Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, February 13, 2013 at 9:46 AM
Contrary to what you might have been led to believe by the TV hucksters, there is some really great basketball being played outside the Big 10 Conference this 2012-13 hoops season and in this mid-week edition of Jim Sez we'll preview a handful of top Wednesday/Thursday games and note that none of 'em are Big 10 tilts ... so there!
We pay special attention to a batch of highly-ranked teams - that's #2 Duke, #3 Miami and #6 Syracuse on tonight's docket - and than turn our attention to #5 Gonzaga and #12 Louisville as our "featured performers" on the Thursday evening card.
Keep in mind that there is some serious NCAA Tournament seed jockeying going on every day/night this important b-ball month of February as all five of the seeded teams we're watching here in these mid-week games could wind up with #1 or #2 overall seeds come next month's "Big Dance". Here's the key games on the Wednesday/Thursday sked:
Tonight, it's ...
#3 MIAMI (19-3, 10-0 ACC) at FLORIDA STATE (13-10, 5-5 ACC) - 7 p.m. ET, espn2
It's true ... on a night when the Atlantic Coast Conference trots out the first of its always-fun North Carolina vs. Duke head-to-head matchups, it's the Miami Hurricanes who will begin (and end) the night in first place in the sainted ACC and now folks in South Beach are left to wonder whether or not the U of M Hurricanes can "run the table" in this league.
Keep in mind following this tilt in Tallahassee - and nobody's claiming that it will be a proverbial walk-in-the-park game, for sure - there are still seven conference games on the docket including a road game on Duke come March 2nd and so maybe Jim Larranaga's crew shouldn't exactly "get ahead" of itself quite yet!
True, Miami has been enjoying a magical season with a sky's-the-limit mentality and last Saturday's rollicking 87-61 home win/cover against 7 ½-point underdog North Carolina may have been the "high note" what with Miami Heat champions LeBron James and Dwyane Wade both giving the 'Canes a court-side standing ovation for a job well done and now comes the next ACC test for soph PG Shane Larkin (18 points and a career-best 9 assists against the UNC Tar Heels) and his slew of senior buddies.
Note that Miami - winners of its last 11 consecutive games - already polished off Florida State 71-47 back on January 27th as nine-point home favorites as the Hurricanes held FSU to just 16-of-52 field-goal shooting (that's 30.8 percent) and the aforementioned Larkin displayed a stat-sheet stuffing nature with 8 points, 9 rebounds and 6 assists - play it again here, guys?
#6 SYRACUSE (20-3, 8-2 Big East) at CONNECTICUT (16-6, 6-4 Big East) - 7 p.m. ET, ESPN
The good news for the Syracuse Orange is that F James Southerland - the team's third-leading scorer at 13.6 ppg -- is back on board after a six-game absence due to an academic eligibility question that clearly strapped Jim Boeheim's for that extra scorer:
Note that this 'Cuse club does sport four double-digit scorers but without Southerland this Orange club lacked its usual explosiveness and you could tell in just one game that swingman C.J. Fair was far more effective in the full-court game and now we'll see here which club wants to go 78 rpm here.
The visiting Orange - which shot a tasty 29-of-54 from the floor in last Sunday's 77-58 win against St. John's - would like to get a minimum 50 field-goal attempts here from the big four of Brandon Triche, Fair, Southerland and G Michael Carter-Williams who rank #1-thru-#4 as the team's best scorers while the game plan here for the UConn Huskies is to make sure guards Shabazz Napier (17.2 ppg) and Ryan Boatright (15.8 ppg) get 40 FG tries between 'em and don't you just know that first-year Huskies head coach Kevin Ollie has been stressing better ball-control after a slew of sloppy handles in recent games although count us among the folks truly impressed with that game-ending run that toppled Seton Hall last Sunday in that 78-67 win following a 35-34 halftime deficit.
NORTH CAROLINA (16-7, 6-4 ACC) at #2 DUKE (21-2, 8-2 ACC) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
Let's face facts: Right now the North Carolina Tar Heels are unranked, unloved (by the critics) and not all that relevant on the national front when it comes to the here-and-now college hoops scene.
