In his third game as the VCU coach, Will Wade must prepare for the difficult task of playing Duke after the Blue Devils were exposed and handled Tuesday night in an 11-point loss to Kentucky. Also, the game will be played in Madison Square Garden. Last time Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was in the building he earned career victory 1,000 as the Blue Devils improved to 18-3 in their last 21 games in one of basketball’s iconic venues.
Wade was Shaka Smart’s assistant the last time the programs met, a 9-point Duke win in the semifinals of the 2012 Battle 4 Atlantis. He hasn’t pondered how he might feel when he walks on to the historic court to face the coach who has the most wins in college basketball history in front of an electric New York City crowd.
He’s been focused instead on mapping an effective plan for his 2-0 Rams against the third-tallest team Krzyzewski has coached in 36 seasons at Duke.
“They are very talented, very well coached and very, very long - significantly bigger than us at every position,” Wade said earlier this week. “Combatting their length and scoring in different ways is going to be critical for us.”
Still, the matchup is hardly one-sided. The Blue Devils committed turnovers on 23.9 percent of their possessions against Kentucky and have an inexperienced point guard. Those facts surely fuel the Rams, who forced opening opponents Prairie View and Radford into 42 turnovers and consistently rank among the national leaders in all turnover related statistics.
Duke - VCU (tonight, 7:30 p.m., ESPN) is one of several interesting guaranteed matchups this weekend. Several ongoing tournaments offer potential title games between ranked teams.
More on the tasty weekend ahead later, but first a glance at what we learned this week:
Per usual, the Champions Classic revealed plenty about the four participating bluebloods. In particular, people are concerned with Kansas’ offense. LSU’s competition has been on the soft side thus far, but 6-10 freshman Ben Simmons is good, maybe better, than anticipated. And, yeah! Offense is back. Early statistics confirm what our eyes see - less wrestling, better pace and more scoring.
Injuries stink: This is obvious, but college basketball lost too many terrific players in the infant stages of the season.
Rhode Island’s E.C. Mathews, a senior preseason All-A10 selection on one of the conference favorites, tore the ACL in his right knee in the first half of the opener against American. The best player in the Southland Conference, Northwestern State point guard Jalan West also tore his ACL and will miss the entire season. N.C. State shooting guard Terry Henderson, playing his first college game in 19 months after transferring home from West Virginia, tore ligaments in his right ankle seven minutes into an eventual loss to William & Mary. He is expected to resume basketball-related activities in 6-8 weeks.
Three teams are waiting for their point guards to return: Codi Miller-McIntyre (Wake Forest), Dylan Ennis (Oregon) and Marcus Paige (North Carolina), who will miss his homecoming game against Northern Iowa on Saturday as he continues to recover from a broken finger on his non-shooting hand.
Upsets are great: They are just one of the 623 or so reasons to love college basketball. Besides watching William & Mary cruise past N.C. State, the season’s opening weekend gave us Monmouth over UCLA, Radford stunning Georgetown, Southern over Mississippi State and Western Illinois over last season's national runner-up, Wisconsin.
Please allow me to introduce myself: Pascal Siakam, a Cameroon native, is a 6-9, 230-pound forward for New Mexico State. Through three games, he’s averaging 27.0 points per game and 10.0 rebounds per game. Siakam is taking 30 percent of the Aggies' shots when he’s on the floor and has hit 31 of 52 (59.6 percent). He’s also improved his assist rate, turnover rate and rebounding rate since last season, so basically he’s better at basketball and that’s a problem for the other teams in the Western Athletic Conference.
Team on the rise: Miami (Fla.) There’s plenty to love about the Hurricanes, who were picked fifth in the ACC preseason poll, but they could easily exceed those expectations. Miami has been ridiculously efficient in rolling to three victories to open the season, riding a balanced attack that is producing 94.1 points per game with an offensive rating of 132.7 (fourth in the nation). The lineup features five scorers averaging in double figures. Sheldon McClellan, a 6-5 senior who was quietly one of the ACC’s most efficient scorers last season, leads the onslaught with 17.3 points per game. He’s been accurate from the outside (6-of-11 on 3-pointers) and inside (11-of-18 on 2-pointers). The road grows tougher for Miami at 7 p.m. tonight against No. 16 Utah in the Puerto Rico Tipoff Classic semifinals on ESPNU. Still, their plethora of hard-driving guards will make the ‘Canes difficult to defend this season.
Friday Nov. 20
Wisconsin vs. Georgetown, Madison Square Garden, NYC (5 p.m., ESPN2)
Both were upset victims early on, but the first semifinal of the 2K Classic should be a tight one between two of the nation’s most deliberate teams.
Xavier at No. 24 Michigan (9 p.m., Big Ten Network
Beginning of a brutal stretch for the Wolverines, who head to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis next week.
Saturday Nov. 21
Belmont at Evansville (1 p.m., ESPN3)
Don’t be surprised if either team makes magic in March. Purple Aces guard D.J. Balentine can score.
No. 1 North Carolina at Northern Iowa (2 p.m., ESPN3)
It would be cooler if Paige could play in front of the home folks, however the Heels would be wise not to overlook UNI, which looked strong in beating Stephen F. Austin 70-60 on Tuesday.
2K Classic Consolation / Championship (evening, ESPN2)
Check the starting times, but regardless of how the matchups play out there should be two solid games in the Garden.
Sunday Nov. 22
Hall of Fame Tip-Off championship game (5:30 p.m., ESPN2)
This could be many’s first look at Florida, under new coach Michael White, and Purdue, with a tall frontcourt featuring elite freshman Caleb Swanigan and recently returned A.J. Hammons.
Puerto Rico championship game (7:30 p.m, ESPN2)
High-octane Butler directed by point guard Tyler Lewis is likely to emerge from its half of the bracket to face the Miami - Utah winner. Either way, it should be entertaining.
Charleston Classic championship game (9:30 p.m., ESPN2)
This is shaping up as a matchup between Oklahoma State, which is trying to gain early momentum, and Virginia, which has 3-point shooting questions to answer.