The 68 Can’t Miss Games of 2010-11 (#13-1)Posted by zhayes9 on November 3rd, 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 #14-68 games on this list, click here.
#13. January 18 – Michigan State at Illinois, 7 pm (ESPN) – The Illini are one of the more intriguing teams in the preseason. It’s a big leap of faith to project a team to bolt from NIT to the top 15 without a Harrison Barnes-type impact freshman, but many believe Illinois has the tools to accomplish such a feat, even while playing in the best conference in college basketball this season. With Demetri McCamey back at the point, the improving D.J. Richardson manning the other backcourt spot, incoming McDonalds All-American wing Jereme Richmond and the twin towers of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale in the post, it’s evident that Bruce Weber has one of the most complete starting fives in the nation. His team knocked off Michigan State last year at Assembly Hall; of course, that victory came without Kalin Lucas on the floor. He should be back to 100% when the rematch occurs in mid-January, an early crucial conference clash in the Big Ten.
#12. February 27 – Purdue at Michigan State, 2 pm (CBS) – Full disclosure: This game was #1 on the list prior to Robbie Hummel’s ACL tear. A late February game possibly for the Big Ten title between two of the top three teams in the preseason was an easy call to head the must-see games of 2010-11. Unfortunately, when Hummel’s knee buckled on the first day of practice, Purdue slid from potential top dog in a loaded conference to third fiddle behind the Michigan State and Ohio State. Even if it’s not the best game of the entire season, the importance cannot be overstated. Counting Purdue completely out of the Big Ten race would be foolish, especially considering preseason First Team All-American JaJuan Johnson is still manning the middle and head coach Matt Painter always receives maximum effort from his troops. Enhancing this matchup even further is the revenge factor that Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and the rest of the Spartans should feel after E’Twaun Moore put on his Superman cape last year at the Breslin Center.
#11. March 6 – Kentucky at Tennessee, 12 pm (CBS) – The last day of the regular season produces one of the top rivalries in the sport: Kentucky vs. Tennessee amidst the shouts of Rocky Top at Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville. Question marks surround the Vols program from their head coach to their post play and whether Scotty Hopson can perform at an all-SEC level on a consistent basis. Much like victories over #1 Kansas (and eventual #1 Kentucky) distracted the Tennessee faithful from the Tyler Smith situation a season ago, a successful year on the court will take the spotlight away from Pearl’s past indiscretions off the court. There’s no better way to endear yourself to those orange-clad faithful than downing Kentucky, especially on the final Sunday of the season and with a possible SEC championship on the line. Unless freshman Tobias Harris is an immediate star, Hopson is the entire key for the Vols this season. His periodic disappearing acts from the offense cannot be tolerated.
#10. February 20 – Ohio State at Purdue, 1 pm (CBS) – This Big Ten grinder could come down to which post stud has the superior game. Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson will need to take on an even bigger load this season with the absence of Hummel. The preseason All-America is a lanky, talented shot-blocker extraordinaire that runs the floor and can hit the mid-range jumper for Matt Painter. This is a crucial year for Johnson, not only in taking on more of a leadership role in West Lafayette, but also vaulting his draft stock into the first round. He’ll be matched up against the Buckeyes’ own stud in the paint, heralded freshman Jared Sullinger. The Columbus native has game beyond his years and can play with the likes of Johnson, Jon Leuer, Rodney Williams, Mike Tisdale and other forwards/centers in the rugged Big Ten. Mark it down: whoever has a better all-around game between Johnson and Sullinger will give their team the edge in what promises to be a physical battle.
