We learned something about No. 2 UCLA on Saturday: The Bruins don’t have to play well to win games.
Facing off with Ohio State in the opener of the CBS Sports Classic out in Las Vegas, the Bruins committed 12 first half turnovers and had one of their poorest shooting performances – they went just 10-for-30 from three – and the Bruins still managed to beat Ohio State, 86-73.
The outcome never felt like it was in doubt, either.
The Buckeyes hung around. They spent the entire second half within striking distance, as Marc Loving kept hitting shots and JaQuan Lyle kept making plays, but there was never truly a point where it seemed as if the Bruins were truly in danger of losing control of this one. Whenever the Buckeyes would make a push to cut the lead to six or seven, the Bruins would find an open three or get a couple of buckets in transition. It was like playing your little brother one-on-one: You know that you can coast a little bit, but every time he scores a couple of baskets in a row, it’s time to remind him that he is, yanno, the little brother.
And on the one hand, that’s a concern.
This was anything-but UCLA’s best. There were more defensive lapses than we’ve become accustomed to with this group. They let Ohio State muck things up for them offensively. They didn’t hit as many open threes as we’re used to seeing them hit. They were really sloppy in the first half. It happens, and the Bruins were able to turn it on when they needed to in order to pull away, but that’s not something they’re going to want to make a habit out of, particularly once we get into league play.
But the other side of it is that the Bruins were able to coast to a 13-point win over Ohio State in a game where they put forth somewhere around a C+ performance. As the saying goes, great teams win games when they play poorly, and that’s exactly what UCLA did on Saturday.
Aaron Holiday, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton combined for 57 points. Lonzo Ball nearly notched a triple-double – eight points, nine boards, nine assists – while fellow freshman T.J. Leaf added 13 points and eight boards.
The system is the star at Virginia. It’s the pack-line defense that Tony Bennett’s program employs that really gets the headlines by snuffing out opponents’ offenses.
Bennett, though, has some players, and London Perrantes took a big step Wednesday night in establishing himself as one of the most important of them.
The senior point guard was nothing short of spectacular in the second half – especially in the clutch – as No. 6 Virginia held off Ohio State, 63-61, in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
Perrantes is no stranger to the dedicated college hoops fan – he was a preseason first-team all-ACC selection – but was just an honorable mention all-ACC player last year after leading the league in 3-point shooting and helming a team that won 29 games as Malcolm Brogdon carried much of the offensive load. He’s not particularly flashy and he’s certainly not finding his way to many highlight packages, but, damn, is the kid good.
Especially when it matters most.
After going 1 of 5 from the floor in the first half, Perrantes connected on five of the seven shots he took, including all three of his 3-pointers, to score 15 in the second half and finish with 19 against the Buckeyes. That’s the totality of his impact, but when measured in its moments, his value is even more stark.
Ohio State scored four quick points just after the midway point of the second half to push its lead back to eight after Virginia had briefly taken the lead, having overcome a 16-point deficit, when Perrantes drilled his first 3-pointer of the half. Minutes later, his second 3-pointer halved the Buckeyes’ lead from six to three.
His final 3-pointer was the most important. After Virginia grabbed an offensive rebound, Perrantes launched a shot from distance with just under 4 minutes to play. Pure, to tie the game at 55.
As the stakes got higher, Perrantes’ jumper kept delivering, finding its mark with no care paid to the rising pressure.
Perrantes’ cool was also tested at the free-throw line, where coming into the night he had attempted just four shots on the season. With under 90 seconds to play, the senior strode to the stripe with his team up a pair. Swish. Swish. Lead doubled.
He got it done on the defensive end, as well, especially, you guess it, late. With just over 3 minutes remaining and the score tied, Perrantes played the passing lane, shrinking an already small window, and helped force an Ohio State turnover.
Virginia’s defense suffocated the Buckeyes in the second half, but Perrantes breathed life into the Cavaliers’ offense that was otherwise straining to maintain a pulse at times throughout the game.
With Brogdon and Anthony Gill graduated and Austin Nichols gone, Virginia, even with its system intact and running smoothly, is going to need guys to make plays. The Cavaliers need toughness and leadership. Grit and fearlessness.
London Perrantes showed emphatically Wednesday he’s the man for the job.
ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Previews, picks and what to watch for
No. 3 North Carolina at No. 13 Indiana, Weds. 9:15 p.m.
