(All times ET)
Game of the Weekend: Sat. Noon: No. 5 North Carolina @ No. 1 Kentucky
It is still tough for me to grasp my head around the fact that this game will be happening tomorrow. I’m sure I am not alone when I say that this date and this time slot has been circled on my calendar for a long time. Some of the luster disappeared when North Carolina lost to UNLV on Saturday, but that certainly doesn’t diminish my anticipation level. Simply put — there is just so much about this game that is intriguing on so many different levels. Kentucky vs. Carolina. Half a dozen lottery picks. The two favorites to win the national title. The styles they play. The individual matchups. Its almost too much.
Instead of waxing poetic about this matchup for six or seven more paragraphs, I’m simply going to give you what I believe are the three keys to this game:
– Marquis Teague: Its no secret that Kendall Marshall is, at best, a crummy defender. And with Doron Lamb joining Teague in the back court, it means that Marshall will have no choice but to guard him; Lamb is a much more dangerous scorer than Teague, capable of going for 30 if he gets rolling. Like most freshman point guards, Teague has a tendency to get out of control at times. He was the sole reason that Kansas was able to hang with Kentucky for a half as he turned the ball over six times against the Jayhawks. If he does that against the Heels, I can promise you that the score won’t be tied at the break. UNC is too good at capitalizing. Teague is going to have to be aggressive attacking the basket, but he cannot be overaggressive. It sounds simple, but the execution of that idea is more difficult that it sounds. Marshall won’t be able to keep Teague out of the paint, but picking the right times to attack — and making the right decisions when he beats his man — will be the key. He needs to limit turnovers and forced shots.
– Front court matchups: One of the areas that UNC has struggled this season is against tough, physical front lines. Michigan State pounded them on the offensive glass. UNLV got their fair share as well. Kentucky? They have a duo in the front court that can attack the offensive glass as well as anyone in the country. The difference? Neither Terrence Jones nor Anthony Davis are known for being able to push people around. Anthony Davis is John Henson with perimeter skills. Terrence Jones has beefed up, but at times he plays like that added muscle was for the beach, not the court. Oddly enough, I’d say that UNC matches up better with Kentucky’s front court than they do with the front court of most other elite teams. Jones will be the difference maker here. Is he going to decide to play like the guy that can be an impossible. Since its technically the front court, I think a lot of scouts will be looking to see how Miller/Lamb matchup with Harrison Barnes.
– Pace: Where both Wisconsin and UNLV had success against UNC by controlling the tempo of the game, Kentucky is not the type of team that likes to play slowly. They want to run just as badly as UNC does, and that could end up being a huge advantage for the Heels. With the ability of Marshall to pass ahead and how potent that makes the Heel’s transition game, a faster pace may not be ideal Kentucky.
Five more games you cannot miss
Fri. 7 p.m.: No. 9 Florida @ No. 3 Syracuse: The back courts in this game are going to balance each other out. Both teams have a ton of firepower on the perimeter. That is indisputable. Where the game is going to be decided is in the front court. Syracuse is deep, talented and athletic. Florida, outside of Patric Young, not so much. And the Gators will be without their starting power forward Erik Murphy. Can Will Yeguete step up and continue his early season efforts off the bench on a bigger stage against a more talented team? And is there anyone on the Florida roster that is going to be able to matchup with Kris Joseph’s size and perimeter ability?
Fri. 9 p.m.: No. 19 Vanderbilt @ No. 6 Louisville: Both Vanderbilt and Louisville have been struck hard by the injury bug this season, but the Cardinals, thanks to their depth, have handled it better. Vandy has already been knocked off twice this year, with both coming to teams with tough and physical back courts. Louisville has that as well, and will do everything they can to pressure the Commodores and make life hell for John Jenkins and Brad Tinsley. Peyton Siva will be borderline unguardable in this game, but the same can probably be said for Jeff Taylor
Sat. 3 p.m.: Purdue @ No. 11 Xavier: Purdue has been impressive this season, and its not just the return of Robbie Hummel to being an elite level player. Lewis Jackson is playing as well as he ever has. Ryne Smith is knocking down threes. Anthony Johnson, Terone Johnson and Kelsey Barlow are all producing on both ends. But Xavier, with all do respect to Alabama, is the best team that the Boilermakers have faced this season, and they’ll be taking them on at the Cintas Center, which is not an easy place to play. We all know about Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, but the keep for Purdue will be handling Xavier’s front line, which isn’t immensely talented but it big and deep.
