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ACC-Big Ten Challenge Day 2

December 2, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Previewing Day 2’s Action

by Michael Protos and Alan Rubenstein

Indiana at No. 19 Wake Forest

Wake Forest and Indiana enter Tuesday’s match up with distinctly different teams. Indiana features the superstar scorer in sophomore guard Bracey Wright while Wake Forest attacks in waves, with four players averaging double figures in scoring.

Wright will be the highlight of this game for Indiana and the subject of Wake Forest’s defensive pressure. He is the only Hoosier averaging more than ten points per game this season, averaging 22.7 points through three games. He carried the Hoosiers to a comeback overtime win over Xavier at the Wooden Tradition in Indianapolis Saturday by scoring 27 points and seven rebounds.

Wake Forest, whose 3-0 start includes a win over Memphis in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York to begin the season, features several scoring threats in junior forward Vytas Danelius, sophomore center Eric Williams, junior forward Jamaal Levy, junior guard Taron Downey and sophomore guard Justin Gray. Wake Forest has the size and talent to play a big lineup to pound the ball inside or to play a small lineup to run up and down the court. Coach Skip Prosser favors the latter, which may help Indiana because the Hoosiers’ backcourt is strong.

Jamal Levy paces the Wake attack at 13.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG and is shooting 56.3 percent from the field. Highly touted freshman point guard Chris Paul has more than lived up to his early expectations. Paul has posted a very solid 8.0 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 4.3 APG, and 3.0 SPG and has committed only two turnovers. The talented sophomore class forms the core of Skip Prosser’s troops.

Indiana (2-1) will be without senior center George Leach, who injured his knee against the Musketeers. Leach had been averaging 8.0 PPG and 2.0 BPG. After Leach, Indiana has an inexperienced frontline. Sophomore forward Sean Kline should pick up the slack with Leach’s departure. Kline’s 9.7 PPG and 6.3 RPG rank him second in both categories for IU. Junior Mike Roberts and freshmen Pat Ewing Jr, and Jessan Gray-Ashley should receive more playing time with Leach out indefinitely. In addition to Wright, senior guard A.J. Moye should log significant minutes for Indiana in the backcourt. Wright, Kline, and Moye will have to play exceptionally to slow down Wake Forest.

Wake Forest has a deeper and more talented lineup, but Indiana can stay in the game with strong defensive pressure to force Wake Forest to work in the half court offense. At the other end, Indiana has not shot the ball well from beyond the arc, shooting just over 28 percent, and should let Wright slash the ball to the hoop. Without Leach, Indiana will be hard pressed to establish a post presence.

If Indiana can force Wake Forest into foul trouble, Indiana can neutralize the Demon Deacons’ depth. Wake’s size and depth added to the fact they will have the home crowd behind them at the Joel may be too much to overcome.

In the end, Wake Forest has too many weapons for Indiana to keep pace. Barring an amazing performance from someone other than Wright – perhaps Moye – the Demon Deacons seem destined to win this one.

Prediction: Wake Forest 73 Indiana 60

North Carolina State at Michigan

The other early game on Tuesday in the ACC/Big Ten challenge features two underrated teams on the fringe of the Top 25. Both teams enter the game 3-0, and Michigan is fresh off a thrilling victory over Butler in overtime. Michigan will be NC State’s first test of this season.

This game will feature two of the nation’s best players in the Wolfpack’s junior guard Julius Hodge and the Wolverines’ sophomore sensation Daniel Horton. Both players will need support from their teammates, but the results of the game will probably follow the results of this individual match up.

Outstanding play from Hodge (18.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 5.3 APG) and Scooter Sherrill (17.7 PPG) supported by Levi Watkins (12.0 PPG) and Marcus Melvin (10.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG) has North Carolina State off to a 3-0 start following victories over North Carolina-Ashville Howard and Florida A&M.

NC State and Michigan shoot well from the field, but the Wolfpack take considerably more three-pointers. They have attempts 29 more three-pointer attempts than Michigan through three games. Hodge and senior guard Scooter Sherrill are both shooting better than 50 percent from three-point range. After losing sophomore center Josh Powell to the NBA two years early, the Wolfpack has struggled inside. Melvin Watkins and Ilian Evtimov are big men who like to shoot the three.

