The 68 Can’t-Miss Games of 2010-11 (#40-27)Posted by zhayes9 on October 20th, 2010
Zach Hayes is an RTC editor, contributor and bracketologist.
College basketball fans: get your calendars out. Over the next few Wednesdays until opening night arrives on November 8, we’ll unveil a portion of our 68 Can’t-Miss Games of 2010-11, a countdown of the matchups that you need to make sure to see this season. From the early season headliners to the best rivalries conference play has to offer, this list has you covered with the game, date, time (ET), network and a brief synopsis of what to expect. Remember, folks: this list doesn’t even include another eight to ten must-see early-season tournament games, for which we’ll have a separate post later this month. Without further ado, here is the third installment of the list — set your Tivos/DVRs now.
To see the #41-68 games on this list, click here.
#40. February 1 – Purdue at Wisconsin, 7 pm (ESPN) – This game, and truly Purdue’s Final Four hopes as a whole, were tempered when Robbie Hummel re-tore his ACL in the second drill of practice last Saturday, but this Big Ten grinder could still have serious implications. While the Badgers are nearly unbeatable at home since Bo Ryan took the helm, Matt Painter’s baby-turned-senior Boilers have had moderate success in the Kohl Center relative to other challengers. And despite the crippling blow that is Hummel’s injury, it’s not a death sentence for Painter and his team. Never underestimate the us-against-the-world mentality in college sports, that same attitude Purdue likely had when they stunned #8 Wisconsin as an unranked, unproven commodity three seasons ago. Facing a perennially overachieving Badgers team will be one of their stiffest challenges on the road towards convincing the doubters yet again.
#39. February 7 – Pittsburgh at West Virginia, 7 pm (ESPN) - Ah, yes. The Backyard Brawl: Hoops Edition. The hatred among these two factions are as deep-seated and emotional as any in the Big East. One thing we know for certain about Bob Huggins’ team post-Final Four is that Kevin Jones should be up to the task of taking over the alpha dog role. If the two-headed point guard monster of Darryl Bryant and Joe Mazzulla can provide more punch offensively, Deniz Kilici can continue to develop into a post presence and freshmen Noah Cottrill and Kevin Noreen are able to contribute immediately, Huggins could have another tough-minded contender on his hands. They’ll need a team effort to down a Pitt squad that returns four starters and has realistic expectations of reaching the school’s first Final Four since the FDR administration.
#38. December 9 – Georgetown at Temple, 9 pm (ESPN2) - Here’s a non-conference clash that may float a bit under the radar. With a top-four Big East team traveling to the preseason Atlantic 10 favorite, this game deserves serious national attention. Contrary to their storied history of producing legendary paint patrollers, the Hoyas will be as perimeter-oriented as ever this season led by the three-headed tandem of Chris Wright (had a strong summer on the USA Select Team), Austin Freeman (this writer’s preseason Big East POY) and the tremendously underrated Jason Clark. With sharpshooting Juan Fernandez and Ramone Moore, the Owls have some firepower of their own. To avoid defeat, Georgetown needs Julian Vaughn to contain double-double machine Lavoy Allen on the low block.
#37. November 16 – Virginia Tech at Kansas State, 4 pm (ESPN) - One of the highlights of ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon is a late afternoon matinee pitting two schools with goals of playing on the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend. Despite injuries hurting their frontcourt depth, the Hokies’ Big Three — Malcolm Delaney, Jeff Allen and Dorenzo Hudson — have remained intact and 100% healthy heading into practice. The best head-to-head matchup of the entire day may be the Delaney-Jacob Pullen bout at point guard. Play that to a wash and the Wildcats should be able to protect the Octagon of Doom on this afternoon, especially if the reports of Florida International transfer Freddy Asprilla being a potential difference maker in the post are true. Martin also boasts Jamar Samuels, Curtis Kelly and Wally Judge, all integral weapons in a physical, tough, long frontcourt.
#36. January 17 – Kansas at Baylor, 9:30 pm (ESPN) - The Jayhawks are a bit of a wild card this season. It’s a credit to Bill Self and the depth he’s assembled that the Jayhawks are even discussed as a potential top ten team after losing Sherron Collins, Xavier Henry and Cole Aldrich. A trip to Waco to face an uber-athletic Bears squad would be challenging for even Self’s team of a year ago. Most expect Marcus Morris to make the leap to all-Big 12 contention, but the length of Perry Jones and Quincy Acy could make this the most difficult matchup of his season. As a result, this clash could come down to guard play, where the Bears LaceDarius Dunn (domestic violence arrest) and the Jayhawks Josh Selby (eligibility) both face question marks regarding their availability. My best guess is that those two all-world talents will be on the floor earlier than January 17.
#35- January 12 – Duke at Florida State, 9 pm (ESPN) - I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: Much like Kansas last season, there’s only five or six games that Duke has any chance of losing in 2010-11. They’re that loaded and that powerful — a point only exacerbated by Robbie Hummel’s injury and Kalin Lucas’ cautious approach towards coming back from his Achilles tear. The Blue Devils may run into some trouble in Tallahassee, though, especially if Chris Singleton improves his overall offensive repertoire. Where Duke may be slightly vulnerable is in the frontcourt following the departures of Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas. Leonard Hamilton loves recruiting long, athletic, shot-blocking, raw big men. Singleton, Xavier Gibson and incoming JC transfer Jon Kreft fit that description pretty well. If the Plumlees fall into foul trouble, who knows?
