The Week Ahead: What to Watch in College Basketball (2/14-2/20)

The Week Ahead: What to Watch in College Basketball (2/14-2/20)
Feb 13, 2009, 02:56 pm
A sense of urgency is creeping in amongst the mid-level teams in the BCS conferences. With their NCAA tournament resumes on the line, teams will be looking for their stars to step up, while NBA decision makers look on. Intriguing matchups this week include UCLA at Arizona, UNC at Miami, USC at Arizona State, and a true battle of the titans in Pitt at UConn. Bracketbuster weekend kicks off as well with a very interesting game between VCU and Nevada.

Marquee Matchups:

#11 UCLA at Arizona (Saturday, February 14th: 1 p.m. on CBS)

Despite lacking the depth of most of their PAC-10 counterparts, Arizona has bounced back from a disappointing 11-8 start to win their next five games, including a victories against Washington and Houston. Thus, this home game against UCLA is essential to the Wildcats’ post-season hopes. There is not a specific positional match up to pay attention to in this game but this is the perfect opportunity for Arizona’s stars to show that they can score against one of the top defenses in the NCAA.

Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger are obviously the keys to their chances of winning. Hill is looking to further improve upon his breakout performance this season, which has witnessed him shoot up draft boards behind averages of 18.3 ppg, 11.5 rpg, and 2.0 bpg. He had little trouble against Alfred Aboya last time around, but don’t count out Coach Ben Howland’s ability to craft an alternative defensive scheme. Chase Budinger is also much improved this season, shooting 41% from behind the arc alongside 17.7 ppg, 6.6 rpg, and 3.3 apg, but he will have to find a way to score on a defense that will be tailored to shutting him down.

UCLA dominated the last match up by holding the Wildcats not named Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger to a woeful 8/29 shooting night. Double digit scoring nights from five players didn’t hurt, either. This time around, UCLA will have to get solid scoring from star backcourt, Jrue Holiday and Darren Collison. The tandem, particularly Jrue Holiday, have underwhelmed offensively at points this year, and when they’re not scoring, the Bruins have trouble getting into an offensive rhythm.

The stakes are high for Arizona, who are playing to preserve their post-season hopes. Don’t scoff at the pressure on UCLA, though, as the stakes may be just as high, coming off a loss at Arizona State. This is as mortal as the Bruins have seemed in years and they are looking for a dominant win to quiet doubters.

#25 Florida State at #7 Wake Forest(Saturday, February 14th: 4 p.m. on Raycom Sports Network, ESPN Full Court)

Wake Forest has been one of the most frustrating teams of the season, frequently playing down to the level of their competition, losing four games, two of which were to ACC bottom-feeders North Carolina State and Georgia Tech. Thus, this game, regardless of the outcome may come to define the Deacons’ season. Will they overcome their slump and regain their winning swagger?

Not if red hot Florida State has anything to say about things. They have the frontcourt to challenge Wake Forest’s size and athleticism, with the likes of 7’1 freshman Solomon Alabi, 6’9 Uche Echefu, and 6’9 freshman combo-forward Chris Singleton.

They will have their hands full with Wake Forest’s own set of athletic giants, but they match up very well against Deacon big men, 7’0 center Chas McFarland and 6’9 combo forwards James Johnson and Al-Farouq Aminu. Whoever gets the better of this match up clearly has the upper hand, as Wake Forest’s Achilles heel has been their frontcourt’s consistency.

The other key to this game is the duel on the perimeter between two of the ACC’s top scoring guards, Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague and Florida State’s Toney Douglas. Teague was invincible until opponents realized that his role could be stymied by a good box-and-one. North Carolina State tried it on Wednesday and limited Teague to 11 points on just 3 shots! He will have another challenge on his hands in Florida State’s Toney Douglas, one of the best perimeter defenders in the ACC and a scoring nightmare, also.

Douglas is averaging 20.3 ppg, including 32 against North Carolina and 30 against Miami. He is also averaging 2.0 spg. While Wake Forest should have no trouble getting into the NCAA tournament at this stage, this game will be very telling as to how good the Demon Deacons really are. Twenty fifth-ranked Florida State isn’t half bad either and a win in Winston-Salem could be the statement necessary to firmly plant them in the NCAA tournament conversation.

#3 North Carolina at Miami (FL)(Sunday, February 15th: 3 p.m. on CBS College Sports)

The last time these two teams met, North Carolina destroyed Miami in Chapel Hill. In Miami, however, the Hurricanes have proven capable of slaying giants. Miami’s hope, as often has been the case, rests upon the shoulders of superstar senior guard Jack McClinton, who is averaging just under 20 ppg and shooting over 47% from three. If McClinton is scoring and role players such as Dwayne Collins and James Dews rise to the occasion offensively, the Hurricanes have a chance.