Michigan (3-0) also relies on its perimeter game as the Wolverines’ four leading scorers reside outside. Like Hodge has for NC State, Bernard Robinson Jr. has been Michigan’s Mr. Everything. The 6’6″ senior has put up 12.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG and 3.3 APG. Supporting Robinson’s all-around floor game are sophomore Lester Abram (12.3 PPG and 3.7 RPG) and freshman sharpshooter Dion Harris at 12.0 PPG and 4.0 APG. After struggling in the Maize and Blue’s first two games, 2003 Big Ten freshman of the year Daniel Horton showed flashes of his brilliance from last season in their overtime victory over Butler. Horton is averaging 12.7 PPG. Although Michigan does not have a dominating presence inside, the Wolverines have dominated their opponents on the boards by an average margin of 12 per night.

Michigan will have to do a better job of taking care of the ball to defeat the Wolfpack. Through its first three games, the Wolverines have averaged 19 turnovers. Horton and Robinson have been particularly careless, with 14 and ten turnovers respectively.

NC State must take advantage of a young Wolverine team. Robinson will be key for Michigan because NC State fields a relatively small lineup and likes to play a positionless offense. If Michigan can create favorable match ups for Robinson, he could have a big game against the Wolfpack, which would draw attention away from Horton, who could play a significant role in clutch time.

Speaking of clutch time, NC State is a much better free throw shooting team, hitting nearly 77 percent of its free throws, while Michigan is only managing 64 percent. This game will be close and free throws will determine the outcome.

Prediction: NC State 80 Michigan 75

No. 14 Wisconsin at Maryland

Maryland hosts Wisconsin in one of two later games in the ACC/Big Ten challenge Tuesday. The Terrapins and Badgers are both 3-0, but Wisconsin has played slightly tougher foes in Rutgers, Penn and Eastern Illinois than Maryland, which beat up on American, George Mason and Hofstra.

After facing Indiana in a rematch of the 2002 NCAA championship game, Maryland (3-0) will return to its familiar foe in the Challenge, when the Terrapins face Wisconsin (3-0) Tuesday night in College Park. This will be the third time in four years that the Terrapins and Badgers have squared off.

After consecutive Final Four appearances, a national championship and a spot in last year’s sweet 16, Maryland is in a rebuilding mode in 2004. The Terrapins are a young team with only one senior, forward Jamar Smith, providing significant contributions. Nik Canner-Medley and Smith have stepped up to being the primary focus of Gary Williams’ offense after spending 2003 as role players. Smith, like Ryan Randle a year ago is the Terps’ most improved player a year after transferring in from junior college. The 6’9″ senior is posting averages of 14.7 PPG and 11.7 RPG. Caner-Medley is living up to the clippings he had when he arrived in College Park. His 17.0 PPG leads the Terps and he is also bringing 5.7 RPG and 3.3 APG. John Gilchrist runs the offense and is garnering 10.3 PPG and 4.7 APG.

Wisconsin, on the other hand, has a more experienced lineup with five juniors or seniors to lead the way. Wisconsin has gotten off to a 3-0 start behind Big Ten preseason player of the year Devin Harris. Harris was the only Badger in double figures in Wisconsin’s recent 55-43 win over Rutgers. The Badgers are led by their backcourt combination of Harris and senior guard Freddie Owens. Harris is averaging 16.3 points and 2.7 steals per game while Owens adds 13.3 points per game.

The key to the Badgers early season success has been their ability to get to the foul line. The Badgers have made 38 more free throws than its opponents have attempted and are shooting 75 percent on freebies. However, in order to beat a young but talented Terp squad Wisconsin is going to have to shoot better. The Badgers are shooting a dismal 17.6 percent from three-point range.

Wisconsin does not rotate many players, so the Badgers need their starters to come up with a big game against Maryland. The Badgers are a small team and forwards Mike Wilkinson, Zach Morley and Ray Nixon must crash the boards because Maryland averages 44.3 rebounds per game while Wisconsin averages only 34.7 per game.

With the graduation of so many seniors over the last two years, Maryland was due for a youth movement, and this is their year to restock. But that does not mean the cupboard is bare. Far from it – Smith and Caner-Medley represent a strong frontcourt that could cause Wisconsin problems if they establish a post game. Smith is leading the ACC with 11.7 rebounds per game.

