Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Day One Thoughts and Observations

After watching all four of the games on the first night of the college basketball season, I came up with several thoughts and observations for each game -- and each of the four major-conference teams that were playing.

North Carolina

- I can’t see Will Graves starting at the small forward position for North Carolina all season. John Henson is too talented to keep off the floor, and even Dexter Strickland could start and move Marcus Ginyard to the three.

- Ed Davis will be a beast on the glass, but his offensive game is still not a dominant part of his game. Most of his points were scored off of offensive rebounds and put-backs. If he is going to be a top-five draft pick, his back-to-the-basket game will need to develop.

- Every time Larry Drew caught the ball and starting dribbling, I got the feeling he was traveling or carrying the ball – he was called for it just once, but he didn’t really instill confidence. Freshman Dexter Strickland wasn’t much better; he was timid and uncertain with the ball – aside from his buzzer shot at the end of the first half.

- Overall, the Tar Heels committed 26 turnovers, a number that clearly has to improve, especially when they face more talented teams that will take better advantage of miscues.

- Someone’s going to have to knock down outside shots for the Tar Heels. If the aforementioned Graves isn’t starting, there’s no one in the starting lineup that can consistently hit three-pointers. However, Ginyard and Drew looked like they did improve their jumpers. Overall, though, the Tar Heels hit just four three-pointers.

- It’s unbelievable how big of a lineup North Carolina can put on the floor at one time – it will be interesting to see how it works out against smaller and potentially quicker teams. Davis, Deon Thompson, Henson and Tyler Zeller are all potential first-round picks, though.

- Thompson is a force down low; he’s got a nice face-up jumper and can run the floor very well. He will likely be the Tar Heels’ go-to-guy for the time being.

- North Carolina might not be as good of a full-court team as last season without Ty Lawson, but I think the Tar Heels’ half-court defense will be better with the return of Ginyard and all the size they have up front.

- Roy Williams seems to be leaning on experience early on – Graves got a start, and Justin Watts was one of the first guys off the bench.

Ohio State 

- If Ohio State’s Evan Turner can continue to make the transition from all-around wing to point guard, the Buckeyes are going to be awfully tough to beat. He had 14 points, 17 rebounds and 10 assists against Alcorn State – looks like he will be just fine.

- The Buckeyes are tough to match-up with. Turner and David Lighty are both versatile and can play multiple positions, and wings Jon Diebler and William Buford are also very talented starters. There might not be a better quartet of wings in the country. Jeremie Simmons also looked solid, and Walater Offutt is improved.

- Big men Kyle Madsen and Zisis Sarikopulos need to provide Ohio State with some sort of production down low. They combined for nine points and eight rebounds against Alcorn State – I’m not sure if that will be enough against better teams. When Dallas Lauderdale returns from injury, he will help though.

- Ohio State is going to play some of the fastest basketball in the Big Ten – this team looks to run at all opportunities, and they have plenty of finishers.

- I love William Buford’s game – he can shoot from deep, drive to the hole, handle the ball, pass it to teammates, etc. I think he’s going to have a monster year for the Buckeyes.

- Despite not having a true point guard in the starting lineup, the Buckeyes didn’t have any trouble with ball distribution. They had 13 assists on their first 15 baskets in the first half.

- At the six-minute mark of the first half, Ohio State was outrebounding Alcorn State 22-5 – size might not be much of a problem, either, especially in a Big Ten that is not filled with dominant big guys.

- Alcorn State tried to zone Ohio State at times; what exactly is the point of that? The Buckeyes are filled with perimeter players and guys that can knock down outside shots. Granted, it was a 3-2 zone, but it was entirely ineffective.


- Syracuse has some serious length and athleticism on the back-line of its defense. Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku are a dominant duo on the boards, but Wesley Johnson adds a whole new element with his wingspan and versatility.

- Jonny Flynn is obviously going to be tough to replace, but eight turnovers in the first eight minutes, and 13 in the first half, against Albany made it even more obvious. Freshman Brandon Triche needs to develop in a hurry, and Scoop Jardine has to take control as well.

- However, Jardine seemed much more aggressive than Triche, and his ability to take the ball to the hole bodes well for the Orange. Triche picking up three first-half fouls didn’t help his cause, either. They did co-exist in the backcourt at times, though.

- Syracuse’s zone defense looked very active, forcing 19 first-half turnovers and making life very difficult for the Great Danes.

- The Orange looked to run at nearly every opportunity, but poor decisions in the fast-break and ill-advised passes slowed down the momentum that they constantly tried to build.

- I liked the full-court pressure that Syracuse threw at Albany every once in awhile; it kept them active and energetic, and helped build an insurmountable lead for the Orange. It really helped them take advantage of their edge in length and athletic ability.

- Without Flynn and Eric Devendorf’s penetration ability, Andy Rautins was having much more difficulty getting open looks from the perimeter, finishing with 0 points. If the Orange are going to be successful, he needs to knock down shots from deep. His twisted ankle could be a concern, too.

- Mookie Jones was trying way too hard to make an impact; he missed four consecutive jumpers in a five-possession span in the first half, and then committed an unnecessary foul.

- The Orange will need more production from their bench as the season goes on. Outside of Jardine (who is more or less a part-time starter) and Kris Joseph, no bench players scored until late in the second half. James Southerland, who scored 20 points in an exhibition game, was scoreless.


- Jamal Boykin is going to have to be a key factor for the Golden Bears. The former Duke transfer is going to have to find a way to take some of the pressure off of the loaded Cal perimeter group. He had a few nice face-up drives to the basket against Murray State, and showed he could finish. I was impressed with his play throughout, and he seemed like a go-to-guy down the stretch.

- JC transfer Markhuri Sanders-Frison is also going to need to make an immediate impact. Despite not adding much on the offensive end, he looked solid defensively, and is basically going to have to hold down the fort in the paint. He showed surprising athleticism early on when switching after a pick-and-roll and then diving for a loose ball near halfcourt.

- Cal went to a zone for a bit fairly early in the first half, which wouldn’t bode well if the Golden Bears have to use it often in the Pac-10. They don’t have a lot of size in the first place and the zone makes it difficult to find players to box out for the defensive team. They’re going to have to defend teams with activity and quickness, not a slow-rotating zone.

- Cal’s three-point ability makes them so difficult to beat – unless the Golden Bears are off for a night. However, they were knocking them down against Murray State in the first half, and every time Murray State had some momentum, someone would knock down a three for Cal. They only hit five threes total, which is fewer than normal, but they still shot nearly 42 percent from deep.

- Murray State had a lot of quickness, and Cal – a team with plenty of quickness in its own right – had trouble with it. The Golden Bears had some turnovers and got beat defensively on more than one occasion.

- Murray State was also able to get a lot of open looks inside the paint; the Racers weren’t settling for outside shots, they were attacking.

- Jorge Gutierrez is a dynamite defender. His aggressiveness and ability to stay in front of his man will be imperative when Cal faces the likes of Isaiah Thomas and Abdul Gaddy of Washington.

- Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher were non-existent for much of the early going – neither scored until Randle hit two free-throws with 6:15 left in the first half. Christopher followed that up with a big dunk on the next possession. Randle only shot 4-for-12 from the field on the game, but he was 10-of-11 from the free-throw line and hit a tough lay-up with 1:20 left to ice the game.

- Cal’s bench was huge for the Golden Bears in the first half. I already mentioned Gutierrez’s defense, but he also knocked down a three; Brandon Smith had a nice basket; Omondi Amoke got to the foul-line and D.J. Seeley made things happen.

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