Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, February 24, 2012 at 8:53 AM
Can you believe it? The next time that we're writing up College Basketball Weekend Previews it'll be March and that's really fun-and-games time in this sport.
Still, don't discard these final key days in February as there's plenty of super-important games on the docket and right here and right now we're checking our the Jim Sez "Saturday Six-Pack" with a close look at the biggest/best games on the card ... so enjoy. First, we've got this key reminder:
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers are red-hot these days and they'll get you wall-to-wall College Basketball and NBA Winners each and every day when you check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453. Note that the check-in times are after 1 p.m. ET for all the Monday-through-Friday weeknight action and after 10 a.m. ET on Saturdays/Sundays/Holidays. Memo to one and all: Stop messing around with all these round-ball selections and let America's #1 Handicapper point you in the right direction.
Now, here's our Saturday Six-Pack starting with the numero uno marquee matchup on the docket ...
#3 MISSOURI (25-3, 12-3 Big 12) at #4 KANSAS (23-5, 13-2 Big 12) - 4 p.m. ET
Go ahead, Big 12 fans, dream a little bit. Dream that both the Missouri Tigers and the Kansas Jayhawks will be still standing come this year's Final Four - you never know!
For now we get this tremendous mano-to-mano showdown in the plains and ole Mizzou has its work cut out against a Kansas club that's won five in a row and is a white-hot 13-2 SU (straight-up) since the start of the new calendar year. One of the two losses since January 1st was that wild 74-71 Missouri home win back on February 4th (some folks might have bet that one anyway from 2 ½-to-3 ½ points) and you might recall in that first battle that Missouri's senior guard Marcus Denmon banged home three triples in the game's final 2:05 en route to his starry 29-point performance but is there any assurance that the Tigers will shoot 52.1 percent from the field again here (see 25-of-48)? Hardly!
One key game plan strategy here is for Kansas to have seven-foot C Jeff Withey get lots of touches in the paint - Withey played 23 minutes in that first meeting against Missouri and didn't ring the bell once (0-for-1 FGs) but he has taken a dramatic step forward in his overall play since that first Tigers tussle and so watch and see if he gets off 12-to-15 shots here while Missouri counters with that three-guard offense that would like to be beating the likes of Withey and Thomas Robinson up and down the floor before they can set up on "D".
#16 WISCONSIN (20-7, 9-5 Big 10) at #8 OHIO STATE (23-5, 11-4 Big 10) - 12 noon ET
It has not been often the past couple of years when the Ohio State Buckeyes were looking up to someone in the Big 10 standings but following Michigan State's gritty/gutty 66-61 non-cover win at Minnesota this past Wednesday night there it was for everyone to see: Michigan State was 12-3 and Ohio State (and Michigan) were 11-4 - so that "sense of urgency" that Illinois head coach Bruce Weber said he felt in the Buckeyes' rousing 83-67 win against the Illini last Tuesday night could very much be on display here against the Wisky Badgers.
One key for the host 'Eyes here is their torrid shooting from beyond the arc as O-State drained better than 50 percent of their trifectas (see 7-of-13) and it was great ball movement that allowed most of these tries to be uncontested - now whether the plucky Badgers will allow Ohio State so many "clean looks" here is another matter but Wisky better not sleep on OSU's Deshaun Thomas who scored a team-high 19 points against Illinois.
Note that Ohio State topped Wisconsin 58-52 back on February 4th in Madison as F/C Jared Sullinger poured in 24 points for the 'Eyes and - what are we saying about 3's? - he nailed a key late-game triple for the 3 ½-point favored Buckeyes.
VANDERBILT (20-8, 9-4 SEC) at #1 KENTUCKY (27-1, 13-0 SEC) - 12 p.m. ET, CBS
Okay, so here's something you might not have known about these 2011-12 Kentucky Wildcats: As it turns out, this collection of "diaper dandies" is one of the country's most unselfish teams - no, you don't hear head coach John Calipari praising 'em for that fact all that much - but consider that in Tuesday's 73-64 comeback win at 9-point underdog Miss State there were the 'Cats making the smart pass to set up a Darius Miller top-of-the-key triple and making the extra pass to ensure F Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (see team-high 18 points against Miss State) gets a better look from in close. Throw in the fierce shot-blocking and rebounding of our Player of the Year winner frosh Anthony Davis and you get the sense that nobody out there can KO the Kentucky kids, but wait:
Vanderbilt - who now is 8-0 SU whenever holding opponents to below 60 points this season - surely comes into this road game with mucho momentum after having its last three in a row (versus South Carolina, Georgia and Ole Miss) and keep in mind that the Commodores' 69-63 home loss to Kentucky back on February 11th included a cold spell at just the wrong time as Vandy didn't get a single point in the game's final 4:08. If Vanderbilt has outright upset hopes here, than G John Jenkins is gonna have to do better that shoot 5-of-14 from the floor.
