Game of the Weekend: Sat. Ohio State @ Michigan, 9 p.m.
While the rivalry between these two schools isn’t quite as intense on the basketball side as it is for football, that doesn’t mean that this game isn’t carrying a ton of weight in the Big Ten standings. The Buckeyes are currently sitting in a tie with Michigan State for first place in the conference, one game in front of Michigan. A loss would put the Spartans in the driver’s seat for a league title, as OSU still has to go to East Lansing this year.
The first time these two teams met, OSU won 64-49, but it was far from a pretty affair. Jared Sullinger spent much of the game in foul trouble and William Buford was still mired in a slump. The Buckeyes used a dominating performance on the glass — lead by 17 points and 12 boards (eight offensive) from Lenzelle Smith — in the win. Aaron Craft did a solid job slowing down Trey Burke, who finished with 13 points and five assists but turned the ball over five times and shot 5-11 from the floor. As a team, Michigan only shot 8-25 from three and 35.8% from the floor. That is going to have to change for Michigan to win.
There are basically going to be two things that Michigan has to do if they want to win this game. The first is that they must put up more of a fight on the glass, particularly if Sullinger doesn’t spend the entire game in foul trouble. They cannot allow second chances to a better team, particularly if it is Lenzelle Smith that is creating those opportunities. The Wolverines are also going to have to shoot better from the floor. Burke is going to have a tough day going up against Craft, who is arguably the best on ball defender in college basketball right now. He’s not going to be able to carry Michigan to a win. If their threes are dropping, then that takes the pressure off of Burke to have to try and create.
My pick: Ohio State. I think William Buford, who has played very well in two of his last three games, snaps out of his funk and Michigan struggles to find an answer for Sully inside.
Five more to watch
Sat. UNLV @ New Mexico, 1 p.m.: I’m becoming a bigger and bigger fan of Mountain West basketball. Not only is the quality of the basketball being played very high — that’s what happens when seemingly every roster is made up of top 100 recruits that couldn’t “latch-on” at a Pac-12 school — but the games are intense, the arenas are raucous and the players are respectful. I watch San Diego State lose to both UNLV and New Mexico the past week, and I have to admit, I’ve never seen so many opponents helping each other off of the floor as I do in the MWC.
Anyway, back to the point, New Mexico — who most had pegged as the favorite in the conference heading into the season — has finally found their stride. They are stalwart defensively, they get on the offensive glass and they have a number of shooters on the perimeter that make them a very dangerous and explosive offensive teams. The surge of Kendall Williams of late has been a good thing to see. A win puts the Lobos up two games on UNLV and a game on SDSU. A loss for the Lobos means that, once again, we have a three way tie atop the conference.
Sat. Arizona @ Washington, 3 p.m.: All of a sudden, it looks like three teams have separated themselves from the Pac-12 pack. After losing Kevin Parrom for the season and now playing without Jordin Mayes, Arizona has gone on an unlikely streak, winning five in a row to move to 10-4 in the league, just a game off of the pace set by Cal and Washington. The Wildcats are also coming off of road wins against Cal and Stanford, but the Huskies are a tough team to beat in at home.
Sat. St. Mary’s @ Murray State, 6 p.m.: This is easily the most entertaining BracketBuster game of the weekend, even if it has lost some of its luster. St. Mary’s has lost two of their last three games while Murray State is no longer undefeated thanks to a loss to Tennessee State. That doesn’t mean that the game should be any less entertaining. Both teams can score a lot of points, both teams get up and down the floor, both teams play a bit undersized and both teams have an entertaining star in the back court. I’ll watch Isaiah Canaan and Matthew Dellavedova. Any day of the week.
An added wrinkle has been thrown into this game: both teams really need this win to avoid putting themselves in more bubble danger. If Murray State loses and falls in one of their last four league games, they may actually have to worry about winning the OVC Tournament. The exact same thing can be said about the Gaels. That should make this matchup all the more fun to watch.
Sat. Long Beach State @ Creighton, 10 p.m.: Like St. Mary’s and Murray State, this game lost some of its pizzazz when Creighton lost three games in a row. But that doesn’t change the fact that we will have two teams on the court than can score with anyone in the country. LBSU has one of the nation’s best kept secrets in Casper Ware, a dynamic point guard that is capable of putting up 30 points. He’s got talent around him, but not the kind of shooting the Bluejay’s do. Creighton, whose losing streak was the result of a stretch of poor-shooting, hit 77.5% from the field on Tuesday against Southern Illinois and shot 12-14 from three.
Sun. Michigan State @ Purdue, 1 p.m.: Thank to Purdue taking advantage of the Illinois collapse, the Boilermakers are right back into the mix in the race for an NCAA Tournament bid. They aren’t defending the way that we normally expect a Purdue team to and they are likely going to get crushed on the glass by the much bigger and more physical Spartans. But their is something about this Boilermaker team. They have some scorers and they can get hot in a hurry. Most of all, they are competitors, and while that does sound so corny and cliche, it matters. Purdue doesn’t quit, especially not when they are going to be looking for revenge for the beatdown they received from the Spartans in East Lansing.