Easily the biggest game of the event, the streaking Tar Heels will make their way to Bloomington to face-off with an Indiana team that has been knocked back after a perfect start to the season. The Hoosiers not only lost to Fort Wayne on the road last week, but they may have lost James Blackmon Jr., the hero in the win over Kansas, to a knee injury. Tom Crean said the injury isn’t serious, but for a team that lacks weapons in the half court, not having Blackmon against the Tar Heels would be a major blow.
Because North Carolina is playing as well as anyone in college basketball right now. Joel Berry II looks like an all-american, the trio of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley are averaging 39.0 points and 22.4 boards and the Tar Heels are hitting 39.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. Playing in Bloomington will be by far their biggest test of the season. The Hoosiers are lethal when their threes are going down, and when Assembly Hall is packed to the gills, those threes tend to go down.
Prediction: It sounds like Blackmon has a good chance of playing, so I’ll go with Indiana (+4.5) at home.
Michigan State at No. 5 Duke, Tues. 9:30 p.m.
Michigan State has been playing better of late, but this is still a dreadfully young team missing key players and at the end of a long, long three weeks. they’ve been to Hawai’i, New York and the Bahamas already this season, and they will be heading back out to Durham for this one at some point on Monday.
Miles Bridges is playing much better after the trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis than he did against Kentucky at the Garden and Duke, frankly, does not have anyone that can guard him. That said, I think the Blue Devils will be too much, even with Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Harry Giles III out and Grayson Allen limited.
Prediction: Duke (-11.5) coasts, but keep an eye on the status of Grayson Allen’s toe.
No. 22 Syracuse at No. 17 Wisconsin, Tues. 7:30 p.m.
Two teams trending in the wrong direction. Let’s start with Syracuse, who couldn’t find a way to run offense against South Carolina’s half court pressure. It was not a promising performance from the Orange, who mustered all of 50 points as the issues with their point guard play – Franklin Howard and John Gillon – rose to the surface.
On the other hands, the Badgers are still trying to figure out how they are going to be able to turn Nigel Hayes back into an efficient basketball player. A year after getting criticized for settling for too many threes, Hayes is shooting more three per game at a worse clip than he did last season, just 29.0 percent. Someone’s streak has to snap on Tuesday.
Prediction: I think Syracuse wins so of course I’ll take the Orange (+7.5).
No. 15 Purdue at No. 14 Louisville, Weds. 7:15 p.m.
This is a matchup of two very different teams. The Boilermakers want to pound the ball inside, to take advantage of the fact that they have Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan and you don’t. Louisville? They press, they try to force turnovers, they want to speed the game up and take advantage of the talent and athleticism on their perimeter.
There are two keys to this game. 1. Can Louisville’s bigs stay out of foul trouble? The sheer size of Haas and Swanigan got Georgia State into foul trouble and cost them a win in Mackey Arena, and it nearly cost Villanova their win at Purdue. 2. Will Louisville make perimeter shots? Deng Adel and Quentin Snider are shooting under 30 percent from the floor this season. Donovan Mitchell is under 40 percent. That’s not good.
Prediction: I’m on Louisville (-5.5) as I think Louisville’s guards overwhel Purdue’s back court and nullify the advantage the Boilermakers have inside.
Ohio State at No. 6 Virginia, Weds. 7:15 p.m.
Virginia is giving up an average of 41.3 points per game through six games. Their opponents are shooting 31.7 percent from the floor and averaging just 0.708 points-per-possession, which is an insane number. The question here is: Can Ohio State break 50 points on the evening?
Prediction: I’m going to say take the under (119.5) here. Virginia is a 12-point favorite, meaning the predicted final score is 66-54. The Wahoos haven’t given up more than 52 points this season and are allowing an average of just 41.3 points. Iowa, who put up 92 on Memphis and 78 on Notre Dame, scored 41 points against Virginia. Ohio State, however, has also been pretty good defensively on the season, and the only proven scored Virginia has on their roster is London Perrantes, who isn’t really a scorer. And all that is before you consider Virginia is the slowest team in the country and Ohio State is 185th in pace. If you’re only into betting lines, I’d say take Ohio State (+12).
Virginia Tech at Michigan, Weds. 9:15 p.m.
