Texas, Duke Look to Rebound Against Ranked Foes This Weekend
Games You Need to Watch
(1) Texas at (21) Connecticut, 4:00 PM Saturday on CBS
Connecticut doesn't exactly fit the bill of one of the 10 teams Texas needs to fear in March, nor do the Huskies look like a team that can beat Texas today, tomorrow, next week, or in months.
But UConn is fighting for its NCAA Tournament life, as Jim Calhoun's club (well, not currently Jim Calhoun's club) has no non-league wins of note. The league wins aren't eye-popping either, so the Huskies could be in trouble if things don't turn around soon.
For Connecticut to head in the right direction, the Huskies absolutely must operate their half-court sets to perfection. Yes, UConn will get its fast-break points—they do against virtually everyone—but scoring will be hard to come by in the half-court.
For once, a team has a stronger, tougher, longer, and more dominant interior than UConn, and that's going to make scoring in the half-court difficult. The Huskies are actually going to need to run through their sets and maybe take a three-pointer or two.
Texas needs to force Connecticut to score as many of its points as possible in the half-court. Kansas State beat the Longhorns badly in transition, as poor guard rotation allowed for odd-man breaks for the Wildcats.
Texas also lost that game on the road, which is where the 'Horns will be headed Saturday. Connecticut scheduled this game in a smaller Gampel Pavilion instead of in Hartford, where the Huskies normally play their biggest games.
Home-court advantage can work wonders in college basketball, but it won't be influential enough for the Calhoun-less Huskies.
My pick: Texas 78, Connecticut 67
(6) Duke at (16) Clemson, 9:00 PM Saturday on ESPN
College GameDay heads to South Carolina this weekend to showcase the increasingly rowdy Littlejohn Coliseum. In the last three years, Duke, North Carolina, and Purdue have all fallen to the Tigers inside of Littlejohn, an arena that goes berserk with each thunderous Trevor Booker dunk.
There's probably not a single arena in America that can go from quiet to deafening with a single dunk like Littlejohn can. The rise of Littlejohn has coincided with the rise of the Tigers. After three years of plowing through its non-conference schedule and then falling in conference play, this Clemson team looks like it might actually have staying power.
The Tigers don't have a lot of marquee wins—beating North Carolina at home and Butler on a neutral court is it—but the defense is much improved from last year.
The pressure Oliver Purnell keeps cranking up is paying dividends, as it creates the eighth most turnovers in America and tricks opponents into taking low percentage three-pointers in transition.
This pressure could give Duke fits, as the Blue Devils are limited in the number of ball-handlers they have on the roster. Foul trouble or general fatigue could quickly sink Duke in the second half.
The key for Duke is to maximize second opportunities. Clemson will force lots of bad shots, but the Tigers don't secure defensive rebounds very well. Duke ranks in the top 10 of the country in offensive rebounding. If the Blue Devils can live up to that billing, they stand a chance at overcoming the problems the in-your-face defense will cause.
My pick: Clemson 78, Duke 74
Mid-Major Battle of the Weekend
Akron at Kent State, Noon Saturday on ESPNU
The two preseason favorites in the MAC tip off in a showdown on national television. Neither of these teams looks to have much staying power in March, as the best win between the two of them is when Kent State took down UAB early in the season.
However, there is still some high-level talent between these two teams. The Golden Flashes reeled in Tyree Evans, who originally planned to head to Maryland but asked to be let out of his LOI after legal problems in his past. He's one of four Kent State players averaging at least double digits.
Akron has similar balance, except instead of several players scoring at least 10 per game, the Zips have eight players dropping at least seven per contest. Of those players, you won't find Zeke Marshall, who was one of the most heralded recruits in recent memory to commit to a MAC school.
Marshall is still working his way into the rotation, and his raw talent should eventually make him a star in the MAC. Someday he might even develop into an NBA player. His coach, Keith Dambrot, knows something about coaching NBA stars. He coached LeBron James when he was in high school.
Akron 65, Kent State 60
Upset You Shouldn't Be Surprised About
Seton Hall over (15) Pittsburgh, 2:00 PM Sunday on ESPN360
The Pirates are loaded with talent, much moreso than the Panthers. Pittsburgh's toughness and superior coaching close that talent gap quickly, but in this situation, the Panthers are prime to be upset.
This game is at Seton Hall, where the Pirates gave Syracuse and West Virginia all they could handle. The Hall is also coming off a victory against Louisville, while Pittsburgh just suffered its first loss of the Big East season to Georgetown.
If Jeremy Hazell can continue to play unselfishly and get his teammates involved in the offense, Pittsburgh won't have enough answers to stop what could be a very balanced, talented attack.
My pick: Seton Hall 81, Pittsburgh 72
Other Games of Note
Arkansas at (2) Kentucky, 4:00 PM Saturday on ESPN360
The only thing that makes this game notable is the fact Kentucky will be the top-ranked team in the country with a victory against the Razorbacks.
Marquette at (5) Syracuse, 2:00 PM Saturday on ESPNU
The Golden Eagles have been tough-luck losers to good teams. Then Buzz Williams' team lost to DePaul. Good luck turning that around against a Syracuse team that has owned Marquette recently.
(25) Ohio State at (12) West Virginia, 2:00 PM Saturday on CBS
Evan Turner's Buckeyes should be much higher in the pointless polls and could even push Ohio State in the top 10 if they can do what Syracuse did—go to Morgantown and escape with a victory.
(18) Georgia Tech at Florida State, Noon Sunday on ESPN360
The Seminoles aren't in danger of missing out on an NCAA Tournament bid yet, but a loss at home against Georgia Tech could further damage their case. The Yellow Jackets are coming off a strong home win against Clemson and would like to get revenge against this Florida State team that already beat them in Atlanta.
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