It’s a light schedule in college basketball land tonight, but there are still some good match-ups and prospects to keep an eye on. The Start of the SEC-Big East challenge is the focal point tonight, but first a review of what I saw yesterday:
Photo: Sophia Durand/The Chronicle
Thoughts from Last Night
· As Quinn Cook gets better, so will Mason Plumlee. In his first year as a true offensive post presence, Plumlee has done a great job putting himself in position to make plays. The other half of that equation is to make sure he gets the ball at the right moment to maximize his scoring chances. Right now, Cook is still a bit slow getting the ball to the post, or missing him altogether, but he is improving each game. By the time conference play rolls around, Cook should be able to get Plumlee the ball at the right moment for him to make his move quickly.
· Ohio State’s halfcourt offense needs some serious fine tuning. There aren’t many scorers in the country like Deshaun Thomas, but without another serious scoring threat, the defense is going to be able to pressure the ball and Thomas without consequences. One of the big men, Evan Ravenel or Amir Williams, needs to be able to score off the pick-and-roll to help ease some of the pressure on the perimeter.
· I’m excited to see Rasheed Sulaimon develop over the next 2 years, especially finding ways to use his athletic ability to impact the defensive end.
· Even with Miami’s win over Michigan State last night, I don’t see the Hurricanes as serious March threat. They were able to do a good job creating a chaotic pace to the game, and were able to get scores off of broken plays, but that is not a recipe to long-term success. When he is on the court, Reggie Johnson needs to be the focal point on offense, and let the perimeter options develop from there. Durand Scott, Shane Larkin, and Trey McKinney-Jones were able to find ways to make plays late, but there was no real flow to the offense.
· Wichita State keeps rolling along with a very balanced attack. A trip to Knoxville in mid-December will be a true test of what kind of challenger they will be to the Creighton in the Missouri Valley.
· South Dakota State’s Nate Wolters continues to be a stat-sheet filler. Last night’s line: 21 points, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, and 5 steals. 13 trips to free throw line put his team in position to pull off a last-second win.
Kentucky at Notre Dame
John Calipari will bring his young Wildcats’ squad to South Bend for a matchup which should give a sense of how tough his freshmen are. Nerlens Noel has quietly put together a solid first 5 games, but matchups with Notre Dame senior Jack Cooley and junior Garrick Sherman should give a sense to how Noel responds to physical play in the post area. Cooley uses his body well and likely should have little problem backing Noel down to a point where his blocking ability will lose effectiveness.
Word is that Archie Goodwin will continue at the point guard position, which isn’t great for the team right now, but if executed correctly, should help Goodwin’s long-term development. Control is his major issue right now and he will not be able to play wildly against the solid defense of Eric Atkins. Atkins has been outstanding so far this season leading the Irish attack on offense, but he is also the main catalyst on the defensive end. Jerian Grant joins him in the backcourt, and provides a versatile scoring option. Grant needs to watch his shot selection though. He can ill-afford to take himself out of plays on the offensive end when Kentucky will look to push the ball quickly after Irish missed shots.
Alex Poythress is one of the most athletic Kentucky players in the last few years, which say a lot when you look at the list. His biggest challenge will be finding space to get to the basket against an Irish team that likes to pack their defense in tight. This may be the game where Poythress can show he is as good a basketball player as he is an athlete.
Both teams have quality perimeter scoring options – Kyle Wiltjer and Julius Mays for Kentucky, and Scott Martin and Pat Connaughton for Notre Dame. Martin and Connaughton should have an edge here, mainly because they do a much better job reacting to defensive sets than the Kentucky players do, but if Goodwin is able to get into the lane against the Irish, the Kentucky shooters should get some good looks.
Marquette at Florida
The key to this game will be seeing how well the Gators react to Buzz Williams’ signature tough perimeter defense. Kenny Boynton is off to the best start of his career, and has shown what a little shot selection can do for one’s game. He is doing a much better job understanding the importance of spacing on the floor and while he still loves his jumper, he is willing to attack the basket much more than before. Scotty Wilbekin is back from an early season suspension, and this takes a lot of pressure of Boynton on both ends of the floor.
Patric Young hasn’t developed as quickly as many thought he would coming into college, but he is still a formidable low-post presence, and he is still improving. He will need to be a major force on the offensive glass for the Gators as the Marquette pressure should cause quite a few misses. Erik Murphy is a solid inside-out threat, but he still needs to find the right balance between those facets of his game.
Marquette’s Vander Blue is coming off a sprained knee, but if he is close to a 100%, he should be able to find gaps in the Florida defense to do what he does best, attack the basket. Junior Cadougan is a steady presence at the point guard position, and he is the focal point of the Golden Eagles’ defensive plans.
Davante Gardner looks to be in the best shape of his college career, but he still has the body to eat a lot of space in the post. How he handles the pure strength of Young will be a big test for him. He will have help in the post area from Chris Otule, who has become a solid defensive presence. Jamil Wilson and Trent Lockett fill their roles well on both ends of the floor and allow Coach Williams some versatility with his line-ups.
Others to Watch
George Beamon, Manhattan at Fordham – Beamon has come back strong after being sidelined by injury and should have little trouble attacking a shorthanded Fordham squad. Look for a 25-30 point night.
D’Angelo Harrison, St. John’s vs. South Carolina. Harrison has 5 20-point games already this season, but you know South Carolina coach Frank Martin will have his team ready to harass him. How will Harrison respond to the pressure?
Shane Gibson, Sacred Heart at Brown – Gibson, one of the leading scorers in the country last season, has had a tough go of it early this season, but seemed to get on track against Lehigh last game. Gibson should find some good shots against a Brown defense which has had some early issues.