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What You Missed While Eating Turkey, and What It Means for the ACC-Big Ten

Man, those November tournaments are multiplying, aren't they? This is what happens when the NCAA induces demand with a silly little rule allowing a team up to four extra games for participating in "a qualified tournament." All of sudden, where once there was just vacations to Maui and Anchorage, the past two weeks was suddenly host to over a dozen "classics" and invitationals that have sprung out of the aether: The 76 Classic, the Old Spice Classic, the Legend's Classic, the Charleston Classic, the Philly Hoop Group Classic, the Glenn Wilkes Classic, the Hall of Fame Showcase, the Puerto Rico Tip-off, the Cancun Challenge (which surprisingly enough does not involve body shots), the Paradise Jam, the South Padre Island Invitational, the Las Vegas Invitational, the incredibly awkwardly named Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off and it's more ridiculously named cousin the 2009 O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic. Toss in the two granddaddies, and the NCAA probably put more basketball fans into a coma this week than tryptophan.

I'd wager twenty bucks you can't name off the top of your head three of the teams that added to their trophy case last week.

I know I can't. With the Carolina team eating turkey and preparing for Nevada, most of what ESPN was pitching couldn't hold my attention. But the misery we're exposed to in November can tell us about the teams UNC will face later in the season. So what have we learned?

Let's start with the immediate danger, Michigan State. The Spartans spent Thanksgiving in Atlantic City at the Legends Classic – an institution since way back in 2007 – where they promptly lost their first game to then-unranked Florida. Now Florida's an interesting team, with an incredible defense. They delivered too, generating 23 turnovers and holding MSU to a low (for them) 1.04 points per possession. Michigan State finished their weekend by destroying the tissue-thin defense of Massachusetts, but the Gators and Gonzaga are the only two real teams Sparty has faced.

This team has made a few changes sine last April in Michigan. First of all, they've joined the rest of the Big Ten in picking up the pace. They're also turning the ball over more, probably as a result of that faster tempo. But for the most part, their still the same team, vicious on defense and devoted to points in the paint. They're very similar to this year's Tar Heel team, in fact, just with vastly more experience. Which makes this definitely a winnable game for UNC. They'll just have to take care of the ball in a manner they haven't all season. It's possible; the Spartans are among the worst in the country in generating turnovers, and against Nevada the Heels began to show an ability to keep the ball out of their opponents' hands. (Nevada, it should be said, is even worse than MSU at getting turnovers, though.)

Then there are UNC's future ACC opponents and fellow Big 10 challengers. Four schools added hardware to their trophy case this month: Miami (Charleston Classic), Duke (NIT Season Tip-Off), Florida State (Old Spice Classic), and N.C. State (Glenn Wilkes Classic). Only the Blue Devils and the Seminoles played opponents of any note. Florida State beat a Marquette team with some potential, and won grittily in the final seconds. That being said, I wouldn't look for them to beat Ohio State. The Seminoles have turnover problems that make the Heels look fabulous by comparison. Marquette had fifteen steals alone in their meeting last week. FSU wins games on defense, forcing teams to beat them from a distance and muscle away rebounds. Ohio State is a team that can definitely give them fits in that regard.

Duke beat Connecticut and the possibly more dangerous Arizona State by nine and eleven points, respectively. They shouldn't have any problems with a slow Wisconsin team. Miami has faced a schedule full of teams that sound like weather patterns, including Nova Southeastern, Florida Gulf Coast, and South Carolina Upstate, which could come back to haunt them in their first real game against Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are 11th in the country in steals, while Miami is 326th in turnovers. It's a disaster waiting to happen. 

The remaining seven ACC teams all lost at least one game of their respective November junkets, all to unranked or lower-ranked teams. In the case of Clemson, battling it out in the 76 Classic, that was merely poor perspective on the part of the poll voters. The Tigers' first round opponent Texas A&M was a solid, hot-shooting team, but Clemson can hold their own. They're great defenders, nabbing steals especially on the perimeter, where Andre Young and Tanner Smith are making waves, and shouldn't have too many problems with Illinois. Provide you keep them off the line, that is. Their free throw shooting is absolutely horrible.

Wake Forest skipped the tourney circuit, but apparently was suffering from a turkey hangover when William & Mary came into Lawrence Joel. That's the only explanation for a ten point loss at home. The Demon Deacons have put up excellent defensive numbers so far this season, but their opponents haven't ben of the highest caliber. That'll change with Purdue, another team known for its defense. Wake can win this game, but if they fail to show up for a second straight night on the hardwood, it may be time to reassess this team.

Maryland is also struggling against decent opponents, dropping both of their games in Maui on the backs of extremely poor rebounding. They're getting a veritable life raft in Indiana, though, who went 0-3 in Puerto Rico. The Hoosiers have a completely ineffective offense, right now, which should play to the Terps' strengths. And hopefully we'll learn what those are. Same with Boston College, who lost two of three in the Paradise Jam, which I assume was named after an '80's Caribbean hip-hop group I am unfamiliar with. BC's problem at the moment is a flailing defense, but they get Michigan, who hasn't exactly been burning up the nets on offense. 

Georgia Tech lost their toughest game of the season, the opening round match against Dayton of an auto-parts tournament. Their another team relying entirely on an interior game led by Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors. They get the annual pass on the challenge; Siena is the best team they'll play before the conference season begins.

As for the last three teams, Virginia has already lost their Big Ten game to Penn State, and Virginia Tech and N.C. State haven't met anyone strong enough to truly gauge how their playing. That won't change this week either, as both Iowa and Northwestern are unspectacular Big Ten teams. So instead we'll jump ahead to UNC's other big December opponents.

Kentucky squeaked by the Stanford team that slow-played Virginia to victory in the Cancun Challenge. It was an overtime game typical of the Wildcats play so far this season – heavy on turnovers, and totally reliant on their big man play in the paint. (Sounds... familiar.) The danger, of course, is that their defense is designed to get the opponent shooting threes to avoid the paint players, a situation that obviously won't fly with UNC. And if the Heels get past that they'll get Texas, who blew past Pitt to win the CBE Classic. I fully expect to find a flaw in the Longhorns' game any day now; until then, they're averaging 1.21 PPP while only giving up 0.743, a truly vicious scoring margin. That should come back to earth with better opponents, but Texas will be snacking on cupcakes until Carolina comes to Dallas on the 19th. We'll see what happens then.