Hear ye, hear ye! Court is back in session, and the verdict is in on the ACC-Big 10 Challenge. After three evenings of deliberation, the ruling is in favor of the Atlantic Coast Conference by a 7-2 margin over the Big 10. How did this come about? I'm glad you asked.
Key Stat: 3-point shooting—Purdue 9 for 16, Clemson 1 for 12
Key Quote: Purdue Coach Gene Keady said, "I'm just not for being told who to play. We'll play anybody anyplace, but I just don't want to be told to do it."
Hey Coach Combover, lighten up. Your guys won and, combined with the way you beat Duke up in Alaska (I guess he really will play anybody anywhere), your team is clearly on the rise. The Boilermakers could be one of the better-balanced teams in the nation with their enormous front line and the three-point shooting of Kenneth Lowe and David Teague.
Clemson got pushed around inside and did not shoot well from the perimeter, but still managed to avoid getting blown out. This scenario will probably play out fairly often for the Tigers as them move through the ACC schedule.
Duke 72, Michigan State 50 at Michigan State
Key Stat: Michigan State committed 17 turnovers in the first half.
Key Quote: Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo said, "This was a disgusting display of basketball…I don't think I have ever been more disappointed in the team's performance in the nine years that I have been a coach here"
Yes, Tom, a lot of people were disappointed in your team's performance. The first ten minutes, which was played to a 10-10 tie, were painful to watch, particularly since it was two highly ranked teams on the floor. The Spartans were seldom able to put the ball on the floor without a Duke player getting their hands on it.
Look out, ACC, the Blue Devils have an inside game. Shelden Williams was dominant at times, blocking five shots and making 7 of 8 field goals. He got some help from Shavlik Randolph, who contributed 11 points and 7 rebounds in his first start of the season. Duke's perimeter game is still not clicking, but when your defense (16 steals) is giving you transition layups and you have a reliable low-post scorer, you can still win games, even if they are ugly.
Key Stat: Maryland point guard John Gilchrist had 9 assists and only one turnover
Key Quote: Maryland Coach Gary Williams, "My guys competitiveness in wanting to win this game really showed me something…we really had to suck it up to win the thing."
Wisconsin came into this game averaging less than nine turnovers per game, but the Terps forced that many in the first half. Devin Harris put his team in position to win the game by knocking down 5 of 7 three-pointers in the second half, but the Badgers had no answer for Maryland's Jamar Smith inside.
This was an important game for the young Terps' to win and build their confidence. Coach Williams went with a small lineup late in the game that featured Smith at center, Nik Caner-Medley at forward, and John Gilchrist, Chris McCray, and D. J. Strawberry at guard. These are probably the five best players Maryland can put on the court at this time. Smith's ability to rebound and score inside against bigger players has been a pleasant surprise.
Florida State 71, Northwestern 53 at Florida State
Key Stat: Florida State's Anthony Richardson scored 25 points in the second half, exceeding his career high for a game.
Key Quote: Seminole Coach Leonard Hamilton on Richardson, "He had a confidence about him. He wanted to go out and do what he had to do to help us win. That's what you like to see growing in your team."
Northwestern's style of play has a way of lulling a team to sleep, and they did just that on their way to a 31-26 lead. It doesn't work as well when they stop making their shots, however. The Wildcats shot 57 percent in the first half but only made 35 percent in the second. They also continued to turn the ball over, totaling 18 for the game, and it was off to the races for the Seminoles after halftime.
Coach Hamilton had to be pleased with the way Richardson took over the game after scoring only two points in the first half. Tim Pickett also had 21 points for Florida State. Hamilton has to be disappointed with the play of Michael Joiner, who missed the only shot he took in 21 minutes. Joiner will need to provide some point production to hold on to his spot in the starting lineup.
Georgia Tech 73, Ohio State 53 at Ohio State
Key Stat: Ohio State made only 32.7 percent of its shots
Key Quote: Georgia Tech's Isma'il Muhammad on the dunk that stopped the Buckeye's momentum in the second half, "Coach Hewitt said anytime I can get a big dunk, go for it because it really deflates the other team."
Ohio State looked like they were deflated before the game started. Buckeye coach Jim O'Brien said "we look like a team that has not been coached a day."
Ohio State's frontcourt played decently, but their backcourt of Brandon Fuss-Cheatham and Tony Stockman were badly outclassed. They shot a combined 1 for 14, 0 of 9 from three-point range. An early 13-0 Yellow Jacket run quickly put this game away.
Tech continues to get balanced production from its backcourt. B. J. Elder, Marvin Lewis and Jarrett Jack all scored 14-18 points. Coach Paul Hewitt still isn't getting much out of his big men, but his guards are physically overwhelming their opponents. At 6-0, the Yellow Jackets are off to their best start in nine years, and they could be 13-0 before they open their ACC schedule Jan. 11 at North Carolina.
North Carolina 88, Illinois 81 at Greensboro
Key Stat: Illinois' star guard Dee Brown made only 3 of 17 shots
Key Quote: North Carolina coach Roy Williams, "I kept pleading with our guys that they had gas left in their tank."
The Big 10 is known for its physical style of play, but Illinois attempted 10 less free throws and eight more three-pointers than its ACC opponent. The Illini dug themselves into a hole by turning the ball over 14 times in the first half, but came back in the second half behind Roger Powell (20 points, 8 for 10 shooting). When Powell went to the bench with foul trouble, however, the Tar Heels again opened up a lead and closed the game out by making their free throws.