#9. February 26 – Syracuse at Georgetown, 12 pm (CBS) – It’s no coincidence that rivalry games make up the majority of the last installment of the 68 Can’t Miss Games of 2010-11. With a history of epic meetings as the backdrop, rivalry games bring out the best in everyone involved — the coaches, the fans and the players. Syracuse-Georgetown is no exception, especially on this late date in the season and with two teams that have goals of reaching the Sweet 16 or further. Without a Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutombo or even Greg Monroe acting as a dominating presence inside, the Hoyas will have to avenge last season’s embarrassing conclusion with production from their backcourt, one led by preseason Big East POY Austin Freeman, point guard Chris Wright and junior wing Jason Clark. The Orange will be looking to match with Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine and heralded freshman Dion Waiters, who should garner immediate playing time as an electric scorer off the bench.
#8. January 24 – Baylor at Kansas State, 9 pm (ESPN) – Two of the Big 12’s best will meet in Manhattan for an anticipated primetime clash on ESPN. As is the case so frequently in college basketball, point guard play may be the determining factor in this one with questions surrounding both sides. Nobody is doubting the scoring prowess, leadership and all-around offensive repertoire of KSU’s Jacob Pullen, but will the preseason Big 12 Player of the Year be able to fill in for Denis Clemente as the Wildcats main distributor? Even more of a shaky proposition is sophomore A.J. Walton filling in at the point for departed senior leader Tweety Carter. Carter was an underrated cog for Scott Drew in the Bears Elite Eight run last season, ranking in the top 100 in both assist rate and offensive rating. If Walton can step up and at least play Pullen to a draw by finding LaceDarius Dunn for open looks off screens and setting up uber-athletic frosh Perry Jones with room to operate, it’s Baylor who may pull off the road upset, giving them a leg up in the Big 12 race.
#7. February 26 – Duke at Virginia Tech, 9 pm (ESPN) – One of my favorite parts of Ken Pomeroy’s team pages are the odds, by percentage, his formula gives each team to win each game on its schedule. There are only one or two games this season where Duke will be assigned a less than 50% chance to win. This could be one of them. The Hokies absolutely can match the Blue Devils point-for-point in the backcourt with the trio of Malcolm Delaney, Dorenzo Hudson and Terrell Bell. Where both teams are vulnerable is in the frontcourt, especially Tech in light of J.T. Thompson’s season-ending knee injury and Florida transfer Allan Chaney’s heart condition. The athletic Mason Plumlee and his hard-nosed brother Miles could give the relatively inexperienced Hokies frontline a difficult time. What’s working in Seth Greenberg’s favor is what should be a fantastic home court advantage with College Gameday in the house. Delaney also helps tremendously, a first team all-ACC performer who can score with the mid-range or at the free throw line.
#6. February 26 – Florida at Kentucky, 4 pm (CBS) – If you can only watch one SEC game this entire season, here’s your obvious choice. If Enes Kanter is eligible for the Wildcats, all of a sudden this becomes not just a possible battle for the top seed in the SEC Tournament, but also positioning for a top two seed in the NCAA Tournament. With five starters back and defensive stalwart Patric Young coming to Gainesville, the Gators are a team many expect to take a gigantic leap from the bubble to the top ten. With Kanter in the fold, John Calipari can match the Gators in terms of talent level. He has an electric scoring point guard in Brandon Knight, talented wings in Terrence Jones and Darius Miller and the possibility to add an impact performer in Kanter, a future lottery pick and a truly advanced post player that can play in the NBA right now. Luckily for Billy Donovan, his Gators have enough bulk and defensive-minded post players to negate Kanter, including Young, Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus.
#5. January 29 – Kansas State at Kansas, 7 pm (ESPN) – Quite possibly my favorite game of last season was Kansas-Kansas State in Manhattan. With the arena rocking, the intensity of a fierce rivalry game palpable and stars all over the floor, it was the senior leadership of Sherron Collins that made the biggest play to win the game and propel the Jayhawks to a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. In fact, despite the Wildcats advancing further in the Big Dance, it was Kansas who defeated their in-state brethren to the west in all three meetings, including the finals of the Big 12 Tournament. With Collins and other key pieces moving on, it’s Kansas State’s turn to check one off in the win column. Behind First Team All-American Jacob Pullen, they’re confident heading into 2010-11 they can do just that. Of course, winning in Lawrence is no tea party, especially if Josh Selby is eligible. His presence vaults Kansas from a possible Sweet 16 team to a Final Four sleeper.