They’ll have to outshoot and outscore North Carolina, however, who are fresh off dismantling Duke in Cameron Indoor and look like they have recovered from their slight misstep earlier in the season. Miami will have trouble containing just about every man in the Tar Heel’s rotation, especially Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, and Ty Lawson, who all will have favorable match ups. Miami has surprised people before, a fact that automatically makes this game worth watching, but Carolina has an unbelievable amount of momentum going into this game and should come out on top.

Southern California at #18 Arizona State(Sunday, February 15th: 3 p.m. on CBS College Sports)

Southern California desperately needs a quality win this season if they want a chance at the postseason, and a win at Arizona State wouldn’t be a bad place to start. Unfortunately, they’re overmatched, will be coming off of a game at Arizona, will face an uncompromising zone defense, and are facing off against an Arizona State team that is fresh off a season sweep of UCLA.

If Southern California has a chance, it will rest in hands of its backcourt, which has been unbelievably inconsistent, despite its immense talent. Dwight Lewis, Daniel Hackett, and freshman phenomenon DeMar DeRozan have had their moments, but have yet to live up to their potential.

They will have their hands full with the Arizona State frontcourt, primarily projected lottery pick James Harden, who can impact a game in many different ways, on and off of the ball. The key match up might be in the middle, however, where Arizona State big man Jeff Pendergraph, who is coming off of an excellent performance against UCLA and USC center Taj Gibson, who has slowed down since a dominant start to his season, but is still a threat on both sides of the ball.

Here is another chance to see a talented team, full of NBA prospects, fighting for its post-season lives.

#4 Pittsburgh at #1 Connecticut(Monday, February 16th: 7 p.m. on ESPN)

This is the match up of the week. Connecticut and Pittsburgh are the cream of the NCAA, boasting depth at every position and will both surely be contending for a national title. Connecticut just lost its second best scorer in Jerome Dyson, but freshman guard Kemba Walker has proven to be a very capable reserve and should thrive in a starting role.

Watch the middle in this game, however, as two of the nation’s finest frontcourts meet up in a battle not to be missed. Connecticut’s undersized warrior Jeff Adrien and 7’3 center Hasheem Thabeet will test their prowess against Pittsburgh tandem of combo-forward Sam Young and DeJuan Blair, who plays much bigger than his listed 6’7. Scouts will be watching to see which duo gets the upper hand.

Things don’t trail off much on the perimeter as point guards Levance Fields and A.J. Price match up. Fields is an ultra-efficient distributor, currently sporting a 3.87 A/TO and a much improved perimeter stroke. Price has come into his own lately, with eight straight games in double figures the conditioning to finish games strong. With scouts from most NBA teams on hand, and the top of the Big East standings at stake, this is not a game to be missed.

Kentucky at Vanderbilt(Tuesday, February 17th: 9 p.m. on ESPN)

While there are many reasons to watch this game, don’t miss the match up in the middle between NBA big men, Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson and Vanderbilt’s Andrew Ogilvy. Patterson is undersized, but has shown toughness and versatility this year, scoring efficiently on offense and improving his defense significantly. Ogilvy has had an up and down season season, including a stretch of three games where he shot just 2/14 from the field and grabbed just 17 rebounds, but has rebounded in his last three games to the tune of 17.0 ppg, 9 rpg, and 1.7 bpg. Scouts will be watching to see whether Patterson’s grit can trump Ogilvy’s size and vice versa.

Elsewhere on the court, Kentucky shooting guard Jodie Meeks is always worth watching, recently nailing a last second three pointer to beat Florida, and averaging 25.0 ppg on 43% shooting from beyond the arc and 90% shooting from the foul line. Vanderbilt has no answer for Meeks, but if they want a chance at victory, they have to find a way to slow him down.

Also, pay attention to Vanderbilt freshman swingman Jeff Taylor, who has excellent size for the perimeter and has come up big for the Commodores this season. At 17-7, however, the pressure is on Kentucky, as they must win this game to show that they are capable of elevating the SEC’s pitiful national profile.

LSU at Arkansas(Wednesday, February 18th: 8 p.m. on Raycom Sports Network)

LSU is one of the nation’s most underrated teams, sitting on a 20-4 record on top of the SEC, with only one bad loss on their resume. They head to Arkansas in a game that will prove how good the Tigers are and whether or not their record is for real. They travel to play an Arkansas team whose backs are against the wall and have the ability to step up their play at home, despite their 13-9 record.

Arkansas is severely overmatched in this game, especially considering the play of the LSU backcourt: point guard Garrett Temple, shooting guard Marcus Thornton, and combo forward Tasmin Mitchell. Thornton and Mitchell have proven to be lethal scorers this year, with a combined 17 games scoring 20+ ppg.

In order to snap their four game losing streak, Arkansas must find a way to contend with this duo, but most importantly, they have to find consistent offense outside of Michael Washington. Early in the season it looked like freshman point guard Courtney Fortson was going to be the answer, but he has come up cold in the clutch this season and is prone to bad decision making and shot selection.

