College Basketball Weekend Preview
A look at the next few days in NCAA hoops.
by Aaron Torres / @Aaron_Torres
After last Saturday’s college hoops schedule left me more excited than a frat guy heading to spring break, this week’s slate is more back to reality. That doesn’t mean there aren’t any quality games, just not what we saw last Saturday with showdowns like Texas-Kansas and Villanova-Syracuse and others.
Still, there’s plenty to keep your eyes on though, starting with…
Game of the Weekend: No. 19 Louisville at No. 5 UConn: Saturday, 12:00 p.m.
Forget Kemba Walker, Peyton Siva and Alex Oriahki for a second. Because before we talk hoops here, I want to show these coaches some love.
By now you all know that my allegiances lie with UConn. Always have, always will. If Jim Calhoun called and asked me for a kidney tomorrow, I’d do it in a second. (Why he’d want one of my kidneys is another story, but we’ll discuss that another time.) Still, with everyone talking about Calhoun as the National Coach of the Year, I’ve got to ask, what about Rick Pitino?
Let’s think about this logically for a second. Calhoun is the front-runner in the eyes of many, with a record of 17-2. Of course he’s also got one of the handful of best players in the country with Walker. Meanwhile, Pitino has Louisville at 16-4 with, from what I can see, one Big East caliber player in Siva.
Which is why I’d give Pitino my National Coach of the Year Award right now. To his credit, Pitino looked himself in the mirror sometime this fall, and said, “I cannot win with this group of guys the way I’ve been doing things.” Essentially, there’s no Terrence Williams, Earl Clark or Francisco Garcia walking through that door. Then he junked last year’s game-plan, put in the full-court pressing, three-point heavy attack that we’ve seen this year, and all of a sudden we’ve got a team that went from no expectations at all into the Top 20. Isn’t that what coaching is all about?
As for Saturday’s game, well I just don’t see the Cardinals losing here. UConn has reached that rarified air of, “Sorry, we’re just not going to lose games we’re not supposed to, especially at home.” It doesn’t happen a lot, especially in the Big East, but that seems to be the case in Storrs right now.
Next Best Game: No. 13 Missouri at No. 8 Texas: Saturday, 9:00 p.m.
This one doesn’t tip-off until pretty late, but if you can get out of your dinner plans early, be sure to. (Here’s a quick pointer: Just skip the dessert. Look at yourself, do you really need the apple tart?) This is not a game you’ll want to miss.
And much like UConn and Louisville, Texas has all of a sudden emerged from a chemistry quagmire in 2010 to become one of this year’s most exciting teams. Everybody plays hard, they’re all committed on both ends of the court, and as weird as this sounds, everyone on the team seems to like each other. Crazy, I know.
While we’re here, why isn’t Jordan Hamilton getting more love for National Player of the Year? I’m not saying he’s more deserving than Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette or Jared Sullinger, but he has been the best player in the Big XII, and leading the No. 8 team in the country in both points (19.2) and rebounds (7.4). Maybe more importantly, Hamilton has become the emotional leader of this team. Which is no small feat for a guy that was the poster boy of last year’s “Me First,” chemistry nightmare.
As for the game here, for all the talk about the scoring exploits of these two teams, it’s going to be won on the defensive end. Missouri will be victorious if this game is played in the 80’s, but with the way the Longhorns get after you on defense, that just isn’t going to happen.
Put down the apple tart, and get home to watch this game. You won’t be disappointed.
Game That Looked Better On Paper In October: Kansas State at No. 6 Kansas, Saturday, 7:00 p.m.
Truth be told, I just never bought Kansas State as a real contender from the beginning of the season. But with that said, I had no idea they’d be this bad. Even their win over Baylor Monday night was an eye sore. Seriously, I’ve seen surgery shows on the Discovery Health Channel that were easier to stomach than the Wildcats 69-61 win. Yes Kansas State got the W, but in the end, weren’t we all losers for watching a game in which the winning team shot 36 percent from the floor?
And heading to Phog Allen Fieldhouse, it’s hard to see the Wildcats even keeping things close here. I’m not saying it can’t happen. Just that you’re more likely to see Frank Martin joining the Ohio State guys singing Miley Cyrus songs, than Kansas State going into Lawrence and getting the win.
As for their opponents, to Kansas’ credit, the Jayhawks shook off last Saturday’s loss to Texas with a quality road win at Colorado on Tuesday. Don’t let the 83-78 final score fool you, Kansas played maybe their best game of the season, and to Colorado’s credit, they played just as tough for 40 minutes.
Also, the biggest revelation of that game may have been Josh Selby’s 17 point outburst. We’ve been waiting for the freshman to figure things out in Lawrence, and the Colorado game may have been that time. He shot 7 of 14 from the field, in leading the Jayhawks with 17 points.
It’s hard to see Kansas winning a National Championship without consistent contribution from someone on the perimeter. If Selby can consistently be that guy, Kansas could become unbeatable.
Underrated Game of the Weekend: No. 18 Minnesota at No. 12 Purdue
As crazy as it sounds, this might be the game I’m most looking forward to this weekend. No, I know that sounds weird. Just hear me out, would you?
To Tubby Smith’s credit, his Minnesota team has quietly won four games in a row, and is playing their best basketball of the season. Unfortunately, they’ll also be playing without Al Nolen for maybe the rest of the year, after the guard broke his foot last weekend. So with that said, how does Minnesota respond here?
On the flip side, what about Purdue? The more I watch this team, the more I’m starting to wonder if maybe- just maybe- they’re one of those really savvy, veteran, “good but not great,” basketball teams. You know, the kind that beats everyone they’re supposed to, but can’t compete with the really elite teams.
And it’s because of that why I’m so intrigued by this game. How does Minnesota handle life without Nolen, and can Purdue get buckets against this quality Minnesota front-line?
I don’t know. But I’m ready to find out.
Looking around the rest of the country, here’s some games to keep your eye on:
No. 20 Georgetown at No. 7 Villanova: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. I don’t know what Villanova’s loss to Providence College means, and I don’t know what Georgetown’s three-game winning streak against three average teams means. Hopefully Saturday afternoon will give me some sort of clarity.
No. 11 Texas A&M at Nebraska: Saturday, 2:00 p.m. Texas A&M is No. 11 in the country in scoring defense. Nebraska is No. 5 in the country in the same category. Which means that unless you like slow, deliberate basketball, with lots of jump shots hitting the front iron, this might be a game to skip.
First team to 50 wins!
Georgia at No. 16 Kentucky: Saturday, 4:00 p.m. With Georgia’s Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie and Terrence Jones and Brandon Knight, there will be more NBA talent on the court than any Charlotte Bobcats game this season. Good times!
Still, there’s no way Kentucky loses to the ‘Dawgs twice in a season, is there?
No. 9 BYU at New Mexico: Saturday, 4:00 p.m. After scoring 40+ points in three of his last four games, Jimmer Fredette can’t possibly do it again, can he?