#34- December 7 – Michigan State vs. Syracuse, 9:30 pm (ESPN) - The second of a loaded doubleheader at the Jimmy V Classic in NYC (the undercard being Kansas vs. Memphis) pits the likely preseason #2 Spartans against a Syracuse team that may, unbelievably, have more talent than last season’s national title contender. Losing the leadership, chemistry and production of experienced cogs Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onauku won’t be a walk in the park, but like any powerhouse program that survives off this cycle, the Orange hope last year’s role players take that next step into stardom. The likely candidates are Kris Joseph, Scoop Jardine and Fab Melo, enough to give the Spartans some trouble on Cuse’s second home floor at MSG. Michigan State can counter that trio with more proven quantities: namely shooting star Durrell Summers and the versatile Draymond Green.
#33. January 22 – Temple at Xavier, 3 pm (ESPN2) - Depending on the situation in St. Louis with Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed, the Atlantic 10’s renaissance might last more than one season with Temple, Xavier, Richmond, Dayton, Rhode Island and likely one under-the-radar team contending for NCAA bids. If you could only watch one game of the entire A-10 slate, here’s a solid option. The Owls inside-outside duo of Allen and Fernandez won’t have it easy in the Cintas Center against a Xavier program that always seems to reload. The perimeter duo of Naismith snub Tu Holloway and Dante Jackson are the next stars in Cincinnati. Temple coach Fran Dunphy would be also wise to account for the Musketeers diminutive Brad Redford and his 45% career three-point mark.
#32. February 23 – Baylor at Missouri, 9 pm (ESPN2) - A Nolan Richardson disciple, Missouri coach Mike Anderson’s own version of 40 Minutes of Hell can keep any undermanned team in contention by forcing turnovers and creating chaos. The problem for the rest of the Big 12 is not only will Anderson refuse to relent on his signature full-court press, but he has the talent to match anyone in the conference this season. Fox Sports’ Jeff Goodman even has the Tigers ranked in the top 10, so for a Baylor team that hopes to win their first Big 12 title since 1950, the trip to Columbia could very well prove to be their hardest test of 2011. The question will be whether the Tigers have enough bulk and athleticism with Laurence Bowers and Justin Safford to match the Bears long and athletic frontline, but Anderson’s system may just be the key to masking that perceived Baylor advantage.
#31. November 22 – Kansas State vs. Gonzaga, 10 pm (ESPN2) - The second semifinal at the CBE Classic in Kansas City is yet another example of Mark Few challenging his team with a non-conference schedule that frequently sees the Zags play quasi-road games on big-time stages. Kansas State is a top-five caliber team in the preseason and the winner gets an automatic RPI/SOS boost with a likely final against Duke. Doesn’t get much bigger than this. Critics have questioned Gonzaga’s toughness in recent years and the upstart Gaels of St. Mary’s finally knocked Few’s team off the perch in the WCC last March. Outlasting a K-State team whose coach won’t let them play soft should convince those scattered doubters the Zags are legitimate contenders.
#30. February 13 – Purdue at Illinois, 1 pm (CBS) -Due to Hummel’s injury, many prognosticators have moved Illinois past Purdue in the Big Ten power rankings. To me, the Illini still have plenty to prove. Despite returning most of their key pieces and adding stud freshman Jereme Richmond, this is a program that hasn’t made it past the first round since Dee Brown’s senior season. Where the Boilermakers may really miss departed senior Chris Kramer is this matchup where he would have played the perfect foil for Illinois’ Demetri McCamey. With the Mike twin towers of Davis and Tisdale available to contain JaJuan Johnson, Painter should have his hands full on the road, a recurring theme in the loaded Big Ten this season.
#29. January 12 – Pittsburgh at Georgetown, 7 pm (ESPN) - Any game between the teams expected to form the upper echelon of the Big East — Pittsburgh, Villanova, Syracuse and Georgetown (not necessarily in order) — is must-see viewing. The Panthers may have an ace in the hole to accomplishing what would be an extremely impressive road win — 6’6 wing Gilbert Brown. Unless the inexperienced Hollis Thompson is up for the challenge, Georgetown will have a difficult time defending the supremely athletic Brown. Dixon hopes a perimeter of Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker can cancel out what the Hoyas boast on the outside.
#28. January 13 – Virginia Tech at North Carolina, 9 pm (ESPN) - Here’s the best ACC game this season not involving Duke. North Carolina may have the superior talent, but it wouldn’t shock anyone if Virginia Tech and their substantial returning production finishes with the silver medal in the conference. Where the Heels are vulnerable and the Hokies win this game is on the perimeter with Malcolm Delaney and Dorenzo Hudson. The opposite holds true in the frontcourt if John Henson improves considerably in his sophomore season. Other than a pathetic non-conference slate, Tech’s black mark in 2010 was a blowout loss in the Dean Dome. Including the NIT, Carolina would go 8-13 after that victory.
#27. January 17 – Kansas State at Missouri, 5:30 pm (ESPN) - The cream of the crop in the middle of a loaded day on ESPN for college basketball. We’ve talked about these two teams, both with clear intentions on bringing a Big 12 title back to campus, already in this article. The questions once again revolve around whether the full court press and backcourt depth can help Missouri overcome a clear advantage for the Wildcats up front. They were able to accomplish that very feat last January in Columbia. Win or lose, look for Kim English to fill up the score sheet. There’s no clear answer on the K-State roster for the 6’6 scoring dynamo, unless sophomore Rodney MacGruder is up for the challenge.