College Hoops Wednesday: Your Commentary

November 30th, 2011
The final night of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge will also boast a matchup of Top 10 teams as #7 Wisconsin (6-0) takes on #5 North Carolina (5-1) in Chapel Hill. Roy Williams' Tar Heels are coming off of a disappointing second half in Las Vegas on Saturday as they fell decisively to UNLV. With a trip to Kentucky next on the schedule it might be a good thing for North Carolina that the in-between game isn't one of the standard "avoid the letdown" variety, so they should be ready to go. But in Bo Ryan's Badgers the Heels will encounter a team unlike any they've played to this point in the season, in both talent and tempo.

Senior point guard Jordan Taylor (11.0 ppg, 5.8 apg, 5.0 rpg) is asked to do more scoring than counterpart Kendall Marshall (10.8 apg, 4.8 ppg), and that's another piece of evidence for the argument that there won't be another point guard matchup of this caliber all season long. Marshall is one of the best distributors in the game and while some may point at the many options at his disposal as the reason why, it takes a smart floor general to not only get guys the ball but make sure they get it in the best position to be successful. Taylor also has a very good assist-to-turnover ratio, and his ability to keep the tempo under control is another skill some point guards tend to struggle with.

Two other key components in the Wisconsin backcourt are Josh Gasser (10.2 ppg, 71.4% 3PT) and Ben Brust (12.8 ppg, 3.7 rpg), with the latter leading the Badgers in scoring despite coming off the bench. Brust was outstanding in Wisconsin's win over BYU on Saturday night, scoring 22 points in a game the Badgers won going away in the second half. Gasser is Wisconsin's best perimeter shooter, and as a team the Badgers score an astonishing 47% of their points from beyond the arc. North Carolina has been solid in defending the three as their opponents have shot 32% to date, but they will need to be solid in their defensive principles against Wisconsin in this area.

UNC sophomore wing Harrison Barnes (17.3 ppg, 4.8 rpg) is a go after spraining his right ankle in Saturday's loss to UNLV, and he'll represent a significant challenge for the Wisconsin defense. Ryan Evans will likely draw this assignment, and their job will be to turn Barnes into a player who needs more dribbles to get his shots. Barnes is an impressive offensive player when it comes to catch and shoot or jump shots off of one dribble; essentially situations where he isn't seriously challenged in scoring. But Barnes also averages 2.7 turnovers to just one assist per game, and this is something that Wisconsin will need to exploit in order to win.

The play inside will also be a focus, with the Tar Heels boasting a pair of likely first round NBA draft picks in Tyler Zeller (13.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and John Henson (15.8 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 3.0 bpg). The two were relatively kept in check by UNLV, and they will definitely be challenged from a physical standpoint by the Badgers. Mike Bruesewitz (7.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 2.0 apg) gives up a few inches but he's a tough glue-guy who can do the little things that winning teams need done, and Jared Berggren (12.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg) is their best interior scorer. In the swing offense big men also have the opportunity to make plays on the perimeter, and Berggren is shooting 38% from beyond the arc on the season.

North Carolina is the deeper team, but in order to take full advantage of players such as Dexter Strickland (starter), P.J. Hairston, Reggie Bullock and James Michael McAdoo they have to control the tempo. On the season UNC averages 76.7 possessions per game, a far cry from the 59.5 that the Badgers average. A faster pace would also minimize the amount of time that Marshall is forced to buckle down and defend Taylor, but it could be in North Carolina's interest regardless of tempo to go with Strickland on Taylor.

Out west there are a pair of games involving ranked teams to keep an eye on, with UNLV visiting UCSB and San Diego State hosting Creighton. The Runnin' Rebels will get to show how they deal with prosperity on the road against a dangerous team that went to the Big Dance last season and returns one of the most prolific scoring tandems in the country in Orlando Johnson and James Nunnally. So much is made of how teams respond to adversity, but maturity can be shown in how they deal with being told how great they are as well. Does UNLV come out of the gates hungry? If not their stay in the rankings could be a short one. 

