68 Must-See Games of 2011-12: #34-18Posted by zhayes9 on October 27th, 2011
34. February 21: Kentucky at Mississippi State (9:00, ESPN)- Remember the last time Kentucky traveled to The Hump to take on Mississippi State late in the year? The hatred was off the charts before (taunting texts to DeMarcus Cousins from State fans) during (an intense 81-75 overtime win by the #2 Wildcats) and after (fans serenading the officials with a bottle showering) the game. While we can do without the texting and postgame embarrassment, players like Bulldogs point guard Dee Bost still harbor a bitter taste in their mouth from that outcome. If one can pinpoint a weakness with this loaded Kentucky team, it’s the lack of a true post presence. State can trot out the 6’11 Arnett Moultrie and the 6’10 Renardo Sidney. If those two are committed to the post for 40 minutes, this could be one of UK’s SEC stumbling blocks.
33. February 22: Kansas at Texas A&M (9:00, ESPN)- After winning seven consecutive Big 12 titles, it’s fair to label Kansas as the hunted. That makes a very capable Texas A&M team the most threatening hunter. With B12 POY candidate Khris Middleton, Washington transfer Elston Turner and a deep frontcourt, Billy Kennedy is walking into an ideal situation once he gets his health in order. A&M may have a more complete roster, but Kansas was still picked to win the Big 12 in a tie with the Aggies. Until someone knocks the Jayhawks off their pedestal, they deserve to be considered favorites. This game in late February could go a long way towards deciding the regular season crown.
32. February 23: Duke at Florida State (7:00, ESPN)- ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb outlined a compelling case that Florida State is much closer to Duke’s equal than most believe, mostly because of their lockdown defense, absurd athleticism and length at every position. Who wins out when Duke’s star-studded offensive attack – buoyed by the ultra-talented freshman Austin Rivers and the emerging Ryan Kelly – meets the ‘Noles dynamic defenders? Last season, FSU held a Singler and Smith-led Duke team to 61 points in an upset win.
31. February 24: Princeton at Harvard (7:00, TBA)- I know Harvard is receiving all the preseason love – and rightfully so when you consider they’re returning every key contributor from a team that ranked in the top-30 in two-point, three-point and free throw percentage – but can reigning Ivy champ Princeton get some publicity? Remember Princeton, the team that nearly knocked off Kentucky before the Wildcats won their regional and lost by a bucket to eventual champion Connecticut? They return three starters, including junior star Ian Hummer and one-game playoff hero Douglas Davis. Given the lack of a conference tournament in the Ivy, this victor of this late February clash could be the first to punch a ticket.
30. March 4: Ohio State at Michigan State (4:00, CBS)- The last official day of the regular season is highlighted by Ohio State, the overwhelming favorite to win the conference, traveling to East Lansing for one of their more challenging road games. This Spartans team, led by Draymond Green, Keith Appling and impact transfer Brandon Wood, is certainly capable of pulling an upset, but the Buckeyes have a shot to be just as formidable as last season’s powerhouse roster. On paper, this matchup isn’t ideal for Tom Izzo. Any team wishing to knock off Ohio State must limit Jared Sullinger, a task will be left up to inexperienced sophomore Adreian Payne. OSU has a perimeter defender in Aaron Craft that can disrupt Appling at half-court and make his life miserable.
29. February 11: Wichita State at Creighton (4:00, ESPN2)- Are you surprised to see this Valley matchup so high on the list? Don’t be. These two teams have a legitimate chance to lay claim to a spot in the rankings at some point this season, claim a single-digit seed and push for the Sweet 16, reminding folks of 2006 when Bradley and Wichita both achieved that feat. Creighton has all the pieces: a versatile wing in Doug McDermott that starred for the U-19 team this past summer, a Big East-caliber big man in Greg Echenique and a senior point guard with Antoine Young. Wichita returns a senior-laden starting five, highlighted by POY candidate Toure Murry, and plays in front of one of the most passionate home crowds in America. Don’t miss this one if you love passionate mid-major hoops.
28. February 8: Kansas at Baylor (7:00, ESPN)- It’s difficult to determine which Big 12 games this season will be the most important. Any one of Kansas, Baylor, Texas A&M and Missouri have a chance to take this league. Since Kansas is the seven-time reigning champion and deserves to be considered the front-runner until it’s proven otherwise, while Baylor has assembled the most talent of any team., this February 8 contest takes the top spot Although talent normally rises to the top, a glaring exception is last year’s Bears team that catapulted from the top-10 to the NIT because of shoddy point guard play, a selfish Lace Dunn and team’s zoning them to death. If JC transfer Pierre Jackson is Scott Drew’s answer at the point, everything else may come together.
27. January 16: Louisville at Marquette (3:30, ESPN)- Marquette and Louisville went in opposite directions during the NCAA Tournament last year. Marquette’s Sweet 16 run with back-to-back impressive wins over Xavier and Syracuse masked some major inconsistencies from November to February, while a stunning loss to Morehead State quickly erased from memory what may have been Rick Pitino’s best coaching job to date. Both teams enter 2011-12 trying to deal with the loss of their heart and soul: Jimmy Butler for Marquette and Preston Knowles for Louisville. I love this specific matchup not just because I grew up going to heated Louisville-Marquette Conference USA battles (Reece Gaines FTW anyone?) but because these two teams play harder than any in the nation. Buzz Williams instills a hungry, bulldog mentality into his players and wants to maximize every single possession, while Pitino not only revs up the engine with a lethal full-court press, but this roster is full of overachievers who take nothing for granted.
