After an opening night to the ACC/Big 10 Challenge that featured two games decided by 5 points each, one could only hope that Tuesday and Wednesday’s action could produce the same amount of excitement. With big-time match-ups on tap for Tuesday night, let’s take a look at how each game could shake out.
#14 Ohio State (5-0, RPI: 25) Vs. #5 Louisville (5-0, RPI: 52), 9:30 PM ET, ESPN
In the premier game of the night, Ohio State heads to the KFC Yum! Center to take on Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals. The Buckeyes are off to a nice 5-0 start after losing the team’s heart and soul Aaron Craft, as well as star forward LaQuinton Ross from last year’s squad. Freshman guard D’Angelo Russell has filled Craft’s void admirably, as he leads the team in scoring at 18 points per game. While the non-conference schedule thus far has been quite soft, this early season test on the road should be an excellent measuring stick for Coach Thad Matta to see how his team is coming along prior to the start of Big 10 play.
Louisville meanwhile, is led by a National Player of the Year Candidate in junior Montrezl Harrell. Harrell comes into the game averaging 17.4 points per game to go along with 8.8 rebounds per contest. He is a true beast on the boards and a scoring threat every time he touches the ball, which makes him one of the most unstoppable forces in the country. Rick Pitino continues to attempt to force opposing turnovers with his full-court trap defense, which has been nothing short of a success in his years coaching college basketball. It will be interesting to see how Ohio State handles the defensive pressure and will be one of the major aspects to watch for outside of the dominating force that is Montrezl Harrell.
Defense. Defense. Defense. Rick Pitino will try to force Ohio State’s young core to commit turnovers to make this a fast-paced affair. If point guard D’Angelo Russell can handle adversity early and overcome the inevitable mistakes that Louisville will force, Ohio State should be able to keep this one close. However, it is hard to pick against the Cardinals at home, especially when one of the best players in the country is manning the paint.
Louisville 78 Ohio State 64
#24 Illinois (6-0, RPI: 42) Vs. #15 Miami (FL) (7-0, RPI: 29), 9:00 PM ET, ESPN2
The Fighting Illini will face their first real test of the season on Tuesday night, as they head down to Coral Gables to face the home-town Hurricanes. It will be time to decipher this Illinois offense, who at 90 points per game ranks in the top 5 in the country. Illinois’ best win comes against the Baylor Bears, an 8 point victory at home. Led by senior guard Rayvonte Rice’s 17.8 points per game, the Illini have been very difficult to defend. A 6-0 record is exactly where they should have been at this time when looking at their schedule prior to this season, but only time will tell whether or not this team, and specifically this offense, is for real.
Meanwhile, Miami (FL) comes into Tuesday’s tilt looking to improve to 8-0 on the season. The ‘Canes came firing out of the gate this season, with a huge upset against #8 Florida on the road in Gainesville. Jim Larranaga’s teams are always some of the best coached teams in the country, and this year’s Miami squad is no different. Led by both an above average offense and a stout defense, the ‘Canes should contend in every game on their schedule, and can be very difficult to beat at home, as we have seen before with the 2012 Shane Larkin led ‘Canes. Junior guard Sheldon McClellan is the player to watch for the Hurricanes, as he leads a balanced scoring attack with an average of nearly 17 points per game.
Is Illinois for real? We will find out in their first real test, on the road, against one of the nation’s best coaches in Jim Larranaga. While I do think Illinois’ offense is for real, I do not think that they will have the man-power to slow Miami, especially at home. I think a season-low point total is in the cards for the Illini, which will send the Champaign natives into a frenzy.
Miami 68 Illinois 61
Syracuse (5-1, RPI: 58) Vs. #17 Michigan (5-1, RPI: 93), 7:30 PM ET, ESPN
Jim Boeheim’s zone defense at Syracuse continues to cause problems for opponents year after year. Their top 10 defense allows just north of 51 points per game, and the Orange’s 9.5 steals per game ranks the team in the nation’s top 20. Although the Orange lost last year’s star point guard Tyler Ennis to the NBA, they still have senior forward Rakeem Christmas, who has looked like a brand new player on the offensive end of the floor as he is averaging nearly 18 points per game.
In a battle of two terrific head coaches, Michigan’s John Beilein cannot be seen as an afterthought. Year after year, the Wolverines have found a way to reload, and this season is no different. While Michigan’s lone blemish is a 5 point loss to #12 Villanova, the Wolverines have passed the eye test and have shown glimpses of consistency on the offensive end that suggests they can be a force to be reckoned with come March. Sophomore guard Zak Irvin and junior guard Caris LeVert both average over 17 points per game and their ability to shoot the deep ball will put more pressure than any other team the Orange have faced to date.
Home-court advantage will be vital in this Tuesday night showdown. Syracuse is nearly impossible to beat inside the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome, but are a beatable team when playing on the road. These two coaches will have their teams ready to play, but in a close contest such as this one, I like Michigan’s chances against the dome-less Orange.
