A viewer’s guide to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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The ACC/Big Ten Challenge kicks off their 13th installment this evening, but for the first time in its history, every team from both conferences will be participating.

The Big Ten added their 12th member in Nebraska during the summer, which means that instead of having one of the ACC teams forced to watch from the sideline, we will have a full round-robin. It also means that, for the first time in Challenge history, there is the chance that it could end up in a tie.

That would be bad news for the Big Ten. They’ve won the last two challenges, although they may find it difficult to win a third.

Seeing as you aren’t a full-fledged hoops junkie like yours truly, I figured that I would give you a full-fledged breakdown of which games to tune in for, and which games to avoid.

You are welcome.

ONLY MISS THESE GAMES TO ATTEND THE BIRTH OF YOUR FIRST CHILD

No. 1 — Tuesday, 9:30 pm: No. 3 Duke at No. 2 Ohio State: Its easy to write off Duke as overrated. Its easy to say that this team is no different than any other Duke team — a group of soft jumpshooters and overrated big men. And while that very well be true, keep in mind that Duke has performed very well against one of the tougher schedules in the country. Only two teams on their schedule don’t look like tournament teams: Tennessee, who is better than they are actually being given credit for, and Presbyterian, who went into Cincinnati and knocked off the Bearcats.

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Ohio State has been impressive as well, as they have proven to be deeper than in the past. The Buckeyes are going 10 or 11 deep right now, and while that rotation will likely get cut down by the time conference play comes around, its a good sign early in the season that Thad Matta feels that comfortable with that many different players. Will Buford has blossomed into one of the best scorers in the country, while Aaron Craft has proven to be an even better defender and playmaker.

The key to this game is going to be whether or not Duke’s big men — the Plumlees, Ryan Kelly — are able to prevent Sullinger from establishing position. While they did a good job defensively on Thomas Robinson — he had just 16 points on 6-15 shooting — they allowed him to get 15 boards. Sullinger is a bit of a different post player in that he’s much better at establishing position that Robinson is. Keep Sully off the glass and limit his post touches, and Duke has a good chance at winning this.

No. 2 — Wednesday 9:30 pm: No. 9 Wisconsin at No. 5 North Carolina
UNC is coming into the game off of their first loss of the season. The Tar Heels went into Orleans Arena out in Vegas and lost to UNLV. The Rebels played well, but UNC not only shot themselves in the foot on a number of different occasions, they also had their weaknesses exposed for the entire country to see.

The Tar Heels struggle defensively — particularly their point guard, Kendell Marshall — allow too many open looks from the perimeter as the result of penetration. That’s precisely what Wisconsin does. When they are playing their best, the ball is in Jordan Taylor’s hands and he is making decisions. They also put him in a lot of pick-and-roll situations. Wisconsin has quite a few shooters in their lineup — headlined by leading scorer Ben Brust and big man Jared Berggren — which means that Marshall’s ability to keep Taylor out of the paint (until Roy Williams makes the inevitable decision to put Dexter Strickland on Taylor) will be the difference in this game.

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The other problem for the Heels is that Wisconsin loves to control the tempo. The Badgers play at a slowed down pace and execute very well offensively. By taking the air out of the ball, they force UNC to play in the half court. We all saw on Saturday night just how much the Heels struggle when they aren’t able to get out and run the floor. If the Badgers can execute offensively and score, negating the fast break, Wisconsin has a chance to win.

YOU CAN MISS THESE FOR A HOT DATE

No. 3 — Wednesday 7:30 pm: Florida State at Michigan State
This is going to be a tough matchup for Michigan State. They are struggling to execute offensively, meaning that their strength right now is the ability to over power opponents in the paint. Florida State is the best defensive team in the country and has the biggest front line in the country. That’s tough. The good news? Florida State struggles to score even more than the Spartans.

No. 4 — Tuesday 9 pm: Virginia at No. 14 Michigan
The Cavs were predicted by many to be a sleeper in the ACC, but they made that prediction look a bit silly when they lost to TCU earlier this year. Mike Scott is back to his double-double ways, but unless UVA solves some of their three-point shooting and play-making issues, they are going to have some issues against the zone that Michigan plays.

You can play bridge with your Grandmother, just make sure you have the game on in the back ground:

No. 5 — Wednesday 7:15 pm: N.C. State at Indiana
This looks like it may be the best Indiana team that we’ve seen since Kelvin Sampson, but with their only real competition of the year coming against a young and rebuilding Butler team, its difficult to know exactly what the Hoosiers are dealing with. NC State is rebuilding as well, but this team has some talent. CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown both have shown flashes of the star potential that had people picking the Wolfpack as high as fourth in the ACC heading into last season.

