Rick Pitino, Russ Smith

Weekend Preview: Kentucky-Louisville highlights a solid slate

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Game of the Weekend: Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Kentucky at No. 4 Louisville (CBS)

It may not be the battle of top five teams that we expected it to be heading into the season, but that doesn’t take any of the excitement away from the battle for bluegrass supremacy.

Louisville enters this game playing as well as they have all season long. Their lone loss to Duke seems like it was an eternity ago, and given the success the Blue Devils have had this season, relatively insignificant as well. The Cardinals have one of the best back courts in the country in Russ Smith and Peyton Siva, and while their front line has played well over the course of the last month, Rick Pitino’s club will get a big boost on Saturday afternoon as Gorgui Dieng has been cleared to play. I’m sure he would have liked to have gotten Dieng in a game or two before throwing him into the biggest game of the regular season for the Cardinals, but having Gorgui is much better than, well, not having Gorgui.

While Louisville is beginning to hit their stride, Kentucky is still enduring some growing pains. As much talent as the Wildcats have on their roster, John Calipari looks like he is still figuring out how to get all that talent to fit together. The good news? Ryan Harrow is coming off of the best game of his collegiate career. The bad news? He now has to deal with one of the peskiest defensive back courts in the country.

And that right there is going to be what determines the outcome of this game. Can Kentucky’s back court handle the pressure that will inevitably be thrown at them by Louisville’s guards? Will Harrow’s confidence survive Smith’s quick hands? Can Archie Goodwin be patient enough in half court sets? If they can, than Kentucky might have a chance to upset the Cards.

Six more games to watch this weekend

  • Fri. 8:00 p.m.: Baylor at No. 13 Gonzaga (ESPN2): So how good is Baylor? They won in Lexington, yes. But they also lost at home to Charleston and Northwestern at home. And isn’t this the same question we always end up asking about Scott Drew’s teams? Pierre Jackson is going to be a nightmare matchup for either Kevin Pangos or David Stockton, but the real question is going to be how Baylor handles Gonzaga’s physicality up front.
  • Fri. 10:00 p.m.: No. 7 Missouri at UCLA (ESPN2): UCLA looks like they are finally starting to hit their stride this season as their three stud freshmen all played their best games of the year the last time the Bruins took the floor. But Ben Howland’s team will have their work cut out for them with the Tigers, who have the kind of size and physicality that could give the Bruins problems. The key? Who wins the battle of the backboards. Missouri crashes the offensive glass as hard as anyone. Can the Bruins keep them from getting those second chance points?
  • Sat. 2:00 p.m.: No. 20 UNLV at North Carolina (ESPN2): North Carolina will get a chance for some revenge against UNLV after the Rebels knocked them off of their No. 1 perch last season with a win in Vegas. And for UNC, that’s something that they definitely need at this point: a statement win. Something that tells the country that this season will be different than 2009-2010. Because right now, the Heels don’t look like a serious contender for the ACC title, let alone a national title.
  • Sat. 3:00 p.m.: Valparaiso at Murray State (ESPN3): One of the best mid-major matchups of the season. Valpo is the favorite in the Horizon, while Murray State looks like they picked up where they left off last season. Isaiah Canaan looks like an all-american again, and Stacy Wilson has proven to be terrific this year. The best matchup, however, will end up being Ed Daniel squaring off with Valpo’s front line of Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk.
  • Sat. 6:00 p.m.: Xavier at Tennessee (ESPNU): Xavier has one of the best freshman in the country in Semaj Christon, but where they will end up having issues with Tennessee is along with Vols front line. Does Chris Mack have anyone capable of hanging with Jarnell Stokes in the paint?

And the mid-majors?:

  • Fri. 7:00 p.m.: Iona at St. Joe’s
  • Fri. 7:30 p.m.: Bucknell at Loyola (MD)
  • Sat. 8:00 p.m.: North Texas at Western Kentucky
  • Sat. 8:00 p.m.: South Dakota State at North Dakota State

Akron reveals special bobble heads for LeBron, high school teammates

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When it comes to discussing some of the game of basketball’s best players, specifically those who went directly from high school to the NBA, a question that’s often asked is where said player would have attended college if forced (by rule) to do so. Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James are among those who have been discussed in this manner, and in the case of LeBron he’s got connections to two programs within his home state of Ohio.

LeBron’s connected with the Ohio State program, which is outfitted by the Nike’s LeBron signature line, but there’s another program with an even closer connection. That would be Akron, which is led by head coach Keith Dambrot, and all he did was serve as LeBron’s high school coach at St. Vincent/St. Mary’s HS in Akron during the player’s freshman and sophomore years at the school. Also on those teams were two future Akron Zips in guard Dru Joyce and forward Romeo Travis.

Thursday the school announced that it would be honoring James, Joyce and Travis with bobble head dolls to be given out before Akron’s home games against Buffalo (February 16; Joyce’s bobble head), Bowling Green (February 26; Travis) and Ohio (March 1; James).

All three bobble head dolls are wearing Akron uniforms, which in the case of LeBron allows fans to think back and imagine what could have been. Season ticket holders guaranteed one bobble head per account (on each of the three giveaway days), with the first 750 fans in attendance to receive one as well.

NEW PODCAST: Indiana, Cal, troublesome trends and a weekend preview

California's Jabari Bird celebrates a score against Oregon in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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The gang is back together again for another episode of the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk Podcast, with Rob Dauster hosting and Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips joining him. Today’s episode touched on big wins picked up Thursday night by California and Indiana, discussing the performances of those teams and also touching on their prospects down the line.

Also discussed were the recent performances of Iowa State, Providence and Texas A&M (which are you more worried about?), and some of the top games on this weekend’s schedule headlined by Kansas visiting Oklahoma. And if you’re a fan of seafood, you may take umbrage with some of Rob’s comments at the beginning of the podcast.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.