Brandon Paul, Aaron Craft

No. 11 Illinois blows out No. 8 Ohio State at home


Brandon Paul led four players in double figures with 19 points as No. 11 Illinois beat up No. 8 Ohio State 74-55 in Champaign.

The Illini jumped all over Ohio State early, opening up a 25-13 lead in the first nine minutes and never looking back. At one point early in the second half, Illinois was up 56-31. This wasn’t just a win; Illinois thoroughly dominated in every aspect of the game. Calling the Buckeyes embarrassing would be an understatement.

Perhaps the most significant part of the win, however, is that the Illini were able to grow their lead without the benefit of the three-ball. Tracy Abrams hit a three on the second possession of the game, but it wasn’t until the Illini already had a double-digit lead that they hit their second three of the game. Instead, Illinois was able to put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim, both in the half court and in transition. Teams know that John Groce’s club likes to shoot threes, meaning that the defense isn’t going to be as likely to help off of the shooter. Taking advantage of those driving lanes will be key for Illinois this season.

And it should be noted that the Illini didn’t struggle from deep the entire game; they did hit seven of their last 16 after a 1-10 start.

As far as the Buckeyes are concerned, this performance should be very, very troubling.

Losing by 19 on the road is one thing. Losing as a top ten team that looks like they didn’t care about the fact that they were getting embarrassed on national television is a much bigger issue. Which is why this tweet from Mark Titus, a former walk-on with the Buckeyes, caught my eye:

Isn’t that supposed to be Aaron Craft’s job? Isn’t he the one that’s on the floor for his defense and his leadership? Isn’t that one of the biggest reasons that he’s considered by most to be one of the nation’s elite point guards?

Now I’m mostly spitballing here, but I am curious to see how people feel: If Craft isn’t going to be the kind of vocal and emotional leader that can get this group to snap out of a funk on the road, should Thad Matta start playing Shannon Scott more minutes as the primary ball-handler?

Calling Craft a liability offensively is unfair, but it is fair to say that the Buckeyes are going to have problems when he is the second-best scorer on the floor. Craft is a guy you want to be a facilitator and an opportunity scorer, not a guy that should be hunting shots.

Ohio State does not have a ton of offensive firepower outside Deshaun Thomas. Scott is a much more dynamic offensive player than Craft, and while few are as good as Craft is defensively, Scott is not that much of a drop-off.

Leave your thoughts in the comments.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Louisville backcourt struggles in first scrimmage

Quentin Snider, Jerian Grant
Associated Press
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While a few teams did manage to hold special events for the official start of practice this weekend, most simply went about their business with drills and conditioning. One team that was the exception to all of this was Louisville, which held the first of its two intersquad scrimmages on Saturday. The Cardinals had a head start of sorts on the season, as they played six exhibition games in Puerto Rico this summer.

One hope heading into Saturday’s scrimmage was that guards Trey Lewis and Quentin Snider would have better chemistry than they did in Puerto Rico. But according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, that remains a work in progress for the Cleveland State transfer (Lewis) and rising sophomore (Snider).

They struggled in Puerto Rico, and they struggled again in Saturday’s Red-White scrimmage, the first public intrasquad practice since August. They played one half of the game together, paired with the presumed starting lineup with Mangok Mathiang out with an eye injury, a group that also included Damion Lee, Jaylen Johnson and Chinanu Onuaku.

That team lost the first half by 13 points to a younger group of Louisville players, and Lewis and Snider combined for eight points on 3-of-12 shooting, five turnovers, five steals, four assists and three rebounds.

“I thought (Snider) and (Lewis) did not play well together,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “They’ve got to get used to that. Neither guy made other guys better. That’s what they need to learn to do.”

As Greer also noted in his story the Cardinals have in recent years employed backcourt tandems in which both guards are capable of making plays for themselves and others. On the 2013 national champion team Peyton Siva and Russ Smith led the way, with Smith being joined by Terry Rozier or Chris Jones the following season and Rozier/Jones being the grouping last season before the latter was dismissed from the team.

Once Jones was dismissed Snider saw more time on the court, and his development was one of the keys for a Louisville team that fell one win short of the Final Four. Louisville needs him to take another step forward heading into the 2015-16 season, because even with Lewis’ experience at the Division I level Snider has more experience playing in Pitino’s system.

But while Saturday’s scrimmage didn’t go as well as anyone involved hoped, there’s still plenty of time for Louisville to work out the kinks before they open the season November 13 against Samford.

Knee injury sidelines Memphis assistant

Toronto Raptors vs Charlotte Hornets
Associated Press
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With practices beginning this weekend, not only are players looking to avoid the injury bug but their coaches are as well. And in the case of Memphis, the Tigers won’t have one of their assistants on the court for a little while due to a knee injury.

Assistant coach Damon Stoudamire, who returned to Josh Pastner’s staff this summer after a two-year stint at Arizona, suffered the injury during a recent workout according to L. Jason Smith of the Memphis Commercial-Appeal. And Stoudamire will require surgery, which will put him on the shelf for a little bit.

“He was working out himself and I think he thought he was in his rookie year,” Pastner said. “We think he’s got a torn meniscus, which will require surgery and put him out for a couple of days.”

Stoudamire isn’t the only assistant coach working through pain either. Syracuse’s Mike Hopkins, who is also Jim Boeheim’s heir apparent as head coach, suffered a neck injury body surfing during a family vacation last month. Hopkins spent some time in a neck brace while putting players through workouts as a result of the injury.

As for the Tigers, they’ll have a mixture of experience on the perimeter and youth in the front court as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out last season. Among the newcomers are talented forwards Dedric and K.J. Lawson, with experienced guards such as Kedren Johnson, Trahson Burrell and Ricky Tarrant (grad transfer from Alabama) expected to be key contributors on the perimeter.