No. 6 — Wednesday 9:15 pm: Virginia Tech at Minnesota
This game held much more intrigue on Sunday afternoon, prior to Trevor Mbakwe tearing the acl in his right knee. But the Gophers still have some talent on that team, with a young back court to play alongside Rodney Williams and Ralph Sampson. Virginia Tech, however, looks like they are a much better team than expected coming into the season. Jarell Eddie, Dorenzo Hudson and Erick Green provide a solid perimeter punch while Victor Davila has become a tough, physical presence in the paint over the course of his career.

No. 7 — Tuesday, 9 pm: Miami at Purdue
Purdue has had a solid start to the season but there are still question marks on their roster. Miami, on the other hand, was thought to be a contender in the ACC before Reggie Johnson hurt his knee. Without their big fella, the Hurricanes lost to Ole Miss in overtime over the weekend. The Boilermakers struggled against the back court of Iona, what are they going to do against Miami’s Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant?

No. 8 — Tuesady 7:30 pm: Illinois at Maryland
How good are the Illini? Are they the team that’s 7-0, or the one that nearly blew an 18 point halftime lead against Richmond before barely hanging on to knock off Illinois State. The good news, thus far, is that Meyers Leonard and DJ Richardson both have been playing like stars. Maryland, on the other hand, is playing without Pe’Shon Howard and Alex Len, and while Terrell Stoglin has looked like an all-american at times, he’s still inconsistent.

AT LEAST FOLLOW ALONG ON GAMECAST

No. 9 — Tuesday, 7:15 pm: Georgia Tech at Northwestern
Can Northwestern finally make the push into the NCAA Tournament? It was last season’s impressive victory over the Yellow Jackets that got people talking about the Wildcat’s chances.

No. 10 — Wednesday, 9:15 pm: Wake Forest at Nebraska
Wake Forest and Nebraska look like they are headed for better-than-expected seasons. The Demon Deacons have a legitimate star in Travis McKie and have been playing much better since the defections. Nebraska, however, plays tough defense and finally has a big-time scorer in Bo Spencer.

You know what? Go ahead. Get some sleep. I won’t even be mad:

No. 11 — Tuesday 9:15 pm: Clemson at Iowa
Clemson lost to Coastal Carolina and College of Charleston. Iowa lost to Campbell by 16.

No. 12 — Wednesday, 7:15 pm: Boston College at Penn State
Yuck.

Related story:

Big Ten’s bound to make it three in a row

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Kansas and Kansas State end rivalry game in fight

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Kansas and Kansas State erupted into a fight on Tuesday night.

The Jayhawks were closing out an 81-60 Big 12 home win over their in-state rivals. Things got heated when the buzzer sounded.

Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa threw a punch and picked up a chair during the chaos. It’s difficult to pinpoint specific things from there. Police, security and team personnel stepped in to clear up the melee.

It’s one of the uglier incidents in recent memory for the heated Kansas state rivalry.

We’re definitely going to see suspensions out of this Kansas and Kansas State fight. It will depend on what the Big 12 is able to see during its investigation. The conference will try to track down as much evidence as possible to see how this started and who instigated things further.

After the game, both coaches talked about the brawl and how things played out in their eyes.

Kansas and Kansas State have some recent history during this rivalry. Bill Self and Kansas forward Jamari Traylor had a difficult time with a court storm after Kansas State won on its home floor five years ago. But that was more of a student-related incident instead of the two teams starting a fight.

No. 3 Kansas improves to 15-3 overall and 5-1 in the Big 12 with the win. Christian Braun paced the Jayhawks with 20 points. Devon Dotson added 18 points while Udoka Azubuike had a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds.

A clearly-frustrated Kansas State dropped to 8-10 and 1-5 in the Big 12 as the rebuilding season continues.

These two teams will meet again in the Octagon of Doom on Feb. 29. The fight in the first matchup will be something to monitor as Kansas could still be fighting for a Big 12 title or No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

It’s been a wild night in college basketball. Illinois’ Alan Griffin stepped on Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic and was ejected. This is yet another bad incident that doesn’t involve basketball.

Illinois’ Alan Griffin ejected for stepping on Purdue player

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Referees ejected Illinois’ Alan Griffin for stepping on Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic on Tuesday night. The Boilermakers were hosting No. 24 Illinois in a heated Big Ten clash. The ejection happened midway through the first half when Griffin intentionally stepped on Stefanovic.

Griffin turned to run back on defense and clearly stepped on Stefanovic while he was on the ground. Attacking the basket and not getting a call, Stefanovic was on the ground when Griffin stepped on his chest.

Before the ejection, Griffin was scoreless.

A 6-foot-5 sophomore, Griffin is a key reserve during Illinois’ resurgent season. Playing 17.9 minutes per game, Griffin is an adequate three-pointer shooter and good rebounder from the wing.

