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The College Basketball Notebook


February 5, 2011 8:10 AM

SEC & Big Ten Highlight Weekend Hoops

BillyDonovan.jpgESPN takes its Gameday stage to Gainesville tonight as Florida hosts Kentucky (9 ET). It's one of two games in the SEC that will shake up the race for the conference title. Earlier in the day, Tennessee visits frontrunning Alabama.

The Notebook touched on the Tide's resurgence earlier this week and they followed up that praise with a decisive win over Mississippi State, keeping them one game up on the field in the SEC. We can expect JaMychal Green to play well today at home, a consistent scorer and rebounder in the paint and we can expect Tony Mitchell to get the job done at a somewhat lesser level in that same role. Whether they can meet one of their toughest remaining challenges will depend on the backcourt. Trevor Releford needs to contribute from the outside. The opportunity will be there for Releford, as Tennessee's fine off-guard Scotty Hopson will miss this game with a sprained ankle, leaving their own backcourt breathing with only one lung, in point guard Cameron Tatum. I like the Tide to get this win.

Kentucky and Florida join the Vols in being on Alabama's heels. Kentucky dropped a stunner to Ole Miss this week because they didn't take care of the ball. That's going to happen to young teams on the road and I have no doubt the combination of the humiliation of losing a game like that, plus John Calipari, will have the 'Cats prepared to handle the ball a little better tonight. Both teams are oriented to the backcourt, with Kentucky bringing freshmen Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb, along with Darius Miller, while Florida has the experienced duo of Kenny Boynton and Ervin Walker, although experience hasn't made them consistent. The guard matchups probably come out in the wash, so it's going to come down to what happens up front. UK's Josh Harrelson can control a game, while Florida has more bodies in Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons. These two have even bigger problems with being consistent, but I'm going to guess that homecourt, national television and a hated opponent brings out the best in the Gators and they get the win.

It isn't often a non-conference game in February draws my interest, but St. John's-UCLA (1 ET, CBS) is worth a look. Both teams are going to be on the NCAA bubble and this could end up deciding a bid. I really like the way Ben Howland has the Bruins coming around and Malcolm Lee is giving him some consistent work in the backcourt, augmenting an already steady frontline. They're also at home. So how much weight do you give Big East affiliation? St. John's made a huge statement for their conference last Sunday against Duke, but I suspect they had an opponent who was a little disinterested. UCLA wins this one at Pauley Pavilion.

On Sunday the focus shifts to the Big Ten with a pair of early afternoon games. Top-ranked Ohio State faces a very tough road trip to Williams Arena in Minneapolis (2 ET, ESPN). The Gophers have struggled recently, notably in this week's 60-57 loss to Indiana, but the Buckeyes still aren't dominating opponents and if Minnesota comes to play, they have the frontline talent to exploit Ohio State's lack of depth here. Even if Jared Sullinger has a good game, Minny can counter with Trevor Mbakwe, a good scorer and rebounder who can be expected to play with a chip on his shoulder after a poor outing in Bloomington. Colt Iverson can take up space down low, as can Ralph Sampson III. But can Minnesota match up in the backcourt, where Ohio State brings waves, with Jon Diebler, William Buford, Aaron Craft and swingman David Lighty? I like the Gophs chances here and think Blake Hoffarber has a good game shooting the ball, an angry team plays with intensity down low and Ohio State's win streak comes to an end.

Michigan State tries to get its season turned around with a visit to Wisconsin (1 ET, CBS), with the Badgers coming off a solid win over Purdue earlier in the week. Most notable in the Wisconsin win was that they began to get contributions from people other than Jon Leurer and Jordan Taylor. It wasn't a lot, but Keaton Nankivil, Ryan Evans and Josh Gasser need to at least get 10-12 points a game and prevent opponents from ganging up on their dynamic duo. Michigan State is a complete mystery. I'd like to offer some key to the game here, but it's really nothing more complex than getting all their pieces to fit together on the same night. Given that, and my partisan loyalties to Wisconsin, I'm going to duck out on making a pick here, except to venture they will be an abnormal amount of green-and-gold in the stands in Madison on Sunday.

Image from baynews9.com

Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary on the NFL playoffs and coverage of college basketball. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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