This is a win the Hokies badly need after they blew a 16-point second half lead to Texas A&M, missing out on their chance to take a swing at UCLA in the Wooden Legacy title game. Buzz Williams has a good team in Blacksburg, one that will improve their NCAA tournament candidacy with a win at Michigan. The Wolverines looked good at the 2K Classic in New York two weeks ago, but took a beating on the road against South Carolina over the weekend.
Prediction: I like Virginia Tech (+5), mainly because I’m not convinced Michigan isn’t overrated and I love the Hokies this season.
Monday, Nov. 28
Minnesota at Florida State, 7:00 p.m.: This is going to be a nice gauge game for both of these teams. The Seminoles should, in theory, be able to take care of Minnesota at home, but Richard Pitino’s team is sitting at 6-0 on the year with a 14-point win over Arkansas.
Wake Forest at Northwestern, 9:00 p.m.: Is this the year that Northwestern makes the tournament? It looked like it in their 19-point win over Texas. Not so much against Butler and Notre Dame. Wake Forest is 5-1 on the year with a couple of decent mid-major wins.
Tuesday, Nov. 29
Pittsburgh at Maryland, 7:00 p.m.: Maryland is 7-0 on the season, but five of those seven wins have come by single digits, including late comebacks against Georgetown and Kansas State. What happens when the Terps face off with a good Pitt team?
Georgia Tech at Penn State, 7:00 p.m.: Penn State has struggled early on this season while Georgia Tech is … still Georgia Tech under Josh Pastner.
Iowa at Notre Dame, 9:00 p.m.: Iowa scored 41 points against Virginia and lost. They got 42 points from Peter Jok the next night … and lost to Memphis. The Irish, coming off of a
win in the Legends Classic, have looked good this year.
N.C. State at Illinois, 9:00 p.m.: Dennis Smith Jr. has been phenomenal of late, but his team is still missing Maverick Rowan (concussion) and Omer Yurtseven (suspension). This is a win they should be able to get.
Wednesday, Nov. 30
Rutgers at Miami (Fla.), 7:15 p.m.: Don’t look now but Rutgers is undefeated. This will be their stiffest test of the season to date.
Nebraska at Clemson, 9:15 p.m.: I’m still unsure of what to make of either of these teams. Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame is a first round pick.
An Ohio State starter is on schedule to return on time for his junior year after injuries cut his sophomore campaign short.
Jae’Sean Tate, who started 28 games for the Buckeyes last season, has been fully cleared to practice this month after undergoing multiple surgeries, according to Cleveland.com.
“When we get back he’ll be 100 percent full contact,” Ohio State coach Thad Matta said. “He can shoot and run and do all those things now.
“He’s kind of been like living in a cage and has been released, and he’s ready to run a marathon.”
Tate’s season came to an abrupt end in February when he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. He was averaging 11.7 points and 6.4 rebounds while shooting 52.1 percent at the time. In addition to shoulder surgery, Tate also underwent a surgical procedure on his ankle stemming from an injury he suffered prior to his sophomore year.
His return to the floor is critical for the Buckeyes as they look to rebound from last year’s NIT season which featured the defections via transfer of four members of the program’s highly-regarded 2015 recruiting class. Even with those losses, the Buckeyes have their top six scorers from last season back while welcoming a four-man recruiting class that includes four-star forward Derek Funderburk.
Ohio State’s vaunted 2015 recruiting class made it through one season in Columbus before leaving campus, but it wasn’t in the Kentucky one-and-one sort of way.
A.J. Harris, a freshman guard, was granted his release to transfer, the university announced Tuesday, making him the fourth player in Thad Matta’s top-five 2015 class to depart the program.
Shooting guard Austin Grandstaff left during the season while center Daniel Giddens and wing Mickey Mitchell announced their intentions to transfer this week. That leaves just JaQuan Lyle as the only player left standing, though he was also the only one of the class to receive major playing time last season.
Grandstaff, Giddens, Mitchell and Harris were all bit players for the Buckeyes, who saw a seven-year NCAA tournament streak come to an end this season with a second-round NIT exit. While none of the trio provided much in the way of instant production this season for Matta, they were important building blocks for the future that decided one year in Columbus was enough. Seeing three-quarters of a highly regarded class transfer away after one year has to be extremely frustrating.
Matta’s 2016 class isn’t nearly as strong, but Derek Funderburk is a top-100 player as a 6-foot-9 center, who should help bridge the gap in 2016-17 with the core of the Buckeyes’ roster returning.