Friday, December 14, 2012

For the Sake of Your Bracket 2.0 (12/14-12/20)

By: Kerrance James

Welcome to the second edition of your one-stop shop for the upcoming week in college hoops. There are 284 games in the next 7 days, and it won’t be long until we’re blessed with 300+ per week. My mission is to make sure you don’t lose track of the important ones, so here are the 35 games you’ll want to keep an eye on between now and next Friday. We’ll plan on running this column every Friday between now and March 13, while eventually (mid-January?) adding in my annual elimination style bubble tracker, as well as numerous journalistic gems from Charlie (including this one from yesterday). Stick with us for the next 3 months, and you’ll be as prepared as you can possibly be to inevitably tear your bracket to pieces – but you’ll at least feel more knowledgeable doing it.

Friday: Charlotte @ Miami (7:00 – ESPN3), LSU @ Boise St (9:00)

If this is your first season following college basketball, you’re probably under the impression that Friday night is typically a better night for games than Monday, because this is the 3rd consecutive week where that’s unarguably the case. Allow me to assure you that once we hit January, Friday nights will be an NCAA wasteland, so enjoy these slightly better than average introductions to the weekend while they last.

With a grand total of 3 losses between 4 teams who went a combined 64-62 last season, I think it’s safe to say we’ve got some early season surprises here; the biggest of which is definitely Charlotte. In the pre-season, ESPN projected the 49ers to finish 15th in the A-10 – behind Fordham! – and thus far, they’re merely 9-0 with wins over East Carolina and Davidson. Rather remarkable, but playing in Miami will be their biggest test to date, as the Hurricanes attempt to establish themselves in an ACC full of disappointments (aside from Duke). Elsewhere, LSU takes a less impressive but still flawless record into Boise State, where the Broncos will attempt to rebound from a blowout loss to Utah (of all teams). I expect the home teams to end the perfect seasons of their respective visitors, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time this season that Charlotte shocked someone.

Saturday Afternoon: ECU @ UNC (12:00 – ESPNU), Indiana vs. Butler (2:00 – CBS), Cincy @ Marshall (2:00 – CBS Sports), E. Michigan @ UIC (2:00), TAM vs. Oklahoma (2:00 – ESPNU), Louisville @ Memphis (2:30 – Fox Sports), UNI vs. Iowa (2:30 – Big Ten)

If you can only watch one: Memphis might finally be hitting their stride, and this might be your last chance to see them against an equally matched opponent before the tournament. Don’t get me wrong: a few double digit home wins over mediocre teams hasn’t convinced me that the Tigers are going to blaze through the C-USA like the days of yore, but I think we gave up on Josh Pastner’s squad way too early. Knowing what we know now about VCU and Minnesota, does it really seem so bad that Memphis’ two losses came on a neutral court to those two teams? In games that they trailed by 1 possession in the final 4 minutes before their comeback came up short? Can they knock off a Gorgui Dieng-less Louisville? Turn their season around after starting out 2-2? Make a typical Memphis run into the top 25? Become your mom’s favorite team?

In other news, most people will end up watching the Indiana/Butler game, if only because it’s easier to find CBS than Fox Sports. It’s been nearly a month since Indiana beat an opponent by less than 24 points, and it’ll be interesting to see which team makes a statement in this game, as no matter what the result, the media will try to convince us how much this game will mean to both of these teams 3 months from now.

East Carolina tries to enhance their winning record against a Tar Heel team that Indiana and Butler each destroyed; Cincinnati can effectively put an end to Marshall’s at-large dreams before they even begin; Illinois-Chicago could become the best 9-1 team you’ll never ever see on national television; Texas A&M visits Oklahoma in what is no longer a conference show-down, but could be a nice barometer for how each team’s season will progress; and Northern Iowa, at the expense of an in-state rival, looks to improve to 7-0 in games that aren’t being played in the Battle 4 Atlantis.

