Saturday, Jan. 24
12 p.m. ESPN Maryland at #2 Duke
Always an intriguing game, this one is huge for Duke, who likely will ascend to the #1 spot in the polls next week with a win. These Dookies, like always, play lock-down defense and shoot the ball extremely well from the perimeter. But they’re much better offensively than last year, thanks to the emergence of Gerald Henderson, who has tapped into his vast athletic ability to become a consistent scorer and threat from the wings. Maryland comes into this one on the heels of two straight defeats, and is anxious to right themselves before they get into the heart of conference play, with games against Wake Forest and North Carolina still remaining. The Terps are lead by energetic point guard Greivis Vaquez, who certainly won’t be fazed by the environment at Cameron. However, even supreme confidence won’t be enough for the Terps, as Duke is decidedly more talented. The Devils win big here.
3:30 p.m. CBS #24 Memphis at Tennessee
This may not have the national implications of last year’s game, but this is still a heated rivalry for two teams looking to prove themselves this season. The Vols are loaded with talent, but don’t appear to have any real discipline on the court, forcing shots and playing lack lackadaisical defense at times. Memphis, meanwhile, has some explosive talent of their own, but they’re still young and prone to mistakes. Both teams are fiery, and this one could get tense quick. Look for Tennessee to lock down on Tyreke Evans to avoid getting scorched as they did a few games ago against UK’s Jodie Meeks. The Vols get the home win here.
4 p.m. ESPNU #23 Baylor at #5 Oklahoma
The last time these two hooked up, the Sooners walked off with a 32-point victory. Granted, that was on the football field though, so Bears fans should expect a closer game this time. Very few teams have the guard play of the Bears, led by Curtis Jerrels, Henry Dugat and LaceDarius Dunn, all of whom can take over a game. The Sooner will counter with the post play of the Griffin brothers, POY candidate Blake and better-than-you-think Taylor. The Sooner guards have also been playing well, led by veterans Austin Johnson and freshman Willie Warren. If Baylor is able to push the tempo and take away Oklahoma’s interior strength, they could pull off the win. However, I’m not going against Blake Griffin on his home court. The Sooners outlast Baylor to get a tough win.
7 p.m. ESPN #3 UConn at #19 Notre Dame
This is a must-win for the Irish if they want to keep pace in the conference, as they’ve lost two straight and their lack of depth has been exposed. This is the start of a brutal five-game stretch that includes games against Marquette, Pitt and UCLA. Luke Harangody has been spectacular, and Kyle McAlarney is lights-out from the perimeter, but the Irish have worn down late in games, something UConn surely has taken notice of. The Huskies have won six straight since dropping their Big East opener, and they have five players averaging double-figures. Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet will make Harangody earn his points in the paint, while veterans AJ Price and Jerome Dyson will try to contain McAlarney. As much as ND needs the win, I think the Huskies have too much depth and will wear down the Irish in the end.
Sunday, Jan. 25
12 p.m. ESPN #12 Louisville at #8 Syracuse
Few players have been playing as well as UL forward Terrence Williams in recent weeks, who has stuffed the stat sheet during the Cards’ six game winning streak. Williams is a highlight waiting to happen in the open floor, but he also is capable of creating for others, and he plays with an energy that fuels the Cards. The Orange were overpowered by Pitt last time out, but they’ve got some athletes of their own, led by wing Paul Harris and PG Jonny Flynn. These are two tough teams that pride themselves on defense, and both have plenty of veteran experience. Look for a close contest, with the Orange riding their home crowd to a victory.
3:45 p.m. CBS #7 Michigan State at Ohio State
Both teams limp into this one on the heels of embarrassing defeats. The Spartans were stunned at home by Northwestern, while the Buckeyes were humbled on the road at Illinois. The Spartans are still the league favorites, led by Kalin Lucas and Raymar Morgan, but they’ve had a few mental lapses this year that aren’t normally seen by Tom Izzo’s teams. However, when focused, they’ve got more than enough talent to compete with the country’s best. The Buckeyes have been a pleasant surprise this year, thanks to the play of wings Evan Turner, William Buford, Jon Diebler and David Lighty. Heralded recruit BJ Mullins has also started to show the skills that had him pegged as a lottery pick this summer. It’s hard to go against Ohio State at home, but it’s even harder to go against a fired-up Izzo team. Look for Sparty to pull this one out.
4 p.m. #4 Pittsburgh at West Virginia
There’s no time for the Panthers to pat themselves on the back after blowing out Syracuse at home, as they now travel to face a West Virginia squad that just pounded Georgetown on their home floor. Pitt still boasts arguably the best trio in college basketball with DeJuan Blair, Sam Young and Levance Fields, but they’ve also gotten solid play from Jermaine Dixon and Brad Wanamker in the backcourt, while Tyrell Biggs has played well up front next to Blair. The Mountaineers are led by Da’Sean Butler, who has been doing his best Joe Alexander impression. Butler dropped 27 in the win over the Hoyas, and has the inside-outside versatility that made Alexander so dangerous. Guard Alex Ruoff also is a threat from outside, and he provides some veteran leadership. However, Pitt is a team on a mission this year, and they’ve got all the pieces necessary to make a title run. Look for them to get a big road win here.