The Week Ahead: What to Watch in College Basketball (1/16-1/23)

The Week Ahead: What to Watch in College Basketball (1/16-1/23)
Jan 16, 2009, 01:13 am
We hope you’ve cleared your schedule on Saturday, because from noon until well after midnight, some of the top teams in the country take the court in a series of marquee matchups and hidden gems. Be sure to check out at least one of the games in our “Off the Beaten Track,” so you’ll have the inside track on some of the nations under the radar prospects and non-BCS teams that have the potential to make noise come March. Last week’s matchups did not let us down, including a down-to-the-wire thriller in Winston-Salem between Wake Forest and North Carolina. Here are the games we’re watching this week.

Marquee Matchups:

#3 Duke vs. #13 Georgetown (Saturday January 17th: 1:30 p.m. on CBS)

Third ranked Duke looks to be back to full strength this season, and faces one of their toughest challenges of the year in thirteenth ranked Georgetown, fresh off of an upset big against eighth ranked Syracuse. Both teams are loaded with versatile shooters, but the key in this game is whether or not Duke has an answer for Georgetown’s frontcourt duo of DaJuan Summers and Greg Monroe, the freshman who just keeps getting better. Duke must also get big games from sophomore combo-forward Kyle Singler and junior wing, Gerald Henderson, who has stepped up his play as of late.

#6 Oklahoma vs. Texas A&M (Saturday January 17th: 2 p.m. on ESPN)

Coming off of a big win over eleventh ranked Texas, sixth ranked Oklahoma is looking to extend its four game winning streak against a Texas A&M team that is unranked, but still very dangerous. Blake Griffin is going to face another challenge this week, this time in the form of 6’10 Chinemelu Elonu, a long and bruising emerging big man who is averaging 16.3 ppg,11.5 rpg, and 1.5 bpg in his past four games. Texas A&M must get a big performance out of their 6’7 wing Josh Carter, and find a way to contain Oklahoma freshman Willie Warren’s scoring outbursts if they want a chance to topple the Sooners.

Arkansas vs. Florida (Saturday January 17th: 2 p.m. on Raycom Sports Nework and ESPN Full Court)

Arkansas, despite knocking off Texas and Oklahoma, has been underachieving lately, dropping games to Mississippi State and Mississippi last week. They are looking for a win against 15-2 Florida, who have won two straight conference games, but not in pretty fashion. It will be interesting to see if Florida has an answer for Michael Washington, Arkansas’s 6’10 power forward, or if Arkansas can contain Florida’s 6’5 point guard Nick Calathes, who will cause the undersized Courtney Fortson trouble on the offensive end of the floor. That said, however, the team who gets the most production from its role players will likely pull out the victory.

#2 Wake Forest vs. #10 Clemson (Saturday January 17th: 3:30 p.m. on ABC)

This game should be named “The Fast and the Furious” as Wake Forest and Clemson, two of the ACCs most up-tempo and physical teams, meet in Littlejohn Coliseum. Coming off of an emotional upset of North Carolina and a statement win at Boston College, Wake Forest is having its best start in 82 years and looking to continue its undefeated streak. Clemson, who is also undefeated, lacks Wake Forest’s depth, and will face their toughest battle yet against the young Deacons. Clemson’s undersized big man Trevor Booker must attempt to do what Tyler Hansbrough could not, score effectively against Wake Forest’s loaded frontcourt, filled with no less than six players over 6’9. Also, the Tigers must find a way to stop Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague, who is averaging 21.2 ppg this season on 54% FG and 55% 3FG and will likely give Roy Williams nightmares after slicing through UNC’s defense to the tune of 34 points. An answer may be K.C. Rivers, the 6’5 wing, who can be a deadly scorer on any given night for the Tigers and is a solid finisher in transition. There will be eight legitimate NBA prospects on the floor at any given time, making this game one of this week’s can’t miss matchups.

#9 UCLA vs. #16 Arizona State (Saturday January 17th: 3:45 p.m. on CBS)

Sixteenth ranked Arizona State combo-guard, James Harden, has the ability to beat a team on his own, and stopping him will likely be UCLA’s top priority in this matchup of PAC-10 heavyweights. UCLA has a potent backcourt of its own in Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday, but has yet to get consistent offense from anywhere else on the floor, particularly in the post. Thus, this game is a fairly even match up. The X-factor might be Arizona State big man Jeff Pendergraph, who has not had the breakout season that many predicted, but has provided a solid post presence for the Sun Devils with the potential to put up big numbers on any given night. This game will be a grind, a test of pace and defense, but fans of college basketball should not miss out.

