What? Here again already?
Ohio State hosts Virginia Tech tonight in Columbus. And so begins this year's ACC-Big Ten Challenge--an artificial early-season contrivance that moves pundits to lay out arbitrary and mutually contradictory measuring sticks. This particular artificial contrivance, however, also happens to be a genuinely compelling competitive spectacle. (As of this year ESPN has expanded it to 11 games--because we watch.) Thus my preferred metaphor: here truly is the Iowa Caucuses of Hoops.And, oh, how the Big Ten has suffered in this thing. Thank goodness Illinois absolutely obliterated then-No. 1 Wake Forest last year. Otherwise onlookers may have been inclined to notice that the Big Ten was, um, 2-7 in the Challenge overall.Indeed, fate seems to frown on the Big Ten where this event is concerned. Case in point: when the ACC grabbed a geographically inappropriate new member to improve their football (BONUS note of breathtaking obviousness: the only reason conferences ever expand is to improve their football), they got Boston College, currently ranked in the top ten in both major hoops polls. When the Big Ten grabbed a geographically inappropriate new member to improve their football, they got Penn State. O, hoops gods. Why dost thou mock Wonk so? (At least BC's not playing in the Challenge this year, there being 12 ACC teams and 11 games.)Stats you will hear quite often this weekThe ACC has won the Challenge all six years (by a 5-4 margin three times) and is 34-19 overall. Duke is the only team from either conference that is undefeated in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.As for this year, the ACC looks less formidable than in recent seasons--Marvin Williams, Chris Paul, Raymond Felton, Julius Hodge, Sean May, Jarrett Jack, and Rashad McCants are all gone, courtesy of the first round of the NBA draft. True, a respectable four ACC teams are in the AP top 25 but--only because Maryland and Wake Forest are currently nos. 23 and 24, respectively. And maybe that accounts for why the games just don't look as interesting this year. Duke vs. Indiana ranks as the one truly enticing match up.Speaking of match ups, here they are, accompanied by the barest minimum of information on each of the ACC contestants. Numbers for offensive and defensive efficiency are from the 2005 ACC regular season, i.e., conference games only. (As for the Big Ten teams, simply follow the handy links provided to see my preseason walk-arounds.)TonightVirginia Tech at Ohio State (ESPN2, 7:30 ET)
The Hokies are 5-1, having lost by one point to Bowling Green on November 12. They return four starters from last year's 16-14 NIT team.Virginia Tech 2005 offense: 0.95 points per possession (PPP)Virginia Tech 2005 defense: 1.04 opp. PPPTomorrowWisconsin at Wake Forest (ESPN, 7 ET)Chris Paul is gone but Justin Gray and Eric Williams are back for the 24th-ranked Demon Deacons. Skip Prosser's team comes in at 5-1 having lost to Florida by five in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.Wake Forest 2005 offense: 1.20 PPP
Wake Forest 2005 defense: 1.04 opp. PPPPurdue at Florida State (ESPN2, 7:30 ET)The Seminoles are 2-1 after losing by eight at Florida on Friday. Four returning starters from last year's 12-19 team are joined by highly-touted freshman Uche Echefu.Florida State 2005 offense: 0.95 PPPFlorida State 2005 defense: 1.05 opp. PPPClemson at Penn State (ESPNU, 8 ET)With lopsided wins over Bethune Cookman, Coppin State, South Carolina State, and Charleston Southern, the Tigers are undefeated. Last year they were a 16-16 NIT team.Clemson 2005 offense: 0.93 PPPClemson 2005 defense: 1.02 opp. PPPIllinois at North Carolina (ESPN, 9 ET)You know the story: everyone's gone for the Heels (so pay no heed to the 2005 numbers below). They beat Gardner-Webb by three before enjoying much more comfortable wins over Cleveland State and UC-Santa Barbara.North Carolina 2005 offense: 1.12 PPPNorth Carolina 2005 defense: 0.90 opp. PPPMiami at Michigan (ESPN2, 9:30 ET)The Hurricanes lost by four to Air Force and by 17 at Temple. Four starters are back from last season's 16-13 NIT team.Miami 2005 offense: 1.00 PPPMiami 2005 defense: 1.06 opp. PPPWednesdayGeorgia Tech at Michigan State (ESPN, 7 ET)Friday night while no one was watching, the Yellow Jackets lost by 18 to Illinois-Chicago. At