In light of the weak set of games this week, we’re bringing you a midweek (Tuesday-Thursday) Set Your Tivos before the weekend edition (Friday night’s games are awful so go out and do something that night).
– Ohio State at #24 Illinois, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Illinois has been one of the most surprising teams in the first half of the college basketball season. Bruce Weber‘s team came into the season without a single vote in either major poll and now they sit in the top 25. Although they are only 3-2 in the Big Ten this year, the Fighting Illini have shown everyone that they will contend for the conference title this year with their performance in the early season. All three of their losses this year have been against respectable competition: Clemson (by 2 points), at Michigan (avenged last week), and at Michigan State (by 6). On the other hand, Ohio State has been disappointing since the loss of David Lighty and has went 6-3 since his injury after starting 7-0 including a win over Notre Dame.
Illinois’s strength this year has been their balanced scoring attack with 4 players averaging between 11.3 and 11.8 PPG. They are led by Dmeteri McCamey (11.8 PPG and 4.9 APG) at the point and Mike Davis (11.3 PPG and 7.3 RPG) on the inside. They are a potential Sweet 16 team if Kentucky transfer Alex Legion can become more consistent and play like he did against Michigan State (15 points on 6/13 FG).
The key to this game will be Weber’s ability to limit Evan Turner, who is averaging 15.9 PPG and 7.0 RPG this season. While Thad Matta has two other players (Jon Diebler and William Buford) who average double figures along with the highly touted B.J. Mullens, Turner is the most consistent scorer that Matta has. If Weber can get Davis to slow down Turner, Illinois should be able to pull this one out.
– #21 Villanova at #3 UConn, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Yet another ridiculous Big East battle. Even though I am fairly certain that UConn and Pittsburgh are the best teams in the conference (unless Louisville keeps playing at this level), I have a feeling that the regular season title will be determined by which team wins its other conference games. Quite frankly (sorry Stephen A.), Villanova shouldn’t beat UConn in Storrs if the Huskies play up to their potential.
Calhoun’s talented, but enigmatic backcourt of A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, and Kemba Walker will have to contend with Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, and Corey Stokes. The match-up is pretty close, but I’d give the edge to the Huskies here unless Reynolds goes off. On the inside, the Huskies also have the advantage, but will need to contain Dante Cunningham, who comes in averaging 17.4 PPG and 7.4 RPG. If they can prevent him from having a monster game, UConn will have a decided edge on the inside. One of Jim Calhoun‘s on-going challenges will be getting Stanley Robinson to play consistently after his unusual sabatical. If Calhoun can get consistent play out of Robinson to go along with the surprisingly consistent Hasheem Thabeet (except for the Gonzaga game) and the explosive slasher Jeff Adrien, he might just find himself in Detroit in April.
– #9 Clemson at #6 UNC, 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Will Clemson ever win a game at Chapel Hill? The Tigers’ losing streak in Chapel Hill currently stands at a NCAA record 53 games dating back to their first visit there on January 15, 1926. After Saturday’s loss to current #1 Wake Forest, Clemson will be looking to rebound and avoid their annual ACC slide. Unfortunately for Clemson, UNC is probably stronger than them at every position and has the previously mentioned home court edge.
Oliver Purnell will also need solid play out of his 9-deep rotation (all averaging over 13.2 MPG), which is led by Trevor Booker and K.C. Rivers. Booker will likely be matched up against reigning POY Tyler Hansbrough. It will be a tough match-up for Booker and even matching Hansbrough will likely mean a 54th consecutive loss for Tigers at Chapel Hill. Clemson’s best hope is to use their depth and pressure defense to rattle Ty Lawson, who has been playing well this year except for the Tar Heels two losses (9 assists and 8 TOs in those games).
Roy Williams will need to focus on keeping his stars out of foul trouble because the Tigers are one of the few teams in the country that can match UNC’s depth although not necessarily with the same quality that the Tar Heels have. Even though this is a conference match-up against a top 10 team UNC should be able to handle the Tigers relatively easily particularly if Wayne Ellington continues his hot shooting from the 2nd half of the Miami game.
– West Virginia at No. 14 Georgetown, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: After losing consecutive games to UConn and Marquette, the Mountaineers feasted on a break in their schedule with back-to-back wins over Marshall and USF. Unfortunately for Bob Huggins, if West Virginia wants to make the NCAA tournament they will have to start stealing a few wins against the upper tier teams in the conference. On the other sideline, John Thompson III will need to focus on his team’s energy level after a hard-fought win against Syracuse and a tough loss at Duke on Saturday.
This game will likely come down to whether Huggins can find somebody inside to battle Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summers. The Mountaineers match-up well on the outside with Alex Ruoff and Darryl Bryant going up against Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, but Da’Sean Butler will have his hands full against Monroe and Summers assuming Monroe can stay out of foul trouble and the “fans behind the bench” keep quiet. I expect the Hoyas to pull away in this one midway through the second half after struggling to find their focus in the first half.
– #18 Purdue at #20 Minnesota, 7 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: This one looks like it will be a battle of teams fighting for a #2 seed in the Big Ten tournament (the Spartans look like a strong #1 in the conference). The Boilermakers have rebounded well from an 0-2 start in the Big Ten and have won 3 straight. Matt Painter‘s club relies on its own Big Three (sorry Boston fans) of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and JaJuan Johnson. If Hummel is back to 100%, they are one of the better trios in the Big Ten. Purdue’s problem is the big drop-off after that as their 4th leading scorer averages 8.0 PPG (respectable) on 34.1% FG (not so respectable).
Tubby Smith will be looking for his club to bounce back after a bad loss at Northwestern on Sunday. Lawrence Westbrook is the unquestioned star of this team, but we’re more curious about Ralph Sampson III (yes, that’s his son). I’m expecting this one to be a hard-fought game, but I think Purdue will be able to pull this one out against the Gophers, who I believe may be getting too much credit by the media for their win against the suddenly resurgent Louisville Cardinals earlier in the year.