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The annual Acc/Big Ten Challenge features 14 games. The first two days and eight games left the two conferences at 4-4.
Duke – Michigan State 78-69
- Michigan State stayed in the game for the first 30 minutes, on the road, against Duke. Then the Blue Devils took a small margin and never looked back. Was that a good performance or a bad one for Michigan State? Tom Izzo is probably wondering the same thing, but he might have to see the positives in here, since the bookmakers had Duke as a 13-point favorite.
- Grayson Allen? Duke Kennard? None of them. Frank Jackson is the one who tipped the balance with a couple of penetrations that set the Cameron Indoor Stadium on fire, and the Spartans never recovered. Jackson has been Duke’s best player early on, and finished the game with 11 points, 4-4 from inside the arc, 1-2 from outside, 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
- Everything is easy, at least on paper. But this game showed the difference between these two teams. Duke had a 6-men rotation for the first time this season. Izzo had a 10-men rotation and 8 players with at least 14 minutes and it feels like he should have got more out of his players. Of note, Kennard finished without a single foul.
- Speaking of Kennard, Duke shot 26% on three-pointers, and Jones and Kennard went 1-of-13 combined from beyond the arc. That’s not likely to happen again.
- The best highlight of the game was a put-back slam by Miles Bridges, whose athleticism is already worth a spot in the Nba. But MSU still spends too much time initiating the offense, and never really gave Bridges the touches he needed. And that delay in giving him the ball also allowed Duke to push him out of his comfort zone, taking him mentally out of the game.
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Wisconsin – Syracuse 77-60
- Wisconsin scored the 54th point of its game at the 24 minutes mark. That’s about as many points as Syracuse gave up on a 40 minutes average in the previous 5 games. The fourth defense in the nation was blown out by Greg Gard‘s offense, who might have been a head coach for a season and a half, but he sure knows how to play a 2-3 zone, even when facing a coach that kept his seat for 41 years.
- Syracuse is the tallest team in Division I with a 6-4 (Frank Howard) and 6-5 (Andrew White III) starting duo of guards, both more than capable to cover their area of the zone. Why coach Boeheim asked the two lower wings to stay very high, turning the defense in a sort of 4-1, is a mystery. This strategy forced DaJuan Coleman to guard both Nigel Hayes in the high post and Ethan Happ in the low post. And it went as well as anyone might have expected. Syracuse was outrebounded 40-25.
- With 4 players playing on the perimeter, Syracuse was at least expected to defend the three-point line, and of course it did not happen. The Badgers finished 11-of-23 (47.8%) and even Bronson Koenig, who was allowed to shoot freely from distance given his 24.5% for the season, scored on 6 of his 9 attempts from behind the arc.
- There are plenty of different centers, more or less athletic, imposing, with good or bad fundamentals and so on. Ethan Happ is the kind of center that keeps moving and shows up wherever the defense is not expecting him to be, or at least that’s what happened for Syracuse. He finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds, third double-double in the last 4 games, and he is proving to be one of the best interior player in the nation.
- With a few seconds left in the game, Nigel Hayes missed the free throw that would have given him his first career triple double. He still finished with 9 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists, set the tone and the pace of the game, kept the ball in his hands when it really mattered, had a career high in assists and took on the most dangerous offensive players in the second half.
- Syracuse was down in double digits in the first half but managed to come back behind Andrew White III, who scored 14 points in the first half, and went to the locker room down 4. But the senior transfer from Nebraska was missing in action in the second half, with Hayes all over him. And Syracuse, with its best scorer now struggling, scored only 21 points in the second half.
And if it’s not clear yet, Hayes and Happ will explain it again.
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Florida State – Minnesota 75-67
- Florida State was always a tall team (second in the nation in average height): the shortest starting player is 6-4 Xavier Rathan-Mayes, while guard Dwayne Bacon is at 6-6. Coach Leonard Hamilton relies on a long rotation (only Bacon is averaging over 27 minutes, nobody else is over 25 minutes per game), to keep his players fresh and keep pressuring the opponent.
- Freshman Amir Coffey did not play much (and when he did, he played poorly), but coach Pitino seems to have a solid team and the transfers are doing very well, especially Akeem Springs.
- Freshman Jonathan Isaac is impressive and still very far from his ceiling. He seems to be always relaxed and under control, never forces the shot and, points and rebounds notwithstanding (14 and 13), his ability to read the passing lanes is striking. So far, he played like a lottery pick.
Northwestern – Wake Forest 65-58
- Power Forward John Collins was impressive in the loss for Wake Forest. Despite being fatigued in the second half, he finished with 12 points and 16 rebounds and showed his skills in the post.
