Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Watcher's Guide to the SEC/Big East Invitational

Finally, the SEC and the Big East made the decision to expand to a all out, full-fledged conference battle.

We all have loved what the ACC/Big Ten Challenge has turned into. And this year, there are plenty of quality games between the top of both of the leagues.

But the leagues did mess up. For starters, both Kentucky and UConn are playing teams from the bottom of the opposing conference. I know that both St. John's and Arkansas looked like they were heading in the right direction a year ago, but let me give you schedule-makers a tip -- when you are manufacturing a competition, its probably best to pit two of the best teams taking part against each other.

Who doesn't want to see the Huskies play the Wildcats? If your hand us currently up, please never read this site again. Thank ya kindly.

You can miss this game for a wedding, but only if you're the one getting married:

No. 1 Fri 6:30 pm: No. 9 Florida @ No. 3 Syracuse: In a week that gave us three games pitting top ten teams, Syracuse and Florida may actually have the most intrigue. For starters, there is the obvious -- the Bernie Fine scandal. With the speed at which this story has transformed, who knows what will happen between now and Friday night. And, making the story all the more interesting, who knows what questions are going to have to be asked of Boeheim in the press conference after the game. Given his history with the media, the post-game may have more fireworks than the game itself.

For Florida, this will be the first time that they take the court against a real opponent without Erik Murphy. Murphy, if you remember, was the x-factor for this team coming into the season. And through four games, he looked like he was primed to be a serious weapon for the Gators. There aren't many 6'9" forwards that can shoot the ball and spread the floor like he can. He would have been especially valuable against a team like Syracuse that plays strictly zone.

In terms of who will actually be on the court, we get one of the most exciting back court matchups that we've seen this young season. Florida boasts three upperclassmen in Kenny Boynton, Erving Walker and Mike Rosario, but the best of the bunch may be freshman Brad Beal. It feels like we are saying this every year about the Gators, but keep an eye on the way that Boynton and Walker play. The knock on them throughout their career has been shot selection for mediocre. Walker's making better decision, and Boynton has hit 22-45 from three or 48.9%. Watching them attack the 2-3 zone should be fun.

For Syracuse, their back court starts with Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche and continues with the dynamic Dion Waiters coming off of the bench. But the key for the Orange in this one will have little to do with their guard play. Jim Boeheim's team is loaded up front with size and athleticism, something that the Gators lack behind Patric Young. Players like CJ Fair and James Southerland will be a tough matchup for Florida. Also keep an eye on Kris Joseph. Florida is going to have difficulty dealing with his length on the wing.

Pick: Syracuse

No. 2 Fri 8:30 pm: No. 19 Vanderbilt @ No. 6 Louisville: Injuries have diluted what could have been one of the best matchups of the season. Vandy is without their hoss in the paint, as Festus Ezeli is still battling his eye back from a sprained knee. Louisville? We may be better off listing the players that are healthy with the number of injuries that Rick Pitino's team has had to deal with already this year. Peyton Siva is banged up. Rakeem Buckles and Stephen Van Treese are out. Elisha Justice has a broken nose. Mike Marra and Wayne Blackshear are out for the season. Roll call -- did I miss anyone?

Louisville has thrived this season on the defensive end of the floor as Pitino has tried to control their practices, avoiding compounding their injury problem. Against Long Beach State, Pitino finally let the reins out a bit, and the Cardinals ran LBSU off the court, at least until their legs caught up to them. The biggest issue for Vanderbilt is going to be how they defend Louisville's back court. Siva, Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith are an impressive trio, and Russ Smith has been a pleasant surprise for Louisville fans. (Card Chronicle has the best line I've read on Russ Smith this year, referring to the Smith's questionable shot selection as "Russ things".)

I'm concerned about Vanderbilt's ability to defend Louisville's perimeter attack, but I am also worried about how Vandy is going to be able to break the Louisville press. Brad Tinsley and John Jenkins can both shoot the heck out of the ball, but they have a tendency to struggle against pressure defense. Kevin Stallings is going to want to take advantage of the mismatch that Jeff Taylor creates. He is too big and too athletic for any of Louisville's perimeter players.

