The Week Ahead: What to Watch in College Basketball (2/28-3/6)

The Week Ahead: What to Watch in College Basketball (2/28-3/6)
Feb 27, 2009, 11:01 am
This is do or die time in the NCAA, as teams must make their final stand before conference tournaments kick off the following week. For some prospects, this will be their last opportunity to be evaluated, giving them a chance to go out with a bang. For others, this is the time to step up and take their game to the next level, proving they can play winning basketball and extend their season or college career. Sunday marks the start of the month of March, with all the connotations that go along with that. Join us as we take a look at some of the biggest games of this upcoming week, and make sure to set your schedules or DVRs accordingly.

Marquee Matchups

All times EST

Georgetown at #10 Villanova Saturday, February 28th: Noon on ESPN

Georgetown is all but dead in the water as far as an NCAA tournament berth is concerned, meaning this might be our last chance to evaluate the play of Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summers against a worthy opponent. They play St. John’s and DePaul after this, followed by the Big East tournament, and may or not make the NIT when it’s all said and done.

Oh how the mighty have fallen, and with them, the NBA draft stock of their top players Monroe and Summers. Both underclassmen, they could conceivably decide to return for another season. All indications are that Summers is gone, his body language on the floor makes that pretty obvious, besides the rampant rumors. Whether he’s still a first round pick at this point is anyone’s guess. Considering his likely lottery status, Monroe will likely follow in his footsteps, unless he wants to run the risk of being the next Josh McRoberts, who he is beginning to resemble.

Both players have been heavily criticized for their lack of physical and mental toughness, and a big win at tough and feisty Villanova could go a long ways in stopping that talk. Dante Cunningham has done a good job establishing himself as a prospect this season, and he’ll likely relish the chance to continue to prove the naysayers wrong in his matchup with Monroe. This could be a great game.

#18 LSU at Kentucky Saturday, February 28th: 4 PM on CBS

More than anything, this is a matchup of two of the best scorers in college basketball, as Marcus Thornton’s soaring LSU Tigers visit Rupp Arena to take on Jodie Meeks’ faltering Kentucky Wildcats. These two teams couldn’t be headed in more opposite directions, as Kentucky has lost five of their last eight games while LSU has won their last nine. Kentucky needs to be careful not to play themselves out of a tournament bid, and beating the best team in the SEC on their home floor would go a long ways in helping that cause.

This is certainly going to be a well-scouted game from an NBA perspective, as decision makers are slowly warming up to the play of LSU’s senior Marcus Thornton, one of the most prolific and efficient shooters in college basketball. He goes up against the #1 scorer in the conference in Meeks, who has obviously helped his draft stock a great deal with his terrific play. Meeks is rumored to be heavily considering testing the waters this year, and a good performance in front of a big crowd of scouts won’t hurt. Scouts will want to evaluate the versatility of both players and their ability to defend their own position at the next level.

#7 Duke at Virginia Tech Saturday, February 28th: 3:30 on ABC

Virginia Tech went a long ways in solidifying their case for an at-large bid with a big win over Clemson this week, and they have another great opportunity to do so as they host Duke this Saturday. Malcolm Delaney still isn’t a household name amongst NBA scouts and college basketball fans, so a big outing against a strong defensive team like Duke could obviously help. Duke needs to hold serve if they want to continue to make a case for a #1 overall seed, and they don’t want to lose touch with North Carolina at the top of the ACC standings.

Gerald Henderson has done everything in his power to show why he should be considered a strong lottery pick prospect this June, and if he continues to play like this during the month of March, may be able to creep into the mid-lottery. Kyle Singler on the other hand has been much more up and down, particularly with his outside shot, but looks like a strong first round pick based on his size and versatility.

#11 Missouri at #15 Kansas or Tennessee at Florida Sunday, March 1st: 4 PM on CBS

Regional considerations will decide which of these games you’ll be able to see.

If it’s Missouri at Kansas, you’ll get a rematch of a terrific game that ended with a buzzer beating shot a few weeks ago, a very up-tempo affair with major Big 12 conference implications. DeMarre Carroll is having an extremely productive season, and he’s a guy to keep an eye on if you like scrappy athletic undersized power forwards in the Renaldo Balkman mold. Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich will both likely consider testing the waters when the season is up, with Aldrich being a strong first round pick and potential lottery selection when it’s all said and done. A broken nose has slowed him down somewhat, but he seems to be back on track lately. It will be interesting to see if he can keep up with Missouri’s breakneck pace—he struggled against them in early February.

#4 North Carolina at Virginia Tech Wednesday, March 4th: 7 PM on ESPN

Another big home game for Virginia Tech, especially if they fall to Duke on Saturday (see above). Not particularly known for their defense, the Hokies will have to do a great job slowing down Ty Lawson and Carolina’s incredible pace. This would be a good time for Tyler Hansbrough to reestablish himself as the best big man in college basketball—his rebounding numbers are down this year, even relative to the lesser minutes he’s being asked to play. It has been nice to see him hitting the occasional 3-pointer, though. Ty Lawson took too many shots and turned the ball over far too much in the loss against Maryland, two things he’s been very good about this year. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

#8 Marquette at #1 Pitt Wednesday, March 4th: 7:30 PM on ESPN2

Marquette is reeling these days after tragically losing their floor general Dominic James for the rest of the season to a bone fracture in his foot. The schedule makers have done them no favors, though, sending them on the road to face one of the best defenses in college basketball, after first having to play Louisville.