#4. February 15 – Michigan State at Ohio State, 9 pm (ESPN) – Here’s yet another late season Big Ten clash that could have a major impact on not only the conference race, but also the battle for the four #1 seeds on Selection Sunday. Setting goals to reach that #1 seed plateau isn’t unrealistic for either of these two teams, not with Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers and Draymond Green on one side and William Buford, Jared Sullinger and Jon Diebler on the other accompanied by two of the top coaches in the sport. The key to this game could be point guard play. If Thad Matta is forced to put versatile lockdown defender David Lighty on Lucas, that may open up shots for Durrell Summers, a lights out shooter who exploded in last year’s NCAA Tournament (18.8 PPG, 55% FG) and finally has his head on straight for what could be a monstrous senior campaign. Summers not only excels in artistry from beyond the arc, but also possesses incredible athleticism to the rim. Here’s proof.
#3. March 5 – Duke at North Carolina, 8 pm (CBS) – Need I say more? Last season’s Duke-Carolina clashes were tempered a bit by one of the most frustrating seasons in Tar Heel basketball history. Injuries, underachievement, an ever-changing rotation and inconsistent guard play were some of the reasons for North Carolina’s precipitous decline from defending national champion to bottom feeder in the ACC. It should just be a one-year blip on the radar screen, though, for the Heels. With Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock joining a frontcourt of John Henson and Tyler Zeller, look for this year’s Duke-Carolina meetings to be a lot closer than last year’s 32-point blowout in the season finale. As a rare CBS primetime game on the last Saturday of the season, the stage doesn’t get much brighter. Carolina is already sick of hearing about how loaded Duke has become and how the programs have switched roles in just a year’s time. In front of a rocking Dean Dome, this is as good a chance as any to shut those people up.
#2. March 5 – Villanova at Pittsburgh, 4 pm (CBS) – Yes, the biggest game on the Big East slate will also take place on the last Saturday of the season. The schedule-makers did college hoops fans a tremendous favor by pitting these two teams for a grand finale in late March, giving us the possibility of a repeat from March 2008 when #4 Pitt welcomed #1 Connecticut to the Petersen Events Center and knocked off the Huskies for the second time that season by a 10-point margin. Some folks favor Pitt in the Big East with four returning starters led by Ashton Gibbs. Some favor Villanova with another loaded backcourt headed by Corey Fisher. Fortunately, October is not when #1 is determined. It’s March. Color me shocked if these two teams are not the class of the Big East this season, and, as a result, this game doesn’t take on tremendous meaning either for the #1 seed in the Big East Tournament or a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Big East lovers, this is your mardi gras.
#1. December 1 – Michigan State at Duke, 9:30 pm (ESPN) – The ACC/Big Ten Challenge got it right. By matching up Michigan State and Duke for a game at Cameron on the first day of December, the Challenge higher-ups provided college basketball fans with what should be #1 vs. #2 in the polls, rendering this game the best the upcoming season has to offer. Unless Duke slips up against Kansas State or Gonzaga at the CBE Classic or the Spartans are stunned at home by a Devan Downey-less South Carolina team, #1 vs.#2 will come true. It’s going to be one of the best point guard matchups of the year: the talented, electric, mature beyond his years Kyrie Irving against the experienced, dependable and former Big Ten POY Kalin Lucas. Where the Spartans could really miss recently dismissed wing Chris Allen will be this game where he could have contained Duke’s Kyle Singler. That matchup advantage plus the roar of the Cameron Crazies and Lucas’ slowly-healing Achilles injury are all reasons why I expect the Blue Devils to come out on top. But don’t fret, Spartan loyalists: there might be a rematch four months down the road in Houston.