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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Recap from Last Night and 12/19/12 Game Preview

In the early games yesterday, there were two top 10 teams squaring off against mid-major programs. It appeared Kansas had the tougher task, facing a good Richmond squad but they blew them out with no problem. It was Winthrop though, that gave Ohio State trouble - and it was a close game up until the final 5 minutes.

Deshaun Thomas was streaky and at one point missed 9 shots in a row. Midway through the second half he got hot and as soon as his long jumper went in, I knew Ohio State was going to start to get a little cushion. Thomas hit 4 jumpers in a row and also a fifth bucket on a tough move inside. The good thing - or bad thing - about Thomas is he never loses confidence in his jumper. After his 9 straight misses, his first make was on a quick contested shot from a step inside the arc - his favorite spot on the floor. His shot selection would make even good players in the country inefficient which is what makes his 48% shooting on the season so impressive.

Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott can make a great pair, especially on defense where they may be the best defending backcourt in the country. On offense. neither of them turn the ball over but neither provides much outside shooting. It is interesting to see that Scott is the main playmaker when they are both in. Craft has not taken the necessary step forward this year in that development.

Ohio State has a lot of depth on the perimeter and no seniors. With Shannon Scott and LaQuinton Ross playing well, it makes me wonder if they can go another season of coming off the bench. Even with Thomas starting at PF, the Buckeyes have a crowded backcourt with Lenzelle Smith, Aaron Craft, and Sam Thompson starting.

Of their 4 highly touted sophomores - Ross, Amir Williams, Thompson, and Scott - none get over 24 minutes a game. It doesn't seem right that they will have to continue to see limited playing time in their junior years if Craft and Thomas stay.

Anyway, this Ohio State team has looked overrated despite all their talent this season. They've come out flat on multiple occasions and have a big test Saturday against Kansas. The Jayhawks have been polar opposites of the Buckeyes - blowing out opponents and thriving off great defense. Ohio State is going to have to defend the 3-pt line better than they did tonight. I think Kansas has the edge even without homecourt in the game, but Ohio State may be able to pull off the win if they win the matchup at point guard. Aaron Craft should be able to give Elijah Johnson a hard time.

In a developing story - this Miami Hurricanes team is pretty good. They are definitely a top 4 ACC team this year and could be as high as #2. They haven't lost since the early season matchup against Florida Golf Coast which was without Durand Scott. Since then, they seem to get better every game as Larkin and Scott learn to play together.

They are tied for the team lead in scoring, but since Durand Scott has been back, he's been their go-to guy. And he should be. He's been great this year at picking his spots and not forcing things. He is a beast physically at getting to the hoop and is a creative finisher. I also have been very impressed with his defense in the early goings. The biggest development may be his 3-pt shot - Scott had pretty much abandoned it the past year for good reason, but is slowing bringing it back. He is 4-6 in his last two games and hit two really tough baskets from behind the arc tonight against Central Florida. The rotation on his shot looks good and he has always been a solid free throw shooter so maybe there is some reason to believe in his range.

Inside Miami has been led by Reggie Johnson, who "slimmed" down a bit over the summer. He may not look any smaller, but he is certainly in better condition. He is able to play extended minutes with high activity. His effort has been great this year and he's been a factor on both sides of the ball. He even is showing touch from outside. What makes Johnson great is how light he is on his feet. But his effort has also been impressive - last night for example, Miami was up nearly 20 with under 2 minutes left yet he was still running the court and diving for loose balls.

Arizona had no problem getting past Oral Roberts and it was good seeing Angelo Chol getting some run in the blowout. Chol looked like a promising player last season, but with three heralded freshman bigs coming in this year, there is just no room for him on the court. And it really sucks for him - he plays really hard and by all accounts is a hard worker. He is active on the glass, moves well, and has nice touch from 15 feet out. Unfortunately, Chol won't be able to play regularly for at least another year, perhaps more.

I flipped back between to night cappers, watching both James Ennis take on UCLA and Allen Crabbe play UC Santa Barbara. UCLA looked good early on, finally showing intensity on defense. They covered the perimeter really well and denied passing lanes. Their intensity faded though and when it did, UCLA's lack of a frontline was exposed by Dan Jennings. Jennings had a career game on his way to 27 points. James Ennis also played well. He showed a flawed jumper yet hit 3-6 from deep. He also was able to drive the lane and show off his explosiveness at the rim. He is able to hang in the air and finish with contact well.

For UCLA, Shabazz Muhammad did a good job defensively. This is a notable improvement. Offensively, he missed 3 dunks but finished with 21 points. He scored in a variety of ways - off steals, in transition, with his leaner in the lane, off offensive rebounds, and from behind the arc. He leaves a lot to be desired from a skill standpoint but manages to get it done.

In the other late game of note, Allen Crabbe finished with 12 points on another poor shooting performance (4-12 from the field). He's not as dynamic as other top scorers in the country but is outstanding moving without the ball. He is a great shooter, but does not settle for the jumpshot. He does a nice job finding soft spots in the defense in the paint for easy jumpers as well as curling around screens. He also does a good job getting out in transition. He does a nice job gathering himself and handling contact in the paint, but his lack of explosion and creativity hurt him.

Games to Watch Today:

Detroit at Alcorn State 3pm (Ray McCallum)
Xavier vs Cincinnati 7pm ESPN2 (Semaj Christon and Sean Kilpatrick)
Illinois State at Dayton 7pm (Jackie Carmichael)
South Dakota State at Belmont 8pm (Nate Wolters)
North Carolina at Texas 9pm ESPN2 (Reggie Bullock, James Michael McAdoo, plus others)
Northern Iowa at UNLV 10pm (Anthony Bennett, Khem Birch)

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