Top Ten Showdown: Ohio State vs North Carolina

6 Ohio State vs 7 North Carolina, 9:30 ESPN

The Tar Heels look to start a new win streak tonight as they play host to the undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes. North Carolina plays at break-neck speed, but so far they haven’t scored 80 points in a game. This trend will have to change tonight or the Bucks will hand the Heels their second loss.

What to Watch For

  • Carolina freshman Cole Anthony can score big and get his teammates involved: He leads the Tar Heels in points per game (20.7) and assists per game(4). He is a star in the making.
  • The battle in the paint will be intriguing. Kaleb Wesson is the Buckeye’s leading scorer (12.7) and rebounder (9.3), but he has a knack for finding himself in foul trouble. UNC’s low-post combo of Garrison Brooks and the ever-improving freshman Armando Bacot may keep Wesson on the sideline and the Buckeyes off the boards.

This should be close one. Look for the Tar Heels to pull ahead late to take their second win over a ranked opponent.  

What is the Deal with Sparty?

Michigan State’s 87-75 home-court loss to Duke last night demonstrated two major principles of basketball:

1. Turnovers will hurt you.

2. Opponent’s points scored off of turnovers will kill you. 

With 10:58 to go in the first half, Duke began a run that would take the score from 18-14 to 29-18 in less than five minutes. At this point, ESPN flashed the most important stat of the night: 

Points Off of Turnovers: Duke 12-Michigan State 2. 

Also at this point, the game was pretty much a settled affair.

But . . . If these points were erased, the score would have been 17-16. And, hypothetically, the final score would have been 75-73, meaning we would have seen a wild one-possession-to-win-it finish.

Of course, this did not happen. 

What this proves is that Michigan State is good enough to hang with a high-octane squad such as Duke; however, some things need to change before the they can beat an elite team. 

First, the Spartans turnovers were made worse by their defensive woes. They show flashes of brilliance, but when a team has multiple scoring threats (Duke, Virginia Tech, and Kentucky, for example) the Michigan State has not found a way to slow them down.

Second, they need to find a dependable source of points in addition to Cassius Winston and Xavier Tillman. This means that Aaron Henry needs to step up and score 15 points per game and Rock Watts needs to develop into a 10-points-per-game guy.

These two players can greatly improve the team’s prospects.

Third, the Spartans should not be losing because they get out hustled. This happened last night. Many of Duke’s scoring opportunities came on steals and blocked shots from behind. Michigan State’s too-frequent lack of court awareness and a tendency to pause in their half-court offense gave the Blue Devils ample opportunity to create havoc and pile up points in transition. 

The loss to Duke was brutal, no matter how you cut it. On offense, Michigan State was sloppy with the ball. Also, at times, they looked like they were waiting for something to happen that never quite did. Couple this with their problems on defense, and you have a mess.

With this being said, it isn’t time to sell the Spartans. Tom Izzo is a master at developing talent and knows how to play the long game. However, he has his work cut out for him this season. 

Cards Crush the Wolverines

Louisville 58

Michigan 43

Louisville took the overmatched Michigan Wolverines out behind a west Kentucky woodshed masquerading as the KFC Yum! Center and proved themselves worthy of the number one ranking.

Final Thoughts

Jordan Nwora. What can I say? I don’t know right now. So, let me quote Biggie Smalls’ most famous refrain: “If you don’t know, now you know.” 

He rebounds like he’s breaking out of a cage, and those impossible, behind-the-head layups . . . These features of his game combined with his shooting equals Naismith Award short list. 

Nwora was Louisville’s wild card tonight, but the Cardinal defense was the main attraction. Similes abound when discussing their performance. They were on the Wolverines like a spandex suit on a walrus, like a size 10 sock on a size 12 foot, like a dry-fit polo on a fat man. The list could go on forever. 

Louisville’s defenders gave the Wolverines no room to shoot and no lanes for passing. Let’s be honest—they made them look like a JV squad compared to the Michigan that handled North Carolina and Gonzaga at the Battle for Atlantis. 

Much respect to the Cardinals. They were bigger than the stage. The Wolverines were not. 

The Opening Tip

For a lot of folks, college basketball doesn’t start until March. I get it. I also understand the feeling you get while penciling in names on your bracket minutes before the first play-in game . . . 

You don’t say this out loud, but you feel silly, like a fraud. Why? Because you know the truth: Another college basketball season has passed you by and you still don’t know Iowa from Iona. Right?