26. December 17: Memphis at Louisville (4:00, CBS)- Those hard-nosed Cardinals renew what could be a splendid rivalry with nearby Memphis in mid-December. Despite finishing fourth in Conference USA, the Tigers are ranked #9 to begin the season due to their abundance of talent. Joe Jackson is expected to make major strides, Will Barton can fill it up, Tarik Black is a force down low and newcomer Adonis Thomas could prove the best of the lot. The best matchup in this clash has to be at the point between Jackson and Peyton Siva. Both are ultra-quick, possess great court vision and will need to be leaders this season, but whoever finds that delicate balance of controlled chaos can lead their team to tremendous heights.
25. February 11: Xavier at Temple (9:00, ESPN2)- Last year’s strides in Philly show Temple isn’t trending too far behind A-10 powerhouse Xavier. Temple’s defense won’t be quite as steady without Lavoy Allen, but their backcourt is stacked with Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and hopefully a healthy Juan Fernandez for a full season. Behind Wooden award sleeper Tu Holloway, Mark Lyons, Kenny Frease, Monmouth transfer Travis Taylor and instant impact freshmen, Xavier isn’t about to relinquish big boy status so easily. Not only are these premiere programs, both teams are really, really good in 2011-12.
24. December 10: Cincinnati at Xavier (12:30, ESPN2)- The Crosstown Shootout is annually one of the most intense, fierce and hard-fought rivalries in the country. The problem is that Cincinnati has been mediocre in the past half decade, last reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2005 before breaking through a season ago. One of their marquee wins was a bludgeoning of Xavier, an embarrassment that probably still gnaws at Holloway, Lyons, Frease and the rest of the Musketeers. This year’s edition should have the most implications in a long while. Both Cincy and Xavier expect to stay in the polls all year long, garner a high seed and complete a deep March run.
23. December 10: Ohio State at Kansas (3:15, ESPN)- College basketball fans: take a moment and toast both Thad Matta and Bill Self. Although there’s more incentive to ratchet up your non-conference schedule in hoops than in football, Matta and Self still deserve a boatload of credit for scheduling this made-for-TV matchup of two bluebloods, especially when Ohio State plays Duke and Florida while Kansas is signed up for a loaded Maui bracket. NBA scouts will flood to Lawrence to see Jared Sullinger, our frontrunner for National Player of the Year, duel with potential lottery pick Thomas Robinson in the post, a strong, athletic, powerful forward who many feel will explode onto the national scene with the Morris twins moving on to the NBA.
22. November 15: Florida at Ohio State (8:00, ESPN2)- Like Robinson, Florida’s Patric Young is on the radar of many professional scouts because of his NBA-ready frame, athleticism and ceiling. Also like Robinson, he’s largely unproven and unaccomplished at the collegiate level, but graduation has paved the way for ample opportunity to prove his worthiness. Young must deal with defending the premiere big man in the nation at Ohio State, a new svelte version of Jared Sullinger that has added a face-up game to his already refined post repertoire. The Gators edge in the backcourt – a four-headed monster of Erving Walker, Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and, possibly the best of the lot, incoming freshman Brad Beal – may be enough ammo to avenge last season’s embarrassing trouncing in Gainesville.
21. January 16: Pittsburgh at Syracuse (7:30, ESPN)- This is the first of a substantial number of Big East games remaining on the list, which comes as no surprise if you’re a devoted follower of this sport. This season, UConn, Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville all are ranked in the top ten in various preseason polls, and any two-way clash between those programs is worthy of recognition. Whether it’s Ashton Gibbs, Nasir Robinson or Travon Woodall, we know Pitt’s players will improve this off-season. The real enigma in this matchup is Syracuse’s Kris Joseph, a multi-talented wing that didn’t blossom as expected after Wes Johnson and Andy Rautins left town. Whether he develops a more aggressive mentality and his production finally matches potential could determine Syracuse’s ultimate fate.
20. February 25: UCLA at Arizona (2:00, CBS)- Could this game determine the Pac-12 regular season champion? There’s optimism surrounding both programs. Arizona returns a healthy chunk of their Elite 8 squad under mastermind Sean Miller and brings in two star guard prospects in Josiah Turner and Nick Johnson. UCLA has a top-ten frontcourt in the country with the Wear twins joining breakout candidate Josh Smith and the always-productive Reeves Nelson. But will Arizona survive without the ridiculous efficiency and frequent heroics of Derrick Williams? Can UCLA win the Pac-12 with such questionable guard play? Whoever answers that key question first could claim the title.
19. February 26: Pittsburgh at Louisville (2:00, CBS)- There are tons of intriguing individual matchups in this one (granted the outcome isn’t put in jeopardy by an overanxious cheerleader) from Ashton Gibbs against Peyton Siva at the point to Travon Woodall and Kyle Kuric chasing each other around the floor at the 2-guard spot and Gorgei Dieng battling Nasir Robinson in the post. It’s also a Pitt offense that ranked #5 in efficiency last season matching wits with Louisville and their fourth-ranked defensive efficiency. With these two future Hall-of-Fame coaches involved in late February, it doesn’t get much better.
18. February 28: Florida at Vanderbilt (9:00, ESPN)- Billy Donovan can actually give Kevin Stallings some advice. After all, Donovan lost in the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament five consecutive times before breaking through and winning two straight national titles. Stallings may be blessed with a plethora of talent this season, but there’s that lingering cloud of two straight first round embarrassments that won’t go away until these players – namely Jeff Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli – prove otherwise this March. There are shooters galore in this juicy matchup. Vandy boasts the best in the country in John Jenkins, but Florida’s four superb guards are more than capable of filling it up from anywhere on the floor.