Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wednesday's Pregame Beat: Great night for hoops, headined by three top 25 matchups

Game of the night: No. 12 Georgetown @ No. 4 Louisville

The Big East is probably not going to end up being the best conference in college basketball again this season in large part due to its size; there are some teams at the bottom of the league that are less than inspiring. That said, there is still no conference in the country that can match the firepower that the Big East has at the top, and that is what makes the league so entertaining: seemingly every night of the week, there is going to be some matchup between that 15 teams. And tonight, we get Georgetown and Louisville.

The Hoyas come in as one of the biggest surprises on the season, which is, in large part, due to the emergence of Henry Sims as a stereotypical Georgetown big man. With Jason Clark and Hollis Thompson both embracing the role of being shotmakers on the perimeter, Georgetown has emerged as a legitimate contender to finish in the top four of the league, something that would have seemed unfathomable back in October. But where the real strength of this team lies is defensively. Georgetown is longer and more athletic than they have been in a long time, and while much of that is due to the 10 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, younger players can jump into the mix defensively quicker than they can offensively, particularly with a system as complex as what Georgetown runs.

That defense is where the key matchup in this game is going to take place. Louisville, for as much talent and depth as they have on their roster, has had some serious issues scoring the ball this season. They don't give up many points, which is why they are still undefeated and sitting at No. 4 in the country. But until this team finds their range from beyond the arc (looking at you, Kyle Kuric) and Peyton Siva becomes more consistent, the Cardinals will have their issues offensively. Charleston stymied Louisville with a 2-3 zone, and Georgetown's 2-3 zone has been very effective this season. Look for the Cardinals to go small, using Kyle Kuric at the four and in the high-post offensively.

Who's getting upset?: No. 1 Syracuse

Honestly, I don't think that there are going to be any real upsets tonight (for what its worth, I'm using the term "upset" to, essentially, mean "a ranked team that loses to an unranked team"), but I'll run with this game because Seton Hall deserves some kind of praise for the start to their season.

The Pirates are currently sitting at 11-1 on the year with their two seniors -- Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore -- playing the best basketball of their lives, good enough that they both would deservingly make an all-Big East team if the season were to end today. The Pirates actually match up fairly well with the Orange. They don't have any sharp-shooters and they aren't all that deep, but everyone in the Seton Hall rotation is at least capable of stepping out and knocking down a three. They also rebound the well fairly well. If Theodore can avoid turnovers and get into the high-post area off the dribble, Seton Hall has a punchers chance.

Mid-major matchup of the night: 8:05 pm Missouri State @ No. 19 Creighton

This will be a good gauge for Missouri State. The Bears have been a bit disappointing early in the season, but part of the reason they are sitting at 7-5 right now is that they have played a tough schedule. If they can hang with -- or knock off -- Creighton in Omaha, it will be a good sign for where this program is heading.

But that's far from the most interesting story line in this matchup. Kyle Weems was the Player of the Year in the Valley last season, but he has seen his numbers drop across the board this year. Doug McDermott was voted preseason Player of the Year this season over Weems, and he's thrived, playing well-enough that he would be in the conversation for National Player of the Year if the season ended today. What happens when those two go head-to-head?

Be sure to keep an eye on:

9:00 pm: No. 14 Mississippi State @ No. 7 Baylor: Mississippi State is the real deal this season. With Arnett Moultrie playing like a potential SEC Player of the Year candidate and Dee Bost continuing to show why he was criminally underrated heading into the season, the Bulldogs have bounced back from an early-season loss to Akron by winning 10 in a row. But Baylor, on the other hand, looks like a Final Four team. With the size and the athleticism of their front line (headlined by future NBA all-star Perry Jones) and the recent play of Pierre Jackson and Brady Heslip in the back court, the Bears look every bit like the favorite in the SEC.

There are a couple of things I am looking forward to see in this one. Moultrie will finally get the chance to go up against NBA caliber front line while PJIII will be looking to bounce back from a game where he (and his front court mates) were embarrassed by Kevin Jones of West Virginia. I also am interested to find out how well Mississippi State can shoot the ball, because they are going to have to be able to keep the floor spread if they plan on getting anything in the paint tonight.

7:30 pm: No. 15 Indiana @ No. 17 Michigan State: You want a sense of how good a night of basketball it it? A game between the two most recognizable brands in hoops in the Big Ten in a season where both teams are experiencing a resurgence into national relevancy is probably the third-best game of the night.

I am a believer in Michigan State this season. I think that they are back to being the physical, blue-collar team that is going to outwork their opponents every time they set foot on the court. I am not yet convinced by Indiana, however. Have they been impressive? Very. But one semi-fluky win over Kentucky at Assembly Hall does not automatically get you put into Final Four consideration. Win in East Lansing, however, and I won't be the only one getting on the Hoosier bandwagon before its too late.

5:30 pm: Northwestern @ No. 2 Ohio State: The Wildcats want to make their first NCAA Tournament, and they have a real shot to do it as well. But they are going to have to win some games they aren't supposed to. This may be their best shot at catching the Buckeyes, as Jared Sullinger is working his way back into game shape.

The rest of the top 25:

8:30 pm: Lamar @ No. 3 Kentucky: Pat Knight's club has been fairly impressive this year, but they have their work cut out for them in Rupp.

9:00 pm: No. 9 UConn @ South Florida: With Jawanza Poland back in the lineup, the Bulls are nearing 100%. They also always seem to give UConn, who will be without Jim Calhoun, some problems.

10:00 pm: Central Arkansas @ No. 20 UNLV: The Runnin' Rebels are going to wish that they were able to have Corliss Williamson suit up.

Other notable games:

- 7:00 pm: Villanova @ West Virginia
- 7:00 pm: Buffalo @ Temple
- 7:30 pm: Fairfield @ Drexel
- 8:00 pm: Arkansas @ Charlotte
- 8:05 pm: Wichita State @ Bradley
- 9:00 pm: New Mexico @ New Mexico State
- 9:00 pm: Portland @ Gonzaga

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