Marcus Smart

Four ‘Big Monday’ appearances apiece for Kansas, Oklahoma State

Leave a comment

Another piece of the puzzle that is the 2013-14 college basketball schedule was added to the board Wednesday, as ESPN announced its lineup of games for “Big Monday,” which begins on January 13.

The schedule will require some adjusting from college basketball fans, with many of us used to seeing the Big East occupying the 7:00 p.m. EST time slot. The conference still exists of course, but with their television deal being with Fox the days of seeing Georgetown and Villanova (just to name two programs) in that slot are done for the time being.

Into the Big East’s spot slides the ACC, which added Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse on July 1 (and will add Louisville next July 1). We’ll get one “throwback” matchup on the schedule, as Syracuse hosts Notre Dame on February 3. The Big 12 remains in the later time slot, with Kansas and Oklahoma State making four appearances apiece this coming winter.

The full schedule can be seen at the link provided above; here are five contests on the slate that you should not miss:

1. Baylor at Kansas (January 20)

This will be a revealing road test for Baylor, which has the talent needed to contend for the Big 12 crown. The question for Scott Drew’s Bears: how will they go about accounting for the graduation of Pierre Jackson? JUCO transfer Kenny Chery is the player many have pegged as the replacement, but moving forward post-Jackson will require contributions from Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin Jr. (just to name two) as well. As for Kansas, their young big men will be tested by Baylor’s Isaiah Austin and Cory Jefferson, with sophomore Perry Ellis expected to be a leader in the paint for the Jayhawks.

2. Duke at Pittsburgh (January 27) 

Granted Pittsburgh lost a lot of production from last year’s NCAA tournament squad. But the chance to watch one of the early favorites to win the ACC playing in front of the “Oakland Zoo” won’t lack for entertainment. With Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee all having graduated Duke will have questions to answer from a leadership standpoint, but if point guard Quinn Cook is ready to take the reins the Blue Devils will be a national title contender.

3. Kansas at Iowa State (January 13) 

The nightcap of the opening Monday of this schedule matches teams who played two classics last season. The meeting in Lawrence featured a Ben McLemore three to force overtime, with Elijah Johnson’s heroics (and, in the eyes of Cyclone fans, sketchy officiating) being the difference in the rematch in Ames. Both teams have added quality talent (this will be Andrew Wiggins’ “Big Monday” debut), and given what happened last season look for Hilton Coliseum to be buzzing.

4. Oklahoma State at Baylor (February 17) 

Who’s the biggest threat to dethrone Kansas? The second meeting of the season between the Cowboys and Bears will most likely provide the answer to that question. Marcus Smart enters the season as the nation’s best point guard, and by mid-February he could very well be looking to polish up a resume for both Big 12 and national Player of the Year honors. Baylor won last season’s meeting in Waco by ten, but lost the other two contest by a combined four points.

5. Syracuse at Maryland (February 24) 

The Orange have arrived and the Terrapins are on their way out, as they move to the Big Ten in 2014. The biggest keys for Mark Turgeon’s team this season are the point guard position and how they go about accounting for the departure of Alex Len. If Seth Allen and Roddy Peters are up to the task at the point, this will be an opportunity for the Terps to improve their NCAA tournament seeding. If not, this may be the kind of home game a bubble team needs in order to simply get into the Big Dance. Syracuse returns multiple contributors from last year’s Final Four team, but like Maryland they’ll be counting on a youngster (Tyler Ennis) to run the show.

What jumps out when looking at the “Big Monday” schedule? Besides Kansas and Oklahoma State making four appearances each, there’s the fact that Virginia (like North Carolina) will make three appearances. Tony Bennett’s Cavaliers will be good, and frankly it’ll be good for more people to become familiar with All-ACC wing Joe Harris.

And there’s also two league match-ups that did not make the schedule: Kansas/Oklahoma State (neither meeting) and Duke/Syracuse (which they’re considering reconfiguring the Carrier Dome for). I wonder if those two high-quality games are being held back for something else.

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Leave a comment

Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Leave a comment

Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.