Seven ACC Non-Conference Battles to Watch This Season

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 6th, 2013

Today we will look at some of the most interesting ACC non-conference games of 2013-14. For this feature we will not include games in early season tournaments because we earlier previewed those events in three parts - Part I, Part II, and Part III. Also, we will not look at any of the specific match-ups in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge in this feature because we’ll focus on that annual event at a later date. That still leaves a good inventory of ACC-related non-conference games to choose from, and as you will see, most of these games will be played in New York City, which is not entirely by accident. Counting tournament appearances, eight different ACC teams are scheduled to play a total of 16 games in the Big Apple — it’s obvious that the ACC is serious about taking advantage of the most recent expansion into the Northeast. A strong presence in New York is clearly part of the conference plan. By comparison, only four ACC teams played a total of five games in the New York area last season, counting a Duke-Temple game played in East Rutherford, New Jersey. In chronological order, here are the seven non-conference games that will be crucial to win for the ACC to meet its goal as the top conference in the nation this season.

Dez Wells Will Lead Maryland in Opener vs. UConn (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Dez Wells Will Lead Maryland in Opener vs. UConn (Charlie DeBoyace/The Diamondback)

Friday November 8 – Maryland vs. Connecticut (Barclays Center – Brooklyn) – 6:30 PM  ESPN2

Without injured point guard Seth Allen, the Terrapins will be underdogs against the Huskies on opening night. The explosive Connecticut backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatwright will be hard covers for the bigger but slower Maryland guards. Dez Wells and Nick Faust must limit their turnovers, a problem for both last season, but the Terps hope to counter with the punishing post duo of Charles Mitchell and Shaquille Cleare.  A wild card for Maryland may be 6’8″ sophomore Jake Layman, who reportedly has been a standout in preseason scrimmages.

Tuesday November 12 – Duke vs. Kansas (Champions Classic – Chicago) – 9:30 PM ESPN

The college basketball world will be focused on the Champions Classic doubleheader on this night. #1 Kentucky squares off with #2 Michigan State in the opener, but most of the buzz seems to be about the nightcap. There are plenty of storylines for this one including the match-up of the top two freshmen in the country, Andrew Wiggins of Kansas and Jabari Parker for Duke. Also, the game is in Chicago, Coach K’s hometown, and the Midwestern backyard of Bill Self. This year’s #1 high school senior Jahlil Okafor lives in Chicago and reportedly will decide soon between Duke and Kansas. Finally, it should be a great game to watch with plenty of top athletes on the floor. Kansas holds a decided edge in the paint while Duke has a more proven backcourt. The game may come down to which team’s newcomers best handle playing on the big stage for the first time.

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Alex Len’s Coming Out Party Nearly Spoils Kentucky’s Title Defense Debut

Posted by EJacoby on November 9th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. He filed this report from the Kentucky-Maryland game tonight in Brooklyn. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. 

We assumed it was nearly impossible for Kentucky to repeat the kind of immediate, dominant success it had last season with a brand new crop of young players this year. For the first half of their season-opening game against Maryland on Friday night, though, the Wildcats came out on fire and efficient on both ends en route to opening a 15-point lead just minutes into the second half in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But it didn’t take long for the inconsistency, poor decision-making, and defensive mistakes that are typical of freshmen players to crop up for John Calipari’s team, which opened the door for Maryland to make a run in front of a very pro-Terrapin crowd. Led by emerging sophomore center Alex Len, the Terps went on a 15-0 second half run and eventually took the lead before seesawing to a tough, 72-69 loss. Len was the catalyst on both ends for Maryland’s near-upset, as the sophomore seven-footer finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks — all game-highs. He shot 10-18 from the field and committed zero turnovers. Despite failing to capitalize with a monster non-conference victory, Maryland and its fans must feel confident about this season’s outlook on the heels of Len’s dominant opening performance.

Alex Len nearly led his Maryland team to a big-time upset win over Kentucky on Friday night (Maryland 247 Sports photo)

The big sophomore showed flashes of greatness last season for Maryland, but he did not put together any dominant performances that could propel Mark Turgeon’s team to big wins. The center from the Ukraine recorded six total games in double-figure scoring last year, and none after February 4. He averaged 4.1 points per game in his final 10 games and amassed just one double-double all season. Tonight was a completely different story, as Len looked much more polished in the paint with offensive moves, finishes at the rim, rebounding prowess, and strong defensive positioning. Len turned national consensus #1 recruit Nerlens Noel of Kentucky into an afterthought, dominating the freshman in the paint as well as beating him down the floor in transition on multiple occasions. Noel had just four points on 2-6 shooting to match his nine rebounds and three blocks. If not for the unlikely late-game heroics of former Kentucky walk-on Jarrod Polson, who scored 10 points tonight after recording a total of seven previous points in his career, the Terps could have left Barclays Center with a defining victory.

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