Commentary

Four undefeated teams float into NYC

Originally Published: November 25, 2009
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

Macy's will hold its annual Thanksgiving Day parade on Thursday with its usual inflatable characters banging into skyscraper windows.

Mickey Mouse, Pooh Bear, Snoopy … all the usual suspects will float down Seventh Avenue. But the department store chain missed the chance to be truly ingenious. The NIT Season Tip-Off is in Manhattan, with games straddling the Thanksgiving holiday. On Wednesday night, it's LSU against Connecticut (7 ET, ESPN2) and Arizona State taking on Duke (9:30, ESPN2) in the semifinals, with a champion being crowned on Friday.

So why not a blow-up Jim Calhoun and 10-story tall Mike Krzyzewski? Bet they'd run circles around Pooh Bear.

OK, maybe not. Maybe it's just early tryptophan rendering me incoherent.

Balloons or no, this promises to be an intriguing semifinal:

Potential game-changers: These are the guys you might not be talking about on the way into the game, but could be yapping about endlessly when the buzzer sounds.

Storm Warren, LSU: His name makes him sound like he ought to be romancing damsels on some afternoon soap opera, but his game proves Warren is exactly where he belongs. He's notched a double-double in all three games so far, is hitting 70 percent from the floor, and a year after shooting just 48 percent from the free-throw line, Warren has missed just one (11-12) from the charity stripe in the early going.

[+] EnlargeHerb Sendek
AP Photo/J.Pat CarterFormer ACC coach Herb Sendek and Duke transfer Eric Boateng know all about the Blue Devils.

Stanley Robinson, Connecticut: He hasn't always received a lot of the attention, but Robinson often is the difference-maker for the Huskies. Through three games, the guy they call "Sticks" is averaging 16.7 points and 4.7 rebounds. And with his ability to score inside and his strength to go at the rim, he becomes a matchup challenge for undermanned teams like LSU.

Eric Boateng, Arizona State: How do you say much improved in Chinese or the African dialect of Twi, the other two languages Boateng speaks? After transferring to ASU two years ago after a reserve season at Duke, Boateng scored 57 points last season. In 31 games. This year the senior has 46 in three games. It'll be fascinating to see how he fares against his former team.

Andre Dawkins, Duke: With enough credits to graduate and Elliot Williams' transferring to Memphis, Dawkins decided to forego his senior year of high school and make the jump to college ahead of schedule. So far the decision is paying off. The rookie has been solid off the bench for the Blue Devils, chipping in 13 points when Coastal Carolina went triangle-and-two on Jon Scheyer and Kyle Singler and then exploding for six 3-pointers and 20 points against Radford.

Key matchups

Bo Spencer (LSU) vs. Kemba Walker (UConn): Offseason wrist surgery has done nothing to slow Spencer. He's played all but two minutes for the Tigers this season and is averaging 20 points per game. Walker, however, is unlike any guard Spencer has seen yet in the early going. Lightning fast, Walker all but willed the Huskies to the Final Four last season. Now as a starter instead of a reserve, he's become an even more adept playmaker without sacrificing his own scoring.

Derek Glasser (ASU) vs. Nolan Smith (Duke): Keeping with the point guard theme, the nightcap ought to offer another intriguing head-to-head. Glasser, a senior and a rare veteran on a young team, is shooting well this season (46 percent from 3) and is averaging 10.5 ppg and 4.5 apg. With ASU's short bench, he doesn't take much of a breather. Smith might tucker him out. The junior has put up back-to-back 20-point nights and leads the team in scoring (22.0 ppg) while also dishing out six assists a game.

Numbers game: With Alex Farrer sidelined with a dislocated kneecap, LSU is down to eight scholarship players and four walk-ons. That's a slight disadvantage against the Huskies, who can call a 7-footer off the bench and can go 10 deep.

We meet again: The head coaches here are hardly strangers. Before he went to Arizona State, Herb Sendek spent 10 years at NC State, where he annually went head-to-head with Mike Krzyzewski. The Duke boss owns the edge -- Sendek has managed only three wins in his career against K. Trent Johnson and Jim Calhoun also have met previously. During the 2003-04 season, Johnson, then the head coach at Nevada, had the unlucky privilege of traveling to Storrs, Conn., to face the top-ranked Huskies. The Wolf Pack lost by 14, but later managed a run to the Sweet 16. UConn did them one better, winning the national title.

Something's gotta give: In a 104-67 win over Radford on Saturday, Duke swished 18 3-pointers, tying a school record. On the season, the hot-shooting Blue Devils are averaging 10.7 makes beyond the arc. Watch out, though, because Arizona State blankets the arc. The Sun Devils are allowing opponents to shoot just 29.3 percent from 3-point land.

Feast or famine: How LSU plays against Connecticut might very well depend on how the Tigers are feeling about the 3-point line. Against Indiana State, LSU was 0-for-15 from long range. The next night, the Tigers missed their first four treys to run the woeful streak to 19 … and then proceeded to drain five of their next seven to hold off Western Kentucky.

Home sweet … I need a map: Duke is making its 35th appearance at Madison Square Garden, while Connecticut -- thanks in part to the Big East tournament -- is making its 95th. On the other hand, their opponents might need one of those double-decker buses to find the arena. Arizona State hasn't been to New York since 1997, when the Sun Devils faced (and nearly upset) No. 2 Kansas. LSU hasn't swapped beignets for bagels since 1978.

Dana O'Neil covers college basketball for ESPN.com and can be reached at espnoneil@live.com.

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