The 68 Can’t-Miss Games of 2010-11 (#26-14)

Posted by zhayes9 on October 27th, 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 fourth installment  of the list — set your Tivos/DVRs now.

To see the #27-68 games on this list, click here.

#26. January 26 – San Diego State at BYU, 9 pm (CBS College Sports) – This clash in late January could be an early indicator whether the Aztecs or Cougars will prove the class of a competitive Mountain West this season. While the most gifted pure scorer in the conference is unquestionably BYU’s Jimmer Fredette, one could argue San Diego State boasts the best overall player in sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard. The Riverside native and future pro nearly averaged a double-double during his debut campaign and only improved as the season continued. BYU’s frontline of Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies’ attempts to contain Leonard may prove the difference, while the Cougars’ gameplan will clearly be to make this a perimeter-oriented game behind guards Fredette and Jackson Emery. The victor receives a leg up in the MWC race.

This Has Become a Great MWC Rivalry (K. Johnson/Deseret News)

#25. December 18 – Kansas State vs. Florida, 4:30 pm (FSN) – Two preseason top ten teams will meet in mid-December, the winner emerging with a victory that will look absolutely tremendous on Selection Sunday. No surprise defections and five returning starters from an NCAA Tournament team has Billy Donovan and Gator Nation as excited as any moment since the Noah/Horford-led squad disbanded. The success of Florida this season could come down to whether they improve their three-point accuracy, notably sophomore Kenny Boynton. The five-star recruit came to Gainesville with a reputation for proficiency behind the arc, but he shot just 29% on 245 treys as a freshman. Donovan expects a jump in accuracy from both Boynton and fellow guard Erving Walker this season. They’ll need every three they can get against a K-State squad that will attempt to physically impose their will on the Gators.

#24. December 1 – Purdue at Virginia Tech, 7:30 pm (ESPN) – I had this game higher up on the list until Robbie Hummel’s ACL tear dropped the Boilermakers a few notches on the preseason rankings. Regardless of that devastating blow, it’s still one of the premier contests of the non-conference slate and one of two ACC/Big Ten Challenge headliners on the first day of December. While we’re all pitying Matt Painter and Purdue, remember they still feature two all-Big Ten caliber performers in big man JaJuan Johnson and two-guard E’Twaun Moore, plus a steady point guard in Lewis Jackson that shone as a freshman before injuries derailed his momentum. In all likelihood, though, Purdue slipped from slight favorites to underdogs in this game with Hummel sidelined. Virginia Tech will be playing in front of their rowdy home crowd, boasts arguably the ACC’s best scorer in Malcolm Delaney, an underrated big man in Jeff Allen and the extra incentive to add a portfolio-building win after last year’s disastrous pre-ACC slate.

#23. February 6 – Michigan State at Wisconsin, 1 pm (CBS) – For as much success as Tom Izzo has had since becoming the head coach at Michigan State, there’s one task on his to-do list that has yet to be accomplished: beat Bo Ryan in Madison. Believe it or not, Izzo is 0-6 on the road against Wisconsin since Ryan took the helm. The most recent defeat came last February when the 19-3 Spartans, ranked in the top five in the country, marched into the Kohl Center and departed with a 67-49 beatdown. It was a banner game for two Badgers that will need to step into bigger roles if Ryan wants to have another successful campaign: junior forward Rob Wilson (5-5 FG, 10 points) and junior guard Jordan Taylor (17 points, 3-8 treys). The Spartans are a near-consensus #2 team in the nation behind Duke in the preseason, so there’s reason to believe Izzo’s winless streak could come to an end on this date.

This is a Win Both Teams Need for National Legitimacy

#22. November 16 – Ohio State at Florida, 6 pm (ESPN) – In this writer’s opinion, here’s the most intruging game in the month of November. Can the Buckeyes possibly be better after losing Player of the Year Evan Turner? The answer is yes. Thad Matta brought in a game-changing big man in Jared Sullinger, a frontcourt partner in DeShaun Thomas and a heady, defensive-minded point guard in Aaron Craft. Every significant contributor that played alongside Turner is also back — Jon Diebler, Dallas Lauderdale, David Lighty and breakout candidate William Buford. The toughest test of their non-conference slate is this trip to Gainesville to battle a Gators team with equally lofty expectations. Florida will need defensive stalwart Vernon Macklin to contain Sullinger in the post and avoid an early home loss. This is another huge resume win for either team in March.

#21. January 29 – Georgetown at Villanova, 12 pm (ESPN) – As has been pointed out before, any game between the projected top four teams in the Big East — Pittsburgh, Villanova, Syracuse and Georgetown — could produce something special. Borrowing a theme from the entire conference this upcoming season, this one should be all about backcourt play. Corey Fisher is a phenomenal scorer, Corey Stokes can really stroke it from deep and Maalik Wayns is the next Nova backcourt star. The problem for Jay Wright is that the Hoyas can match his backcourt duo with one even better — the steady Jason Clark, the physical Chris Wright and preseason Big East POY Austin Freeman. The Wildcats may have their ace in the hole, however, in center Mouphtaou Yarou. Fully expected to explode onto the scene with a full season under his belt, he could be the difference if he outplays Julian Vaughn in the post.

