RTC 2009-10 Top 65 Games: JanuaryPosted by zhayes9 on October 22nd, 2009
Last Monday we broke down the top games of November and December as part of our season preview here at Rush the Court. As we examine the best games of the month of January, keep in mind what games during this crucial portion of the season usually represent: separating the contenders from the pretenders. With conference play heating up, the true top-seed players emerge from the pack and leap up their conference standings, while teams that may have overachieved or floated along on a cupcake-filled slate during the first two months begin to fall apart. Here are the games of great importance to circle on your calendar for January:
Ed. Note: we are not including projected matchups from the preseason tournaments in these 65 games because those will be analyzed separately.
January 1- West Virginia at Purdue (#7 overall)- The top game in the entire month of January will be played on the first day of 2010. You won’t find a more bruising, rugged and intense contest played all year with Bob Huggins and Matt Painter’s teams battling it out in East Lafayette. West Virginia is led by the shooting ability of Da’Sean Butler, the super-athletic Devin Ebanks, the two headed point-guard combo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant and impact JC transfer Casey Mitchell. Purdue will be entering their third full season with the core of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and Keaton Grant intact.
January 2- Louisville at Kentucky (#23 overall)- This game has been circled for fans of Big Blue since the details emerged of Rick Pitino’s affair and subsequent extortion mess. They’ll be on Pitino relentlessly for these transgressions because they know their ultra-talented Wildcats can back up the berating on the court. Kentucky fans will also be eager for revenge after Edgar Sosa’s stunning game-winning three a season ago crushed Kentucky in Freedom Hall. Sosa will have to handle sensational freshman John Wall this time around.
January 9- Kansas at Tennessee (#12 overall)- If Tennessee gets into an offensive rhythm, they can hang with the Jayhawks. Look for Tyler Smith and Wayne Chism to utilize their versatility to move Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Thomas Robinson and other Kansas bigs away from the basket while allowing their wings — Scotty Hopson, J.P. Prince -- to penetrate inside and draw fouls while Kansas has to recover. This could be an electric, high-scoring affair that may be decided at the foul line.
January 9- West Virginia at Notre Dame (#24 overall)- How about four top-25 games to kick off the month of January? This Big East clash is one of West Virginia’s toughest road tests in their quest of a conference title. Notre Dame recently had a long home court winning streak and the West Virginia forwards Devin Ebanks, Wellington Smith and Deniz Kilici have to deal with the likely BE POY Luke Harangody. Whether the Irish can receive production from their guards is the key.
January 9- Gonzaga at Portland (#65 overall)- If any team can knock off vulnerable Gonzaga in the WCC this season, look no further than the Portland Pilots. Led by senior guards T.J. Campbell (53% 3pt) and Nik Raivio (16.0 PPG), both all-WCC performers, Portland returns their top ten scorers and all five starters from a season ago. Portland may be the only team in the WCC that can match up with Gonzaga’s elite backcourt along with muscle and size in the paint to counter the Zags’ weakness.
January 11- Villanova at Louisville (#44 overall)- This could be a perfect opportunity for the frontcourt tandem of Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings (as long as he avoids tasers) to have huge games against a weaker Villanova frontcourt. It should be a tall task for forwards Antonio Pena, Mouphtaou Yarou and Isaiah Armwood to control Samuels and Jennings, especially at Freedom Hall. Where Villanova holds a distinct advantage is their elite backcourt led by Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes.
January 12- Kentucky at Florida (#54 overall)- The loss of Nick Calathes to Europe was a huge blow to Billy Donovan’s squad this offseason, but Florida still returns enough talent, along with a raucous homecourt atmosphere, to potentially challenge loaded Kentucky. Donovan may have to rely on two stud freshmen — guard Kenny Boynton and forward Erik Murphy -- more than he would have liked. If Boynton has a huge scoring game and Murphy, Dan Werner and Alex Tyus can neutralize Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins down low (not likely), Florida will have a chance.