Sat. 4:30 p.m.: No. 16 Marquette @ No. 7 Wisconsin: There are some great games on the tube this weekend, but I’m looking forward to this matchup as much as any of them. The Badgers have ascended quickly in the rankings thanks to their staunch defense, and that spot in the top ten appears to have been validated by a three point loss at UNC in a game they struggled. Marquette, however, is still a bit of an unknown quantity. They have names we all know — Jae Crowder, Darius Johnson-Odom, Vander Blue — but it will be interesting to see just how those pieces are fitting together this season. Is Marquette really top 20 team?
Sun. 4 p.m.: No. 20 UNLV @ Wichita State: I think it will be safe to say that by Monday, UNLV will have been thoroughly tested in this young season. After knocking off then-No. 1 North Carolina in Vegas on Saturday night, the Rebels went to UC-Santa Barbara and hung on to win a double overtime barnburner. They follow that road trip up with another, this time to take on Wichita State, who is one of the best teams in the MVC and has a tremendous home court advantage. The question mark here — which Shocker will get the unenviable task of trying to slow down the hottest player in the country in Mike Moser.
Who’s getting upset? Sat. 3:15 p.m.: No. 18 Gonzaga @ Illinois
Five more teams on upset alert?
Sat. 5:15 p.m.: No. 17 Pitt @ Tennessee: Last year when this matchup took place, Pitt was also the favorite and Tennessee was the scrappy underdog that had surprised some people early in the season. The Vols won that game, and it was in Pittsburgh. This year, its the same story. Pitt has been disappointing early in the year, particularly on the defensive end of the floor, but they still have Ashton Gibbs, and there is a reason that his name showed up on all-american lists. Tennessee may not have the same amount of talent on the roster that they did last year, but they play hard and finally look like they are getting some coaching. Trae Golden and Jeronne Maymon, who will be matched up with Nasir Robinson, are good enough to carry the Vols at times. The x-factor may end up being whether or not Pitt’s big front line finally decides to start playing like a Panther front line.
Sat. 9 p.m.: West Virginia @ No. 24 Mississippi State: The front court matchup here will be quite entertaining. Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie, for all of the effort and conditioning issues that are present, are as big and as talented as anyone in the country. But West Virginia has their own pair of quality big men in Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli. The rebounding battle is going to be important, but it will be interesting to see how West Virginia’s freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds will handle Mississippi State’s Dee Bost.
Sat. 7 p.m.: Penn @ Villanova: Villanova is really making me look bad this season. I went all-in on the Wildcats in the preseason, touting how much I liked this team’s make up and how much they reminded me of the 2009 Final Four team. And while that may be true in the media guide, on the court is a different story. The Wildcats look lost offensively and have gotten inconsistent performances out of the three guys they need to be stars — Maalik Wayns, Mouphtaou Yarou and Dominic Cheek. Penn may play in the Ivy, but this group has some solid pieces, led by point guard Zac Rosen, who has been terrific this year.
Sun. 4 p.m.: No. 8 Baylor @ Nortwestern: In terms of styles, this may be the most interesting matchup of the weekend. Baylor is massive up front and obscenely athletic, with all the natural talent in the world but nary an effective point guard on their roster. Northwestern loves to play small ball and spread the floor, playing a crafty, Princeton-esque system and raining threes. That three-point line may end up being the difference, as the Wildcats have dangerous shooters at every spot on the floor while the Bears are one of the worst in the country at defending the three ball.
Sun. 5 p.m.: No. 23 Cal @ SDSU: This will be a good test for both teams. Cal got utterly embarrassed in their only test this season, while SDSU has lost twice two teams currently ranked in the top 25. The perimeter attack of both teams is strong, with Jorge Gutierrez and Allen Crabbe matching up with Chase Tapley, Xavier Thams, Jamaal Franklin and James Rahon. The key may end up being Harper Kamp, a big man for Cal that doesn’t really have someone to matchup opposite him.
Mid-major matchup of the weekend: Sat. 10 p.m.: Boise State @ Indiana State
With Creighton and San Diego State having had their battle on Wednesday night, the game between the Broncos and the Sycamores becomes the most interesting of the weekend in the challenge between the Missouri Valley and the Mountain West. Why? Because both teams have had success early in the season, but neither of them has really proven anything. Indiana State is a bit undersized up front, but they have one of the most underrated point guards in the country in Jake Odum. The key to slowing down the Broncos will be preventing sharpshooting Aussie Anthony Drmic from getting any looks on the perimeter.