So, you say that Duke will win it all because you say that every year and that Kentucky, Kansas, and Michigan State, or North Carolina, will round out the Final Four. Then, you look at the early rounds to find where the upset will happen. After all, you have deep knowledge of the mid-major conferences and those teams from schools you’ve never heard of who ruin things for the big timers. 

This is how you do it. Right?

Ten days later, half of your Final Four is eliminated, and those tiny teams who were supposed to do huge things have been steamrolled. And you’re back at square one, waiting for next March. 

Not this year. 

This year, you’re going to know your stuff. You’re going to be prepared for March because you’re going to start early. And I’m going to help you. 

Whether it’s updates on injuries, previews of games, live tweets of big matchups, or analysis of teams and players on the rise, I’ll be here telling you what you need to know to stay up to speed on all things college basketball.

One thing’s for certain: We’re going to make a great team.

Final Four Sneak Peek?

Dec. 3, 2019: The Big Time

Feast Week 2019 was stuffed with surprises: Duke falls to Stephen F. Austin at home, Sparty has no answer for Virginia Tech, and Michigan returns from Nassau as the hottest team in the land—and the one that nobody saw coming. The tryptophan of a thousand turkeys couldn’t have calmed the excitement that unfolded over the past seven days. And, while Thanksgiving has come and gone, the party is just beginning on the hardwood. 

Tuesday, December 3! You better be there when Duke, Michigan State, and the Wolverines keep the three hottest storylines in college basketball going as they take the floor in games that will give us a taste of March in early December. 

Michigan vs Louisville

Michigan will try to extend their win streak against top-ten teams to three as they head south to face Louisville, the new number one. This game will be a raging inferno as both the Cardinals and the Wolverines will enter with chips on their shoulders. 

On one hand, head coach Juwan Howard and Michigan will look to prove that their dominant wins over North Carolina and Gonzaga were not flukes and that they are indeed a championship contender. On the other hand, Louisville will want to show a national audience that they didn’t simply back in to the top spot, that they are the best team in the NCAA. Both make strong arguments for their side, but only one will come away with the early bragging rights . . . and the number one ranking.

What To Watch For:

  • Louisville junior Jordan Nwora, 6’7” forward and the Cardinal’s leading scorer (21.9 ppg), will be the wild card in this one. Michigan held Gonzaga’s Filip Petrusev to his lowest point total of the season, but Nwora’s ability to hit the deep three may stretch the stingy Wolverine defense to its breaking point. 
  • Keep an eye on Michigan’s lengthy freshman Franz Wagner. Wagner’s size (6’ 8”), range, and growing confidence will help him be a difference maker on the perimeter against the Cardinals. 
  • If this one stays close, it could come down to who wins the battle in the low post between Michigan’s John Teske and Louisville’s Steve Enoch. Both can defend, both can score, and both can change the outcome of a game

Duke vs Michigan State

The Blue Devils and Spartans will enter the Breslin Center in East Lansing as fallen giants eager to erase the impact of shocking upsets incurred during Feast Week. While Michigan and Louisville will be driven by the thirst for perfection, Duke and Michigan State will be inspired by some early-season desperation as they seek to avoid a loss that promises lasting damage. `

What To Watch For:

  • Vernon Carey, Jr., Duke’s 6’ 10”, 270 lb. freshman center, gains confidence every time he steps on the court. Tuesday could be a big-time coming out party on a big stage. If he continues to progress as the hub for the Blue Devil’s inside-out offensive attack, the Spartans may be in for a long night. 
  • The battle between the point guards, Duke’s Trey Jones and Michigan State’s Cassius Winston, a pre-season All-American, will be epic. Winston is the total package, but Jones majors in getting his counterpart into foul trouble. Tom Izzo will sit Winston with two fouls, and when he is off the court, Sparty struggles. 
  • The recent injury to Cassius Stanley will send Duke scrambling to replace his scoring output. This is good news for the Spartans; their loss to Virginia Tech exposed their weakness at defending a team with multiple options for points on the perimeter. 
  • Michigan State loves the three-pointer, and they are accurate when they have time to get set. Look for the Blue Devil defenders to smother the Spartan shooters and give Carey an opportunity to grab more than ten defensive boards. 

Tuesday night will provide as much college basketball excitement as one could hope for so early in the season. Both games deserve the blockbuster label as both are prime-time toss ups. I expect the Wolverines and the Blue Devils to come out on top in nail-biters.