You're going to have a hard time avoiding the Big East this week on your television screen, as the 16-team conglomerate will have a game on the ESPN family each night, all the way through Friday and it starts with a barnburner tonight in Morgantown. Villanova travels to West Virginia. The Mountaineers trail the Wildcats and Syracuse by a game in the loss column and we can expect the home fans to be ready to blow the roof off this place as they fight to hold onto conference championship hopes.
This game is a true clash of styles, with Villanova starting only one pure frontcourt player, while WVA goes with a four-forward attack keyed by De'Sean Butler. I often emphasize frontcourt play here, so that might lead people to think I'd favor the Mountaineers. But I only talk about the frontline and rebounding so much because most good teams have quality guards.
I still believe that good backcourt play is the prerequisite for an offense that can stay in rhythm. The problems North Carolina is having this year bear witness to that. If it's a contrast of styles, give me the guards. The fact this game is in West Virginia makes it a lot tougher to call, but I think 'Nova is hungry to bounce back after their loss in Georgetown and they find a way to survive a thriller.
West Virginia bookends the week as well, with a visit to Pitt on Friday night. In between, the highlight game will be on Wednesday, when UConn tries to revive its struggling season in the Carrier Dome, while Syracuse tries to push forward with its conference title hopes. At home, this one is really a mismatch. UConn's too turnover-prone and lacks the Orange's depth. I would be surprised if it's even close. On Tuesday, you have Georgetown at Providence, with the Hoyas looking to avoid the big-win meltdown that hit them last week against South
Florida. They had better be ready--they'll have a hostile crowd to deal with and tough frontline from the Friars headed up by Jamine Peterson. But I think they learned their lesson last week and will be prepared this time out. And on Thursday, Louisville has a must-win game in Queens against punchless St. John's.
Tuesday night features a huge game in the Big Ten, as Purdue goes to Michigan State. Both teams are complete, inside and out and well-coached. If Kalin Lucas can play with effectiveness, homecourt will be enough to put the Spartans over the top, but not by much. If he is not healthy--and I suspect he won't be--than look for Purdue to get a big road win that could create a potential five-way logjam at the top of the Big Ten. The other ESPN game that night will be Tennessee looking to avenge an earlier loss to Vanderbilt in a game where the loser will fall two back of Kentucky. The Vols are playing awfully good basketball right now, and I
like them to get this win with a big night from Wayne Chism.
Wednesday night has Duke-North Carolina, a matchup that has all the aura of saying "Red Sox-Yankees" in baseball, even when one of those teams is in a down year. And like the Red Sox & Yanks, this game can overshadow the rest of the ACC. Wednesday is just such a case, because the biggest game in this league is Maryland-Virginia, one that features two bona fide contenders. The Terps are tied with Duke in the loss column and the Cavs are one back. The talent edge goes decisively to Maryland. UVA is a one-man band with Sylvan Landesberg, while the Terps have a balanced attack, as well as a legit go-to guy in Greivis Vazquez. Consistency is an issue with this program though and this is a classic sandwich spot, right after a big Super Bowl Sunday win over Carolina and ahead of a weekend showdown with Duke. I like Virginia to sneak out a close win here.
Thursday it's time to take
a look at the Pac-10, as we continue our perpetual Cal watch. This time they host Washignton in a 9 ET game on ESPN. The Huskies looked very good over the weekend in taking apart Arizona State and they are the one team in this league with the star power to matchup with the Golden Bears. But in Berkeley, Quincy Poindexter and Isiah Thomas need help, and I don't think they'll get it. Look for Cal to push at least one of their five pursuers down a rung.
Finally, let's bring it back where we started, to tonight and the second half of the Big Monday doubleheader. Texas' recent slide makes their showdown with Kansas a little less significant. They aren't playing very well, but with a raucous crowd awaiting them in Austin, I like the Longhorns to get a desperation win tonight.
We'll see you Wednesday to look at the first couple days of action, as well as to get a feel for the NCAA Tournament picture.