Five more mid-major matchups to watch
Sat. 2 p.m.: Valparaiso @ Butler: So will Butler end up being Butler again this season? They certainly have the talent to do so, but the Bulldogs still have a long way to go before they reach the level that they have been at the past two seasons. Valpo may be without Brandon Wood this year, but the Crusaders are 5-2 and have beaten Akron and Duquesne already this year.
Sat. 2 p.m.: Cleveland State @ Detroit: Detroit was thought to be the team that would be a favorite to win the Horizon in the preseason, but the Titans aren’t much more than Ray McCallum this season, and he isn’t good enough to carry this program. Cleveland State is a physical defense team that has some offensive pieces that were overshadowed by Norris Cole last year.
Sat. 2:30 p.m.: Colorado State @ Northern Iowa: The Panthers have been perhaps the most surprising team in the Valley this year, with their road loss to St. Mary’s getting out weighed by road wins against Old Dominion and Iowa State. The Rams are coming off of a tough, overtime win against Colorado and have a star in Wes Elkmeier.
Sat. 4 p.m.: Bucknell @ La Salle: La Salle has been a bit of a surprise early on in the season, headlined by the play of their star point guard, Tyreek Duren. The Bison are the favorite to win the Patriot League this season, but they have missed on a couple of chances to build up their non-conference resume. La Salle may not qualify as a marquee win, but any win on the road will help come March.
Sat. 10 p.m.: Missouri State @ New Mexico: New Mexico has been one of the most disappointing team in the country. They don’t know how to get the ball to Drew Gordon and Kendell Williams is not playing up to the level that was expected coming into the season. Hugh Greenwood could be the answer at the point (he has 16 assists and no turnovers the past four games), but its taking time to figure out how to play together. Missouri State has actually been better than expected, but they’ve done it with Kyle Weems struggling. What happens when he finally starts playing like the kid that was MVC player of the year last season.
The rest of the top 25:
– 7 p.m.: Northwestern State @ No. 13 Missouri: The Tigers have been one of the most surprising dominant teams early in the season, thanks to a talented perimeter attack and the kind of team unity that this group had been missing under Mike Anderson. This is a group that finally appears to be playing without the fear of making a mistake, and that is the only way to be successful as a basketball team.
– Noon: UT-Pan American @ No. 2 Ohio State: Ohio State is coming off of their demolition of Duke. If they play like that against UT-Pan American, things could get very, very ugly.
– 3:15 p.m.: Arkansas @ No. 10 UConn: The Huskies have some major question marks. When will Alex Oriakhi show up? Is Andre Drummond ever going to become consistent? Will Shabazz Napier or Jeremy Lamb ever take the reins of this team? How good is Ryan Boatright? UConn has much more talent than Arkansas, but they also had much more talent than Central Florida.
– 5:15 p.m.: South Florida @ No. 14 Kansas: Thomas Robinson is certainly living up to the expectations he had coming into the season. In the five games that Kansas has played this season, he’s notched a double-double in every single game. The problem? He’s still getting by off of effort and god-given ability than skill level.
– Noon: Iowa State @ No. 15 Michigan: Iowa State is like a freight train without a conductor. This is a group with talented transfers up and down their roster, but without the point guard or the cohesiveness to really take advantage of that. And against a team like Michigan — one that runs a complicated zone and a tricky offensive system — that cohesiveness is important.
– 8:30 p.m.: Austin Peay @ No. 21 Memphis: The Tigers look like the exact same team as they were last season. Immensely talented but without a clue. Austin Peay has been dreadful this season, but this group has had a tendency to play down to the level of their opponent. If Tyshawn Edmundson gets hot and Memphis doesn’t show up ready to play? Well, wouldn’t that be embarrassing.
– 10 p.m.: No. 25 St. Louis @ Portland: So who are the Billikens? Are they the team that pounded Washington and rolled through the 76 Classic, or are they the team that got dropped by Loyola Marymount? Rick Majerus has taken this group on a fairly extensive west coast road trip, and Portland has some guys that can shoot. If you like threes, tune in to this game.
– 5:05 p.m.: No. 22 Creighton @ Nebraska: The Bluejays are coming off of a very impressive, come-from-behind win over San Diego State in the Viejas Center. With a powerful offense the driving force of this team, its tough to imagine Nebraska, a team that could only manage 53 points against Wake Forest, being able to hang with them.
– Fri. 11 p.m.: Washington @ Nevada: There is going to be quite a bit of talent on the court when these two teams square off. The problem is that both programs, in recent years, have a tendency to play below their talent level. I can’t be the only one curious to see how this plays out.
