Weekend Hoops Preview: Big East Battles and a Top-Five Showdown

Jameson FlemingSenior Writer IJanuary 8, 2009

As a whole, this weekend will not be jam-packed with top games like past weekends as conference play starts to get going. All 25 ranked teams will be action on either Saturday or Sunday, and only one, Michigan State, will be venturing outside its conference for a game against Kansas. Only six of the top 25 teams will be playing each other, with four of those six squaring off in the Big East.


(3) North Carolina at (4) Wake Forest, 8 p.m. Sunday

This game for some reason isn't on national television. It's not even on pay-per-view television plans like ESPN FullCourt or ESPN360. The majority of America isn't going to be able to see whether North Carolina still deserved the handful of first place votes the Tar Heels received in the AP and Coaches Polls. A win on the road against an undefeated top-five ranked team will go a long way in getting Roy Williams' team's confidence back.

According to Ken Pomeroy's tempo-free statistics site, North Carolina enters this game as the sixth most efficient team in the country, while Wake Forest is 10th. With the game being at Wake Forest, that lack of disparity in efficiency means this game according to the numbers is as much of a toss-up as you can get. Pomeroy predicts Wake to win 84-83, but for the game to be played at a pace of 85 possessions.

That's NBA fast.

But in a game that features two rosters littered with future pro prospects, a tempo that fast isn't so surprising. Ty Lawson is the fastest point guard in the game, but Wake's Jeff Teague can push the ball and get to the hoop almost as well as the Carolina floor general.

North Carolina is noticeably strong in the backcourt with the quartet of guards and wings Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Marcus Ginyard, and Danny Green. The only Demon Deacons guard that is arguably better than any of Carolina's guards or wings is Jeff Teague.

Where Wake Forest can beat North Carolina is in the frontcourt. Coach Dino Gaudio boasts five players who stand 6'9" or taller that are on the court for at least 30 percent of the game. Roy Williams has just three.

If the Demon Deacon trio of star sophomore James Johnson, seven-footer Chas McFarland, and superfrosh Al-Farouq Aminu can establish an interior presence and work UNC into foul trouble, Carolina could get absolutely pounded on the boards. Wake Forest ranks 17th in the country at getting to the free throw line.


(22) West Virginia vs. (15) Marquette, Noon Saturday ESPN FullCourt & ESPN360

This game has sizable implications for both teams in the Big East standings. West Virginia blew its chance to knock off a top-five team in UConn when the Mountaineers lost a close game at home in which they led for a decent amount of the second half. With a loss, WVU avoids a 1-2 start in the Big East.

On the flip side, Marquette can move to 4-0 and a likely first place tie with Syracuse (the Orange are at Rutgers on Saturday). With games to follow against DePaul and Providence, two teams that will likely finish in the bottom half of the Big East, Marquette could jump out to a 6-0 start in the conference.

With a trio of senior guards—Wesley Matthews, Jerel McNeal, and Dominic James—a bevy of momentum and senior leadership could go a long way to getting the Golden Eagles in position to make a run at the conference title.

As for the actual game, West Virginia ranks second in overall efficiency while Marquette stands 26th. By the numbers, the Mountaineers are six-point favorites and have a 71 percent chance to win.

West Virginia does two things really well that can give Bob Huggins' team a decisive advantage. First, the Mountaineers rebound the ball extremely well, especially on the offensive glass, ranking fourth in the country in O-boarding. Marquette lacks a stable of bigs beneath the basket, which should give WVU's fairly efficient offense extra looks at the basket.

West Virginia ranks third in the country in forcing turnovers per possession. 30 percent of opponents' offensive possessions end in turnovers. With a solid three guard lineup, WVU's pressure on the ball will be something Marquette hasn't seen yet.


(21) Louisville vs. (17) Villanova, Noon Saturday, ESPN

Villanova is facing the same problem that West Virginia is. The Wildcats need to defend their home turf to avoid dropping to 1-2 in the conference. Louisville has played just one conference game thus far, and that was a fairly easy 14-point victory over perennial conference doormat South Florida.

Louisville surprisingly ranks 17th in overall efficiency; that ranking is fueled by UL's fourth-ranked defense. Louisville's freakishly athletic players are outstanding across the board on the defensive end of the floor. The Cardinals rank 19th in the country in opponents' field goal percentage, ninth in limiting offensive rebounds, seventh in blocking shots, and 20th in picking up steals.

Louisville's defense will also be its best offense. The amount of steals in the backcourt and run-outs from blocked shots create easy transition baskets for a team anemic in the frontcourt.

Villanova generally does a lot of things well, but nothing spectacular. The Wildcats are solid on both sides of the ball, can rebound the ball, and are careful with the ball on offense. 'Nova has enough ball handlers to get past Louisville's absurdly strong on-the-ball pressure in the full court.