Who’s getting upset?: Sat. Florida @ Arkansas, 6 p.m.
This was just too easy. Florida struggles on the road. Arkansas is awesome at home — they haven’t lost at Bud Walton Arena and haven’t won away from it. Florida doesn’t like to get pushed around. Arkansas is back to playing the 40 Minutes of Hell style that won them a national title back in 1994. Everything about this matchup screams upset.
Except for one thing: Florida’s got the kind of guards that can flourish in a game like this. The Razorbacks are going to press all over the court, which means that this is going to turn into an uptempo, back-and-forth game. Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker — and, to an extent, Mike Rosario and Brad Beal — already play like they are on the playground. What happens when they play a team whose style is to turn this into an AAU game? I think Arkansas wins, but I don’t think its going to be as easy as it looks on paper.
Five more teams on upset alert
Sat. Marquette @ UConn, 12 p.m.: I know UConn lost by 18 at Syracuse last Saturday, but that was not an 18 point game. They were down two with five minutes left, fighting and scrapping and playing the way we’ve been hoping the Huskies would play all season long. They followed that up with a 26 point win over DePaul, which gives some credence to the thought that UConn is back. That may just be wishful thinking, but with UConn’s size advantage in the paint — Davante Gardner and Chris Otule are still out — if they can handle Marquette’s pressure they should have a pretty good chance to pick up a much-needed win at home.
Sat. Florida State @ NC State, 1 p.m.: I’m officially off of the Florida State bandwagon. I think this is a good basketball team, but they aren’t anywhere near great and they certainly aren’t on the same level as Duke and UNC this season. They needed a 13-1 run in the final 73 seconds against an injury-depleted Virginia Tech team at home — a run that saw more scoring that Florida State’s entire second half up to that point — to win. NC State is going to be steaming about the way they lost to Duke on Thursday night. I got the Wolfpack.
Sat. Georgetown @ Providence, 7 p.m.: Providence is still trying to work out the kinks with their new head coach, but the Friars are a tough team to play at The Dunk. They always seem to pick up a win or two there over teams they have no business beating. Ed Cooley does have four talented scorers at his disposal, so if they get hot, watch out.
Sat. Mississippi State @ Auburn, 8 p.m.: This is more about Mississippi State than about Auburn. Simply put, I do not trust this team. At all. Road games. Home games. Neutral site games. The talent is there, but somewhere along the line there is a disconnect. In no way, shape or form should a team with Dee Bost at the point and Arnett Moultrie in the middle be in the middle of the SEC pack this season.
Sat. Gonzaga @ San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.: San Francisco threw a scare into BYU on Thursday night, missing two shots on their final possession that would have won the game. The Dons have already beaten Gonzaga at home recently, upsetting them last season, and hung with them earlier this season. The Bulldogs will have a share of the WCC regular season title on the line, but if this group doesn’t come out ready to play, USF will catch them sleeping.
Mid-major matchup of the weekend: Sat. Nevada @ Iona, 4 p.m.
We put together a fairly extensive BracketBuster’s breakdown here when the matchups were announced, so for more detailed previews of these games you should head that way.
I still want to talk about them, however. It seems unlikely that either of these teams will have a shot at getting an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be an entertaining game to watch. Iona gets up and down the floor and scores points as quickly as anyone in the country. Nevada may have more talent on their roster top to bottom, headlined by WAC player of the year candidate Deonte Burton.
Five more to watch
Sat. Drexel @ Cleveland State, 11 a.m.: Where Nevada-Iona will be a run-and-gun affair, this will be a heavyweight bout. Both the Dragons and the Vikings pride themselves on their defense. If you aren’t tough, you won’t be seeing minutes in this game.
Sat. Wichita State @ Davidson, 12 p.m.: All of a sudden Wichita State looks like they may be the best team in the country outside of the Power Six conferences, which makes it a bit disappointing they ended up heading to Davidson.
Sat. Akron @ Oral Roberts, 2 p.m.: The best team in the MAC will be a good test for Oral Roberts, a talented, experienced and balanced team that can score with the best of them.
Sat. UNC-Asheville @ Ohio, 7 p.m.: You like back court stars? We got back court stars. Ohio’s DJ Cooper is one of the best point guards in the country you’ve never heard of while Matt Dickey and JP Primm just may form the best mid-major back court in the country.
Sat. Dayton @ Xavier, 8 p.m.: All of a sudden this game looms very large. Both the Flyers and the Musketeers sit squarely on the bubble, although pride may be a more important factor. Dayton has collapsed this season after a terrific start to the year. And Xavier? They are a shell of their pre-brawl selves.