2 weeks into the season, and many players are already starting to leave their mark in the minds of NBA scouts. I will start doing full evaluations around the beginning of the New Year, but until then, I will post daily on games and players of interest, thoughts from previous games, the worth or worthlessness of stats, and anything else which I feel should be brought to attention.
The ACC-Big 10 Challenge kicked off last night and continues tonight with 1 huge matchup surrounded by seeming mismatches. Ohio State and Duke was a marquee macthup to begin with, but with the way both teams have played early on, this could be a very special game tonight.
Ohio State at Duke
Ohio State travels to Durham to take on a very impressive Duke squad, who has already beaten Kentucky, VCU, and Louisville. Last season when the two teams met in Columbus, the Buckeyes jumped out to a huge lead and never looked back, winning by 22.
Ohio State is led by the junior duo of Deshaun Thomas and Aaron Craft. Thomas already had a great reputation as a versatile scorer, but he has made great strides by taking quality shots, even with more touches. Thomas has also showed a better understanding of how to play perimeter defense and keeping his focus and energy level up on that side of the ball. Craft may be the best on-ball defender in college basketball and he continues to improve each season in his ability to make plays and run the Buckeyes’ offense.
Duke has been spurred on by the stellar play of Mason Plumlee. Plumlee has been aggressive on the offensive end, looking to attack the basket and hitting the boards. As an added bonus, he is shooting 80% from the free throw line (36-45). Improved defense on the perimeter has also helped keep Plumlee out of foul trouble early on this season. Fellow seniors Seth Curry and Ryan Kelly have been up and down early in the season with their shots, but just the threat of them hitting keeps defenses honest. Sophomore point guard Quinn Cook has stepped into his new leadership role well and freshman Rasheed Sulaimon gives the Blue Devils another legit perimeter scoring threat.
Matchup to Watch – Aaron Craft v. Quinn Cook
Part of the Blue Devils’ success early on has been because of Cook’s ability to get the team into their offense quickly and maximize defensive openings. Craft will pressure Cook as soon as he steps over halfcourt and he will force Cook to make plays to the left side of the court. Forcing the play to one side eases the burden on the weak-side defenders, allowing them to step into the lane and help and rebound. How Cook handles this pressure early on will set the tone for Duke’s night.
Michigan State v. Miami (FL)
Tom Izzo’s Spartans have bounced back after an opening night loss to Connecticut by rolling off 5 straight wins. Point guard Keith Appling has been the main catalyst, doing a great job forcing the defense to react and attacking the basket. When the defense anticipates the drive, Appling steps back and hits the perimeter jumper. His ability to keep defenses off-balance allows the rest of the offense to pick and choose their opportunities. Freshman Gary Harris is a strong-bodied versatile scorer, and Branden Dawson uses his size well to get off good shots in the lane. Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix are a formidable duo down low for the Spartans, using their size and strength well to force players away from the basket.
The Hurricanes are led by a big frontcourt duo of their own in massive Reggie Johnson and the athletic Kenny Kadji. Johnson is a huge space-eater, but skilled around the basket. Conditioning issues have limited his court time, but he is effective when he is on the court. Kadji is a fantastic shot blocker and rebounder, though he doesn’t have great court awareness and is often caught out of position. Same happens on the offensive end, where Kadji relies way too much on a jumper that isn’t that good. Senior point guard Durand Scott made his return to the team on Saturday and made an instant impact on both ends of the floor. Sophomore point guard Shane Larkin emerged while Scott was out and gave the Hurricanes more of a playmaker, though his ability to get to the basket or hit the perimeter jumper makes it easy for him and Scott to play together.
Matchup to Watch – Keith Appling v. Shane Larkin
Larkin’s ability to keep Appling out of the lane and preventing him from setting the pace are really the only shot the Hurricanes have in this game. Appling should be able to pressure Larkin on the defensive side, making it difficult for him to get the ball to Miami bigs.
Others to Watch
Doug McDermott, Creighton v. Boise State – McDermott is coming off a fantastic weekend, averaging 29.5 points and 8.5 rebounds in wins over Wisconsin and Arizona State. Boise State is off to a great start and will throw multiple defenders at McDermott to try and prevent him from getting good looks.
Brandon Paul, Illinois v. Georgia Tech – Paul was fantastic in Hawaii, but appeared sluggish against Gardner Webb on Sunday. Look for the Yellow Jackets to use combinations of Mfon Udofia, as well as freshmen Marcus Georges-Hunt and Chris Bolden to harass Paul on the perimeter.
Anthony Bennett, UNLV vs. UC Irvine – If he plays tonight (back issues), Bennett should have plenty of easy looks around the basket against a weak Irvine frontline, but Irvine will look to push the pace, and so far Bennett has played very wild when the Rebels have played quickly.
Amath M’Baye, Oklahoma vs. Oral Roberts – Many people hyped M’Baye heading into this season after he sat out last season after transferring from Wyoming. He was almost non-existent in the Sooners’ first 4 games, but he played a very complete game against West Virginia on Sunday. Will he be able to keep it going against an underrated Oral Roberts’ squad?