Gordon recruiting disaster, Bruce Weber has his team headed in the right direction. Tonight he will try to avenge one of the Fighting Illini’s 2 losses (the other was by 2-points to undefeated Clemson). This should be a close game as the Wolverines won by 10 at Ann Arbor a little over a week ago. Outside of the big guys from each team (Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims for Michigan and Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey for Illinois), my player to watch tonight is Alex Legion, who has shown signs of becoming a big-time scorer since his mid-season addition to Illinois after his transfer from Kentucky.
ACC Wins Again. Well, it was closer this year than it has been since 2005, but the ACC won the event for the tenth year in a row, 6-5. The league of atlantic coast schools are now 62-35 (.639) against its midwestern counterparts in this challenge – can we go back to the ACC/Big East version now? Oh, and we really couldn’t have made worse picks today if we had tried – we went 1-4, and Wake was our only winner – picking that game correctly was akin to picking the sun to come up tomorrow. Maybe we’ll stay out of this prediction business for a while. What we found really interesting was that home court in the two leagues with the most advantageous home environments didn’t seem to matter much – home teams were 5-6 in the Challenge (see below).
Carolina Looks Unstoppable.UNC 98, Michigan St. 63. We hesitate to move into the realm of hyperbole in early December, preferring to leave that to the likes of Vitale with his offerings of UNC “competing with” the Clippers, T-Wolves and Grizzlies (which is patently absurd, btw). But at least at this point in the 2007-08 season, UNC is well ahead of everyone else in college basketball. What the Heels did to Michigan St. tonight in its home state could appropriately be described as an absolute dismantling. Frankly, we’re not sure how the Spartans show their faces in E. Lansing tomorrow, considering the Heels only defeated UCSB by 15 in Santa Barbara and Kentucky by 19 in Chapel Hill. As good as Carolina was, MSU was utterly moribund. UNC held the Spartans to 35% shooting from the field, 24% from three, and forced 21 turnovers, many of which directly led to Carolina layups or threes. Speaking of which, if Ty Lawson is going to play as well as he did tonight – ripping balls out of passing lanes (7 steals) and dropping 25-footers with consistency (twice), then we really can go ahead and pass the championship trophy over to Roy Williams. And the question of whether Tyler Hansbrough is healthy was put to rest with another workmanlike 25/11 where he was pretty much able to do whatever he wanted inside the lane. Danny Green was his typical stat-stuffer self (6/5/5 assts), and Ed Davis continues to impress off the bench (10/7 in 17 mins). As for MSU, the only player that seemed ready to play was Chris Allen, who singlehandedly kept MSU in the game with his long-range shooting in the first half. The others – Kalin Lucas, Delvon Roe, Marquise Gray – all horrible. Looking at the schedule, the next even remote possibility of a team staying within 15 pts of Carolina will be at Wake on January 11th. As for MSU, this supposed top ten team hasn’t looked anywhere near it thus far this season – can Izzo get it together?
So we went 3-2 in our picks last night, which is actually downright terrible when you’re just picking teams straight up. Duke, Minnesota and BC went pretty much as expected, but we didn’t see the Jack McClinton slap coming, and we’re still having trouble fathoming Illinois blowing a solid lead at home. Nevertheless, let’s see if we can do better with tonight’s games. With a 3-3 tie going into tonight, can the Big 10 win at least one road game and hold serve at home to get to the magical six victories?
Wednesday Games (12.03.08)
Indiana (4-2) @ Wake Forest (6-0) - 7:15pm (ESPN). In a normal year, this would have been one of the top three games of the Challenge; but as we’re all aware, Indiana is not having a normal year. Still, the Hoosiers should take pride in the four wins they’ve gotten, especially their most recent victory over a possible NCAA team in Cornell at home. Unfortunately for IU, Wake is no Cornell – they’re easily the most athletic team Indiana has faced so far, and their size is astonishing (five regulars are 6’9 or taller). They have offensive firepower (averaging 86.7 ppg on 51.7% FG) and are playing improved defense this year, holding teams to 64.8 ppg on 34.4% shooting (although we haven’t figure out if that’s a function of length and size or consistent defensive principles). And did we mention that the Deacs are at home, and are 7-1 in this event? Put simply, this will get ugly for Indiana tonight, possibly even worse than the Notre Dame debacle two weeks ago (-38 in that one). The Pick: Wake Forest.