Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Wednesday's Pregame Beat: My take on UNC-Duke, Georgetown-Syracuse, and Louisville-Notre Dame

9:00 pm: No. 21 UNC @ No. 5 Duke: If you haven't heard If you haven't climbed out from under that rock you've been living under this week, the first installment of the granddaddy of all rivalries is taking place tonight. For some pregame reading for those of you getting off of work and prepping for tonight's showdown, here is a list of all the links you need to read prior to tip off.

Us? We're not about the storylines. We're about the game. And this one is primed to be terrific.

You know of all the drama involving the UNC team the past few days, what with Larry Drew losing his starting spot to Kendall Marshall and subsequently leaving the team and the school. It was a bit of a surprise, but it also may have been a blessing in disguise. Marshall is not ideal for Roy Williams' system, but his passing ability and the fact that he is a true point guard makes him a much better fit than Drew. Case in point -- Harrison Barnes. UNC's star freshman has, finally, been their star freshman, averaging 22.7 ppg over the last three games while shooting 56.5% from the floor.

As for Duke, the guy that's been making a name for himself of late hasn't been Kyle Singler or Nolan Smith, its been Mason Plumlee, a talented sophomore forward that is finally starting to provide the interior production the Blue Devils need out of him. He's averaging 14.0 ppg and 11.5 rpg in his last two games, including dropping a double-double on Maryland's Jordan Williams.

There are two keys to tonight's game, the way I see it. Duke runs a number of different sets offensively and likes to push the ball in transition, but when they really need a basket, the Blue Devil's bread-and-butter is the pick-and-roll. They spread the floor with shooters, then allow Nolan Smith to create. Smith, to his credit, has been terrific of late. He's leading the ACC in both scoring and assists and his play has him on the short list of national player of the year contenders. North Carolina's ability to defend those pick-and-roll situations will be huge if this game is close in crunch time.

The other key to tonight's marquee matchup will be on the back boards. Neither team's strength is in their front court, as there will be much more length and athleticism than strength and power on the floor. Who makes the hustle plays to earn extra possessions? Who can corral a rebound and start a fast break? With both teams being terrific defensive teams, the difference in tonight's game may end up being who can get more easy baskets.

7:00 pm: No. 11 Georgetown @ No. 13 Syracuse: Duke-UNC is far from the only great rivalry game on the tube tonight. As I wrote for Beyond the Arc earlier today, when talking about the best rivalries in college hoops, the Hoyas and the Orange tend to be overlooked. It shouldn't. This is one of the most influential rivalries in the sport.

As for tonight's game, the key lies in Georgetown's front court for two reasons. First of all, the way to beat the Syracuse zone is by through interior passing. Can the Hoyas, either via the pass or the dribble, get the ball into gaps and to the foul line area. When there, can they pass out to open shooters or dump the ball down to their bigs for an easy shot around the rim? At the other end of the floor, Syracuse has a lot of big bodies, let by the Big East's most dominant interior force in Rick Jackson. I expect Julian Vaughn, who is arguably the most underrated big man in the league, to draw the assignment of defending Jackson and keeping him off the glass.

7:00 pm: No. 15 Louisville @ No. 7 Notre Dame: The good news for Louisville is that Preston Knowles is back for the Cardinals tonight. That's huge. Not only is he the best defender and leading scorer for Rick Pitino's team, Louisville also has been beat up all season long. Its tough to play down a starter. Its even tougher to play down three, as the Cardinals would have been without Knowles, Raheem Buckles, and Jared Swopshire.

I think this is going to be a tough matchup for Louisville. They are much more athletic than the Irish, but Notre Dame is a group of experienced, disciplined, and smart basketball players. They know how to play well together, move the ball offensively, and strike when given an opening. The Cardinals are a gambling team. They look for steals, especially in their press, and try to get easy baskets and threes in transition. I'm just not convinced they can turn Notre Dame over, especially at home.

Every one of the games listed below involves a ranked team heading on the road to play an unranked opponent. I can guarantee that there will be a loss somewhere in this group. My money is on either Florida losing at South Carolina or Texas A&M losing at Colorado.

  • 9:00 pm: No. 3 Texas @ Oklahoma
  • 10:00 pm: No. 8 BYU @ Air Force
  • 8:00 pm: No. 10 Villanova @ Rutgers
  • 8:30 pm: No. 14 Wisconsin @ Iowa
  • 11:00 pm: No. 17 Utah State @ Idaho
  • 8:00 pm: No. 19 Florida @ South Carolina
  • 9:00 pm: No. 22 Texas A&M @ Colorado

Other Notable Games:
  • 6:30 pm: Northwestern @ Michigan
  • 7:00 pm: Richmond @ George Washington
  • 7:00 pm: VCU @ Delaware
  • 7:00 pm: Marquette @ South Florida
  • 7:00 pm: Fordham @ Temple
  • 7:00 pm: Dayton @ Rhode Island
  • 7:00 pm: American @ Bucknell
  • 8:00 pm: Nebraska @ Baylor

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