James’ absence will serve two purposes for talent evaluators. For one, it will tell us under no uncertain terms the exact value that he provided for Marquette. Second, it will give Jerel McNeal an opportunity to show that he is more of a combo guard than the undersized shooting guard he’s currently being labeled as. McNeal is having a Big East player of the year caliber season, but his team will now need him to do even more than what he already does. Scouts will be closely scrutinizing his decision making skills and shot-selection with the increased ball-handling duties he’ll surely be asked to shoulder. The same can be said to a lesser extent of Wesley Matthews, also in the midst of a breakout season, but considered by many to possess suspect ball-handling and perimeter shooting skills. He’ll need to step up his game as well.

#3 Oklahoma at #11 Missouri Wednesday, March 4th: 9 PM on ESPN Full Court

Two losses to Texas and Kansas—with Blake Griffin sitting on the sidelines for the most part—mean that Oklahoma has some ground to make up in the Big 12 standings. This is exactly the kind of game Griffin likes to play in, and if he can help his team break Missouri’s press and take the ball coast to coast a few times, then all the better. He should be able to exert his will on Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll in the post in the half-court, although that probably won’t tell us too much about his NBA potential. The more interesting thing to look at is Willie Warren and how even keeled he manages to stay in the face of Missouri’s hostile crowd and the constant waves of pressure their guards will bring. Warren is being talked up by some scouts as potentially being able to play some point in the NBA down the road, and this game may shed a little bit of light on that claim.

Off the Beaten Track:

Utah at BYU Saturday, February 28th: 5 PM on CBS College Sports

This is first and foremost a big time rivalry—the two campuses are less than an hour apart, and there is absolutely no love lost between the two fan bases, in any sport. BYU has one of the best home arenas in college basketball, and the atmosphere should be electric for this game.

This is also an important game in the Mountain West Conference, as BYU is two games behind Utah in the standings, but Utah needs to travel to New Mexico besides playing here in Provo. BYU could still very well be in the mix for an at-large bid if they manage to win this game and not slip up the rest of the way.

Lastly, there are some legit NBA prospects in this game, on both teams. Utah sports the extremely big and very productive Australian 7-footer Luke Nevill, while BYU has one of the most versatile wing players in the country in Lee Cummard. These are likely the two main candidates for conference player of the year honors as well.

Saturday is a big day for college hoops, but you won’t be missing out by deciding to steer your remote a little bit off the beaten track for this one.

Dayton at #19 Xavier Thursday, March 4th: 9 PM on ESPN2

Dayton was having an excellent season until recently dropping their past two games on the road, which knocked them out of first place in the conference. They’ll play Temple at home before traveling to Xavier next Thursday for a game with major Atlantic-10 standings implications. Xavier has struggled a bit as of late, but is about as tough to beat at home as any team in college basketball. Both teams are slow-paced and extremely tough defensively.

This game is interesting from a draft standpoint because of the matchup between both team’s power forwards—Chris Wright (Dayton) and Derrick Brown. Both are terrific athletes who are slowly moving their game out to the perimeter. Wright has been very good in conference play, even knocking down a pair of 3-pointers (a rare occurrence) last time they played Xavier, resulting in a 13-point win. He hasn’t been quite as efficient as he was last season, but is still an extremely active and versatile player who produces in a major way. Brown on the other hand hasn’t quite broken out this season the way some predicted—his 3-point shot is falling at a very nice clip, but he’s lost a lot of the scrappiness that made him such an interesting player to begin with. He still looks like a future NBA player in the making, though. Both players will likely have to wait another season before declaring for the draft, but this is still a good chance to check in on their progress.

North Dakota State at Oral Roberts Saturday, February 28th: 8 PM on ESPN Full Court

The Summit League has been owned by Oral Roberts for the past three seasons, but North Dakota State is making a run at the conference’s automatic bid this season, currently sitting in first place in the standings, just a game ahead of ORU.

That’s as good a reason as any to take in this game, but there is definitely one more, as we’ll get a chance to see one of the top guards in college basketball on national TV, in NDSU’s Ben Woodside. More than just the guy who scored 60 points in a single game this year (the most since Eddie House in 2000) Woodside is a legit prospect who may be able to make a big splash this spring at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, similar to the way Jose Juan Barea did a few years back. In the meantime, it’s a good idea to evaluate him in his most natural setting, which we’ll surely be doing.

Illinois St. at Creighton Saturday, February 28th: 2 PM on ESPN2

These are two of the top three teams in the Missouri Valley Conference, likely a one-bid league this year. Both teams have a chance to draw first blood before the conference tournament kicks off just a few days later, with this being their regular season finale.

Illinois State has the conference’s best NBA prospect, in the super athletic Osiris Eldridge, who seems to be having a very down year; while Creighton has one of the best shooters in the entire country, in Booker Woodfox (making 51% of his threes).

There won’t be many, if any, NBA scouts on hand, but this will still be a very good game regardless.

Ohio Valley Conference Semifinals Friday, March 6th: 7 and 9 PM on ESPNU

One of these games will likely feature Tennessee Martin’s all-around guard Lester Hudson, and for that reason there will surely be at least a few NBA scouts in attendance. Tennessee Martin is in first place in the Ohio Valley conference, but are just a hair ahead of three other teams, which indicates the league’s parity.

Hudson isn’t shooting the ball quite as well as he did last year, but he’s taking even more shots and therefore scoring more. He’s still the same stat-stuffer he always was—grabbing tons of rebounds, dishing out plenty of assists and making a living in the passing lanes, but we haven’t seen an incredible amount of improvement from him—which is not a shock considering that he’s turning 25 later this year.

Hudson could really use the exposure provided by an NCAA tournament berth, as well as a strong showing against a good team, in order to ensure being drafted. If Hudson doesn’t win in this game, it could be his last NCAA appearance.

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