West Virginia versus Villa Nova. Texas versus Kansas. Monday night madness.
This could very easily have been a preseason Final Four projection. The Villanova Wildcats, fresh off of a pasting from Georgetown, get no rest as they travel to Morgantown to face the Mountaineers, who have won six straight since a one-point loss to Syracuse.
The Wildcats lack of frontline depth was exposed Saturday as Georgetown was dominant from start to finish. The score flattered Villa Nova somewhat at the end. The frontcourt issues have to be a concern against West Virginia, who, although a little undersized, possess athletic forwards who are tenacious on both the offensive and defensive boards.
Scottie Reynolds and Da'Sean Butler have both been good enough for their respective teams to be considered for all-conference honours and maybe even get into the conversation for conference player of the year. But both are also part of deep groups, groups that sometimes can make deep runs in March for this very reason. Reynolds leads the Wildcats in scoring and is one of seven who average 8.5 points per game or better.
Butler leads the Mountaineers, who have four players averaging in double figures. If Devin Ebanks becomes as consistent offensively as he is relentless on the boards, the rest of the Big East had better take notice. "Truck" Bryant continues to improve and the addition of Deniz Kilicli will help even more up front. The Mountaineers still need to prove themselves on the road but are starting to gel. It doesn't appear as though Bob Huggins is happy most nights, but then again he doesn't appear to be happy most nights anyway.
The Texas / Kansas battle will pit two of the top dogs in the Big 12, the two that could quite easily meet again in the conference tourney final. For this to happen, though, the Longhorns have to wake up. The loss to Oklahoma, even if it was on the road, is inexcusable. What's even more inexcusable is the absolutely brutal 10/27 performance from the charity stripe. Rick Barnes thought that maybe some junior high school teams shoot better percentages - hey Rick, they all do.
Kansas has methodically clawed their way back into the #1 spot and has yet to play their best basketball. I'm not sure what it is, but they don't always seem to be together on the offensive end. If Xavier Henry and Tyshawn Thomas and the Morris twins learn how to play with Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich this team won't lose. If they can't learn to play a role within a system, the Jayhawks are going to get upset in March.
Texas' problem might be the youth, although there is enough veteran leadership to stabilize. Apart from the free throws, the only glaring (and boy is this a problem most coaches would like to have) issue seems to be getting everybody minutes and into some sort of flow. The Longhorns have so many good players, and it seems like coach Barnes is trying to play all of them, maybe just trying to find the right combination. What it does though, is make it difficult for some - like a Dexter Pittman - to find their rhythm.
Tonight's games will not determine a national champion. But really, the big winners tonight could be Villa Nova and Kansas, should they score road wins against tough opponents.
Texas has to find a way to regroup and get a big win at home. West Virginia has to keep pounding the glass and get an edge inside in order to hand Nova their second straight loss.
Predictions: West Virginia 73 Villa Nova 70
Texas 84 Kansas 77