#1 Pittsburgh vs. #20 Louisville (Saturday January 17th: 6 p.m. on ESPN)

The Pittsburgh Panthers are a well-oiled machine of a basketball team, with consistency at just about every position and defensive scheme to make any team frustrated. They meet the Louisville Cardinals, who like the Panthers, are sitting undefeated atop of the Big East standings. Louisville has been inconsistent in the past, but has proven themselves by pulling out close games in conference play. The key, as it has often been for Louisville, is consistency in their backcourt. On any given night, the Cardinals could be one of the top 10 teams in the country, but they have rarely received consistent minutes from the point guard position. The other matchups in this game are very solid, including a must-watch between the top rebounder in our database, Pitt’s undersized warrior, DeJuan Blair, and Louisville’s freshman phenom Samardo Samuels. Blair has abused just about every big man he has played against this season. The matchup between Pitt’s veteran combo-forward Sam Young and the Louisville tandem of Terrence Williams and Earl Clark should be interesting as well, in seeing whether or not Young can produce well against a versatile and athletic frontcourt. An upset for Louisville would be a significant turning point in what has been an up and down season.

#25 Ohio State vs. Michigan (Saturday January 17th: 8 p.m. on Big Ten Network)

Ohio State is looking to come back from conference losses against #21 ranked Minnesota and #12 ranked Michigan State with this match up against arch nemesis Michigan. If anything, tune in to watch Ohio State’s star swingman Evan Turner take on combo-guard Manny Harris, who has taken on responsibility as Michigan’s primary scorer and facilitator this year. Also, don’t miss Ohio State’s B.J. Mullens, who has had trouble earning minutes this year, but is coming off of a three game stretch averaging 14.0 ppg, 5.3 rpg, and 1.0 bpg. He will be matching up against Michigan big man DeShawn Sims, who will test the young big man’s defensive versatility with his diverse inside-outside game.

Vanderbilt vs. Mississippi State (Saturday January 17th: 8 p.m. on FS South, Sun Sports, ESPN Full Court)

Though Mississippi State has had a tough year, they have won four in a row, including a win at Arkansas. Now they host Vanderbilt, another team who has had their share of ups and downs and is looking to make a turnaround in conference play. If you have not already, this is a perfect chance to watch Mississippi State shot-blocker supreme, Jarvis Varnado, as he takes on Vanderbilt center A.J. Ogilvy in one of the premier post match ups in the SEC. Also, don’t miss Vandy’s athletic freshman Jeffrey Taylor, a prospect who is still sailing somewhat under the radar.

#1 Pittsburgh vs. #8 Syracuse (Monday, January 19th: 7 p.m. on ESPN)

We’ve preached Pitt’s defensive dominance before, and like they do against most teams, they match up very favorably against Syracuse. The Orange are coming off of a tough road loss to Georgetown, in which the Hoyas scored at will against their trademark zone defense. Now, Syracuse faces a team with just as many offensive options and even grittier on the defensive end. It will be up to sophomore Jonny Flynn to establish the pace early in the game, and for Arinze Onuaku to find a way to slow down DeJuan Blair on the boards. This is going to be a game to watch, especially to see if Syracuse has the toughness to finish strong against their remaining conference schedule, which can be described at the very least as punishing.

#4 Connecticut vs. #23 Villanova (Wednesday, January 21st: 7 p.m. on ESPN)

Connecticut has been on an absolute tear recently, having convincingly won four straight games since losing at home to Georgetown. Villanova will have their hands full with Connecticut’s depth, particularly in the frontcourt, but the Husky backcourt of A.J. Price and Jerome Dyson is not to be underestimated either. The key to this game for Villanova is whether or not power forward Dante Cunningham can hold his own against Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien. A big game from Villanova point guard Scottie Reynolds is essential as well, though if his 40 point onslaught at Seton Hall was any indication, he is more than up for the challenge. This probably will be an ugly game, but certainly one worth watching.

