Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, February 10, 2012 at 9:19 AM
If there's anyone out there wondering whether or not this 2011-12 College Basketball season has major "intrigue"all you had to do the other night was watch Duke roar back from 10 points down in the game's final two-plus minutes to win with a last-second Austin Rivers triple at 6-point favorite North Carolina.
Now that sure got folks' attention off the Super Bowl-winning New York Giants - and sore-loser super-model Gisele Bunchen (Brady) - and back on the hard court and so we delve into the second weekend in February (yes, the weekend right before Valentine's Day) with a real sweetheart menu that includes Five (5) great games that we feature below in this special edition of Jim Sez.
It's a time to check out the country's #1, #2, #3 and #4 teams and some folks might believe any/all could go down in flames here although it's #1 Kentucky, #3 Ohio State and #4 Missouri that probably have the biggest reasons to fret here plus we throw in a key non-power conference matchup from the better-than-you-think Mountain West Conference with #13 San Diego State invading the turf of #14 UNLV - all very good stuff indeed!
So, football's finished for another year - anyone out there have both Alabama and the New York Giants on "win it all"tickets? - and the hardwood guys have officially taken over.
Now, here's the Top 5 Matchups on Saturday's jam-packed College Basketball card (note the current Associated Press Top 25 rankings are listed below):
#6 BAYLOR (21-3, 8-3 Big 12) at #4 MISSOURI (22-2, 9-2 Big 12) - 1:45 p.m. ET
Hey, no doubt the Mizzou folks were not too pleased this past Wednesday night to hear ESPN mouths Dick Vitale and Jay Bilas both ignore the Tigers in terms of elite status in the College Basketball world as both "experts"touted Kentucky, Ohio State, Syracuse and North Carolina as the "best four teams in the country"and it was not soon after that forecast that the UNC Tar Heels blew the aforementioned twin-figure lead at home!
Maybe first-year Missouri head coach Frank Haith and Company have to deliver a real message win to the rest of the hoops world - even though the Tigers already have beaten the Baylor Bears once this year. Missouri snagged an 89-88 win back on January 21st in Waco as the then 5-point favored Bears lost despite the fact they shot a sizzling 57.1 percent from the floor (see 36-of-63 field-goal makes) but Mizzou - which shot a blistering 54.5 percent from the field (that's 30-of-55 FG makes) -- wound up getting to the free-throw line some 31 times (making 22 FTs) while host Baylor was just 9-of-11 from the charity stripe.
Let's see if recent history repeats itself here as Missouri F Ricardo Ratliffe drained 11-of-14 FGs for a career-high 27 points in that first hoedown and possibly here Baylor boss Scott Drew will go to a gimmicky defense should Missouri's Ratliffe start off hot.
P.S., in case you didn't realize, Baylor's now lost three of its last seven games while dating back to mid-January and that includes - of course - the resounding 68-54 setback against 1 ½-point pup Kansas this past Wednesday night when the Bears must have felt as if a train hit 'em at full speed (see 32-4 Kansas run bridging the first and second half of play).
Folks, afterwards Drew claimed his club was "embarrassed and disappointed by its play."Hmmm. One reason why this gets our "Best Game of the Day"banner even if there are some real goodies on the menu.
#11 MICHIGAN STATE (19-5, 8-3 Big 10) at #3 OHIO STATE (21-3, 9-2 Big 10) - 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
Gota say it: The Ohio State Buckeyes have very quietly rolled up six consecutive wins since that since that painful 79-74 loss at Illinois back on January 10th and now the first of two regular-season meetings with archrival Michigan State (they'll play one another in East Lansing on the afternoon of March 4th) figures to be a real skin-under-the-fingernails tilt in Columbus.
True, the Buckeyes allowed 84 points in a three-point triumph over Purdue this past Tuesday night (note that Ohio State was a gaudy 14 ½-point betting favorite for that clash) but otherwise lately Thad Matta's club has really been playing some great defense as the 'Eyes allowed 52, 49, 54, 45 and 63 points in the five other wins during this current streak and here you can expect O-State to slough off and double-team F Draymond Green (team-leading 15.2 ppg) and challenge PG Keith Appling to beat 'em from deep.
