Friday, January 20, 2012

Weekend Preview: Baylor-Missouri headlines a weekend with some good hoops

This post is brought to you by the University Plaza Hotel in Springfield, MO.

Game of the Weekend: Sat. 2:00 pm: No. 5 Missouri @ No. 3 Baylor

To know how important this game is, all you need to do is look at the numbers next to the names of these two teams. How often do two top five teams lock horns, especially when the loser of that game drops to two games out of the conference race? Hint: not that often.

But there is more to this matchup than simply have two of the best teams in the country going head to head. The contrast of styles in this game is simply fascinating. There may not be a team in the country with more length and athleticism in the country than Baylor. 6'11" Perry Jones III lines up at the four while either 6'9" Quincy Miller or 6'10" Anthony Jones plays the three. Missouri, on the other hand, is one of the smallest teams in the country. It should be interesting to see how 6'6" two-guard Kim English can match up with PJ3 or 6'3" Marcus Demon handles Jones and/or Miller.

There are a couple of keys to this game. For Baylor, Pierre Jackson is going to be the deciding factor. A dynamic playmaker that has the ability to do some truly amazing things on a basketball court, Jackson has a tendency to try and take games over. He can do it, at times, but Baylor is much better when he embraces the role of being a playmaker. Against Missouri, with the kind of size advantage the Bears are going to have, Baylor is going to need Jackson to ignore the desire to try and out-gun Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon and, instead, focus on pounding the ball inside, allowing Baylor to take advantage of their size advantage.

Its quite obvious that Missouri is going to be firing up plenty of three pointers. The key, however, is going to be what kind of threes this group takes. Baylor plays a lot of zone, which means that the Tigers are going to have plenty of looks from the perimeter. But that zone is also going to open up lanes for penetration. If Missouri is willing to penetrate and kick -- taking threes off of the catch instead off of the dribble -- the Tigers should get plenty of open looks. If they settle for contested pull-up jumpers early in the shot clock, they could be in trouble.

I know the Tigers are on the road, but I'm buying into this team. I think that Phil Pressey is going to be impossible to keep out of the paint, and I believe both Denmon and English are due for big games.

Seven more games to watch:

Sat. 12:00 pm: Alabama @ No. 2 Kentucky: I saw Kentucky struggle to knock off Old Dominion at Mohegan Sun earlier this season, and I immediately made a mental note to circle this game on the calender. You see, the Monarchs pushed around the Wildcats in the paint, getting to the offensive glass and out-toughing a Kentucky team that looked like they wanted no part of the physical nature of the paint. Since that time, however, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist have come a long way while the Crimson Tide have, more or less, fallen off the face of the earth. One thing to keep an eye on: JaMychal Green went out with what looked like a head injury midway through the second half as Vandy smoked Alabama on Thursday night. Will he be ready to go?

Sat. 12:00 pm: Purdue @ No. 9 Michigan State: Want to hear a wild stat? There are currently five teams tied atop the Big Ten with two losses. One of those teams is Michigan State. Another one is Purdue. There may not be a conference race that ends up being as wild as the Big Ten's, if for no reason other than the fact that its near impossible to win on the road in that league. Michigan State has struggled of late, losing at Northwestern and at Michigan in their last two games. It should be fun to see Robbie Hummel and Draymond Green, two of the nation's best seniors, go head-to-head.

Sat. 3:00 pm: Cincinnati @ West Virginia: Cincinnati has done two things this season: they've established themselves as the second best team in the Big East and they appear to have staked a claim on being the best road team in the country. They have won their past seven road games in Big East play, including their last two, which consists win at Georgetown and at UConn. It doesn't get any easier for the Bearcats on Saturday as they head to Morgantown to take on the Mountaineers.

Sat. 4:00 pm: Florida State @ No. 4 Duke: This is going to be an interesting matchup for the Blue Devils because Florida State's strength counteracts Duke's weaknesses. The 'Noles are as big and physical in the paint as anyone in the country -- just ask North Carolina -- and they have a tough defense that doesn't allow penetration. Duke's big men are not as big of an issue as many make them out to be, but the Blue Devils definitely have issues when they struggles to get penetration.

Sat. 6:00 pm: Marshall @ Southern Miss: Conference USA has become a four team race, with Marshall, USM, UCF and Memphis breaking away from the pack. You cannot lose your home games against the other top teams in the league if you want to win the conference.

Sat. 6:00 pm: Stanford @ Washington: This matchup was much more intriguing when I was going through the schedule on Thursday night before both of these teams lost. At the time, they were tied with Cal for first in the Pac-12 standings. Now? They're tied for second. The Pac-12 is going to have a tough time convincing people that the conference deserves at-large bids. Both Stanford and Washington need to win games like this to try and separate themselves from the rest of the league.

Sat. 10:00 pm: New Mexico @ No. 20 UNLV: This may end up being the most important game of the weekend behind the Baylor-Missouri game. San Diego State has already knocked off both of these teams, meaning that the loser of this game is going to drop to two games behind the Aztecs in the Mountain West race. That two game lead becomes an even bigger issue when you consider that BYU's departure means there are only 14, and not 16, league games this season.