#10 Clemson vs. #5 North Carolina (Wednesday, January 21st: 9 p.m. on ESPN)

Five days after taking on the running and gunning Wake Forest Demon Deacons, Clemson heads to Chapel Hill for what looks to be another punishing conference showdown. North Carolina is stacked at every position, which puts Clemson’s smaller rotation at a disadvantage, but a match up that could go very favorably for the Tigers is Trevor Booker versus Tyler Hansbrough. Hansbrough struggled against Wake Forest’s plethora of big men and Booker is far more aggressive in the paint than any big man that Hansbrough has faced this year outside of Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody. A big game from K.C. Rivers would not hurt the Tigers either, but he might have a challenge on his hands, trying to score on North Carolina’s lockdown defender Marcus Ginyard. Ginyard is coming off of a foot injury, so it will likely be a game time decision whether or not he suits up. This game should be a show and one of the better match ups in the ACC, putting premier teams with similar styles against one another.

#13 Georgetown vs. West Virginia (Thursday, January 22nd: 7 p.m. on ESPN)

You probably already know how we feel about Georgetown, but the Hoyas had better not look past Bob Huggins’s West Virginia Mountaineers, who despite being a somewhat disappointing 12-4, are never an easy team to play. West Virginia is going to need a solid effort out of their frontcourt of veteran face-up big man Da’Sean Butler and standout freshman Devin Ebanks, though, if they want to have a chance against DaJuan Summers and Greg Monroe. Similarly, the Mountaineers need senior guard Alex Ruoff to break the Hoya’s zone with his deadly perimeter shooting if they want a chance in this one. This is a game that will test a Georgetown squad that has been up and down in conference play and showcase a disciplined West Virginia team that looks to be a player in March.

Off the Beaten Track:

#17 Butler vs. Illinois-Chicago (Saturday January 17th: 2 p.m. on ESPN2)

The 17th ranked Butler Bulldogs are in the midst of another fantastic year and, if you haven’t seen them yet, this is a must watch game. Led by forwards Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward, one of the nation’s top freshmen, the Bulldogs come into this game with only one loss and their eyes on March. They’ll have to win at Illinois-Chicago first. The Flames have wins at Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech on their resume, and despite the fact that they’ve dropped four straight, they have yet to lose a game this season by more than ten points. Watch out for scoring guard Josh Mayo, who is just 5’11, but dropped 30 points at Vanderbilt and is averaging 18.6 ppg on the season.

Temple vs. UMass (Saturday January 17th: 7 p.m. on ESPN2)

Dionte Christmas has been one of the nation’s top offensive threats since he was a sophomore. Now, as a senior and no longer a second option, he looks to bring Temple back to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year. In order to do so, however, they are going to have to win in a tough, albeit inconsistent Atlantic 10 conference. Fresh off of a win at LaSalle, they travel to Amherst to take on a UMass team that has wins against Kansas and Dayton, but is in the midst of a rebuilding season. The key is in the match ups. Does UMass’ undersized three-guard backcourt, particularly point guard Chris Lowe and off-guard Ricky Harris have the ability to stop Christmas? Can Tony Gaffney, who has struggled since giving Cole Aldrich fits in Kansas, return to his early season form? This game may not be pretty, but it is a great chance to see some of the top names in the Atlantic-10 do battle.

Fresno State vs. Nevada-Reno (Saturday January 17th: 10 p.m. on Comcast Sportsnet California, ESPN Full Court)

Both of these teams are in the midst of rebuilding seasons, but could emerge as a solid matchup between two of the WAC’s top freshmen: 6’7 forward Paul George of Fresno State and 6’9 Luke Babbitt. The McDonald’s All-American Babbitt proved his credentials by dropping 22 points and 7 rebounds against Tyler Hansbrough and UNC, and is the heart and soul of a young Nevada team reeling after the losses of Marcelus Kemp and JaVale McGhee. George snuck into Fresno under the radar, but has quickly established himself as the top offensive option. It will be interesting to see if the two match up directly, but this should still be a good chance to see two prospects that have flown under the radar thus far this season.

Wyoming vs. UNLV (Saturday January 17th: 10 p.m. on The Mountain Sports Network)

This match up, between two teams looking to challenge for the Mountain West Conference championship, should be telling. UNLV, who have wins against 20th ranked Louisville and Arizona on their resume, are coming off of two tough in-conference losses, and are looking to get a win before heading to bitter rivals Brigham Young on the 21st. Wyoming is coming off of a nice win against San Diego State and are looking to expand upon their unexpected 12-4 record. The match ups are certainly not elite, but watch out for the point guard dual between Wyoming’s Brandon Ewing (19.4 ppg and 5.4 rpg) and UNLV senior Wink Adams (12.9 ppg, 3.3 apg) and battle between Wyoming’s 6’7 freshman Afam Muojeke, and UNLV’s versatile senior forward Rene Rougeau.

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