New Year’s Resolution For Power Conference Teams? No More Cupcakes – Conference Play Is HerePosted by Bennet Hayes on January 4th, 2014
With conference play arriving almost everywhere this weekend (it’s about time!), let’s take a peek at some of the major Saturday (and a few Sunday) games and storylines in college basketball’s seven major conferences.
AAC. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first-ever weekend of American Athletic Conference basketball! OK, so maybe it isn’t that exciting, but an old Conference USA matchup does offer the league a headlining game on 2014’s first Saturday. Cincinnati visits Memphis (12:00 ET, ESPN2) in an early match-up of presumed upper-echelon AAC teams, but look elsewhere if you seek a battle of stylistic comrades; the deliberate, defensively stout Bearcats (286th nationally in tempo, eighth in defensive efficiency) will look to put the clamps on an explosive Memphis squad that rarely presses the pause button (39th nationally in tempo, 19th in offensive efficiency). UConn and SMU, both 0-1 in league play, offer an alternate viewing option (2:00 ET, ESPNU), and with a visit to Louisville coming next, Larry Brown’s SMU team would be well served to get a win Saturday to avoid staring down the barrel of an 0-3 league start.
ACC. Will there be life after Jerian Grant for Notre Dame? If yes, then a visit from Duke (4:00 ET, CBS) will offer the Irish the chance to provide a more convincing affirmation than they offered in their first game without Grant – a gut-check overtime victory over Canisius. Garrick Sherman should have a chance to exploit the smallish Duke interior, no matter what Doug Gottlieb thinks about his beard. Elsewhere, Pitt and Syracuse join Notre Dame in making their ACC debuts. The Panthers visit NC State (12:00 ET, ESPN3), while the Orange play host to Miami (2:00 ET, ESPN3). And if you like defense, two of the nation’s 10 most efficient defensive units are set to meet in Tallahassee; Virginia and Florida State (5:00 ET, ESPN2) will tussle in a race to 50 between ACC sleepers.
Big 12. A non-conference match-up may actually be the highlight of the Big 12 weekend (San Diego State visits Kansas on Sunday, 4:30 ET, CBS), but Saturday is a big day for the second tier of the league. Kansas State gets a chance at a big victory when Oklahoma State comes to Manhattan (4:00 ET, ESPNU), while Oklahoma and Texas, both 11-2, wage war in Austin (8:00 ET, LHN). With Texas’ early push to save Rick Barnes’ job grabbing headlines and the Sooners’ early-season schedule doing nothing of the sort, coverage of these two teams has been fairly disparate so far. However, they find themselves in nearly identical positions entering the league season. One team will gain a leg up today.
Big East. A battle of long-time Big East foes – St. Johns and Georgetown (1:00 ET, FS1) – and a meet-and-greet between a pair of the newest conference arrivals – Butler and Xavier (2:00 ET, FSN) – highlight Saturday’s Big East slate. Like most of their conference-mates, this quartet of teams has little in the way of marquee wins, but has managed to largely avoid any bad losses. Neither extreme is on the table in this pair of games, but in this Big East, steadily accumulating solid Ws will be the name of the game. These four teams look to get started with that pursuit today.
Big Ten. It’s a light Saturday in the Big Ten (you can look forward to Iowa at Wisconsin on Sunday night, 8:00 ET, BTN), with just three games on the docket. Illinois (vs. Penn State, 2:15 ET, BTN) and Ohio State (vs Nebraska, 12:00 ET, BTN) will look to take care of business at home, while the game of the day transpires in Bloomington, where Indiana seeks a marquee victory over Michigan State (2:00 ET, CBS). Every Hoosiers’ win has come over a team outside the top-100, and each loss to an outfit in the top-60. An inevitably raucous Assembly Hall will offer the Hoosiers a wonderful opportunity to flip that script.
Pac-12. Washington travels to Tuscon to face #1 Arizona on Saturday (2:00 ET, P12 Nets), but let’s talk Sunday in the Pac-12. Oregon narrowly evaded defeat in Salt Lake City on Thursday night; can the Ducks stay perfect against Colorado in Boulder (Sunday, 5:00 ET, FS1)? Better yet, can they turn Ken Pomeroy into a Ducks fan? Despite the 13-0 start, KenPom’s rankings have Oregon just barely inside the top-25 (#24). But the Ducks’ potential sustenance of perfection will play second fiddle to Sunday’s main event: USC at UCLA (3:00 ET, FS1). A little background necessary here; offseason coaching changes (and words) have made the battle for Los Angeles must-see TV for the first time in quite a while.
SEC. The SEC is the lone major conference that won’t have league action underway this weekend. We will have to wait until Tuesday for that to begin, but 10 SEC teams will be in action on Saturday. The lone games of consequence involve Florida (vs. Richmond, 3:00 ET, ESPN3) and Ole Miss (vs. Dayton, 8:00 ET, ESPN3). A victory over the Flyers, even at home, would likely stand as the Rebels’ best victory of the non-conference season. And while there may be plenty of basketball yet to be played, I would strongly encourage (with March aspirations in mind) Marshall Henderson and company to notch one final win before league play begins. Landsharking is optional, but encouraged.
They say that what matters is how you finish –not how you start — but in a sport where momentum is everything, a slow beginning too often leads to a bitter end. The guarantee games are gone; it’s big boy against big boy now, and the race to March has officially begun. Happy Saturday, folks.