#7 NORTH CAROLINA (24-4, 11-2 ACC) at #25 VIRGINIA (21-6, 8-5 ACC) - 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
If you happen to be thinking along the lines that this year's version of the North Carolina Tar Heels can't win it all than stop it right there: Roy Williams' squad just so happens to have all the necessary ingredients to win six in a row come the "Big Dance" and here's a heads-up to say that the Heels are having another wonderful road year inside Atlantic Coast Conference play.
In fact, Carolina comes into Charlottesville with a snazzy 5-1 SU mark in ACC road affairs this year (yes, they still have that game at Duke next Saturday night and won't that be a real doozy after Round I) and one key to the team's success is offensive balance as evidenced by Tuesday's rollicking 86-74 win at 6 ½-point pup N.C. State as five Heels players registered in double-digit scoring including F Jon Henson chipping in 14 points and 13 boards and here's a real key here in put-back and "garbage" hoops after lefty point guard Kendall Marshall slashes his way to the tin. Did you realize that Marshall is averaging 9.8 assists per game and for Virginia to strike up the home upset win here, the Cavaliers must pressure Marshall from baseline-to-baseline while Virginia's top scorer Mike Scott (averaging 17.3 ppg) must shoot it right around his fantastic field-goal average of nearly 59 percent.
Remember that Round I went to North Carolina 70-52 back on February 11th when the Wahoos as a team shot a dreary 36.4 percent.
#2 SYRACUSE (28-1, 15-1 Big East) at CONNECTICUT (17-10, 7-8 Big East) - 9 p.m. ET, CBS
Here's one of those Jim Sez gut feelings ... don't look for the Syracuse Orange to get behind the proverbial 8-ball right at the start of this nationally-televised tilt much as they did in Wednesday's come-from-way-behind 56-48 non-cover win against 14-point dog South Florida.
Hey, Jim Boeheim's bunch couldn't throw the ball in the Atlantic Ocean to start off things at the Carrier Dome that evening - the Orange missed 12 of its first 14 field-goal attempts - and who would have known at that time later on the 'Cuse would put on a 26-0 run in which the USF Bulls didn't score a single point in the final 8:52 of the opening half (and a 12:33 span that bridged the first and second halves)?
Now, the Orange - after holding South Florida to 38.5 percent from thee field - will pack in that famed zone defense and dare the UConn guards to beat 'em from deep but be careful what you wish for guys as the Huskies' guards Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright do enter this prime-timer averaging 41 points among 'em and don't forget Napier's three-point bomb in OT this past Monday night that sank Villanova with 0.6 seconds left.
Syracuse won the first matchup between these teams back on February 11th when the 10-point favorite Orange won 85-67 as G Scoop Jardine broke open a tight/tense game with three triples and a layup in the game's closing minutes.
COLORADO STATE (17-9, 6-5 MWC) at #24 SAN DIEGO STATE (21-6, 7-4 MWC) - 10 p.m. ET, MTN
The big question coming out of the Mountain West Conference these days is can this league that never -- ever - plays well at NCAA Tournament time get as many as four teams into the 68-team tourney field next month?
No doubt that New Mexico, UNLV and San Diego State are getting there but here's a C-State Rams club that's now won 12 of their last 17 games including the 71-63 triumph over 5 ½-point road fav New Mexico earlier this week: The Rams' Pierce Hornung registered 13 points and snagged 15 rebounds in that win tabbed right here by Jim Hurley's Network and note that Colorado State held a high-octane New Mexico team to 36.7 percent shooting in that clash - defense like that could get 'em one step closer to "Big Dance" time, right?
NOTE: Lots more College News & Notes in the next Jim Sez and don't forget in Sunday's edition we'll post our NBA First-Half Report Card Grades.