The contest will come down to a young but athletic Maryland team playing at home against Wisconsin’s savvy veterans. Maryland will start strong, energized by a raucous home crowd. Sophomore guards John Gilchrist and Chris McCray will thrive off the energy, but Wisconsin should weather the storm and apply its patented defensive pressure. Following two Big Ten titles these Badgers know how to win games on the road. The Badgers will recognize that they must attack the rebounds and match Maryland’s youthful energy. Wisconsin should be able to run a more efficient offense and control the game inside. Wisconsin is not likely to be intimidated by the rabid fans at the Comcast Center.

The key to the game will be limiting Maryland’s second chance points and fast break opportunities to force the young Terrapins into a game of half court strategy.

Prediction: Wisconsin 73 Maryland 71

No. 10 Illinois at No. 6 North Carolina

Illinois and North Carolina (3-0) sets up as the marquee game of night two.

Perhaps North Carolina looked past Cleveland State in a come-from-behind, 82-76 victory Saturday? Can’t blame them with Illinois standing on deck in the ACC/Big Ten challenge. Illinois (3-0) enters the Big Ten/ACC challenge having posted a 3-0 record by virtue of wins over Western Illinois, Mercer and Temple. The Illini have a 1-3 record in previous challenges with their first win coming against North Carolina in last year’s challenge.

North Carolina survived a tough battle with Cleveland State in its challenge tune-up, defeating the Vikings 82-76 in Cleveland. The Tar Heels seem to have a renewed attitude and infused energy with Roy Williams returning to his alma mater. The Tar Heels must play much better in Greensboro, N.C., to avoid a repeat of last season’s embarrassment in Champaign, Ill. The Illini destroyed North Carolina 92-65 when the Tar Heels were fresh off a Preseason NIT championship.

Despite losing their superstar in Brian Cook, Illinois might be even better this year. Balanced scoring, depth and a big advantage on the boards (41-27 per game) have fueled the Illini in the early part of the season. The Illini played many of their young stars last season, and sophomore guard Dee Brown looks like one of the Big Ten’s best players. Brown is averaging nineteen points per game and still finds time to dish out 4.7 assists per game.

Sophomore forward James Augustine has been a force in the paint, grabbing nine rebounds per game and posting double digits in scoring. In addition to Brown and Augustine, sophomore guard Deron Williams has proven to be a capable ball handler with a two-to-one assist/turnover ratio.

But North Carolina is also better than last year, despite playing with essentially the same team that Illinois pounded last year. NC’s high-octane offense has averaged 87.7 PPG. Although not a deep team, the Tar Heels are still able to spread the wealth. Sophomore guard Raymond Felton is the catalyst for new coach Roy Williams’ fast-paced offense. Felton is near the top of the ACC in assists with 8.7 per game.

Felton is distributing those assists to a talented but shallow group of Tar Heels. Junior forward Jawad Williams has burst onto the scene as a legitimate scoring machine, averaging 21.3 points in three games. Sophomore forward Sean May, who is coming off of a foot injury last season, and sophomore guard Rashad McCants are each averaging more than fifteen points per game. Many publications dubbed McCants as the ACC preseason player of the year and his early season start has not disappointed. Melvin Scott has been a nice complement on the wing with 11.3 points per game.

Coach Williams has sold the Tar Heels on his philosophy of applying defensive pressure and dominating the boards to open up the offensive game. Jawad Williams, May and McCants are all averaging seven rebounds or better.

Illinois and North Carolina match up nearly identically. Both teams commit fifteen turnovers per game, shoot better than 50 percent from the field and average about 87 points per game. The difference is that North Carolina lacks any depth. Illinois needs to attack the Tar Heels with strong drives to the hoop and establish an efficient post game. If May and Williams get in foul trouble, North Carolina could fall behind.

On a true neutral court, the Illini would have a big advantage in depth and likely would wear down NC. With this match-up in Greensboro, North Carolina should be able to feed off the crowd and squeak out a run and gun affair. Jackie Manuel and Williams are questionable for Tuesday night. Manuel sprained his left medial collateral ligament in Saturday’s game at Cleveland State and Williams suffered a hip pointer in practice on Sunday. Already using only a seven-man rotation, the Heels will find the going tough against Illinois with a depleted roster. Stranger things have happened though.

For North Carolina to get its first Challenge win, Felton must outplay Brown. If he wins that individual battle, the Tar Heels should limit Illinois’ offensive attack while being able to dictate the pace at the offensive end.

Prediction: Illinois 84 North Carolina 80

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