Pick: Louisville

These games are worth TiVoing the season finale of Sons of Anarchy:

No. 3 Thu 9:30 pm: Georgetown @ No. 12 Alabama: This one should be fun. Alabama is one of the toughest defensive teams in the country with a physical and athletic front line in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. Georgetown, on the other hand, has been one of the surprises of the young season. Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson have both been terrific, while Henry Sims will get a real test going up against the bigs of the Crimson Tide. I like Alabama's young perimeter attack, but the key to this game is where its being played -- Alabama doesn't lose in Tuscaloosa.

Pick: Alabama

No. 4 Sat 9:00 pm: West Virginia @ Mississippi State: The front court matchup here will be quite entertaining. Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie, for all of the effort and conditioning issues that are present, are as big and as talented as anyone in the country. But West Virginia has their own pair of quality big men in Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli. The rebounding battle is going to be important, but it will be interesting to see how West Virginia's freshman point guard Jabarie Hinds will handle Mississippi State's Dee Bost.

Pick: Mississippi State

No. 5 Sat 5:15 pm: No. 17 Pitt @ Tennessee: Last year, Tennessee went into Pittsburgh and knocked off the Panthers in impressive fashion. This year, however, both teams are way down. Pitt is struggling mightily on the defensive end of the floor, while Tennessee is plain old struggling. After losing to both Duke and Memphis in Maui, Tennessee dropped a roadie to Oakland this week. But the Vols have a talented pair in Trae Golden and Jeronne Maymon, the latter of which will get a chance to showcase his skills against one of the biggest front lines in the country.

Pick: Pitt

Watch the finale of Sons of Anarchy, but TiVo the Law and Order AVU reruns:

No. 6 Thu 7:30 pm: St. John's @ No. 1 Kentucky: Kentucky is probably the most talented team in the country. Their issue is that their point guard, Marquis Teague, has turnover issues. St. John's loves to press, and it could cause some issues for the Wildcats. That said, St. John's is very, very young. And heading into Rupp. This could easily turn into a massacre.

Pick: Kentucky

No. 7 Sat 3:15 pm: Arkansas @ No. 10 UConn: The Huskies have some major question marks. When will Alex Oriakhi show up? Is Andre Drummond ever going to become consistent? Will Shabazz Napier or Jeremy Lamb ever take the reins of this team? How good is Ryan Boatright? UConn has much more talent than Arkansas, but they also had much more talent than Central Florida.

Pick: UConn

Find a beat writer and follow them on twitter for the game:

No. 8 Fri 7:00 pm: Cincinnati @ Georgia: The Bearcats were supposed to be a contender to finish in the top five of the Big East. But they've already lost to Presbyterian and Marshall. When will Yancy Gates become the star he was supposed to be this year? Georgia does have some talent, in particular guard Gerald Robinson.

Pick: Cincinnati

No. 9 Thu 9:00 pm: Ole Miss @ DePaul: This game may look ugly on paper, but there is some intrigue here. Ole Miss has some talent on their roster -- they just knocked off Miami in overtime -- and DePaul has been impressive in this young season. Can Brandon Young, Cleveland Melvin and company pull of the win?

Pick: Ole Miss

Checking the box score in the morning may be too much:

No. 10 Fri 9:00 pm: Auburn @ Seton Hall: Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore are finally playing up to their potential. Auburn is improved, but they had no where to go but up.

Pick: Seton Hall

No. 11 Sat 7:00 pm: LSU @ Rutgers: LSU has

Pick: Rutgers

No. 12 Thu 7:00 pm: Providence @ South Carolina: South Carolina is terrible. Providence looks to be better this season, and guys like Vincent Council and Gerald Coleman has been putting up some impressive performances.

Pick: Providence

And the winner is?: The Big East, 8-4.

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