January 16- California at Washington (#26 overall)- The two top teams in the Pac-10 clash for the first of two in Seattle in mid-January. The point guard duel in these two games will be tremendous to watch with Cal’s Jerome Randle and Washington’s Isaiah Thomas exchanging blows. Cal also boasts two talented wings in Patrick Christopher and Theo Robertson. Luckily for the Huskies, their weakness in the frontcourt is also California’s perceived weakness, meaning guard play is the likely determining factor.
January 16- Dayton at Xavier (#46 overall)- Many prognosticators have the Flyers pegged to finally overtake Xavier and win the Atlantic 10. To do so, they may have to defeat the Musketeers and new coach Chris Mack in Cincinnati. Xavier lost plenty of production yet still returns promising young players Kenny Frease and Terrell Holloway along with veterans Jason Love and Dante Jackson. Dayton will rely on likely all-A10 forward Chris Wright to lead their squad.
January 17- Connecticut at Michigan (#34 overall)- Connecticut overwhelmed Michigan last season in Storrs, but this year the Wolverines are much better equipped to stay on the court, and possibly even defeat, the Huskies. Junior Manny Harris will likely have to deal with lockdown defender Jerome Dyson in this one. A big question for Michigan is point guard where freshman Darius Morris may have to start from Day One, so UConn sophomore Kemba Walker should take advantage.
January 21- Washington at UCLA (#40 overall)- Ben Howland’s crew lost a horde of leadership and four-year winners — including Darren Collison, Josh Shipp, Alfred Aboya and the rented Jrue Holiday — and are currently dealing with a rash of injuries to a team loaded with question marks… yet they’re still likely to be tabbed #3 in the preseason Pac-10 poll. They’ll welcome potential top-ten Washington early in conference play and could pull off an upset if their abundance of underclassmen emerge, including point guard Jerime Anderson and big man Drew Gordon.
January 23- Texas at Connecticut (#11 overall)- A tremendous non-conference game scheduled in the brunt of conference play for two teams with the hardest overall schedules in the nation (along with North Carolina and Michigan State). The matchups in both the backcourt and frontcourt are tremendous- Walker/Dyson vs. Bradley/Lucas and Robinson/Majok vs. James/Pittman down low. Texas’ depth advantage over Connecticut may prove to be the difference.
January 23- Michigan State at Michigan (#22 overall)- Think Michigan fans have this one circled on their schedules? Not only is this an intense rivalry game, but State is the likely preseason favorite in the Big Ten while Go Blue is the emerging, little-engine-that-could looking to return to national prominence. Once again, Michigan should have their hands full trying to defend Kalin Lucas and may have to rely on outside shooting from the likes of Harris, Laval Lucas-Perry, DeShawn Sims and Zack Novak to secure this statement win.
January 23- Ohio State at West Virginia (#48 overall)- Remember this shellacking the Mountaineers handed to then-undefeated Ohio State in Columbus last December? Don’t think Thad Matta and his returning players have forgotten. Entering Morgantown and leaving with a win against this West Virginia squad should prove arduous with only Alex Ruoff departed from last year’s team and a solid group of freshman and JC transfers joining the fray.
January 23- BYU at San Diego State (#53 overall)- The Mountain West is a bit of a mystery this season, but it’s likely BYU will be ranked #1 and San Diego State #2 in the preseason polls. The Cougars return two 15+ PPG scorers in guard Jonathan Tavernari and forward Jimmer Fredette from a team that finished first in scoring and third in defense in the MWC. It won’t be easy for the Aztecs to rebound after losing both Kyle Spain and Lorenzo Wade, but Steve Fisher brought in two double-digit scorers from Pepperdine in Tyrone Shelley and Malcolm Thomas to team up with likely newcomer of the year Kawhi Leonard.
January 31- Duke at Georgetown (#28 overall)- Annually one of my favorite non-conference games, both Duke and Georgetown should contend for the entire season, a far cry from Duke catching a collapsing Hoyas team last January. For the first time in many years, Duke has the depth and talent to make their frontcourt a strength, meaning Chris Wright and Austin Freeman could have big games against a depth-depleted, yet still potent, Duke backcourt consisting of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Andre Dawkins.
Coming next Monday: the top games of February and March.