College Basketball Weekend Preview
Kemba can’t beat Texas single-handedly.
by Aaron Torres / @Aaron_Torres
Here are some things to keep an eye on heading into this weekend’s college basketball schedule…
Game Of The Weekend- No. 9 UConn at No. 12 Texas, Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
To say this is a “must win,” for the No. 9 team in the country might be overselling things a bit. As things stand, the Huskies enter this game with an 11-2 record, which, given the circumstances, no UConn fan would’ve turned down at the beginning of the season. With that said though, those two losses were both in the last 10 days, and were both the only two true road games UConn has played all year. Again, this isn’t a “must win,” for the Huskies, but a victory over Texas sure would be sweet.
As for the game itself, the media is going to try and stuff Kemba Walker down your throat, but don’t be fooled. The match-up to keep your eye on is in the paint, where UConn’s Alex Oriakhi will have to go up against Texas’ Gary Johnson, Tristan Thompson and Alexis Wangemene virtually by himself.
And for all the talk about Big East teams having finally “figured out” Walker, the truth is that the Huskies’ recent struggles have been in larger part because of the struggles of Oriahki himself. The 6-9 forward was lights out early, recording three double-doubles in UConn’s three wins in the Maui Invitational. Yet since returning to the mainland, he hasn’t gotten a single one. Oriahki may have hit rock bottom in Tuesday’s loss to Notre Dame, where he fouled out in 23 minutes, and scored the same number of points you and I did. Zero.
Walker is the engine that makes these Huskies go. But getting a win Saturday will be dependent on how Oriahki plays.
Game To Keep Your Eye On: No. 11 Kentucky at Georgia, Saturday, 4 p.m.
There was a lot of talk in the preseason about other teams being favorites in the SEC, yet here we are the first weekend of January, and this is Kentucky’s conference to take. As for everyone, well, they’re a mess. Florida changes personalities more than a Broadway actor. Tennessee is set to play their next eight conference games without coach Bruce Pearl. Vanderbilt is good, but not at Kentucky’s level athletically or skill wise. So why wouldn’t the Wildcats be favored the rest of the way?
Still, don’t sleep on their match-up Saturday with Georgia. The Bulldogs have won seven in a row, and while none of the wins are overly impressive (unless you consider Georgia Tech impressive, which honestly, you shouldn’t), Georgia enters this game healthy, and with the athletes to compete with the Wildcats.
Keep an especially close eye on the Bulldogs’ Trey Thompkins, a junior who is averaging 17 points a night, and has scored in double figures in every game he’s played this season.
Team That Needs To Be On Upset Alert: Kansas State
We’re not saying that Kansas State hasn’t been impressive this year, it’s just that, well… actually, that’s exactly what we’re saying. The Wildcats entered the season ranked No. 3 in the country, and while all their losses have been explainable, what hasn’t been, are their struggles against lousy teams. Yes we’re talking about an eight-point win at Loyola (IL) and a nine-point win against Presbyterian.
And don’t look now, but the Wildcats are headed to one of the toughest venues in college basketball Saturday, Gallagher-Iba Arena to take on Oklahoma State. This isn’t a vintage Cowboys team, but Marshall Moses can still light things up for them, and Oklahoma State never goes down without a fight in Stillwater. They’re 7-0 at home this year.
We’re not saying Kansas State will lose here. Just that they need to be careful.
The Rivalry Game That’s Not Really A Rivalry Anymore, But We Wish It Were Anyway: Maryland at No. 1 Duke, Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Remember when this used to be one of the premiere match-ups on the college basketball calendar? You know, Steve Blake, Juan Dixon, Carlos Boozer, Jay Williams, those guys? Oh, the memories.
Unfortunately, with Maryland falling back to “decent but hardly great,” these last few years, this has become just another game on Duke’s schedule. And it’s hard to see them losing here. Yes Maryland big man Jordan Williams could give the Blue Devils trouble in the paint, but besides him, we just can’t see the rest of the Terrapins being able to keep pace on both ends of the court with Duke.
The Blue Devils are going to lose at some point this season. It’s just not here.
Team In Need Of Help From The Schedule Makers: Minnesota
Whoever makes the schedule over at the Big Ten office clearly has some kind of personal vendetta with either Tubby Smith, or the Minnesota Golden Gophers program as a whole. How else can you explain three of Minnesota’s first four conference games being at Wisconsin, at Michigan State and Saturday at Ohio State? Are the Miami Heat up next?
Either way, to Minnesota’s credit, they’re one of the few teams in college basketball that actually has the size and depth in the front court to slow down Ohio State freshman superstar Jared Sullinger. Look for Travis Mbakwe, Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson III to harass, and likely keep Sullinger in check Saturday in Columbus. All are at least 6-8, athletic and tough in the paint.
Of course the bigger question now becomes if the Gophers have the athletes on the perimeter to slow down Ohio State’s David Lighty, William Buford and Jon Diebler. We’re not sure they do. And it’s that depth which really does make Ohio State one of the best teams in the country.
Game Which Neither Team Can Afford To Lose: West Virginia at No. 13 Georgetown, Saturday, 11:00 a.m.
What was it, about six months ago that West Virginia and Georgetown got together at Madison Square Garden with a Big East Championship on the line? My how times have changed, as each team enters this weekend at 1-2 in Big East play, with both teams getting their sole conference win against DePaul (which, let’s be honest, is really a ‘Big East basketball school,’ in name only, right?).
For Georgetown the problems in Tuesday’s loss to St. John’s started and ended from behind the arc. Put simply, when your three leading scorers are all guards, you just can’t afford to go 4-17 from downtown. Which is exactly what happened.
As for West Virginia, their woes are complicated and equally simplistic at the same time. Basically, the Mountaineers just aren’t as good as they were last year. Yes John Flowers, Kevin Jones and Casey Mitchell are all quality players. But none has the leadership ability of the departed Da’Sean Butler, or the raw skill of Devin Ebanks.
Nobody can afford to start 1-3 in the Big East. Unfortunately for one of these two teams, that’s exactly what’s going to happen Saturday.
Starting to wrap up, here are a few more games to keep your eye on:
No. 3 Kansas at Michigan: The Jayhawks haven’t gone on the road all that much this season, so this will be a nice chance to hit the skies and take on a quality opponent away from Lawrence. Going against a young Michigan team, we just can’t see the Jayhawks slipping up here.
St. John’s at No. 16 Notre Dame: Remember when Miami and Notre Dame used to play in football, and the media labeled the game, “Catholics vs. Convicts?” In comparison, I guess that makes this game, “Catholics vs…Catholics.” Not quite the same ring to it, I suppose. Either way, as nice of a story as St. John’s has been this year, Purcell Pavilion is a tough place to play. It’s hard to see them getting another Big East win there.
Air Force at No. 14 BYU: Jimmer Fredette dropped 39 points in Wednesday night’s win over UNLV. It’ll be fun to see what he’s got for an encore Saturday.
No. 16 Texas A&M at Oklahoma: This would probably be a lot more fun match-up if it were football. Or baseball. Or softball. Or flag football. But in basketball? We just can’t see the Aggies losing here.
Tennessee at Arkansas: The Bruce Pearl Coaching Sabbatical starts here. For one Saturday, the Vols will be just fine without him.