Mid-Major Battle of the Weekend
Harvard at Cornell, 7:00PM Saturday
Normally, the must-watch games of the weekend lead the weekend preview, but instead Harvard-Cornell as the top mid-major battle tops the list because in theory it's a must-watch. Unfortunately, watching it will be difficult as television coverage is nearly non-existent.
But that doesn't mean this game isn't worth following.
This Ivy League battle is the most important league game in a long time. Think decades long. It's so big, coverage of these programs have writers from the New York Times and Sports Illustrated going back and forth at each other.
Long story short, Harvard graduate and SI writer Pablo Torre wrote a piece about Harvard hoops and the rise of Crimson basketball. The NY Times Pete Thamel inferred that Torre was too glossy, essentially put Harvard on a pedestal, and gave Harvard "a fuzzy hug" for not explaining/investigating the accusations against Harvard enough.
Thamel basically called Torre a Harvard homer.
Of course, Torre didn't like that and posted a tweet calling Thamel the same after writing about Wes Johnson (Thamel is a Syracuse graduate).
In the end, Torre wanted the debate off Twitter and in private.
Was Torre's article a little too nice to Harvard? Yeah, maybe a little. Should Thamel have approached Torre in private first? Yeah, probably. The one thing that is certain is this debate makes it clear: Harvard and to a lesser extent Cornell have the Ivy League relevant.
As for the game, both teams have a game the previous night which doesn't phase Cornell senior forward Jon Jaques who told me, "[It] shouldn't hurt us too much. They have a game the night before also. Second game of an Ivy weekend is always a grind for both teams."
Cornell has the advantage, as both games will be played from the comfort of Newman Arena while Harvard gets stuck going on the road for both games.
The top deciding factor Saturday in Ithaca will likely come from Cornell's shooting from behind the arc.
The Big Red is third in the country in three-point shooting and the offense revolves around the three ball. Harvard has been particularly efficient at stopping the three point shot more so than the two-point shot. If the Crimson can force Cornell inside, Harvard has a host of big bodies off the bench that can contend with Cornell's seven footer, Jeff Foote, in the paint.
(Author's Note: I'll be in Ithaca to cover Cornell-Harvard. Check back Sunday for stories and video from this battle of Ivy League heavyweights.)
Must Watch Games of the Weekend
(23) Vanderbilt at (1) Kentucky, 4:00PM Saturday on ESPN
Big Blue needs a victory Saturday to avoid being the second team in two weeks to lose twice in one week as the No. 1 ranked team in the country. After falling to South Carolina on the road, the Wildcats must rebound against a Vanderbilt squad that's coming off a road victory against a ranked Tennessee team.
Kentucky's top ranking was debatable from the start, and Ken Pomeroy of Basketball Prospectus wondered if Kentucky was better than the ninth place ranking his statistical system rated the Wildcats as.
He compared Kentucky to Gonzaga of a few years back who didn't play defense in the games they didn't need to. The difference between this year's Kentucky team and those Gonzaga teams was the Zags still consistently won by double-digits against inferior opponents. Kentucky hasn't done that.
The Wildcats barely squeaked Georgia, Auburn, Stanford, and Miami, Ohio and blew leads against Louisville and Florida. Kentucky has issues on both ends on the floor as the defense isn't as good as it probably could be with the pure physical gifts UK has.
The offense sputters against the best teams Kentucky has played, as the good defensive squads have forced Kentucky to beat them in the half-court and more specifically behind the three-point arc.
The three best teams Kentucky has played as well as South Carolina who beat UK held John Calipari's club to less than a point per possession.
So all this questioning of John Wall and Company must mean Vanderbilt will pull the upset, right?
Well no. This game is still in Rupp Arena, and the Commodores aren't exactly going to shut you down on the defensive end of the floor. They don't really rebound well and don't force opponents to take a lot of three-pointers.
It should be close and should be just as exciting as Kentucky-South Carolina (though Vandy doesn't have a human highlight reel like Devan Downey).
Kentucky in a close, high-scoring game is the best bet.
My pick: Kentucky 77, Vanderbilt 74
(2) Kansas at (13) Kansas State, 7:00 PM Saturday ESPN
College GameDay pays a visit to the Little Apple as the Jayhawks have to enter the Octagon of Doom.
That's the same arena the Wildcats just knocked off the former top-ranked team Texas, then let the Cowboys of Oklahoma State ride right in and take K-State to the cattle market.
The Octagon is the same place Kansas entered last season and made it not so doom and gloom as the Jayhawks left with a double-digit victory.
However, the season before when KU was a heavy favorite to reach the Final Four (just like this season) and Kansas State had an upstart squad (just like this year), the Rock Chalk got slapped around a bit in Bramlage Coliseum to lose its first game of the season.
The parrallels between these two teams from 2008 continue. In 2008 and 2010, Kansas ranked either first or second in offensive and defensive efficiency. In 2008 and 2010, K-State was equally as strong on both ends of the floor. In both years, Kansas almost had too much talent.
And in both years (and the second time in less than two weeks), the Octagon of Doom will knock off one of the premier teams in the country.
My pick: Kansas State 78, Kansas 76
Upset You Shouldn't Be Surprised Over
This column is meant to complement what Gary Parish does over at CBS, and he keeps tooting his horn (as he should be) for nailing the upsets of the weekend, but I'm three for four on these as well, so I'll toot my own horn a bit as well. This week I'm going to take Baylor over Texas.
Baylor at (6) Texas, 4:00PM on Saturday on ESPN360
This one is a bit risky because the Bears head out on the road to Texas where the Longhorns (who are inexplicably sixth in the polls behind Michigan State) haven't lost this season.
Texas has its issues offensively which should be exacerbated this weekend against a Baylor team that ranks near the top of the country in defensive field goal percentage. Plus, the Bears play a 2-3 zone that could give a lackluster shooting team like Texas much trouble.
To avoid the upset, Rick Barnes must make sure Dexter Pittman stays involved and stays out of foul trouble. He can knock Baylor out of that zone with his ability to draw defenders off the perimeter and rebound his team's misses.
Other Action to Pay Attention to:
(7) Duke at (11) Georgetown, 1:00PM Saturday on CBS
This same game helped send Georgetown on a downhill spiral of indescribably terrible basketball.When the Hoyas went down to the Blue Devils last year, it started a streak of five consecutive losses and nine defeats in 11 games.
So to put it lightly, Georgetown wants revenge.
And since the Hoyas just lost a rivalry game to Syracuse, you know Georgetown is exceedingly angry.
John Thompson III's many transfers and Mike Krzyzewski's decreasing dependence on freshman make this the ultimate game of who's starting five is better.
The Hoya Saxa will likely get contributions out of just five guys, while the fellows from Tobacco Road have leaned on just six players.
Northwestern at (5) Michigan State, 7:00PM Saturday on CBS
When I interviewed Seth Davis last week , he was really a fan of this Wildcats' squad; this a day after Ohio State spanked the Wildcats.
He's still liking Northwestern as he ranked Bill Carmody's bunch again, but really, NU is a fringe tournament team instead of a fringe top 25 team.
The Wildcats have just one win over a definite tournament team (Purdue), but beating Michigan State on the road would give NU two defining wins that could be enough to get them into the tournament should they win 10 conference games.
This is the last tough game for Northwestern before it hits the light stretch of its Big 10 schedule. After playing in front of the Izzone student section, Northwestern could in theory win eight of its final nine conference games.