AP photo

Weekend Preview: Kentucky-Baylor, a trio of in-state rivalry games

1 Comment

GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 3 Kentucky vs. No. 20 Baylor, Fri. 10:00 p.m.

Braving the ice and sleet in Dallas, Kentucky will be squaring off with the Bears at the Jerry Dome in a game that will almost assuredly see more UK fans show up than Baylor fans. The irony is that this is a game that Baylor will actually have a shot at winning. If there is anything we know about Julius Randle at this point in his career, it’s that he can have a tendency to struggle when he is forced to go up against size and length. All Baylor has along their front line is size and length in Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin.

You know what else Baylor does? They play zone, which is a good way to try and slow down penetration from opposing guards and force the Wildcats into settling for threes. Aaron Harrison and James Young, Kentucky’s shooters, have been anything but consistent this season. How well the Bears handle Kentucky’s size on the defensive end will be key.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: Marquette at No. 8 Wisconsin, Sat. 2:15 p.m. (all times EST)

One of the best non-conference rivalries in the country takes place this weekend, as the Golden Eagles make the trek to Madison to square off with the Badgers. Marquette has been a disappointment early on this season, as they will enter the weekend with three losses. The issue is offensively: Marquette just doesn’t have enough dynamic offensive weapons. They’re relying on Todd Mayo to be their go-to guy offensively. If Wisconsin proved anything against Virginia this year, it’s that their new desire to run the floor hasn’t affected their ability to defend when they need to. Where Marquette will have an advantage is inside. Who can guard Davante Gardner? Sam Dekker can’t. I’m not sure Frank Kaminsky can, either. Give the big fella the rock.

FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:

  • No. 18 UCLA at Missouri, Sat. 12:30 p.m.: Two undefeated, yet untested teams. It will be fun to see these two perimeter attacks square off, as both the Bruins and the Tigers are loaded with talented wings — Jordan Adams, Zach LaVine, Norman Powell, Kyle Anderson vs. Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown, Earnest Ross.
  • BYU vs. No 21 UMass, Sat. 1:30 p.m.: This may be the most entertaining game of the weekend, as both teams love to get out and run the floor. Tyler Haws and Chaz Williams are both borderline all-americans. Eric Mika vs. Cady Lalanne up front will be fun, too.
  • No. 6 Kansas at Colorado, Sat. 3:15 p.m.: Colorado got absolutely embarrassed by Kansas in Lawrence last season. Is this their chance for revenge? They’re probably getting KU at the wrong time; I’m sure the last week of practice after the debacle that was the Battle 4 Atlantis was fun.
  • New Mexico at Cincinnati, Sat. 4:05 p.m.: The best player in the country you’re not talking about? Alex Kirk of New Mexico. Cincinnati will try to slow him down on Saturday afternoon.
  • UNLV at No. 2 Arizona, Sat. 5:15 p.m.: Do we trust UNLV this season? It’s a risky proposition, especially as they go to visit Arizona, who has been the best team in the country this year.

WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?

  • Cal at UC-Santa Barbara, Fri. 10:00 p.m.: UC-Santa Barbara is good. Alan Williams is the truth inside, as he’s averaging 27.5 points, 10.8 boards and 3.0 blocks. Cal may not have an answer for him inside, but UCSB will have to contend with Cal’s perimeter contingent.
  • Delaware at Notre Dame, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: Devon Saddler isn’t back yet, but the combination of Davon Usher and Jarvis Threatt has kept the Blue Hens at the top of the CAA picture. They’ll have their hands full with Notre Dame’s talented guards.
  • Virginia at Green Bay, Sat. 5:00 p.m.: UVA head coach was born in Green Bay and played for Green Bay for his dad who founded the packline defense while running the show with the Pheonix. Green Bay has Kiefer Sykes and Alec Brown this season; they’re no pushover.
  • No. 17 Iowa State at Northern Iowa, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: It’s been a rough start to the season for Northern Iowa, but they’re one of the best teams in the Valley and they win games at home. Plus, the Interlude Dance!
  • No. 13 Oregon at Ole Miss, Sun. 5:00 p.m.: Oregon will be getting a test at Ole Miss on Sunday evening. This will be a good gauge for what we should expect out of the Rebels this year. They looked solid at the Barclays Center last weekend, but they dropped a game on the road against Kansas State on Thursday night. They need Marshall Henderson to not have a 4-for-18 shooting night again.

FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1) New Mexico State plays at No. 11 Gonzaga in an 11:00 p.m. on Saturday night. The Aggies should be pretty good this season and they’ll give Gonzaga a fight in Spokane. The matchup to watch: 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar vs. 7-foot-1 Przemek Karnowski.

