By: Evan Lachnit, KCOU Sports
Early this week, the always exciting and entertaining ACC/Big 10 Challenge wrapped up. As the season is just about a month old, we can begin to take away a few things from the early action that has taken place and especially from what happen in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. The Big 10, who had a record of 8-6 in the 14 games, won the challenge.
No. 1 Takeaway- North Carolina has some work to do.
Watching the North Carolina vs. Iowa game, two things were very clear: UNC is very dependent on the scoring of Marcus Paige and the Tar Heels need to shoot at a higher rate. UNC’s leading scorer in the game was not Paige but instead sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks who finished the game with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Meeks fouled out of the game with just less than two minutes left and the score tight. After Meeks was disqualified on fouls, it was apparent that the only way UNC would score was if the ball was in Paige’s hands. He was unable to create a solid scoring chance and was clearly affected by the size and strength in the paint that Iowa had. UNC will have to have a better post presence if they want to succeed in the tough ACC. If not for the 24 offensive rebounds that the Tar Heels had, they may have scored under 45 points. They shot a dismal 27.9 percent from the field and scored only 55 points. North Carolina’s defense played decent against Iowa but they still have work to do on that end of the court as well. The offense must improve though and cannot put too much pressure on the defense to hold teams to around 55 points or so to win games. The Tar Heels have a chance to be a Final Four team come April, but if they want to make it to Indianapolis their offensive production must improve.
No. 2 Takeaway- The Duo of Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear is a force to be reckoned with at Louisville.
When Montrezl Harrell decided to pull out of the NBA Draft and come back to Louisville for his junior year Rick Pitino had to be smiling from ear to ear. Harrell has proved why so far this season. Harrell coming into the season was already a tremendous all-around player, but he has added outside shooting to his arsenal of talent. Harrell is averaging close to 17 points a game and 9 rebounds. His fellow forward on the court Wayne Blackshear is playing at a high level as well. The 6’5” senior scored a season high 22 points against Ohio St. in the ACC/Big 10 challenge. Blackshear is not afraid to shoot the rock from behind the three-point line and shot 50 percent in the game against the Buckeyes. Along with Terry Rozier the Cardinals look to have the talent to win it all, but they must shoot better from the field. So far, Louisville is shooting under 43 percent from the field that ranks 210th in the nation.
No. 3 Takeaway- Miami may be a Top 10 Team
Miami now sits at 8-0 and already has two wins over top 25 teams including a victory over in state rival Florida, who was ranked 8th at the time. The Hurricanes gained their second win over a top 25 opponent in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge defeating then-unbeaten Illinois. Miami is just two years replaced from winning both the ACC regular season and tournament championships and advancing to the Sweet 16. Coach Jim Larranaga has turned around a program that was in rough shape when he took over for Frank Haith in 2011. The Hurricanes have four players averaging double-digit points per game. Junior guard Sheldon McClellan leads the team in points averaging 16.5 a game. Also Tonye Jekiri has played well at the center position averaging eight points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Miami is still unproven in some aspects of their game though. Miami has a tough road ahead playing in the loaded ACC, but could play devils advocate for teams such as Duke, Virginia, and Louisville.
No. 4 Takeaway- Wisconsin and Frank Kaminsky will be just fine.
The Badgers lost in their ACC/Big 10 Challenge game to Duke, but Bo Ryan’s team played well against the mighty Blue Devils. Wisconsin lost by 10 points but it was a fairly close game throughout. The fact still remains that the Badgers have one of the best offenses in the country and are led by one of the best big men, if not one of the best players in the country, Frank Kaminsky. Kaminsky came into this season as a Wooden Award candidate and still is. He is averaging 16.6 points and 8.8 rebounds a game so far. Kaminsky, standing seven foot tall, is a force in the paint but also has the ability to pull up and take long-range jumpers. With Nigel Hayes and Sam Dekker, along with Kaminsky, Wisconsin should be the favorite to win the Big 10 and be on the short list of possible champions.
No. 5 Takeaway- Duke is the second best team behind Kentucky hands down
Duke has looked as impressive as any team in the country early on. The Blue Devils freshman class is showing why it was one of the top ranked classes coming into the season. Freshman phenom Jahlil Okafor has proven to be one of the best players in the country and is skyrocketing up draft boards. Okafor leads the team, averaging over 17 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game. Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones have been impressive as freshman alongside Okafor. Quinn Cook, a senior guard, has added the leadership and plays a large role being a senior leader on a team that for the most part is underclassman. Cook has not just impressed as a leader, he has showed his play on the court is just as good. Cook is shooting over 51 percent from the field and 42 percent from behind the arch. Many believe that this is the best team that Coach K’s has had since the 37-2 national runner-up team back in 1999. It would be such a treat to see Duke square off against Kentucky and if we are lucky enough we may just get that in the Final Four or maybe even in the National Championship Game.
No. 6 Takeaway- Maryland in the Big 10 just does not feel right
This takeaway is more of a bonus and does not really have to do with the play on the court. Maryland took on Virginia in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge, a game where the seventh ranked Cavaliers beat 21st ranked Maryland. The odd thing is that this game would have been an ACC inter-conference matchup just last year. It just does not look or feel right having Maryland in the Big 10. Maryland had been an ACC staple for decades and was remembered for their spirited games against Duke. This move showed that the conferences and schools no longer care about tradition or geographical location. It is a shame that the only chance you will get to see these two teams face off is in a challenge between conferences.
To wrap up this first month of the college basketball season, here are a few predictions of mine heading into the final stretch of non-conference games.
John Wooden Player of the Year
Frank Kaminsky, Jahlil Okafor (runner up)
Gonzaga, Duke, Kentucky, Wisconsin, Texas, West Virginia, Louisville, Arizona
Gonzaga, Duke, Kentucky, Texas
Kentucky over Duke