Saturday Evening: Alabama @ VCU (4:00 – CBS Sports), Purdue vs. Notre Dame (4:30 – ESPN2), Nebraska @ Oregon (4:30 – Fox Sports), Canisius @ Syracuse (7:00 – ESPN3), Belmont @ Kansas (7:00 – ESPNU), Norfolk St @ NC State (7:00 – ESPN3)

If you can only watch one: I promise we aren’t being sponsored by Fox Sports (…yet?), but Nebraska @ Oregon is the most intriguing of these matchups. Apologies if you’re sick of hearing about pre-season projections, but Nebraska was supposed to be the worst team in the Big Ten while Oregon was expected to finish tenth in the Pac-12. Odds are Nebraska will still finish somewhere in that general vicinity, but Oregon could legitimately contend for the Pac-12 title. At any rate, we’ll be able to take them more seriously if they can comfortably win a home game against the Cornhuskers.

VCU will full court press the life out of Alabama; Notre Dame will more than double Purdue in “points in the paint” on the lane to victory; Canisius will briefly catch the nation’s attention before being outscored by Syracuse in a game that will make you immediately regret not betting the over; Kansas will continue making us forget that they lost to Michigan State a month ago; and if NC State doesn’t beat Norfolk State by double digits, I’m officially selling all of my stock in the Wolfpack.

Saturday Night: West Virginia @ Michigan (8:00 – ESPN), Kansas St vs. Gonzaga (9:00 – ESPN2), Florida @ Arizona (10:00 – ESPN), Creighton @ Cal (11:00 – PAC)

If you can only watch one game all week: Last Saturday’s nightcap of Illinois/Gonzaga was little more than a teaser for this potential Final Four preview. Florida has beaten the bejesus out of everything the schedule-maker has put in their path, while Arizona, by virtue of playing in a Pac-12 that might not be any better than last season after all, could realistically put together an undefeated regular season if they can escape this weekend unscathed. I won’t waste your time with a prediction on this one, but just know that I’m stoked to watch Boynton vs. Lyons and Yeguete vs. Hill; and that the game may hinge on Patric Young’s ability to neutralize Arizona’s 7 foot freshman whose name the announcers will butcher multiple times throughout the night.

Also occurring well after the sun sets, West Virginia goes to Michigan, trying to build on whatever sort of momentum you can gain by beating Virginia Tech at home by 1 point; Gonzaga plans on beating Kansas State solely by making sure Brandon Paul doesn’t put on a purple and gray jersey; and Creighton should push Cal’s losing streak to three games, regardless of how late the game starts.

Sunday: E Kentucky @ Illinois (6:00 – ESPNU), W Kentucky @ Murray St (7:00 – ESPN3)

Maybe the Kentucky Wildcats don’t play any good games this week, but that doesn’t mean the whole state takes the week off. The Colonels travel to Assembly Hall to wage an undefeated war with an Illini team I’m still not totally buying. The end result against Gonzaga was very nice, but their style of play simply isn’t sustainable. They shoot more threes per game than all but 4 teams in the nation – and thus far they’ve been fortunate enough to make more threes per game than any other team in the nation – but no one on the team averages even 5 rebounds per game, and the top 2 rebounders are also the top 2 long range shooters, neither of which are over 6’4”. They simply don’t have what it takes to win a grind it out game, which shouldn’t be a problem this week against an EKY team that’s almost dead last in the nation in rebounds, but I’m just forewarning you that they will get eaten alive next Saturday against Missouri unless Brandon Paul has a better than repeat performance in him.

Not to be forgotten, if the Hilltoppers have any sort of aspirations for at-large consideration, they would be wise to start one hell of a 6 day streak this Sunday against Murray State before traveling to VCU and playing a neutral court game against Louisville. If they can win 2 of those 3, as long as they don’t drop more than 1 or 2 games during Sun Belt conference play, I presume they’ll be the bubble topic du jour in early March. Murray State might be in a similar boat. Their non-conference schedule will not do them any favors if they need to be considered for an at-large bid, as a loss to Western Kentucky would leave them with a minimum of 3 losses and no better of a win than a neutral court game against St. John’s or a road win at Dayton (should they actually win that game). The OVC tourney title isn’t nearly the lock it was before Belmont joined the conference, so the Racers can’t leave anything up to chance.

