The College Basketball Notebook

January 15, 2010 11:08 AM

Cal Steps Up Out West

Thursday night is when the Pac-10 plays its midweek games, and Cal seems to have emerged as the early favorite. The Golden Bears got the ink in the preseason, then struggled in December and now have re-emerged in conference play. They moved to 3-1 in conference play with a 93-88 win over Washington State last night, where the starting guards on both teams put on a big show. Jerome Randle poured in 39, while Patrick Christopher had 21 for Cal. On the other side, Klay Thompson had 18, while Reggie Moore popped in 25. But Randle and Christopher got support up front from Jamal Boykin and Theo Robertson and that was the difference. Cal is well-coached with Mike Montgomery and if they get control of this race, the Pac-10 will have pulled off the trifecta of being substandard, uninteresting and playing their games well after everyone in the East has gone to bed. Not

exactly a PR person's dream.

I thought Tennessee might be in a letdown spot last night against Auburn. But their three-guard attack was ruthlessly efficient, hitting a combined 16-of-22 from the floor, while Auburn clanked it off the rims at 30 percent. Combine that Wayne Chism's 12-point/12-rebound night and you have the recipe for an 81-55 rout for the Vols. Bruce Pearl's team may be finding its footing. Challenging Kentucky is a stretch, but settling into their now-customary spot close to top is not.

Looking ahead to the weekend, the Big East and Big Ten have key games on national television. Syracuse goes to West Virginia (Sat, Noon ET, ESPN). I still think the Orange are the best team in the conference, but they do have to prove it on the road in a tough environment. Both teams are strong up front, but with Andy Rautins, Syracuse has more balance at guard. WVA needs this game to show they can stay with the big boys all year long.

And at 3:30 on CBS, Illinois goes to Michigan State. The Illini are 4-0, but haven't been tested yet. The Spartans are now the favorite, with Wisconsin suffering a key injury and Purdue suddenly dropping two straight.

Both of these conferences have other interesting matchups. Louisville goes to Pitt. Will the Panthers finally let down after pulling off an amazing 4-0 road run to start conference play? And on Sunday, Georgetown goes to Villanova in a game both teams need. In the Big Ten on Saturday night, Wisconsin visits Ohio State. The Buckeyes are getting healthy as the Badgers are getting hurt, and this will be a big test for both teams.

North Carolina and Duke are at home as they try and restore some order in the ACC. The Heels host Georgia Tech (Sat, 2 ET, ESPN), while the Blue Devils have a Sunday night game against Wake Forest (8 ET, FSN). And an off-the-radar game in the Big 12 is Oklahoma State-Baylor. Both are interesting

challengers to the Texas-Kansas Establishment. The winner of this one retains that status.

Enjoy the games and the NFL playoffs. See you Sunday night to sort out the results.

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