Tonight features the biggest game of the week (possibly the biggest game of the season so far.) No, I’m not talking about the Allen at Savannah State game. Instead, I’ll be focusing on a small game in North Carolina that you may have seen advertised a time or two on ESPN.
Game of the Night
- #1 Duke at #4 Wake Forest at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: It will be interesting to see how the young Demon Deacons respond in their first game since their surprising loss at home against Virginia Tech. The Winston-Salem crowd will definitely be amped up for a visit from Duke (ranked #1 for the first time in 2 years). This game provides interesting match-ups all over the floor, but the two to watch are Nolan Smith versus Jeff Teague and Kyle Singler versus Al-Farouq Aminu. Teague will likely have a big advantage unless Coach K puts Smith on Ishmael Smith and puts Gerald Henderson on Teague. Singler versus Aminu will come down to a battle of Singler’s versatility and toughness going against Aminu’s athleticism and raw talent. I have a feeling that Singler will get the better of Aminu this time, but that could change when they meet later this year. I’m assuming that Smith/Singler and Teague/Aminu will basically neutralize each other so they can will probably be decided by whether or not Dino Gaudio can find a way to slow Henderson, who has been making a case for All-ACC honors with his play the last two weeks. In the end, I don’t think Gaudio will find an answer for Henderson and Duke will survive to stay at #1. Well at least until February 11th when Tyler Hansbrough and UNC come into Cameron (aka “The Most Important Game Ever” -ESPN).
Other Games Worth Watching
- #3 Pittsburgh at #21 Villanova at 7 PM on ESPNU: Jay Wright‘s team is in a similar situation to what Marquette faced on Monday night. Like the Golden Eagles on Monday, the Wildcats have a relatively high ranking, but do not have a marquee win yet. Although Villanova gets this game at home while Marquette had to travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame, the Wildcats’ task is significantly harder. To knock off Pittsburgh (ranked 3rd in the nation, but quite possibly only the 3rd best team in their own conference right now), Villanova will need big games out of their stars, Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds, as well as solid performances out of their “Two Coreys”, Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher, to be in a position to beat the Panthers. Even then, the Wildcats will have to find a way to limit Sam Young and DeJuan Blair on the inside and hope that Reynolds can outplay Levance Fields. Even though Villanova has the home court, I’m going with Pittsburgh here because Villanova has not proven that they can win a big game yet (and they have had plenty of opportunities).
- #6 UNC at FSU at 9 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: The Tar Heels really shouldn’t have any problem in this game, but to be honest they shouldn’t have much trouble against all but the top 5-10 teams in the country if they are playing well. This game just feels like one where UNC is ready for a letdown. After going through a rough stretch at the beginning of 2009 where they lost 2 of 3 and were temporarily in last place in the ACC, the Tar Heels have rebounded and are coming off a 24-point victory over then #9 Clemson. They’re finally starting to resemble the team that people thought they could be earlier this season. The Seminoles come in with a solid 16-4 record with all of their losses coming against respectable opposition (ok, maybe not Northwestern). The Seminoles are certainly capable of pulling off an upset in Tallahassee (see their close losses versus #1 Duke and #3 Pittsburgh this year), but to get over the hump and actually win one Leonard Hamilton will need someone other than Toney Douglas to have a big game. Douglas averages more than twice as much as any of his teammates. An unbalanced scoring attack might get FSU wins over teams like Florida and Virginia, but it won’t work against a team that has 5 players in double figures including national POY candidate Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington (finally found his stroke), and Ty Lawson (playing much better this year). UNC will win this game, but I have a feeling it will be much closer than people expect.