#20. January 25 – Purdue at Ohio State, 9 pm (ESPN) – The Buckeyes will be looking to exact a measure of revenge after last season when#4 Purdue knocked off #12 Ohio State in Columbus behind a big first half and JaJuan Johnson’s 24/7. I expect another close, grind-it-out, white knuckle affair when the teams meet at Value City Arena in late January. Regardless of any personnel losses, Matt Painter will always have his Purdue teams playing hard-nosed man-to-man defense. Johnson can negate Sullinger and Lauderdale in the post and Moore will make Lighty’s life miserable chasing him around screens for 40 minutes. Still, the experience, intelligence and toughness of players like Hummel and Chris Kramer were an enormous reason Purdue won these close road duels last season. Losing both could be too much to overcome.

Pitt Knocked Cuse from Unbeaten Last Year (AP/K. Rivoli)

#19. January 17 – Syracuse at Pittsburgh, 7:30 pm (ESPN) – Mid-January is still somewhat early in the conference schedule, so both of these teams will be looking to show they’re the class of the always powerful Big East. Many expect Pitt to emerge at the top, mostly due to the return of four starters from a team that garnered a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament when nearly all prognosticators had them relegated to the NIT. Jamie Dixon is also one of the top coaches in his profession and the Zoo gives Pitt a legitimate home court advantage (116-11 at home in Dixon’s seven seasons). Syracuse may have more pure talent, though, and talent tends to win in college basketball. Jim Boeheim reloaded with a top ten recruiting class (and another coming in 2011) to join breakout candidate Kris Joseph, scoring point Scoop Jardine and steady big man Rick Jackson.

#18. January 19 – Duke at NC State, 7 pm (ESPN) – This has been documented more than once, but Sidney Lowe’s job (20-44 career vs. the ACC)  is clearly on the line this season. Never has the embattled Wolfpack headman had such a plethora of talent at his disposal, reeling in a recruiting class that ranks in the top five in the nation. The eventual bottom feeders in the ACC did in fact knock off the eventual national champion Blue Devils in one of the games that you look back at in April and wonder how that could have possibly happened. NC State brings in Lorenzo Brown, Ryan Harrow and possible lottery pick C.J. Leslie to a unit that already features preseason first team all-ACC forward Tracy Smith. At the very least, the Wolfpack should expect to finish fourth in the ACC behind Duke, North Carolina and Virginia Tech with Florida State nipping on their heels.

#17. February 25 – Kansas State at Texas, 9 pm (ESPN) – One of the best games of the last two weeks of the regular season takes place in Austin where Kansas State visits Texas. Remember when, somehow, Texas was #1 in the nation and K-State knocked them off in the Octagon of Doom last season? It’s entirely possible the tables could be turned and the Wildcats are the top-ranked foes entering a rabid atmosphere at the Frank Erwin Center. A player that I believe is floating way under the radar is the Longhorns’ Jai Lucas, who just two seasons ago averaged 8.5 PPG and shot 44% from three as a freshman at Florida. Lucas, along with backourt depth in the form of J’Covan Brown, Dogus Balbay and incoming freshman Cory Joseph, may end up bringing enough firepower to pull off the upset.

Walker & Donovan Earned a Split With UT Last Year (AP/P. Sandlin)

#16. January 11 – Florida at Tennessee, 9 pm (ESPN) – An early key matchup in the ultra-competitive SEC East pits preseason favorite Florida against a Tennessee team that has plenty of question marks heading into 2010-11. Aside from their coach’s recent transgressions and questioned job status, the Vols could go in either direction this season. Losing Wayne Chism, J.P. Prince and Bobby Maze is nothing to scoff at, especially if hyped freshman big man Tobias Harris can’t deliver immediately. Tennessee is quite the force behind the chants of Rocky Top and Thompson-Boling Arena; Pearl did manage to knock off two #1 teams — Kansas and Kentucky — a season ago. Given the talent of Harris and returning swingman Scotty Hopson, the Vols will be quite the handful of Florida in a difficult road test.

#15. January 22 – Villanova at Syracuse, 12 pm (ESPN) – Seriously, is there ever a Villanova-Syracuse game that’s not fun? The Carrier Dome will be rocking in the same fashion as a season ago when their Orange walloped the overwhelmed Wildcats in front of a national TV audience. Given the losses of Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins and Arinze Onuaku, this year will be plenty more competitive. If they can find a late-game ace to make up for Scottie Reynolds and improve substantially on defense (neither will prove easy), Villanova once again boasts a talented, deep, well-coached unit that should challenge for a Big East title. Keep an eye on who matches up with Cuse wing Kris Joseph. Will Corey Stokes be up to the task?

#14. March 5 – Kansas at Missouri, 12 pm (CBS) – Missouri fans had high hopes of knocking off bitter rival and #2 ranked Kansas last March in the season finale, but the brutal Jayhawk frontline overwhelmed the undersized Tiger lineup. Mike Anderson has called in reinforcements this time around: Justin Safford returns from a season-ending injury, junior college stud Ricardo Ratcliffe has signed on, five-star recruit Tony Mitchell may be eligible come second semester and if Laurence Bowers improves dramatically from year two to three as he did last summer, Missouri may have enough beef up front to match the Morris twins, Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey. How freshman Josh Selby handles Mizzou’s full-court pressure is another storyline to watch. He’ll need help from his more experienced backcourt mates Brady Morningstar, Tyrel Reed and Tyshawn Taylor.

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