Advertisement

Archive for Monday, November 27, 2006

ACC/Big Ten Challenge rarely telling

November 27, 2006

Advertisement

Nice little go-round they're playing this week, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Makes for full houses, good basketball, enticing TV and, lest we forget, fat paydays for both conferences.

But be cautious when analyzing the results. Come NCAA Tournament time, they'll mean absolutely nothing.

The games are not mere exhibitions. They count toward RPI and can surely scramble the national rankings. Yet they are closer to that than games you'll see as the tournament nears.

Countless schools are still searching and finding out about themselves. Take Duke.

"What kids do in practice and what they do in games in sometimes entirely different," coach Mike Krzyzewski said just before the season. "With some guys, they get better. Some kids, in a game, they're so-called gamers. That's why we play a pretty tough schedule even before exams.

"Some of our non-league schedule is against teams that may win their conferences, even the so-called mid-majors, whether it be George Mason or Kent State or Gonzaga. They're teams that know how to win. That's why we schedule them.

"By Christmastime, we'll have a much better sense of who we are. That's why I don't want to set any expectation level. We'll have to really evaluate what we're doing as a coaching staff."

Then you change and correct weaknesses. That was the conclusion implied by Krzyzewski, whose rotation features four freshmen, four sophomores, a junior and no seniors. That makes his Blue Devils the youngest team the school has fielded since World War II and the symbol of why the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is more warm-up than conclusion.

The Blue Devils are still unformed and unfinished, and they are hardly the only ones still growing. Ohio State, despite its unblemished record, awaits the return of heralded 7-foot-1-inch freshman center Greg Oden, who's injured and expected back in January.

The same is true of North Carolina, the Buckeyes' opponent Wednesday night. The Tar Heels' top seven scorers are three freshmen, three sophomores and one senior.

"It's not a tell-all," coach Roy Williams said as he discussed facing Ohio State so early with a lineup so young. "But it does give you a great deal of information. I like those kinds of game."

When Maryland visits Illinois on Tuesday, the Terrapins will get more information about freshman point guards Eric Hayes and Greivis Vasquez. When Penn State visits Maui Invitational runner-up Georgia Tech the same night, the Nittany Lions will learn if their NCAA Tournament aspirations are valid. The Yellow Jackets, in turn, will learn more about freshman point guard Javaris Crittenton. A night later, Michigan State will learn how well it is rebuilding when it plays at Boston College.

Indiana will get a measure of how well it is adapting to new coach Kelvin Sampson on Tuesday when it visits Duke. Of all the teams taking part in the Challenge, the Blue Devils are the most obvious work in progress, which was evident last week when they fell to Marquette at the CBE Classic in Kansas City, Mo.

Sophomore guard Greg Paulus was recently back from a foot injury that had sidelined him for a month. Sophomore center Josh McRoberts missed makeable layups. Their freshmen, including Jon Scheyer, were constantly broken down by the Golden Eagles' superior speed, which forced Duke into 19 turnovers.

That 11-point loss left Krzyzewski to offer this explanation, which should be remembered when evaluating the Challenge.

"A lot of (Duke's failures) had to do with playing in a game like this for the first time for some of our guys," he said. "We haven't been in a game where you're playing a really good team that really wants it and is forcing tempo. We'll learn from it.

"We're in transition : (and) sometimes you've got to lose, sometimes you've got to look bad before you look good."

Comments

Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.