In lieu of four or five small blog posts -- and before we move on to Night 2 of the marathon -- here are a few random thoughts left over from my delirious viewing of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, Night 1:
I still think NC State is overrated, but at least it looks better: You could see it throughout the broadcast last night, from the mic'd up pregame speech to the late-game timeouts: Mark Gottfried was constantly reminding his team to "stay together," reassuring them that they were "still OK," and so on and so forth. Without fully enrolling in Basketball Body Language 201, this appears to be just what the doctor ordered. After a lifeless 20-point loss to Oklahoma State and a near-disaster 82-80 win against UNC-Asheville, NC State went to play a crazy-hot all-doubts-now-eschewed Michigan team and didn't ever really go away. They have a lot of things to fix, and they were never the sixth-best team in the country (ahh, preseason rankings, never change) but they looked much more forceful last night. Maybe a few games like these will be good medicine for the challenges ahead.
Minnesota might just be that good: Sure, sure, this Florida State defense is not your typical Florida State defense. After years of being the best defense in the country, the post-Bernard Scott Seminoles are merely OK on that end of the floor. Even so, Minnesota went from an impressive run in the Bahamas, to a stopover in Tallahassee, and emerged with a 7-1 record and a host of very tired-seeming tweets. Impressive stuff.
Iowa has to play some defense, but give Va. Tech credit, too: This is not a revelation. It's pretty obvious, actually. But it is true all the same: You simply can't give up 1.28 points per trip and expect to win, no matter how fast you play. Iowa allowed Virginia Tech to go buck-wild last night, and the Hawkeyes, who had a merely good offensive night themselves, couldn't keep up. But don't just blame the porous Hawks. Virginia Tech is actually playing some really good offense so far this season -- its raw PPP average is 116.8 -- and considering how bad we assumed the rebuilding, transfer-riddled Hokies were going to be, new coach James Johnson (now 6-0) deserves a huge share of credit.
Wake Forest is the basketball equivalent of my past two days: Here I was, somewhat expecting Wake Forest to be not-totally-terrible this season. How silly of me. Tim Miles is a good coach, and he has Nebraska doing some nice things, but I'm sorry -- you can't lose to Nebraska by 16 points at home. You just can't. Jeff Bzdelik's tenure has suffered some brutal moments (including arguably the worst season in Wake history), but it doesn't seem to be getting much better, at least not thus far this season. When you consider that Bzdelik's best record at Colorado was 15-16, and the man he replaced went to the NCAA tournament two years in a row before he was fired, AD Ron Wellman's decision (based on a personal relationship with Bzdelik) always looked questionable. The more this keeps up, the more it looks fireable.
And hey, how about those Terps? By far the most common question we got in the Challenge chat Tuesday night was some formulation of "Is Team X this good or Team Y that bad?" (In the case of Indiana-UNC, I'm going to go with "both.") This gets a teensy bit annoying, though never as annoying as being asked whether a certain team can go to a certain round of the NCAA tournament. (Easy answer: Maybe!) In any case, it felt worthy of the Maryland-Northwestern game, before which Northwestern appeared to be a sneaky favorite. The Wildcats had been playing quietly solid basketball, transfer forward Jared Swopshire had been a major addition, and maybe, just maybe, this team was better than everyone thought. Maryland put that notion to rest rather solidly in the second half, thanks to the dynamic play of Dez Wells and center Alex Len's tireless interior dominance. Northwestern was badly outrebounded in this game. It remains to be seen whether that is going to be (as it has in past seasons) a consistent ceiling to their success ... or whether Len, Wells, James Padgett and company are going to be too much for a lot of teams this season. Either way, really impressive win.