Now that we’re starting to get into the meat of the college basketball conference we are starting to get quality games on a regular basis which means that we will be having the return of our regular feature. There isn’t a “blockbuster” game tonight like Texas-Kansas State, but there are 3 games that feature potential NCAA tournament teams matching up against each other that are worth keeping an eye on while you try to catch up on the last two hours of 24.
Northwestern at #25 Ohio State at 7 PM on Big Ten Network: This is clearly a big game for both teams. As has you may have heard (from basically every site covering college basketball) Northwestern has never made the NCAA tournament, but despite the loss of Kevin Coble the Wildcats are firmly on the bubble this year. A victory over Evan Turner and the Buckeyes in Columbus would be a big boost following their upset win at home over a Purdue team that is rapidly falling apart (more on this in a bit). To knock off the Buckeyes in Columbus (where they are undefeated this season), they will need big games from John Shurna (16.8 PPG and 7.1 RPG) and Michael Thompson (14.4 PPG and 4.4 APG with a 2.7 to 1 assist to TO ratio). The key for Thad Matta‘s squad will be Evan Turner being Evan Turner (my choice for national POY) and someone else (David Lighty, Jon Diebler, or William Buford–all averaging 13.3 PPG) helping him out so the Wildcats can’t throw double teams at Turner all night. As much as the Northwestern story intrigues us, we suspect that tonight will not help their case as The Villain and the Buckeyes should be able to hold on for the win, but given what happened this weekend a Big Ten upset wouldn’t shock us.
#16 Clemson at #18 Georgia Tech at 7 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: For the Duke haters out there, this game could be viewed as a match-up of the two teams most likely to challenge the Blue Devils in the ACC this season (we’re almost ready to give up on UNC this season). Paul Hewett”s Yellow Jackets have been maddeningly inconsistent alternating between wins against Duke and UNC and losses against Georgia and Virginia. Meanwhile, Oliver Purnell‘s Tigers have started off with their customary impressive early season record with their only losses coming against Duke, Texas A&M, and Illinois with a majority of their wins coming against a bunch of cupcakes in non-conference play (ok, the Xavier win was nice) and they just blew out UNC in Littlejohn Coliseum. The key to this game will be the match-up on the inside with Trevor Booker (15.4 PPG and 8.3 RPG) going up against Gani Lawal (15.2 PPG and 9.2 RPG) and Derrick Favors (11.5 PPG and 8.6 RPG). Despite the Yellow Jackets’ inconsistency lately, we’re going to go with the homecourt and the fact that we never trust Clemson in big games here.
#15 Purdue at Illinois at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The big question here is how the Boilermakers will respond to Matt Painter calling out the entire team except for Robbie Hummel and E’Twaun Moore after their three-game losing streak. The key for Illinois will be if they can get Demetri McCamey going against Chris Kramer. They will probably rely on their running him through a bunch of screen in their motion offense (ESPN Insider required) to get Kramer off of him. On the other side of the ball, Purdue needs JaJuan Johnson to start playing like the All-Big Ten player that he is and not the guy who scored 17 points combined in their last three games (all losses). If Purdue plays the way they did early in the season, they are clearly capable of pulling off the road win. Given the experience on the Boilermakers team, we’re going to go with them bouncing back on the road against Bruce Weber and the Illini.