Game of the Weekend: No. 6 Syracuse at No. 1 Louisville (Sat. 4:00 p.m. ESPN)
Were you wondering who the best team in the Big East is this season? Well, you may be getting your answer on Saturday, as Syracuse heads down to Louisville to take on the Cardinals. At full strength, this would be a tough matchup for the Orange. As good as Michael Carter-Williams has been this season, he’s a bigger, slightly slower guard that is turnover prone. He’s going to have Russ Smith and Peyton Siva and Kevin Ware up in his jock for 40 minutes. That’s not exactly ideal for anyone, especially a guy whose dribble is that much higher than a standard point guard.
The other issue for Syracuse is that they will be playing without James Southerland, their best shooter and a key piece in their zone defense. What makes him so valuable is that not only can be be a zone buster and help get the Cardinals out of their 2-3, but he had the length and athleticism to be a threat defensively in the Syracuse zone. It will be interesting to see how Syracuse responds, but until Southerland returns to the lineup, Syracuse is going to be behind the 8-ball, especially on the road.
Six more games you have to watch
- No. 17 Missouri at No. 10 Florida (Sat. 2:00 p.m. ESPN): The big news here is that it looks like Laurence Bowers will be out on Saturday, meaning that the Tigers are going to be going up against one of the nation’s toughest defensive teams without their best offensive player. That doesn’t mean they won’t have a fighting chance, mind you; if Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross are hitting their threes, Phil Pressey is playing under control and the Tigers are defending, they are still a dangerous club.
- No. 12 Creighton at Wichita State (Sat. 4:00 p.m. ESPN2): Wichita State is getting closer to being back to full strength as they just got Carl Hall back from his broken thumb. He joins Cleanthony Early along the front line, meaning that the Shockers have the mismatch they can exploit against the Bluejays. Last season, with Creighton and Wichita State in similar situations from a nation perspective, the Shockers smacked Creighton around. If the Bluejays truly want to be the favorite in the Missouri Valley and prove they are a threat in March, they need this win.
- No. 21 Oregon at No. 24 UCLA (Sat. 4:00 p.m. CBS): Can you believe this? Two top 25 teams in the Pac-12, and they’re playing each other? For my money, these are the two best teams in the league. And while both like to get up-and-down the floor, the Bruins don’t play nearly as much defense or rebound nearly as well as the Ducks. That said, Oregon doesn’t have the same kind of talent on their roster. The key matchup: Kyle Anderson vs. whichever big man Oregon puts on him.
- No. 11 Ohio State at No. 18 Michigan State (Sat. 6:00 p.m. ESPN): The Buckeyes are coming off of a stellar win over Michigan on Sunday, but so much of that win had to do with the fact that Ohio State simply matched up well with the Wolverines. Will that be the case against the Spartans? OSU doesn’t have nearly the same amount of size, and if the Spartans go small and put Branden Dawson at the four, they can nullify Deshaun Thomas.
- UNLV at Colorado State (Sat. 7:00 p.m. NBC Sports Net): UNLV picked up a huge win at San Diego State on Wednesday night, but does this mean that they’ve gotten past their road woes? CSU is a tough team at home and they have a big, physical front line. If the Rams are truly going to make noise in the Mountain West this season, these are the kind of games they need to win.
- No. 9 Gonzaga at No. 13 Butler (Sat. 8:00 p.m. ESPN): This game took a bit of a hit last weekend when Rotnei Clarke took a nasty fall against Dayton and sprained his neck in a scary incident that required his to be taken off the court on a stretcher. But that doesn’t mean this won’t be an entertaining matchup. How about this: Kelly Olynyk matching up with the most physical defender he will have faced this season in Andrew Smith? Remember the job Smith did on Cody Zeller? If he can slow down Gonzaga’s Big Canadian, Butler will have a chance.
And the mid-majors?
- Stony Brook at Vermont (Fri. 7:00 p.m. ESPNU)
- La Salle at Xavier (Sat. 2:00 p.m.)
- Wagner at Bryant (Sat. 4:00 p.m.)
- Charleston at Davidson (Sat. 7:00 p.m. ESPN3)
- Tennessee State at Belmont (Sat. 8:00 p.m.)
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.