Oh, the Blue Devils are ranked, loved (by some critics but not all) and totally relevant in the scheme of things with most "bracketologists" considering the Dookies a sure #1 or #2 seed come next month's NCAA Tournament but don't you sometimes get the sense with this current Duke team that it does just enough to get by?
In last Sunday's 62-61 win at 11-point underdog Boston College, there was Mike Kryzewski's squad needing ultra-clutch free throws by Miles Plumlee get the job done and take note that the level of concentration has fluctuated for this Blue Devils bunch in several games this season.
If the multi-faceted Plumlee (18.2 ppg and 10.7 rpg) becomes that bear in the middle that this Carolina team so far has not shown the ability to handle, than this could be blowout city in Durham but be aware that from the some-things-don't-change department the Tar Heels again lead the ACC in scoring (78.3 ppg) and F James Michael McAdoo (14.9 ppg) is just starting to get into the swing of things that he's the top "baller" on this club and going for 20-plus points here could have Roy Williams' team hanging around late ... so stay tuned.
On Thursday, it's ...
ST. JOHN'S (15-9, 7-5 Big East) at #12 LOUISVILLE (19-5, 7-4 Big East) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
No doubt the $64,000 question here is what's left in the emotional tank of the Louisville Cardinals following on the heels of last Saturday's wild 104-101 five-OT loss at Notre Dame?
Naturally, much is being made of the fact 'Ville head coach Rick Pitino didn't call end-of-game time-outs and instead opted for a play-on approach at the conclusion of those periods and that simply failed as the Redbirds now look to snap back after the longest regular-season game in the rich history of Big East basketball.
Forward Chane Behanan was Louisville's most effective stat-sheet stuffer in that multi-OT loss - he finished with a career-high 30 points with 15 rebounds - but if the Cards are gonna squash big-time road dog St. John's here than Behanan will need some help from never-shy-to-shoot G Russ Smith who drained a measly 4-of-19 field-goal tries in that tilt.
St. John's will have head coach Steve Lavin back along the sidelines here after he missed last Sunday's ugly/sloppy 77-58 loss at Syracuse because of the death of his dad Cap but the question surrounding the Johnnies is when will moody G D'Angelo Harrison get his act together?
Harrison - who is averaging a respectable 18.3 ppg - spent the better part of that loss at the Carrier Dome arguing with a fan in the front row and no doubt that helped to create his shabby 4-of-13 shooting day ... and what about the fact Harrison is just 3-of-18 from "downtown" in his last three games?
#5 GONZAGA (23-2, 10-0 WCC) at SAINT MARY'S (21-4, 10-1 WCC) - 11 p.m. ET, espn2
Here's a little memo that you may not have gotten this year: The West Coast Conference's top two teams are so good that you might see both of 'em still standing come this year's Elite 8 - and you never know what happens from there!
Gonzaga rock-n-rolls its way into this tilt on a six-game SU (straight-up) winning streak following that much-discussed and much-analyzed 64-63 loss at Butler back on the evening of January 19th and take note the Bulldogs already have beaten Saint Mary's once this year - an 83-78 triumph in Spokane back on January 10th as Mark Few's club nearly blew a 46-28 halftime lead as the Gaels climbed to within 79-78 with just 15 seconds left and than Saint Mary's do-everything G Matthew Dellavedova's missed three-pointer with 6.9 seconds remaining prevented STM from coming all the way back.
Still, it was duly noted that the 'Zags can't go to sleep on a Saint Mary's squad that evening - even though the aforementioned Dellavedova shot a rancid 4-of-15 from the floor en route to a 14-point showing.
Hey, if Saint Mary's is gonna get the much-desired season series split here than containing Gonzaga big man Kelly Olynyk (31 points and 8 rebounds in 33 minutes of star-like performance in that first meeting) is a key here plus the Gaels simply must play better perimeter defense too as Gonzaga shot only 4-of-14 on triple tries but hit a slew of mid-range pop-and-shot baskets with G Kevin Pangos going for 22 points and generally left uncovered for all too many occasions.
How big is this one for Gonzaga?
Well, if it can finish WCC regular-season play unbeaten and than win the mini-tourney that follows than you could see the Zags with a top three seed in the NCAA Tournament ... really!
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