Saturday Preview: Entering February, Stakes Are RaisedPosted by Bennet Hayes on February 1st, 2014
Hello February! College hoops welcomes you into 2014’s second month with a mouth-watering slate of action. You may be sold at “Duke-Syracuse,” but there will be plenty of games that don’t set Carrier Dome attendance records worth watching. That’s not to say that your college basketball fan credentials will be confiscated if you aren’t settling in to your couch for some ACC on ESPN action at 6:30 PM ET today – because they will be – but here are some other storylines to watch on the first day of February.
Perfection Will Be Tested
For the first time since 1976, there are three teams 20-0 or better in college basketball, and all three are in action on Saturday. Wichita State shouldn’t have any issues with Evansville (3-6 in the MVC) at The Roundhouse (3:00 PM ET, ESPNU), but both Arizona and Syracuse face serious threats to their dreams of perfection. The Wildcats visit Berkeley to take on a Cal team (10:30 PM ET, P12 Nets) which had been undefeated at home up until Wednesday, when Arizona State squeezed out an overtime win over the Bears. If Mike Montgomery’s team is to add the signature victory of all signature victories to its resume, they will need senior Richard Solomon to have a big game against that impressive Arizona frontcourt. All the way across the country, Duke would be well-served to find a way to match up with the impressive frontcourt of their undefeated opponent. The Blue Devils are not a great rebounding team, but in their game with Syracuse (6:30 PM ET, ESPN), keeping the Orange (ninth nationally in OR%) off the offensive glass will be imperative for Coach K’s squad. On the other end, look for Jabari Parker to get plenty of touches out of the high post. A record crowd is expected at the Carrier Dome for this one, which obviously sounds like good news for Syracuse. Maybe not, though. The last time there was an attendance record set at the dome (last February, versus Georgetown), a do-it-all 6’8” forward named Otto Porter torched the Orange for 33 points and eight rebounds in a lopsided victory for the visitors. Can Parker induce a little déjà vu on Saturday, and end Syracuse’s perfect season while he’s at it?
Must-Win Games… Already? Really?
Must-win may be a bit strong an identifier in some of these cases, but Saturday will see a number of teams — all of which entered the New Year in outstanding shape — take to the court in desperate need of an early February victory. After starting 10-3, Georgetown has lost six of seven and five in a row; any Hoyas revival must begin today with a victory over Michigan State at the Garden (3:00 PM ET, FS1). Oregon is just 2-6 (!) in the Pac-12; holding serve at home against USC (8:00 PM ET, P12 Nets) is critical, especially with next weekend’s trip to Arizona and Arizona State looming. But hey now! Feel better Ducks – things could be worse. You could be the Baylor Bears, which will need a win in Stillwater on Saturday to avoid dropping to 1-7 in Big 12 play (2:00 PM ET, ESPN). Yup, true story. And must-win this one is not, but Wisconsin and Ohio State do battle at the Kohl Center (12:00 PM ET, ESPN) in a game that does feature a surprising amount of urgency. On January 11, the two teams were a combined 31-1. Since then, they have gone just 2-8. Needless to say, both the Buckeyes and Badgers could use a feel-good win today.
Bubble Watch – ACC Edition
With the six teams in the middle of the 16-team ACC all separated by just a half-game, there will be plenty of jockeying for NCAA Tournament bids going on between now and Selection Sunday. NC State (4-4 in the ACC) visits UNC (3-4 ACC) (1:00 PM ET, ESPN2) in one of two games featuring multiple teams from that middle basket, while Clemson (4-3 ACC) heads to Tallahassee to take on Florida State (4-4) (3:00 PM ET, ESPN2) in the other. Brad Brownell’s Tigers have been a pleasant surprise so far this season, but the dose of reality that often accompanies February has done in many a pleasant surprise before. Clemson lost its last two games by a combined 52 points; a more competitive showing is vital today.Oh, and to round out the bubble-implicating ACC action, Wake Forest (4-4 ACC) hosts Georgia Tech, and Maryland (4-4 ACC) heads to Blacksburg to face the Hokies (both 12:00 PM ET, ESPN3).
Need some other games to watch? Kansas visits Texas (4;00 PM ET, ESPN) in the second best game of the day, and for the night owls on the East Coast, Saint Mary’s-BYU (11:00 PM ET, ESPN2) has the look of an early WCC bubble battle. The Atlantic 10 also offers a pair of intriguing games, as sneaky outer-bubble squads Richmond and Saint Joseph’s take on VCU and UMass, respectively (11:00 AM ET, ESPN2, and 6:00 PM ET, CBSSN). Anywhere you look today — plenty of action, plenty of implications. It only makes sense – March is but a month away.