home. Translation: they're young--all five starters are gone from last year.Georgia Tech 2005 offense: 0.98 PPPGeorgia Tech 2005 defense: 0.99 opp. PPPMinnesota at Maryland (ESPN2, 7:30 ET)The Terps are ranked 23rd and their only loss came by 12 to Gonzaga in the opening round of the Maui Invitational. A core of veterans returns from last year's 19-13 NIT team (that beat Duke twice--and yet lost to Clemson three times).Maryland 2005 offense: 0.99 PPPMaryland 2005 defense: 1.03 opp. PPPNorthwestern at Virginia (ESPNU, 8 ET)Egad! A rematch of last year's horrific 48-44 scrum won by the Cavaliers. (I've already noted the remarkable aspect of said scrum: it featured two of the very worst defenses in major-conference basketball--yet there were only 92 total points scored.) More recently, the Cavs lost by 30 at Arizona yesterday.Virginia 2005 offense: 0.96Virginia 2005 defense: 1.11 opp. PPPDuke at Indiana (ESPN, 9 ET)It's the Duke recipe: take a couple All-Americans (Shelden Williams, J.J. Redick), add a solid supporting player (Sean Dockery), mix in some prodigiously talented youth (Josh McRoberts, Greg Paulus), and, voila, you have your number 1 ranking.Duke 2005 offense: 1.09 PPPDuke 2005 defense: 0.97 opp. PPPNC State at Iowa (ESPN2, 9:30 ET)The Wolfpack lost Julius Hodge but return a host of familiar characters (Ilian Evtimov, Engin Atsur, Tony Bethel, and Cameron Bennerman). They're coming off a 13-point win Saturday over Notre Dame in Indianapolis.NC State 2005 offense: 1.08 PPPNC State 2005 defense: 1.06 opp. PPPBONUS ACC-Big Ten previews!Get 'em while they're hot! From Gregg Doyel at cbs.sportsline (link) and Herb Gould of the Chicago Sun-Times (link).
In today's (and this weekend's) less Wonk-ish venues.... Your intrepid blogger was interviewed over the long holiday weekend by the indefatigable Scott Long at the always read-worthy Juice Blog. (No, he didn't trick me into bad-mouthing Donovan McNabb.) Read it here.In non-me news, the Indianapolis Star reports this morning that Indianapolis shooting guard Eric Gordon will announce his intention to attend Illinois this week. Gordon is ranked as the number 5 high school junior in the nation by rivals.com.Oh, and there's been some hoops played since this blog's last post. So there's some catching up to be done this morning....WednesdayMichigan State beat Arizona 74-71 in overtime in the consolation game of the Maui Invitational in Lahaina, Hawaii. After seeing a 14-point lead turn into a two-point deficit late in the second half, the Spartans came back to force the overtime and then hit their free throws in the extra session to win by three. State shot extremely well from the floor and rebounded fully half of their (few) misses--so how in the world was this game this close? Turnovers: the Spartans had 27 of them, including eight from (the no doubt fatigued) Maurice Ager alone. On the other hand, Ager also led MSU with 20 points. Meanwhile, Travis Walton continues to post Netizelesque assist numbers, dishing five in just 18 minutes. (Box score.)Penn State beat Nicholls State 93-56 in State College. Freshman Jamelle Cornley led the Nittany Lions with 17 points in only 19 minutes, while David Jackson recorded eight assists for PSU. BONUS pro bono lobbying! Nittany Lion freshman Milos Bogetic recorded 13 boards in only 24 minutes. The frenetic Serbian board meister now has two career games under his belt and I've lauded the young man's rebounding abilities after each. Give him some PT, Coach! Don't tell me what he can't do (and I'm sure it's a lengthy list)--he's got a 25.8 rebound pct. Play him! (Box score.)FridayIllinois beat Wichita State 55-54 in the semifinals of the South Padre Island Invitational in South Padre Island, TX. Warren Carter hit a layup off an inbounds play under the basket in the closing seconds to give the Illini their margin of victory. For a moment, Wichita State appeared to have won the game when Karon Bradley hit a half-court shot off the glass as the final horn sounded. The officials waved off the basket, however, and replays confirmed Bradley still had the ball in his hands when time expired. Illinois' shooting was atrocious--fortunately that of the Shockers was even worse. James Augustine led the Illini with 14 points and 10 boards. (Box score.)SaturdayXavier beat Purdue 74-55 in the