As for the matchup between the Bluejays and Aztecs, this MVC/MWC challenge is an event that the Valley needs some redemption in after taking a serious beating on the chin last season. Greg McDermott's got one of the better frontcourts around led by sophomore Doug McDermott, and the perimeter play isn't bad either thanks to the likes of Antoine Young. But can they keep the energetic Aztecs off the offensive glass? That will be a big question to be answered, and the outcome will most likely hinge on it. 

Pittsburgh and Duquesne meet at the Consol Energy Center in what should be an entertaining city battle, Drexel (the one Philadelphia school not in the Big 5) visits Saint Joseph's and it would not be a surprise if the Dragons were to win. But Bruiser Flint's team needs to become more consistent, something that's easier said than done without the services of Chris Fouch. Preseason Patriot League favorite Bucknell visits George Mason in another solid matchup, Florida State takes on Michigan State in East Lansing and Notre Dame visits Gonzaga in their first big game without Tim Abromaitis. 

Top 25 Games
9:30 PM (7) Wisconsin at (5) North Carolina (ESPN)
8:00 PM Florida Atlantic at (14) Kansas (ESPN3)
7:00 PM (17) Pittsburgh vs. Duquesne* (CBSSN)
11:15 PM Notre Dame at (18) Gonzaga (ESPN2)
10:00 PM (20) UNLV at UC Santa Barbara
10:30 PM (22) Creighton at San Diego State (The Mtn.)

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Delaware vs. Boston University*
7:00 PM Towson at Massachusetts
7:00 PM Dartmouth at New Hampshire
7:00 PM Lafayette at Princeton
7:00 PM Ohio at Marshall
7:00 PM NJIT at Army
7:00 PM Buffalo at Dayton
7:00 PM Furman at Elon
7:00 PM Bucknell at George Mason
7:00 PM Northeastern at La Salle
7:00 PM Navy at Maryland-Eastern Shore
7:00 PM Elizabeth City at Norfolk State
7:00 PM Drexel at Saint Joseph's
7:00 PM UNC Wilmington at Toledo
7:00 PM Hope at Western Michigan
7:15 PM Penn State at Boston College (ESPNU)
7:15 PM Indiana at North Carolina State (ESPN2)
7:30 PM Florida State at Michigan State (ESPN)
7:30 PM Rhode Island at Brown
7:30 PM USF at VCU (ESPN3)
7:30 PM Richmond at William & Mary
8:00 PM Mississippi Valley State at Arkansas
8:00 PM Colorado at Colorado State (The Mtn.)
8:00 PM Northern Iowa at Iowa State (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Jamestown at North Dakota
8:00 PM Tulsa at Oklahoma State
8:00 PM Alcorn State at Texas A&M
8:00 PM Maine at Eastern Illinois
8:00 PM Louisiana Tech at Southeastern Louisiana
8:00 PM Robert Morris (IL) at SIU-Edwardsville
8:00 PM Wiley at Stephen F. Austin
8:00 PM Lamar at TCU
8:00 PM Central Arkansas at Tennessee-Martin
8:00 PM Southern University at Tulane
8:05 PM UAB at South Alabama
8:05 PM Missouri State at Oral Roberts
8:05 PM Rice at Houston Baptist
8:05 PM Chicago State at Illinois State
8:30 PM Grambling State at Washington State
9:00 PM Drake at Boise State
9:00 PM Idaho State at New Mexico
9:00 PM BYU at Northern Arizona
9:00 PM Utah Valley at Wyoming
9:05 PM Denver at Utah State (ESPN3)
9:15 PM Virginia Tech at Minnesota (ESPN2)
9:15 PM Wake Forest at Nebraska (ESPNU)
10:00 PM Sacramento State at Cal Poly
10:00 PM UTSA at San Jose State
10:00 PM USC at UC Riverside
10:00 PM Academy of Art at Fresno State
10:05 PM Cal State Bakersfield at Cal State Northridge
11:05 PM Eastern Washington at Idaho