No doubt that Michigan State's board prowess will be key here as Tom Izzo's team must avoid having Ohio State mega-star Jared Sullinger beat 'em off the offensive glass - Sullinger (averaging 17.4 ppg) can be a game-changer with his put-backs and second-chance hoops and that's the biggest stat line to watch for here in this early-evening Big 10 bash.
#1 KENTUCKY (24-1, 10-0 SEC) at VANDERBILT (17-7, 6-3 SEC) - 9 p.m. ET, ESPN
No doubt there's been lots of bouquets thrown the way of this year's top-ranked Kentucky Wildcats who could have a Freshman of the Year and National Player of the Year on their side in string bean F/C Anthony Davis (his 14 point/10-rebound per game average along with his gazillion blocks don't begin to tell the story of what type of impact player he is on the sport) but John Calipari's guys better not be taking this prime-time tilt for granted:
The Vandy Commodores - fresh off Wednesday's 76-61 win/cover against 11-point pup LSU (keep in mind the game was tied at the half 27-all) - have a veteran-flavored team that could well give the young 'Cats major problems here and one key for Kevin Stallings' club is the offensive balance as the 'Dores had three different players score 19-or-more points against LSU including leading scorer C Festus Ezeli (21 points) - but can Vandy get anything from its bench here (see just four points versus LSU)?
CONNECTICUT (15-8, 5-6 Big East) at #2 SYRACUSE (24-1, 11-1 Big East) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
There's no question that this has been a year to forget for the defending champion UConn Huskies from the continuing health issues of Hall of Fame head coach Jim Calhoun - perhaps it's time to finally retire, coach? - to the team's erratic on-court play that often times has been really hard to watch (see rotten shot selection, no teamwork, etc.).
The real question here is will this be a year to remember at Syracuse?
Sure, the Bernie Fine-related issues remain a mess (it's straight out of a cheap novel, if you ask us!) but on the floor the Orange just keep rolling along even if its Hall of Fame head coach Jim Boeheim claims his team is "not any good"- the club's rebounding woes continue to haunt Boeheim who watched his club get out-boarded 48-to-30 in Wednesday's wild 64-61 non-cover win against 9-point underdog Georgetown.
Hey, the 'Cuse boss won't have to worry about such "trivial matters"providing Kris Joseph (career-high 29 points versus the Hoyas) can keep lighting it up but a major key component here is can guard Scoop Jardine (8 assists against G-town) find his cutting teammates against a still-quick Connecticut crew? Stay tuned.
#13 SAN DIEGO STATE (20-3, 6-1 MWC) at #14 UNLV (21-4, 5-2 MWC) - 4 p.m. ET, NBCS
We've been telling you all year long that the Mountain West Conference can "ball"with San Diego State, UNLV and currently unranked New Mexico all top-shelf teams that play with boundless energy and now we'll see if Steve Fisher's Aztecs can get the brooms out here for a clean sweep of the UNLV Runnin' Rebels - remember San Diego State roared to a thrilling 69-67 win as 3 ½-point home underdogs back on January 14th as SDSU guard Jamaal Franklin proved to be a major stat-sheet stuffer with 24 points and 10 rebounds while guard/teammate James Rahon kicked in 20 points.
Now, UNLV looks for payback knowing that the Rebels shot it poorly the last time against San Diego State - hey, 24-of-68 FG makes (that's 35.3 percent) isn't gonna win anyone a shooting contest, you know!
If the Rebels are gonna get revenge for that two-point loss last month than leading scorer F Mike Moser (14.5 ppg) may have to get on a real hot streak but expect Fisher's think-defense-first team to body him from baseline-to-baseline here.
Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers 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.
NOTE: More College Basketball goodies comin' your way this weekend right here in Jim Sez plus we'll have some NBA News/Notes too!