Games You Need To See
(4) West Virginia at (23) Pittsburgh, 9:00PM Friday on ESPN
The first edition of the Backyard Basketbrawl featured the culmination of the West Virginia student section's hard work. After several instances of foul language, the Mountaineer Maniacs finished off destroying their reputation by throwing not one item, but two onto the court against the Panthers.
The second drilled a Pitt assistant coach, causing national outcry against the Maniacs to either tone down their activity or force the administration to take severe action, which could have included cutting the student section down.
So what does this have to do with Friday night's game? Despite all of WVU's rowdy fans, the crowd really hasn't helped the Mountaineers' home-court advantage. Huggins' club played top five teams Syracuse and Villanova in the WVU Coliseum, but lost both games.
Pittsburgh, however, brings the rowdiness in the form of the Oakland Zoo and rarely ever loses in front of one of the best crowds in the country. The on-campus arena, the Peterson Events Center, has hosted the Panthers for eight seasons where Pitt has been nearly unbeatable. Pittsburgh is 128-11 since opening the Pete, and this homecourt advantage should be a major factor in the latest edition of the Backyard Brawl.
Pittsburgh has been floundering lately, mainly because the offense is reverting back to pre-Jermaine Dixon levels. During their streak where the Panthers dropped four of five games, opponents held the Panthers below their season average in each of those games. Two games against defense-optional squads Seton Hall and Robert Morris have Pitt back on track for now, but WVU presents a new challenge with its size and length.
Pittsburgh forces opponents into a high percentage of low-percentage shots, but the Mountaineers have the players to knock down those shots. Devin Ebanks, Da'Sean Butler, and even Kevin Jones have shown the ability to hit the long two's and contested threes.
My pick: West Virginia 65, Pittsburgh 59
(12) Tennessee at (3) Kentucky, 9:00PM Saturday on ESPN
The media hype train makes another stop in Lexington as ESPN's College GameDay will be on hand in Rupp Arena for the Wildcats' SEC East showdown with the Volunteers. ESPN has advertised interviews with John Calipari and freshman point guard John Wall. While Wall is the most dynamic and hyped player on Calipari's squad, he's really not the most valuable or dominant player for the 'Cats. See below for blind-test involving Wall and another point guard by Basketball Prospectus writer John Gasaway.
Wall's numbers are fantastic for a freshman, but fellow freshman DeMarcus Cousins has turned the Wildcats a dominant force on both ends of the floor. See below:
Cousins' minutes have increased significantly throughout SEC play and so has Kentucky's dominance. Cousins eats up an incredible amount of Kentucky's possessions, but that's okay for Calipari. He's not the most efficient player on the 'Cats (Patrick Patterson holds that title by a bunch), but Cousins has several nearly unstoppable low-post moves that SEC forwards haven't been able to handle.
He's dominant on the glass on the both ends of the floor almost to extent of DeJuan Blair for Pittsburgh last year.
Tennessee's main task should be shutting Cousins down, not Wall. That could be a problem for a Volunteers team that only has a decent interior defense.
My pick: Kentucky 76, Tennessee 65
Mid-Major Game of the Weekend
(22) Cornell at Princeton 6:00PM Saturday
Cornell passed its first Ivy League test two weekends ago when the Big Red hosted Harvard and pummeled the Crimson by 36. This weekend, Cornell heads back out on the road for the first time since January to tip-off with what could be the second best team in the Ivy League.
Princeton has made a dramatic turn-around after winning just six games two years ago. This year, the Tigers have won 11 of their last 12 games including their first four conference games.
Princeton could be in trouble on the defensive end of the floor even though defending has been the Tigers calling card this season. The Tigers rank 35th in defensive efficiency, but is 163rd in defending the three-pointer. Considering Steve Donahue is from the "Shot Doc," Herb Magee's coaching tree, Princeton is trouble. Cornell drills 41.9 percent of its attempts from long range.
My pick: Cornell 66, Princeton 52
Upset You Should Be Somewhat Surprised About
Maryland at (7) Duke, 1:00PM Saturday on CBS
Frankly, there aren't a lot of sexy upset picks this weekend. There's a few teams ranked 20th or worse that are prime for an upset so what's the fun in picking that? The answer is none really. That's why the subhead for this section is "upset you should be somewhat surprised about" instead of the normal "upset you shouldn't be surprised about."
There's going to be A LOT of top 15 blowouts as this weekend has plenty of dull matchups.
The one that could go either way is Maryland at Duke. The Terrapins have been playing fairly well lately and this game is for first place in the ACC. Maryland's surprisingly strong efficiency (ranked 10th in the country) suggests Maryland has outplayed its record.
If Maryland can turn the game into a track meet, then the Terrapins might be able to escape Cameron Indoors with a rare victory.
What Else You Need to Know About This Weekend:
- If the Mountain West wants to get four teams in the tournament, San Diego State HAS to protect its home court Saturday against UNLV.
- The Perfect Atlantic-10 Bid Storm needs this to happen this weekend: Rhode Island wins on the road against Temple. Pundits say Temple is a lock. That's debatable, but if the Owls are in fact a lock, the Rams need this game. Dayton and Richmond crush Saint Louis and St. Bonaventure on the road. Xavier plays a non-conference game at Florida. The Musketeers performed terribly in the Sunshine State in the Old Spice Classic, but this is a chance for them to redeem themselves and beat a fellow bubble team.
- St. John's destroyed Louisville Thursday night. That outcome makes the Cardinals' games against Syracuse on Sunday a must-win.
- Illinois can solidify its spot as a tournament team with a victory at home against the Mark Titus-less Ohio State Buckeyes.
- Cincinnati and Connecticut play an elimination game Saturday. Whichever team loses will likely be out of contention for an at-large bid barring a miraculous season-ending run. South Florida and Marquette play each other in a similar situation.
- Old Dominion and George Mason tip-off for second place in the CAA. Mason likely is out of contention for an at-large bid, but a Monarchs victory will keep ODU in the bubble talk.
- There's no Snopocalypse, Snomaggedon, #snOMG, and the four snowmen won't be riding in on their horses this weekend. There shouldn't be any gyms devoid of non-student fans.
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