Potentially facing a suspension for his actions, Griffin’s potential absence is something to monitor.

Following an important Big Ten road win for No. 24 Illinois, head coach Brad Underwood spoke out against Griffin’s actions.

 

Walter McCarty dismissed as Evansville head coach

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Walter McCarty was fired as Evansville’s head coach on Tuesday night.

The school officially announced the decision after additional reports of alleged misconduct. On administrative leave since Dec. 26, McCarty was under investigation for Title IX violations.

Bennie Seltzer will remain interim head coach.

“While the investigation of potential Title IX violations will continue under University policies, UE has decided that, based on the facts uncovered thus far, it is necessary to terminate Mr. McCarty’s employment immediately,” the release said.

“There is no place at UE for any behavior by any University employee or student that jeopardizes the safety and security of others,”

The statement also said McCarty received “warnings last year regarding inappropriate off-court behavior with members of the campus community.”

The 45-year-old McCarty was in his second season with the Purple Aces. After an 11-21 finish in the first season, Evansville had a promising 9-4 start. Evansville made national news when the beat No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena earlier this season.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Powell vs. Pritchard vs. Howard vs. Toppin

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At this point, I do feel like we have reached a point where there is finally a top tier in the College Basketball Player of the Year race.

Myles Powell. Payton Pritchard. Markus Howard. Obi Toppin. That’s the order that I have it in, but there is a strong and legitimate argument for all four to be No. 1 on this list. I wouldn’t call any of them wrong.

This doesn’t mean that the players from outside those ranks cannot win the award — it is so wide open this year, anyone with a couple of big weeks will be in the mix — but as of this moment in time, those are the likely favorites.

Anyway, here is the definitive Player of the Year power rankings:

1. MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

Stats: 22.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 34.9 3PT%

Powell had his best week of the season last week, averaging 29.0 points — including 21.0 points in the second half — as he led the Pirates to a pair of come-from-behind wins at Butler and at Saint John’s. It took Powell a while to get to this point, as he dealt with an ankle injury and a concussion, but there is no questioning the fact that he is the leader and the go-to guy for a Seton Hall team that is currently sitting at No. 10 in the AP poll and in sole possession of first place in the Big East.

And here’s the ironic part in all of this: It took a Powell injury for Seton Hall to really find themselves as a team. They made their leap on Dec. 19th, when the Pirates beat Maryland at home without Powell in the lineup. That’s when the supporting cast found their confidence. That’s when Seton Hall became a team, not just a bunch of guys playing next to Myles Powell.

2. PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon

Stats: 19.5 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.4 rpg, 41.2 3PT%

No one in college basketball has had more, or bigger, moments this season. He scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half and overtime, including 15 in the final five minutes, in a win at Michigan. He had 16 points and six assists in a come-from-behind win against Seton Hall in the Battle 4 Atlantis. He hit a number of big shots late as Oregon knocked off Memphis in November, the only game against a quality opponent that James Wiseman played. Then there was Saturday’s game at Washington, when Pritchard hit a 30-footer to tie the game and force overtime then made a pair of big shots in the extra frame, including this ridiculous game-winner:

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Payton Pritchard called game!!!!!!

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He has carried the Ducks this season. He’s the reason this team is a top ten team.

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

Stats: 28.2 ppg, 2.9 apg, 43.1% 3PT, 9.8 3PAs

The numbers themselves are ridiculous.

Howard is leading the nation in scoring at 28.2 points. He’s shooting better than 43 percent from three on nearly 10 threes attempted per game. He’s doing it while posting a significantly higher offensive rating than Myles Powell and a significantly higher usage rate than Payton Pritchard.

To put his season into context, there is one other high-major player since 1992 that has made better than 42 percent of his threes while shooting more than nine threes per game: J.J. Redick during his college basketball Player of the Year season in 2005-06. Stephen Curry did the same during the 2007-08 season, when he led Davidson to within one shot of the Final Four.

Markus Howard has been the most lethal offensive weapon in college basketball, and if Marquette was a title contender this season, he’s easily be No. 1 on this list.

4. OBI TOPPIN, Dayton

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 35.3% 3PT

What Obi Toppin provides for Dayton cannot be overstated. He’s putting up massive numbers this season, and he’s doing it while being the piece that makes everything Anthony Grant wants to run work so well. The breakdown below explains it all:

The thing that’s tough about placing Toppin on this list is that he is not the go-to guy for Dayton. Jalen Crutcher is going to be the player that takes and makes all of the big shots. See: Kansas, when he forced overtime, and Saint Louis, when he won the game in overtime.

But the reason Dayton is in a position to do things like take Kansas to overtime, get ranked in the top ten and have a shot at winning a national title is because of what Toppin opens up for them every possession other than the final one.

He may not have the moments we all remember, but Dayton is as good as they because of him. That matters.