John Wooden Tradition at Indianapolis. A foul-blighted Carl Landry was held to just five points and the Musketeers outscored the Boilers 32-13 late to put this one away. Bright spot: freshman shooting guard Chris Lutz was 3-of-4 on his threes. (Box score.)DePaul beat Northwestern 59-49 in Rosemont, IL. Vedran Vukusic led the Wildcats with 22 points. Kentucky transfer Bernard Cote made his first start for NU but played only six minutes. The Wildcats attempted 31 threes and made only nine. (Box score.)Illinois beat Rutgers 77-57 in the title game of the South Padre Invitational in South Padre Island, TX. James Augustine was named the tournament MVP and led the Illini with 18 points and seven boards. Brian Randle added 16 points for Illinois. (Box score.)Iowa beat Texas-San Antonio 79-46 in Iowa City. Adam Haluska (15 points), Greg Brunner (14), Jeff Horner (13), and Alex Thompson (11) scored in double figures for the Hawkeyes. (Box score.)Indiana beat Western Illinois 102-79 in Macomb, Illinois. The Hoosiers hit 16-of-26 threes. A.J. Ratliff, recovering from a broken thumb, dressed but did not play. Mike Davis said he hopes to play Ratliff Wednesday night against Duke. (Box score.) BONUS writes-itself Macomb joke! When your intrepid blogger was but a wee little Wonk, he used to watch the "The Bozo Show" on WGN. One day the kid picked for the Grand Prize Game by the tips of the magic arrows was from Macomb. The following exchange took place between Bozo and Cookie. Bozo: "You know where Macomb is, don't you?" Cookie: "Sure, right next to ma' brush." It says something damning about me that I can't remember my next-door neighbor's first name but I remember this particular pun 25 years after the fact.Wisconsin beat Coastal Carolina 92-54 in Madison. Kammron Taylor scored 20 points thanks in part to 7-of-7 shooting from the line. Brian Butch added 17 points and nine boards. (Box score.)Michigan beat Butler 78-74 in Ann Arbor in front of a reportedly sparse Thanksgiving break crowd. The Wolverines rallied from an eight-point second half deficit and Daniel Horton (28 points) sank six straight free throws in the last minute for the win. (Box score.)Minnesota beat UT-Chattanooga 67-46 in Minneapolis. I caught parts of this game and, as the score would indicate, the Mocs had no offensive game whatsoever--kudos to the stout Gopher D. Adam Boone had line-o'-the-night-worthy numbers: 20 points, 10 boards, and five assists. (Box score.) In other Gopher news: redshirt freshman big man Jonathan Williams has lost weight and says he's ready to contribute.Penn State beat LIU-Brooklyn 80-64 in State College. My mini-boomlet for frenetic Serbian board meister Milos Bogetic hit a bit of a snag, as the freshman went boardless in 11 minutes. (Box score.)SundayMichigan State beat IPFW by the surprisingly non-lopsided score of 84-73 in East Lansing. The Spartans trailed for much of the first half. IPFW is coached by former Indiana Hoosier Dane Fife. Paul Davis had 30 points and 14 boards in 27 minutes. (Box score.) Matt Trannon dressed but did not play. He may make his season debut against Georgia Tech Wednesday night.Wonk back! Don't just mutter ineffectually; email me!In response to Wonk's mini boomlet for frenetic Serbian board meister Milos BogeticHey, Wonk,I got to see my first Penn State game today at the nearly-empty Bryce Jordan Center (box score says attendance was almost 5500--I can assure you that's an overstatement by an order of magnitude or so.)But, while it's no surprise they managed to dominate LIU in every category but fouls (what a dirty nasty fouling team LIU is), I was actually pleasantly surprised at how well they played as a team. There were about 10 baskets made with blind passes and misdirection confused the defense and after a rough first 10 minutes, they managed to start making baskets at a startling percentage. Startling for Penn State, at least.The one player that didn't impress me at all was Milos Bogetic (supposedly pronounced "Bogetish," if the arena announcer was correct). He was slow, not very physical, and didn't really go after the ball at all. His size might get him some rebounds against weaker teams, but he's not going to be much of a factor in conference games if he doesn't act more like a basketball player and less like a tourist.Cheers,Ben S.Thanks, Ben!