Friday January 7th, 2011

Weekend Picks
Friday, January 7
7 p.m. ET (ESPNU)Cleveland State (15-1, 4-0 Horizon) at Butler (10-5, 2-1)
It's not often a Horizon League game amounts to appointment viewing, but this one definitely does. Cleveland State's undefeated season ended at West Virginia on Dec. 18, but the Vikings have won their first four league games by an average of 18.3 points -- including a 23-point win at Milwaukee, which beat Butler at home by 24 points earlier this week. I guess that means Cleveland State is 47 points better than Butler, right? Not exactly, but the Vikings are definitely the better team and are ready to prove it. If they can win in Hinkle, people might finally start talking about Cleveland State guard Norris Cole, who is leading the Horizon in points (20.9) and assists (4.9).
Saturday, January 8
3:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 8 UConn (11-2, 1-2) at No. 12 Texas (12-2, 0-0)
I have a feeling Jim Calhoun is nursing a martini with his staff somewhere and muttering, "We'll always have Maui." The Huskies were college basketball's "It" team when they beat Michigan State and Kentucky to win the Maui Invitational, but that was solast year. After losing at Pitt and Notre Dame (no shame in that) and beating South Florida in overtime at home (maybe a little shame in that), the word is out that Kemba Walker alone can only take a team so far. UConn needs more post scoring (Alex Oriakhi and Charles Okwandu combined for two points in the loss to the Irish), but that will be very hard to do on the road against a Texas team that is ranked sixth in the nation in defensive field-goal percentage (36.4) while outrebounding opponents by more than eight per game.
8 p.m. ET (ESPNU)St. John's (10-3, 3-0) at No. 14 Notre Dame (13-2, 2-1)
Red Storm Nation is rightfully sticking its chest out in the wake of an upset of Georgetown, but the rubber is about to hit the road. St. John's continues its brutal stretch, which includes playing two of its next three games against Notre Dame. The one advantage St. John's has over most of its opponents is experience, but according to, while St. John's is ranked fourth in the nation in experience, Notre Dame is not far behind at No. 16. And unlike the Johnnies, the Irish can drill outside shots, especially at home. They're second in the Big East in threes made per game (8.1), while St. John's is 15th (4.5.).
1 p.m. ET (ESPN2)No. 17 Kansas State (12-3, 0-0) at Oklahoma State (12-2, 0-0)
There's not much reason to pick the Cowboys other than that they're playing at home. But that's enough for me. K-State guard Jacob Pullen returned from his three-game suspension and scored 24 points in a win over Savannah State, but forward Curtis Kelly won't return for another week. Outside of Pullen the Wildcats are not a great offensive team, but they are very good at post defense. That means Oklahoma State is going to need a big game out of senior forward Marshall Moses, who ranks sixth in the Big 12 in scoring (17.1) and fifth in rebounds (8.1).
8 p.m. ET (Comcast Sports South)Mississippi (12-3, 0-0 SEC) at Florida (11-3, 0-0)
What, you didn't realize Ole Miss had the best record in the SEC West? Or is that like being the world's tallest midget? The Rebels' best win came at home against Penn State, so it's safe to assume they'll be unprepared to face real competition in a road game to begin conference play. Ole Miss will have the best player on the floor in 5-foot-10 senior guard Chris Warren, who ranks second in the SEC in points (18.5) and is third in assists (4.3), and the Rebels have a terrific shot blocker in Reginald Buckner (3.0 per game). The Gators, though, are coming off a pair of confidence-boosting wins -- on the road at Xavier and by 25 at home over Rhode Island. It also may surprise you to learn that the Gators are tied for first in the SEC in rebound margin at plus-8.4 per game.
Sunday, January 9
Noon ET ( 24 Cincinnati (15-0, 2-0) at No. 7 Villanova (13-1, 2-0)
It was nice while it lasted. The Bearcats embarrassed their crosstown rival Xavier by 20 points at home Thursday night to extend the second-best start in school history. (Though given that Cincy has played a nonconference schedule ranked 335th nationally, perhaps that mark should come with an asterisk.) Yancy Gates established himself as a bona fide big-time big man in the win over Xavier, finishing with a season-high 22 points to go along with 14 rebounds, but it's a gross understatement to say that Villanova will put up a bigger fight. Corey Stokes, the Wildcats' 6-5 senior guard, is very quietly making a run at Big East Player of the Year. He is leading the team in scoring at 17.3 per game (up from 9.5 as a junior), while making 47 percent from three-point range and 94 percent from the foul line. Villanova is also ranked in the top 20 nationally in defensive field-goal percentage (37.3) and defensive three-point percentage (28.4).
2 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)Minnesota (12-3, 1-2 Big Ten) at No. 2 Ohio State (15-0, 2-0)
So we've finally gotten a glimpse of Ohio State's mortality. The Buckeyes trailed at Iowa by six at halftime on Tuesday night, then nearly blew a 13-point second-half lead before escaping with a 73-68 win. The most surprising part was the way Hawkeyes freshman forward Melsahn Basabe managed to hang 22 points and 13 rebounds on Jared Sullinger and Dallas Lauderdale. In other words, this is a bad time for Minnesota to try to catch Ohio State off-guard, especially in Columbus.
4:30 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 3 Kansas (14-0, 0-0) at Michigan (11-4, 1-2)
Believe it or not, this will be just the second true road game Kansas has played all season. The Jayhawks might have a perfect record, but they also have a couple of near-misses in Lawrence against UCLA and USC. This would look like a trap game if Michigan were up to the task -- but the Wolverines are not. They were pulverized by Purdue at home by 23 points in their Big Ten opener, and they lost at Wisconsin Wednesday night by 16 points after leading by two at the half. The Wolverines are ranked last in the Big Ten in blocks (2.2), which should mean it will be open season inside for KU's Morris twins and sophomore forward Thomas Robinson.
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPNU)Missouri State (11-3, 3-0 Missouri Valley) at Wichita State (12-2, 3-0)
Both these teams are playing league games Friday night (Missouri State hosts Evansville; Wichita State travels to Illinois State), but even if they aren't both still undefeated in conference play this will still be the biggest game so far in the Valley. Wichita State's frisson of preseason hype seemed undermined when the Shockers blew a second-half lead to UConn in the Maui Invitational, but that doesn't look nearly as bad in retrospect. Their only other loss was by 14 points at San Diego State. Missouri State has also been tested (two of their losses came on the road at Tennessee and Oklahoma State), so you can expect a competitive battle. Missouri State has the best big man -- and maybe the best player -- in the Valley in junior forward Kyle Weems (16.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.29 steals per game), but that won't be enough to beat a good team that's geeked up at home.
10:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Net)UCLA (9-5, 1-1 Pac 10) at USC (9-6, 1-1)
The Pac-10 race got a little more wide open in the worst way this week when Washington guard Abdul Gaddy suffered a season-ending ACL injury. This game will let us know whether either of the L.A. teams is ready to challenge the Huskies for the league crown. It would have been challenging for the Bruins to win in the Galen Center even before point guard Lazeric Jones injured his finger in the loss to Washington. Jones will play, but he has to wear a splint, which should allow Trojans point guard Jio Fontan to get the better of the matchup. USC is also getting terrific production from vastly underrated 6-10 junior forward Nikola Vucevic, who leads the Pac 10 in rebounding (10.0) while also ranking fourth in blocks (1.47) and fifth in scoring (15.9).
Record Last Week: 8-2               Overall: 27-13

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