College Hoops Wednesday: Your Commentary
Two of the blue bloods in college basketball get together in Maui with the Maui Invitational title on the line as #6 Duke (6-0) takes on #14 Kansas (3-1), and there are a number of interesting players to keep an eye on. The player under the microscope nationally for the Blue Devils has been freshman guard Austin Rivers, with some failing to remember the lesson taught last season regarding the mistake of knee-jerk reactions to games in November (see: Barnes, Harrison). Rivers is averaging 19.0 points per game in Maui, and while his field goal percentage in wins over Tennessee and Michigan (41.3%) leaves something to be desired there's no mistaking his ability with the ball in his hands.
Rivers can not only get to the basket and finish but also knock down perimeter shots, and it isn't as if he's Duke's lone option on the perimeter either. Veterans Seth Curry (16.2 ppg, 3.2 apg) and Andre Dawkins (10.8 ppg, 44% 3PT) are both excellent shooters, with Curry shooting a staggering 58% from beyond the arc this season. While neither one may be as explosive as Rivers is off the bounce, both simply know how to find good looks at the basket. Curry's steadily grown into the role of the primary option when it comes to initiating Duke's offense, and he's only going to get better as this wasn't something he had to do with Nolan Smith around last year.
But if there's been a revelation for the Blue Devils it's been forward Ryan Kelly, who is averaging 14.2 points per game and has scored 17 points in each of Duke's two games in Maui. The eye-opening stat for the junior in Tuesday's 82-75 win over Michigan: 9-for-10 from the foul line. That's pretty impressive for a player many categorize as a "face-up" four with an affinity for pick-and-pop situations. And Duke can afford Kelly being in that role as the Plumlee brothers (Mason and Miles) are called on to handle the rebounding and interior dirty work. The challenge for the Duke big men tonight: neutralize Thomas Robinson.
Robinson (16.0 ppg, 11.3 rpg) isn't your typical "back to the basket" scorer, in that while Kansas may run some plays for him in that regard it's more about the motion when it comes to getting the junior looks. Robinson is a powerful finisher above the rim with a non-stop motor, and he can knock down shots out to 15 feet or so. Jeff Withey has played more minutes and had his moments, but the San Diego native has to stay out of foul trouble tonight. Kansas will look to the guards for a good chunk of their offensive production, and with Elijah Johnson coming off of a 21-point performance against UCLA the hope is that he'll build off of that. Travis Releford (9.0 ppg, 44% 3PT) will also have his opportunities to score but that will come within the flow of the action as opposed to plays run specifically for him.
Senior point guard Tyshawn Taylor runs the show, and if looking for a "most important" player in this matchup he could be the guy. When Taylor's under control the team is by extension, and when UCLA made their run in the second half it came as no surprise that their hot shooting was paired with Kansas' struggles in running their sets. Individually the Duke guards aren't exactly lock-down defenders, but their ability to ramp up the pace on that end of the floor can pose problems for lackadaisical point guards. If Taylor remains in control of the action Kansas will be that much better for it. The keys tonight: foul count (especially for the Kansas frontcourt) and three-point percentage defense. The team that holds the edge in those categories likely wins the game.
The NIT Season Tipoff semis are also on the slate with Oklahoma State/Stanford being followed by Virginia Tech taking on future conference partner Syracuse. The Orange arrived in the Big Apple with the Bernie Fine allegations swirling around the program, but on the floor head coach Jim Boeheim has stated that this could be his deepest team ever. Point guard Scoop Jardine runs the show and this group that can go ten deep without a drop in production averages 90 points per game.
Keep an eye on Brandon Triche, who can lose confidence in his shot if the first couple don't fall. He needs to remain engaged in the game regardless of his offense for the Orange to reach their ultimate goal this season. Dorenzo Hudson leads the Hokies offensively and they've got an outstanding freshman in Dorian Finney-Smith, but the health of point guard Erick Green is a critical development for Seth Greenberg's team.
The finals of the Cancun Challenge between Illinois and Illinois State should be interesting as well, at the very least to watch the further development of Illinois big man Meyers Leonard. Leonard was outstanding in their win over Richmond on Tuesday night. And if you like guard play, find a way to take in some of Saint Joseph's/Iona in New Rochelle. Carl Jones is a prolific scorer for the Hawks and teammate Langston Galloway can get it done as well, and senior Scott Machado paces an Iona team filled with scorers.
SIUE vs. Hampton 1:30 pm
Tennessee at Chaminade 2:30 pm
Webber International at Bethune-Cookman 3:00 pm
Lipscomb vs. Sacred Heart 4:00 pm
Sam Houston vs. Niagara 4:30 pm
Austin Peay vs. Detroit 5:00 pm
Saint Francis (Pa.) at Colgate 5:00 pm
(8)Memphis vs. Georgetown 5:00 pm (ESPN2)
Siena at Georgia Tech 7:00 pm (ESPNU)
Hartford at Holy Cross 7:00 pm
Saint Joseph's at Iona 7:00 pm
South Dakota St. at Mercer 7:00 pm
Rochester (MI) at Eastern Mich. 7:00 pm
VMI at (3)Ohio St. 7:00 pm (BTN)
Vermont at Old Dominion 7:00 pm
Gardner-Webb at Butler 7:00 pm
Reinhardt at Kennesaw St. 7:00 pm
Oklahoma St. vs. Stanford 7:00 pm (ESPN2)
Richmond vs. Rutgers 7:00 pm (CBSN)
Western Mich. at Purdue 7:00 pm
JW (NC) at North Carolina A&T 7:00 pm
IUPUI at Ball St. 7:00 pm
Milwaukee at Michigan St. 7:00 pm
Youngstown St. at Penn St. 7:00 pm
Wright St. at North Florida 7:00 pm
Ga. Southern at USF 7:00 pm (ESPN3)
Saint Mary's at Denver 7:00 pm
Radford at (2)Kentucky 7:00 pm (ESPN3)
Philadelphia Biblical at Delaware St. 7:30 pm
G. Washington at Bowling Green 7:30 pm
UCLA vs. (15)Michigan 7:30 pm (ESPN)
UT-Arlington at (9)Baylor 8:00 pm (ESPN3)
VCU at Western Kentucky 8:00 pm (FCS)
Campbell at Iowa 8:00 pm
Montana at North Dakota 8:00 pm
Evansville at UIC 8:00 pm
Morris College at N.C. Central 8:00 pm
Alabama A&M at (13)Alabama 8:00 pm
South Alabama at LSU 8:00 pm (ESPN3)
Eureka at Eastern Ill. 8:00 pm
Hannibal-LaGrange at SE Missouri St. 8:00 pm
Lewis & Clark State at Idaho 8:05 pm
San Diego St. at (23)Arizona 8:30 pm
Colorado at Air Force 9:00 pm (The Mtn.)
Oregon at Nebraska 9:00 pm (BTN)
Southern Virginia at Southern Utah 9:00 pm
Loyola-Marymount at Idaho St. 9:05 pm
Virginia Tech vs. (5)Syracuse 9:30 pm (ESPN2)
Illinois vs. Illinois St. 9:30 pm (CBSN)
(14)Kansas vs. (6)Duke 10:00 pm (ESPN)
Murray St. at Alaska-Anchorage 10:30 pm