Monday: Detroit @ Syracuse (7:00 – ESPN2)

Unlike last week, I can’t imagine anyone is looking forward to the MNF game between the Titans and Jets, so I had to pick something to watch in college hoops. Unfortunately, there are only two games being played between teams with records of .500 or better, and I wouldn’t dare subject you to the Louisiana Tech/Arkansas-Little Rock re-match – as if you could even find it on television anyway – so we’re left with what will more than likely be a Syracuse blowout. On the bright side, “There’s absolutely nothing better to watch” is a perfectly valid excuse for tuning in to watch James Southerland do his thing.

Tuesday: Richmond @ Kansas (7:00 – ESPN2), W Kentucky @ VCU (7:00 – NBC Sports), UIC @ W Illinois (8:00), Stanford @ NC State (9:00 – ESPN2), LBSU @ UCLA (11:00 – PAC)

If you can only watch one: Stanford and Dwight Powell head to the PNC Arena to duel with NC State and Richard Howell. Far be it from me to overstate the value of a mid-December game between two teams in Power Six conferences, but this could very well be a harbinger for whether either of these teams has a good conference season in their future. Both teams are starting to put it together after less than stellar starts to the year, but are they building towards something more substantial and consistent, or can we just expect them both to play down to their competition all season? At least with NC State, if they’re ever going to live up to pre-season expectations, it has to start this week, right? A Duke/UNC caliber team would blow out Norfolk State and comfortably handle Stanford at home, wouldn’t they? Thus far, they clearly haven’t been a top 10 team, but they have the talent to get there.

Outside of Raleigh, Kansas should pick up its second double digit win over a mid-major team in less than a week; Western Kentucky’s week from hell continues when they travel to VCU; another chapter in my love affair with the University of Illinois-Chicago will be written courtesy of Western Illinois; and UCLA will look to continue their newfound winning ways against Long Beach State (we really need to come up with some sort of nationally accepted nickname for Larry Drew II that adequately captures how much worse than Mark Sanchez he is at delivering the ball to open teammates…the Anti-Stockton? Larry “the Cherry Turnover” Drew? The Bruin Undoin? I’m sure one of you can do better.)

Wednesday: Xavier vs. Cincinnati (7:00 – ESPN2), Canisius @ Temple (7:00), Illinois St @ Dayton (7:00), South Dakota St @ Belmont (8:00), UNC @ Texas (9:00 – ESPN2), UNI @ UNLV (10:00)

If you can only watch one: With the exception of Ge’Lawn Guyn, the primary participants in last year’s Xavier/Cincinnati brawl are no longer on the rosters, but I guarantee the bad blood is still there. Xavier came into last year’s game undefeated and ranked in the top 10, and unless Marshall has other plans, Cincinnati will be entering this year’s game as the undefeated and highly ranked one. It won’t matter. This will either be a nail-biter of a game or a repeat of last year’s disaster, where the team getting blown out just starts looking for excuses to start a fight. It’s a win-win for the viewing audience. [If the Hilltopper thing and the Xavier blue blob were capable of reproducing together, wouldn't it look a lot like Grimace?]

If that game doesn’t suit your fancy, good luck finding most of these other options on your local channels, but Canisius might ride the momentum of a relatively close game against Syracuse into a road win over Temple; Dayton should win at home against Illinois State but better not take that one for granted; Nate Wolters has a chance to put South Dakota State on the map with a win over Belmont; UNC and Texas continue fighting an uphill battle to prove they actually have an interest in this season; and Northern Iowa/UNLV surpasses Wichita St/Tennessee for the honor of best game of the season to not even be televised on ESPN3.

Thursday: Robert Morris @ Arkansas (8:00 – ESPN3), E Michigan @ Michigan (8:30 – Big Ten)

Not that their best-case scenario for the regular season was anything better than a 13 seed, but Robert Morris has been a massive disappointment, with blowout losses to Rider and Lehigh, as well as a fairly ugly loss to Savannah State. By no means do I think this game against Arkansas will help turn their season around – it’s auto bid or bust for the Colonials – but it’s worth noting that they have what it takes to put a damper on Arkansas’ resume. Eastern Michigan does not have what it takes to put a damper on Michigan’s resume, but the Wolverines are officially appointment viewing material.

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