– Sat. 4:30 p.m.: Texas @ UCLA: The Longhorns are a different team than they have been in recent years, powered by a talented back court and the enigmatic J’Covan Brown. But UCLA’s entire roster is enigmatic as Ben Howland continues to try and get control of this team. Its amazing to think that a matchup between these two programs features no ranked teams.
– Sat. 5 p.m.: Oregon @ BYU: The Ducks have already lost two members of their vaunted recruiting class to a transfer, including their most talented player in Jabari Brown. BYU will be their first real test since the defections. The Cougars aren’t the same team that they were last year, but with Brandon Davies back in the mix, this is still a team that is going to be able to hang with the big boys. Is Oregon one of the big boys?
– Sat. 6:35 p.m.: Eastern Washington @ Washington State: Washington State has been struggling this season, highlighted by their loss to UC-Riverside. EWU has some talent, specifically Collin Chiverton and Cliff Colimon. They hung with Gonzaga and have an offense that is capable of putting up a lot of points. Wazzu better come to play.
– Sat. 7 p.m.: St. Bonaventure @ Buffalo: Buffalo is 5-1 and fresh off of a 29 point beat down of Dayton on the road. The Bonnies? They’ve had a tough start to the season, losing three of their first five as Andrew Nicholson has struggled to find the rhythm he had the last two years. It should be fun to watch super sophomore Javon McCrea go up against St. Bonnie’s big front line.
– Sun. 2 p.m.: Dayton @ Murray State: Dayton is one of the biggest enigmas of the young season. They won the Old Spice Classic, then lost by 29 at home to Buffalo. Murray State, on the other hand, is sitting at 8-0 after winning the Great Alaska Shootout. Are the Racers for real?
– Sun. 2:30 p.m.: VCU @ George Washington: This is a matchup that I will be keeping a close eye on. VCU is a young team, but coming off of a trip to the Final Four, a lot was expected of this team. The Commodores lost to Georgia Tech and Seton Hall in fairly ugly fashion, but they threw a couple of haymakers at Alabama in a close loss. GW has some talent on their roster, but they head into this game with losses against the two good teams they have played this season.
– Sun. 4 p.m.: NC State @ Stanford: NC State is finally playing like the team that we expected last year when they landed a loaded recruiting class. CJ Leslie and Lorenzo Brown are well on their way to becoming stars in the ACC. But Stanford has been impressive early in the season, with quality back court play and a couple of big bodies inside. Can they handle NC State’s athleticism?
– Sun. 5:30 p.m.: Kansas State @ Virginia Tech: This game could end up having major bubble implications come March. Virginia Tech was thought to be a sleeper in the ACC, but they just dropped a roadie to a Minnesota team that didn’t have Trevor Mbakwe or Ralph Sampson. They need this win against a solid Kansas State team that has yet to really hit their stride.
Other notable tips
– 7 p.m.: Cincinnati @ Georgia
– 7 p.m.: Iona @ Canisius
– 8 p.m.: Mississippi Valley State @ Northwestern
– 9 p.m.: Auburn @ Seton Hall
– 10 p.m.: Columbia @ Loyola Marymount
– 1 p.m.: NJIT @ Georgetown
– 1 p.m.: Old Dominion @ Northeastern
– 1 p.m.: Richmond @ Wake Forest
– 1 p.m.: Longwood @ Virginia
– 1 p.m.: UMass @ Miami
– 2:15 p.m.: USC @ Minnesota
– 4 p.m.: Drexel @ Delaware
– 4 p.m.: Arizona State @ Tulsa
– 4 p.m.: Central Michigan @ Temple
– 4 p.m.: James Madison @ Hofstra
– 5:15 p.m.: Mercer @ Belmont
– 6:30 p.m.: Northern Arizona @ Arizona
– 7:30 p.m.: George Mason @ Towson
– 8 p.m.: Stephen F. Austin @ Texas A&M
– 9:30 p.m.: Weber State @ San Jose State
– 10 p.m.: St. Mary’s @ Cal Poly
– 10:05 p.m.: Utah State @ Pacific
– 2: p.m.: Seattle @ Harvard
– 2: p.m.: Iona @ Niagara
– 2 p.m.: Akron @ Middle Tennessee State
– 2 p.m.: New Mexico State @ Southern Miss
– 3:30 p.m.: South Carolina @ Clemson
– 4:30 p.m.: Stetson @ Indiana
– 4:45 p.m.: Notre Dame @ Maryland
– 6 p.m.: Ole Miss @ Penn State
– 8 p.m.: St. Joseph’s @ American
– 8 p.m.: Montana @ Oregon State
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.