Michigan 62 Syracuse 58
Pittsburgh (4-2, RPI: 128) Vs. Indiana (5-1, RPI: 202), 7:00 PM ET, ESPN2
The Pitt Panthers have been a difficult team to figure out in this young season. They blew out Kansas State 70-47, but lost by 4 to a Hawaii team whose RPI is currently stationed at 200 in the country, and got blown out by San Diego State in the Maui Invitational over Thanksgiving. It would be pretentious to label Pittsburgh as anything other than mediocre at this point, as they are outside the top 150 in the country in nearly every offensive category, are ranked 302nd in the country in rebounding, and simply cannot play adequate enough defense to blowout opponents not named Niagara and Samford. Sophomore forward Michael Young is worth tuning in for, as he is averaging nearly a double-double at 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. He is the player to watch for Pittsburgh, and has the ability to keep the game interesting on Tuesday night.
Indiana can flat out score. At nearly 89 points per game, the Hoosiers rank amongst the nation’s elite in offense. Although the Hoosiers had a very questionable 2-point loss last week against Eastern Washington, they should not be taken lightly by Pittsburgh. Indiana boasts one of the best backcourt duos in the country in the early going this season, led by junior guard Yogi Ferrell (18.2 points per game), and true freshman James Blackmon Jr. (20.8 points per game). Their defense is questionable, ranking outside of the nation’s top 250 in several categories, but if the offense is rolling, they are tough to stop.
Pittsburgh has difficulty playing defense. Lucky for them, Indiana’s defense is nothing to write home about either. The difference in this game will be the rebounding, where Indiana should dominate the glass, giving way for many opportunities at second chance points. I like Indiana in a close one.
Indiana 78 Pittsburgh 70
NC State (6-0, RPI: 20) Vs. Purdue (5-1, RPI: 127), 9:00 PM ET, ESPNU
Get this: Out of NC State’s six wins thus far, four of them have come against teams with an RPI of better than 100, while two of those wins, Boise State (31) and Richmond (46), have an RPI rating in the top 50. In other words, the Wolfpack are good, and they are beating some pretty good non-conference basketball teams early on this season. At nearly 77 points per game, the ‘Pack rank in the top 60 in the country in scoring, while the defense only allows about 59 points per game which places them in the top 65 nationally. Also, they rebound the heck out of the basketball, as their 31 rebounds per game is in sole possession of 3rd place in D-1 Basketball. Junior guard Trevor Lacey is the star player for the Wolfpack. He averages 17.3 points per game on nearly 50% shooting, while being a constant threat on the glass (6.5 rebounds per game) and at dishing the rock (3.7 assists per contest).
Purdue will try to add a second signature win to their non-conference schedule after an impressive overtime victory over BYU (RPI: 41). While Purdue’s early schedule has not been nearly as tough as NC State’s, Matt Painter’s squad can, and will hang tough. The Boilermakers average just over 81 points per game, with four out of their five starters averaging in double figures. Purdue’s leading scorer is freshman sensation Vince Edwards, who at forward is averaging nearly 13 points per contest. Purdue has modest defense that ranks in the top 125 in nearly every category, but it remains to be seen whether or not the Boilers will be able to slow down top offenses on a regular basis.
This has all the makings of a close game, where scoring will be at anything but a premium. Look for Purdue’s balanced attack to overcome NC State’s pressure defense in a tight contest.
Purdue 86 NC State 79
Minnesota (4-2, RPI: 120) Vs. Wake Forest (4-3, RPI: 134), 7:00 PM ET, ESPNU
In what may be the least exciting game on the docket, the Golden Gophers head down to Winston-Salem to take on the Demon Deacons of Wake Forest. Minnesota is coming off of a 4 point win against the Georgia Bulldogs and have an offense currently ranked 72nd in the country in points per game at 74.8, and more impressively hold the nation’s 12th highest per game assist total entering the game averaging 18 assists a night. While their defense ranks in the top third in most categories, the offense steals the show with a well-spread scoring attack led by senior guard Andre Hollins, who is averaging 12 points per game.
Meanwhile, Wake Forest is looking to avenge their 7-point home loss to Delaware State last Friday that was nothing short of an embarrassment. Although the Demon Deacons score a modest 73 points per game, their team field goal percentage sits at a meager 42%, placing them outside of the top 200 in the nation. There will be a good amount of scoring by Wake, led by juniors Devin Thomas and Codi Miller-McIntyre, but expect there to be a fair share of misses, leading to opportunities for Minnesota to get out in transition.
As Wake Forest takes the court on Tuesday night, it will be an evening of avenging their past poor performance at home. The task of guarding the perimeter shooters of Minnesota will be much more difficult than defending the scholarship squad at Delaware State. Golden Gophers guard Andre Hollins should be in for a huge night if Wake’s defensive debacle against Delaware State last week is any indication. The Demon Deacons are 5.5 point underdogs in this match-up, and I think that line is conservative. I like Minnesota BIG in this one.
Minnesota 75 Wake Forest 60
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