Syracuse, Villanova Battling for Big East Supremacy Tops Weekend Preview
Games You Need to See
(8) Villanova at (4) Syracuse, 9:00PM Saturday on ESPN
It's only fitting that the biggest snowstorm (and really only snowstorm for that matter) to hit Syracuse this winter accompanies the biggest basketball game of the current seniors' tenure on the Syracuse hill.
This matchup brings with it College GameDay and a record on-campus crowd of 34,616 people. In fear of students lining up a week in advance and camping outside in the sub-freezing temperatures, students wanting the best seats were relegated to sleeping inside the Carrier Dome. Over 350 members of Otto's Army showed up Wednesday, the first day they were allowed to get in line and Friday morning that number grew to 600.
To say this is the most anticipated home game since Gerry McNamara's last game in 2006 would be an understatement.
This battle of four letter abbreviations will feature two teams that will be sure to make this contest a barn-burner. Both 'Nova and 'Cuse like to get up and down the court and score in transition. The Wildcats are especially deadly in the half-court offense while the Orange is known for Shutting It Down in the half-court defense.
Villanova has a penchant for penetrating the Syracuse 2-3 zone as Jay Wright's team hasn't had many problems with Syracuse during the past four years. Villanova must make sure it moves the ball well through the zone for open looks for three. With more shooters on the floor than the zone can typically handle, Villanova possesses the ability to easily light the zone up from distance.
For Syracuse, usually its size and length will ultimately be the key. After all, Jim Boeheim has two players, Wes Johnson and Kris Joseph, that can hurdle the four foot pile of snow currently blocking my driveway. The Orange must take advantage of Villanova's ungodly awful 49.9 percent defensive free throw to field goal attempt ratio.
Check back Monday for reactions from the Carrier Dome and how this game will shape the Big East conference as I'll be at the Dome covering the game for Bleacher Report.
(2) Kentucky at (17) Tennessee, 12:00 PM Saturday on CBS
Rocky Top got a gift from the scheduling gods as the Volunteers have welcomed the top ranked Kansas Jayhawks and now the second ranked Kentucky Wildcats into Knoxville in the same season.
Tennessee won't be as short-handed for its second battle with a top team as it was the first time around. When UT took on Kansas, the Vols were without four players following a New Year's Day traffic stop. Three of those four players are back from suspension and should help Bruce Pearl give everything Kentucky can handle.
Tennessee's improvement from last year on the defensive end of the floor is incredible and that emphasis could be enough to knock Kentucky off. Outside of Kentucky, Tennessee is the best defensive team in the league and has the horses to run with the 'Cats.
Kentucky has been repeatedly tested and taken down to the wire on the road and Saturday should be no different.
My pick: Tennessee 69, Kentucky 66.
Mid-Major Battle of the Weekend
(12) New Mexico at (11) Brigham Young, 4:00PM Saturday
The Mountain West has never had a team seeded better than a five in the NCAA Tournament, but these two teams that tip-off Saturday could both be at least four seeds. The winner of this battle could even sneak onto the third seed line.
The Lobos have won 12 consecutive games while the Cougars have reeled off five straight. BYU features the league's best offense and defense that runs at high efficiency at a high tempo. BYU has the rare combination of playing an up-tempo style of basketball, but also rebounds the ball extremely well which is usually sacrificed in order to run-and-gun.
Shooting the ball well will be at a premium in this game as neither team allows many offensive rebounds. Considering BYU is outstanding from two (51.7 percent) and three (41.5 percent), the edge definitely goes to Dave Rose's team.
My pick: Brigham Young 78, New Mexico 65
Upset You Really Shouldn't Be Surprised About
(16) Pittsburgh at St. John's, 12:00 PM Saturday on ESPN360
After Pitt knocked off West Virginia and Villanova, it looked like Panthers might win out and contend for a Big East Title. But then Jamie Dixon's team laid a dinosaur-sized egg at Notre Dame and suddenly Pittsburgh has been brought down to earth.
St. John's has turned things around, winning three of five against NCAA Tournament bubble teams. With the game at Madison Square Garden, SJU might be able to ride the home-court advantage to an upset victory.
Other Action to Keep an Eye On
(1) Kansas at Oklahoma State, 4:00 PM Saturday on CBS
The Jayhawks should get a challenge on the road from James Anderson and the rest of the Cowboys. Anderson is a rare talent that doesn't get the publicity he deserves. If the wing goes off and leads the Pokes to the victory, the nation will quickly embrace Anderson.
(14) Michigan State at (3) Purdue, 4:00PM Sunday
This game lust a lot of its luster after the Boilermakers lost Robbie Hummel to a knee injury. This will be Purdue's first chance to show the country it can still be a Final Four contender without Hummel.
Missouri at (6) Kansas State, 8:00 PM Saturday on ESPNU
Missouri won this battle the first time around, but that was in the friendly confines of Mizzou Arena. This time, the Tigers must travel to the Octagon of Doom to take on a KSU team ranked its highest in 50 years.
Arizona State at California, 3:00 PM Saturday
If the Pac-10 wants an at-large bid this year, California better win on its Asian Heritage Night that won't feature Max Zhang who is out injured.
Virginia Commonwealth at Old Dominion, 4:00 PM Saturday
If the Colonial Athletic Association wants an at-large bid this year, ODU must protect its home-court and come up with a victory against a solid VCU squad.
(24) Richmond at Xavier, 1:00 PM Sunday on ESPN2
The winner of this game could move all the way up to the five seed line and a Richmond victory could actually sneak the Spiders up to a four seed because of non-conference victories that include Old Dominion, Mississippi State, Florida, and Missouri.
For more updates on college basketball, follow @JamesonFleming on Twitter.
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