2) The Holy War! No. 14 Villanova takes on St. Joseph’s on Saturday at 6:00 p.m. The Hawks are down a bit this season, but this is the kind of rivalry where records get thrown out the window.

3) Maryland will play George Washington at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday in the nightcap of the BB&T Classic. The Colonials have been one of the more surprising teams in the Atlantic 10 this season, and Maryland is struggling without Seth Allen. If GW wants to take that next step, these are the games they have to win.

4) The Cornhuskers head to Omaha to take on Creighton at 6:00 p.m. Sunday in an in-state rivalry that is healthier than you might think. Nebraska is better than they have gotten credit for this year. Hop on the Tai Webster bandwagon now.

5) The Monarchs may have left the CAA, but VCU and Old Dominion are still rivals. There isn’t a lot of like between those two schools. Tip is at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday. If you go, keep an eye out for our old friend Eric Angevine. He bleeds ODU blue.

No. 14 West Virginia takes care of No. 15 Baylor

West Virginia forward Devin Williams (41) dunks the ball during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor, Saturday, Feb, 6, 2016, in Morgantown, W.Va. (AP Photo/Raymond Thompson)
AP Photo/Raymond Thompson
Leave a comment

Not exactly noted for their ability to knock down shots from the perimeter, No. 14 West Virginia grabbed sole possession of first place in the Big 12 thanks in part to their perimeter shooting. The Mountaineers shot 7-for-14 from three and 49.1 percent from the field in a 80-69 win over No. 15 Baylor that wasn’t as close as the final margin would lead one to believe.

Bob Huggins’ team led by as much as 19 in the second half, and the way in which they did it is what makes the win so impressive. “Press Virginia” yielded just ten Baylor turnovers, but that low number didn’t matter much thanks to West Virginia’s execution offensively.

They found quality looks against Baylor’s 1-1-3 zone in the first half and made them at a good clip, forcing Scott Drew to switch to man-to-man. That change didn’t do much to slow down West Virginia either, as Daxter Miles Jr. scored 20 points and sixth man Jaysean Paige added 17 off the bench. And with Devin Williams chipping in with 16 points and seven boards in the post, outplaying Baylor’s Rico Gathers Sr. (five points, seven rebounds), West Virginia grabbed control of the game in the first half and did not relinquish it.

The usual formula for West Virginia offensively is to attack the offensive glass, as their offensive rebounding percentage (43 percent) is tops in the country. “Their best offense is a missed shot” is a familiar refrain heard when people discuss the Mountaineers, who entered the game shooting just over 30 percent from three.

They didn’t need to lean on those second chances as heavily as they normally do Saturday night, not only because of the improved accuracy but also the improved work in finding shots. The ball moved against the Baylor defense and so did the players, resulting in an offensive attack that proved tougher for the visiting Bears to stop that one would expect given the statistics entering the game.

West Virginia was already established as a contender in the Big 12, but thanks to their win Saturday night the Mountaineers are the current pace setters. With a showdown at No. 7 Kansas set for Tuesday night, this was a big win for Bob Huggins’ team to get. And with it coming in spite of a low turnover (forced) count, this should only help West Virginia in the confidence department moving forward.

No. 22 Indiana falls at Penn State

Penn State's Shep Garner (33) moves towards the basket during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Indiana in State College, Pa., Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
(AP Photo/Ralph Wilson)
Leave a comment

Brendan Taylor scored 24 points to lead Penn State to a 68-63 upset of No. 22 Indiana on Saturday night.

The Nittany Lions were 2-8 in Big Ten play entering the weekend. Indiana? They were 9-1 and tied for first in the conference. It’s the second loss in four games for the Hoosiers following a 7-0 start to Big Ten play, a fact made all the more concerning by the fact that their league schedule is finally about to get difficult.

The Hoosiers play No. 5 Iowa at home and No. 10 Michigan State in East Lansing next week. The following week they get No. 18 Purdue at home. In the final week of the regular season, Indiana squares off with No. 5 Iowa on the road and close the regular season with a visit from No. 4 Maryland.

That’s a lot of good teams that the Hoosiers to close out the year.

The question has been asked since Indiana’s hot start to league play: Are they for real? Did the Hoosiers really somehow turn things around defensively, or was that winning streak simply a by-product of their schedule?

The truth is that it was probably a combination of both. Calling them a fraud would be unjust — if you watched those games, there wasn’t much fluky about them; Indiana earned the Ws — but it does seem fair to say this is something of a regression to the mean.

They were going to slip up eventually.

And it will totally be forgotten if the Hoosiers can find a way to close the regular season with a winning record in their final seven games.