5. LUKA GARZA, Iowa

Stats: 22.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg

Garza has been relentless this season, and he is absolutely one of the most improved players in the country. The reason that he’s just outside the top four, for me, is because of the defensive side of the ball. I talk through that more in this piece.

6. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

Stats: 18.1 ppg, 6.1 apg, 2.4 rpg

Winston has been really, really good this year. He has not been quite as good as expected — he was the consensus preseason college basketball player of the year — and neither has Michigan State, which hurts him a bit. I think he’ll be back in the mix by the time the season ends, particularly if the Spartans play their way back into being one of the nation’s elite teams.

7. JARED BUTLER, Baylor

Stats: 16.1 ppg, 3.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 38.1% 3PT

It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that the sophomore point guard is the best player on the best team in college basketball. That’s worth something in the Player of the Year race.

8. JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 42.7% 3PT

On the plus side, Louisville once again looks like a team that can win the ACC, get to a Final Four and win a national title now that David Johnson has taken the point guard reins, and Nwora is unquestionably the best player on the roster. On the down side, he really hasn’t shown up in Louisville’s biggest games. That’s a delicate balance.

9. VERNON CAREY, Duke

Stats: 17.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg

Carey looked like a much bigger player in this race before Duke lost two games last week in large part due to the ability to Miami and Louisville to expose Carey on the defensive end of the floor. Coach K has fixed issues like this before. We’ll see what he has up his sleeve this year.

10. MALACHI FLYNN, San Diego State

Stats: 16.5 ppg, 5.0 apg, 3.6 rpg, 40.4% 3PT

Malachi Flynn is the best player, the leader, of the only team in college basketball that remains undefeated. And the reason they are still undefeated is because of him: It was his three that allowed the Aztecs to avoid defeat at the hands of San Jose State back in December.

Three Things To Know: Shaka’s seat heats up, Baylor survives, Virginia doesn’t

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It was a slow night for college hoops on Monday, but there is still plenty to talk about after some weird results.

Here are the three things you need to know:

1. SHAKA’S SEAT IS HEATING UP

The Shaka Smart era at Texas feels like it has hit an inflection point.

On Monday night, the Longhorns went into Morgantown, W.V., and found themselves wishing Country Roads would take them home before the first half came to a close. No. 14 West Virginia, coming off of blowout loss at Kansas State on Saturday, used a 28-2 run over a 10 minute stretch in the first half to turn a 15-13 lead into a 43-15 blowout. They would go on to win 97-59.

The loss dropped Texas to 12-6 on the season and 2-4 in the Big 12. The Longhorns certainly are not out of it just yet — three of their four Big 12 losses came against teams that currently rank in the top six at KenPom — but it’s getting harder and harder to defend the situation that’s brewing in Austin. Texas has now lost four of their last six and five of their last eight. They are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight season and for the third time in four years.

But perhaps the biggest concern is that the Longhorns just don’t seem to be growing as a program. Last year, while Texas ended up missing the tournament, they finished as a top 25 team on KenPom and made a run all the way to the NIT title. It’s worth noting that before the tournament started, they were already a top 30 team on KenPom; their ranking wasn’t skewed by getting hot for three weeks in a tournament no one cares about.

The problem this season is that there has been no progression. Texas has been a program under Shaka that has hung their hat on defense, but this is the worst defensive team he has had in his tenure. That becomes even more of an issue when you factor in that they cannot score. They’re 111th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is what happens when your offense is, essentially, a spread ball-screen into a contested three.

KenPom has Texas favored to win just three more games the rest of the season. They’re projected to finish 17-14 overall and 7-11 in the Big 12.

That’s not good.

2. NO. 1 BAYLOR SURVIVES

It looked like Baylor was going to cruise to a pretty easy win at home against Oklahoma, but the Sooners had other ideas. They hung around long enough in the second half to make things interesting late. Oklahoma hit back-to-back threes in a 40 second span to cut a 59-51 lead to 59-57 with 41 seconds left, and after Baylor couldn’t find a way to score on their next possession, Austin Reaves cut off a 3-on-1 break to flare to the corner and fire up a wide-open, go-ahead three with less than five seconds left.

He missed.

Baylor won.

And No. 1 lived to fight another day.

3. VIRGINIA LOSES AGAIN

The reigning national champions lost for the fourth time in their last five games on Monday night, this time falling at home against N.C. State, 53-51.

Like Oklahoma, Virginia had a shot to win the game at the buzzer, as N.C. State fouled up three and then missed free throws of their own at the other end. But Virginia is the 346th-best three-point shooting team in the country for a reason, and Casey Morsell missed the game-winner as time expired.

At this point, it’s getting harder to see how Virginia is going to find a way to play their way into the NCAA tournament.