Arkansas will have to get a gigantic game out of Michael Washington, however, if they want a shot in this game, who scored 24 points the last time these two teams met, but will have his hands full with LSU big man Chris Johnson and even, at times, Tasmin Mitchell. This is Arkansas’s last chance to pick up a marquee win before they fall out of the post-season conversation. For Louisiana State, a win away from home against a talented team would be a feather in the cap of a breakout season.

Iowa State at #16 Kansas(Wednesday, February 18th: 8 p.m. on Big 12 Network, Altitude Network, ESPN Full Court)

Iowa State is almost certainly out of post-season consideration, but the story of this game has less to do with standings and more to do with the match up that scouts across the country will be tuning in to watch. Cyclones 6’10 power forward Craig Brackins has emerged as one of the best post prospects this season and his averages of 19.4 ppg, 9.1 rpg, and 1.0 bpg, which combined with a standout performances against Blake Griffin, has led to his draft stock skyrocketing. This game, a rematch against a Kansas team he dominated to the tune of 42 points and 14 rebounds, is another forum to show his skill against one of the top big men in the Big 12 and fellow draft prospect, Kansas’s Cole Aldrich.

There aren’t many other reasons to watch this game, between the Big 12’s ceiling and the cellar, but this match up is not one to miss, especially considering how well Brackins rises to the occasion in big time match ups.

Washington at #11 UCLA(Thursday, February 19th: 11 p.m. on FSN)

Washington has been one of the surprise teams in the country, rebounding from a disappointing season last year with less talent to have a breakout season that has found the Huskies neck and neck with Arizona State and UCLA atop the Pac-10 standings. This game gets even more interesting following UCLA’s loss at Arizona State, which exposed UCLA’s lack of execution in the clutch and failed to answer questions as to who is the go-to player on the offensive end for this squad.

Washington will travel to Los Angeles looking to sweep the Bruins. To do so, they will need continued excellence from their undersized backcourt, led by freshman Isaiah Thomas and senior Justin Dentmon. The duo will face suffocating defense from the likes of Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday, but if stalwart big man Jon Brockman and underachieving combo-forward Quincy Pondexter can establish their dominance over UCLA’s lesser frontcourt, the Washington offense should not have much trouble establishing a rhythm.

Ben Howland’s defense, while deservedly extolled, will certainly be a tremendous factor, but UCLA desperately needs offense out of its stars, particularly Jrue Holiday, who against Arizona State, missed all five of his shots from the field and failed to score a point. UCLA is a formidable team when they’re hitting perimeter shots and clicking on defense, but their lack of a consistent go-to option is holding them back from being an elite team. Tune in to see if they can get their act back together and beat one of hottest teams in the Pac-10.

Off the Beaten Track:

VCU at Nevada(Friday, February 20th: 9 p.m. on ESPNU)

The story here has less to do with match ups and more to do with seeing two under the radar prospects on national television: Nevada’s freshman forward Luke Babbitt and one of the nation’s best point guard’s in VCU senior Eric Maynor. Babbitt has been one of the nation’s top freshmen, coming out on top in a head-to-head match up against Tyler Hansbrough and posting numbers of 16.5 ppg and 7.6 rpg while shooting 46% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc. He will get a challenge on the defensive end from VCU sophomore Larry Sanders, who is much improved this season and averaging 10.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg, and 2.5 bpg.

Most, however, will be tuned in to watch Eric Maynor, one of the nation’s most efficient scorers and distributors, who will almost surely be in the NBA next season. Nevada will throw everything they have at him and look for Maynor to find a way to get his teammates if things do not go well offensively. This Bracketbuster matchup is not to be missed.

Temple at Duquesne(Sunday, February 15th: 3 p.m. on CBS College Sports)

Temple and Duquesne have both been wildly inconsistent this year, toppling quality teams and losing to much weaker competition. This game finds a variety of borderline prospects on the floor together, in a clash of styles that should result in a good game. For the Dukes, be sure to watch 6’7 combo forward Damian Saunders, who has slowed down, but is still in the midst of an impressive breakout season playing out of position at center and averaging over two steals and blocks per game.

Point guard Aaron Jackson is having a breakout season of his own to the tune of 17.7 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 5.5 apg, and 1.7 spg while shooting 53% FG, 36% 3FG, and 82% FT. He has good size and a nice frame for the point guard position and is likely to get more serious looks as the season continues. He will be tested, however, by the Temple perimeter defense that, when it is clicking, is difficult to penetrate.

Temple has one advantage, however, in the form of shooting guard Dionte Christmas who has been streaky at times this season, but is still one of the nation’s most lethal scorers on any given night. This game, at Duquesne, could easily turn into a shoot out, which between teams as talented as Duquense and Temple, is always entertaining.

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