All of Carolina's starters played at least 31 minutes. Sean May had a career game with 23 points and 14 rebounds and Jawad Williams continued his stellar play with 18 points, 12 rebounds and no turnovers. The Heels need David Noel back from injury and in their rotation soon so Williams' team will have something left in its tank in February and March.
Michigan 68, NC State 61 at Michigan
Key Stat: NC State committed 19 turnovers.
Key Quote: NC State Coach Herb Sendek, "The inability to take care of the basketball was our undoing."
Michigan is a bigger, more physical team than the Wolfpack, and it showed in the Wolverines' edge in rebounds (39-30) and free throws attempted (29-13). Their pressure defense exposed State's weakness of not having an experienced pure point guard. Michigan ran out to a quick 7-0 lead, and then fell behind 18-9. They turned up the defensive pressure at that point and never let the Wolfpack settle into any kind of offensive flow.
With the type of offense the Wolfpack runs, they MUST do two things; hold onto the ball and make their perimeter shots. The 19 turnovers and 7 for 27 three-point shooting indicate they did neither. Julius Hodge had his usual strong all-around game with 25 points (10 of 16 shooting), eight rebounds and five assists. He also led the team with six turnovers, however, and did not get much help from his teammates other than Scooter Sherrill (14 points). This was not a particularly damaging loss for Sendek's team, but the way they played has to be troubling.
Wake Forest 100, Indiana 67 at Wake Forest
Key Stat: Turnovers—Indiana 22, Wake Forest 8
Key Quote: Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul, "It was so much fun. I couldn't believe it was happening."
Indiana was taken out to the woodshed and given an old fashioned whipping from the opening tip in this game. The Demon Deacons methodically built their lead up to 22 points at halftime, largely on the strength of a 26-7 advantage in points off turnovers. The Hoosiers did not look like a very well-coached team. I'm not a big Mike Davis fan, and I doubt he won many people over with his team's performance in this game. As usual, Bracey Wright had a lot of points (27 for the game) but he was the only scoring threat for Indiana. A bright spot was the play of Pat Ewing Jr., who showed some resemblance to his father on the defensive end with nine rebounds, three blocked shots, and two steals.
This may have been a coming our party for two key Deacon players, Paul and center Eric Williams. Paul created havoc on both ends of the court, totaling five steals to go along with 20 points and eight assists. His quickness and speed were on a different level from anyone else on the court. Williams dominated on the low-post, scoring a career-high 25 points. Right now, Wake Forest is playing the best basketball in the ACC.
Key Stat: Turnovers—Minnesota 18, Virginia 9
Key Quote: Minnesota Coach Don Monson, "They (Virginia) just did a great job of getting us out of rhythm offensively."
Gophers' freshman Kris Humphries seems to have survived his departure from Duke quite well. Humphries, who was let out of his letter-of-Intent this summer to sign with Minnesota, was a beast on the inside. He finished with 32 points and 13 rebounds. The bigger Minnesota frontline controlled the boards, holding a 51-40 edge in rebounds and grabbing 22 off the offensive glass. Adam Boone, a transfer from North Carolina, epitomized the struggles of the Gophers' backcourt. Boone shot 0 for 7, and the three guards Minnesota started combined to make only 5 of 30 shots.
Virginia has its own emerging freshman start in Gary Forbes, and he did not disappoint the home crowd. Forbes scored 22 points and pulled down 9 rebounds, but the star was big man Elton Brown, who ignited a decisive 13-1 Virginia run in the second half. Brown finished with a career-high 26 points and helped compensate for the Cavaliers' 6 of 25 three-point shooting. Virginia coach Pete Gillen must be very pleased with the way his team took care of the basketball, but they will need to rebound it better to survive in the ACC.
For those of you keeping score at home, I was 7-2 in my predictions for the Challenge. I was one missed free throw away from being 8-1, but Maryland pulled out the win against Wisconsin in a game where I picked the Badgers. I also picked Michigan State to defeat Duke. Blue Devil fans, please don't tell me you saw THAT coming and Spartan fans, I feel your pain.
Unlike the four previous Challenges, the ACC claimed a decisive victory this time around. One of the best indications of the relative strength of a conference is the quality of the teams in the middle of the pack. In recent years, that has been a weakness in the ACC. This year it appears to be a strength. If Wake Forest, North Carolina, and Duke are the best teams in the ACC, that would put Maryland, Georgia Tech and Florida State in the middle at this point. Unlike a Twinkie, that's no creamy filling, instead appearing to be rock solid.
The losses by Michigan State, Illinois, and Wisconsin, the nationally ranked teams in the Big 10, have to be troubling to fans of the conference. Purdue, Michigan, and Iowa appear to give the Big 10 a strong middle, but Indiana and Ohio State's struggles are a major problem.
Things look quite rosy for the ACC at this point, while in the Big 10 they are somewhat thorny. Of course, this is only December, a preliminary hearing, if you will. The final verdict on the 2003-04 season won't be handed down until March.
That's what I think. Let me know what you think on the message board or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Big 10 fans, thanks for allowing me to invade your jurisdiction this week. ACC fans, court will be back in session early next week.
Until then, court is adjourned.