- It was a balanced game, until PG Bryant McIntosh decided to break Brandon Childress‘ ankles. From that moment on, the Northwestern junior never stopped and finished with 23 points.
Pittsburgh – Maryland 73-59
- Jamel Artis and Michael Young are the kind of duo no team will ever want to play, not even the top ranked team. Artis is a 6-6 guard who can rebound and go coast-to-coast for a dunk (and a smile for the poster, if there’s anyone on his way). Young is a 6-7 forward who can play away from the basket when guarded by bigger players and can get smaller defender in the post. They combine for 64% of the team’s total points.
- Center Damonte Dodd finished with more fouls (5) than points (2). Much better (admittedly an easy task) Michal Cekovsky.
- Melo Trimble tried but couldn’t do anything. Anthony Cowan, the freshman who will likely be heir to Trimble, was even worse. The other freshman, 6-6 wing Kevin Huerter, went 2-of-9 from three. Bottom line, Pitt’s zone was getting a stop every single time, and Maryland’s offense was stuck to 27% from he perimeter.
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NC State – Illinois 74-88
- Dennis Smith was supposed to be unleashed after his good performance in the last few games, but the holes in his game are striking and almost painful to watch, plus, he always seems bored and never does the right thing. A couple of good baskets are not enough to cover his big mistakes, with the most obvious being a foul on a 30-feet heave with the shot clock expiring.
- Malcolm Hill went on to score the three free throws and pretty much sealed the game. It was a very good game for the Fighting Illini senior, but considering Smith’s awful game overall, NC State’s 19 turnovers and the team’s terrible defense, a loss would have been a real shame.
- Illinois also had 39 points from the bench, with Leron Black (15 points and 7 rebounds) doing very well.
- It was a good game for Ted Kapita, the freshman who came in with high expectations and is now getting used to the Wolfpack’s system. He is an athletic forward-center who lives in the paint and who showed some good skills in the post and an interesting hook shot. He slowed down in the second half, like the rest of the team, but he at least tried.
- Torin Dorn was again one of the best. He tried to carry his team and on numerous occasions his three-point shots almost made it possible, but he was lacking the support of his teammates to make it happen. His performances are the only positive from this first month of the season for the Wolfpack.
Penn State – Georgia Tech 67 – 60
- Penn State’s winning tradition against ACC teams lives on. Last night, it was the third consecutive win and the seventh in ten editions of the challenge for the Nittany Lions in non conference games. Shep Gardner led with 17 points and Mike Watkins helped with 12 points and 12 rebounds.
- Georgia Tech led in the first half thanks to Quinton Stephens, who scored 13 points in the first 20 minutes of action. He failed to show up in the second half, just like the rest of the team, and allowed a 14-3 run that pushed his team out of the game.
- Second chance points were critical in this game. Penn State had a tough time finding openings against Georgia Tech match-up zone defense. Penn State had a bad shooting night but fought hard enough to be the first on every loose ball and offensive rebounds and forced 17 turnovers. Shooting 41% from three was not enough for the Yellow Jackets.
Iowa – Notre Dame 78-92
- Bonzie Colson is the biggest surprise for Notre Dame this season. Zach Auguste departure left Colson free to roam the paint and, despite being undersized at 6-6 as a forward-center, he proved to be a rebounding magnet, finishing with 24 points and a career high 17 rebounds. And he is not afraid to talk some trash on the court: his “get in there, girl” shout during free throws will soon be a cult.
- When it matters most, though, Notre Dame is always relying on seniors Steve Vasturia and V.J. Beachem. The former matched his career high with 22 points and set a new career high with 9 rebounds. The second is the real difference maker for the Fighting Irish. With almost 6 minutes left in the game, and Notre Dame lead down to 6, he went on a personal 8-0 run that put the Fighting Irish up by 14.
- Peter Jok stepped inside the Edmund P. Joyce Center after torching Memphis for 42 points. It is more than likely that the Hawkeyes will be a one man show this season, and coach Brey obviously prepared the game with the idea of containing him. He did score 15 points, but most of his shots were contested and finished 4-of-20 from the field. Iowa had to rely on freshman Jordan Bohanon, who scored a career high 23 points.
- Never underestimate the importance of the free throw line, and certainly coach Brey does not. “The foul line is an unbelievable weapon for us”, he said after the game. Notre Dame finished 30-of-33 from the charity stripe, including a perfect 12-12 for Colson. The Fighting Irish are still unbeaten this season (7-0) and are now targeting the best season start in university history (8-0), set in 2010.