Who's getting upset?: Sat. 7:00 pm: No. 15 Mississippi State @ Vanderbilt

If anyone can give me any kind of read on either of these two teams, I'd love it. Because I got nothing. Mississippi State may just be the second most talented team in the conference behind Kentucky, but for whatever reason -- Renardo Sidney's inability to dominate, Dee Bost's inconsistency, the youth on the roster, Rick Stansbury -- the Bulldogs just have not been able to figure it out in league play. They lost fairly handily at Arkansas. They lost at Ole Miss, who is playing without Dundrecous Nelson. And now they travel to Vanderbilt.

Vandy is just as confusing. Without Festus Ezeli, the Commodores looked downright bad. They were losing to teams like Indiana State and Cleveland State and dropped all the way out of the top 25 despite having three first round picks on their roster. But with Ezeli, they are winning games and doing it in impressive fashion, blowing out both Alabama and Marquette on the road. Can they defend their home court against a good team in the league? Does this even qualify as an upset?

Three more teams on upset watch:

Sat. 2:00 pm: No. 19 Michigan @ Arkansas: I don't know if Arkansas is going to win this game, but I do know this: there isn't going to be a more intriguing matchup stylistically this season. Michigan likes to control pace, running complicated Princeton-esque sets and settling into a 1-3-1 zone at times. Arkansas? They have Mike Anderson as a head coach, meaning the Wolverines are going to be getting 40 Minutes of Hell.

Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 7 Kansas @ Texas: Winning on the road in league play is never an easy thing to do, and with the performance that the Jayhawks are coming off of against Baylor, its almost impossible to think that they won't have a letdown during this game. This has been a pretty good rivalry ever since TJ Ford wore burnt orange, so you know the 'Horns will be ready to play.

Sun. 2:00 pm: Wisconsin @ No. 25 Illinois: Winning on the road in the Big Ten has been a very difficult thing to do this season, but I'm just not ready to fully buy into Illinois yet. And that was before their loss at Penn State on Thursday. The only reason that they knocked off Ohio State was because Brandon Paul played one of the more ridiculous games I've ever seen. They lost to Penn State despite getting 35 points from Paul and Meyers Leonard. Not buying it.

Mid Major matchup of the weekend: Sat. 1:00 Xavier @ Dayton

Spare me, Xavier fans. I know you're program isn't a mid-major. But I like balance, and by putting this game down here, I can do eight, four and eight. Its pretty. Its balanced. It makes sense. Right? Right.

Anyway, this is a huge game in the Atlantic 10 race. The Musketeers have now won four straight games and look like they have finally refound whatever it was they lost in the brawl with Cincinnati. But Dayton is one of the best teams in this conference as well and play in one of the tougher venues to steal a win. They also have a talented back court star of their own in Kevin Dillard.

The key to this game is going to be Xavier's ability to get the ball into the paint. The Muskies have the biggest front line in the conference and Dayton lost their best big man in Josh Benson. If they pound the ball inside and avoid getting into a shootout with Dillard, they should win this game.

Seven more games to keep an eye on:

Sat. 7:00 pm: St. Joe's @ Penn: Big 5 games are always going to be fun, but the matchups in this game make it all the more interesting. Zack Rosen, Penn's point guard, is one of the most underrated in the country, but the Hawks have a talented back court of their own with Carl Jones and Langston Galloway. That will be fun.

Sat. 8:00 pm: Old Dominion @ VCU: VCU managed to hang on against William & Mary meaning they are still right in the thick of a crowded CAA race. Old Dominion is leading the conference right now. VCU is a game behind. As an added bonus, Kent Bazemore and Brad Burgess may be the two best players in the conference.

Sat. 8:00 pm: South Dakota State @ North Dakota State: This is a huge game for SDSU. NDSU is 6-2 in Summit League play, sitting a game behind the Jackrabbits. But the Jackrabbits are sitting a game behind undefeated Oral Roberts. Losing this game would put them in a big hole in the Summit race.

Sat. 8:30 pm: Denver @ North Texas: Tony Mitchell getting eligible has changed the Mean Green's team, but Denver runs a difficult system to prepare and has been as impressive as anyone in that conference. A loss for UNT drops them two back from the Sun Belt West pace.

Sat. 11:00 pm: LBSU @ UCSB: What isn't there to like about this matchup? The two best teams in the Big West. The two best players in the Big West in Casper Ware and Orlando Johnson. I'd be willing to be there will be a large contingent of NBA scouts in attendance for this game.

Sun. 2:00 pm: Milwaukee @ Cleveland State: These are the two best teams in the Horizon. Cleveland State is my pick to win the league, mainly because I think their athleticism and pressure will end up being too much for the rest of the league to overcome. But the Panthers are a tough defensive team that really make it difficult for opponents to score.

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