College Hoops Saturday: Your Commentary

January 8th, 2011
Conference play is in full swing on the second Saturday in January, but the biggest game is of the non-conference variety as #9 Connecticut (11-2) hits the road to take on #12 Texas (12-2) in their first meeting since the 2003 NCAA Tournament. The Longhorns, then led by point guard T.J. Ford, won that Sweet 16 matchup in San Antonio on their way to the Final Four and while they don't have a point guard in the mold of Ford they've got plenty of talent. At the top of that list would be sophomore wing Jordan Hamilton, who leads the Longhorns in scoring with an average of 19.6 points per game. The Los Angeles native has always had the ability to light it up on a nightly basis, but he got in trouble last season due to his at times questionable shot selection. He's been much better in that area this season and this young squad has been that much better because of it, with Hamilton shooting 45.4% from the field and 41.6% from three.

But he isn't the only offensive weapon that the Huskies need to be concerned with as the Longhorns have four other players averaging at least nine points per game with three being starters (guard J'Covan Brown comes off the bench and scores nine per contest). Freshmen and fellow Canadians Corey Joseph (11.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.1 apg) and Tristan Thompson (12.1 ppg, 8.0 rpg) have played well in their inaugural campaigns and are the top two players on the team in regards to minutes per game. Add in big men like Gary Johnson (11.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg), Matt Hill and Alexis Wagmene, and another guard off the bench in Jai Lucas and you've got a deep club that will give UConn fits both inside and out. But there's one player who hasn't been mentioned and his defense will have a major role in the outcome, and that would be point guard Dogus Balbay. Kemba Walker will know quite a bit about Balbay by the time the game ends as he's one of the premier defenders in the country, and given the number of players who contribute to Texas' 78 points per game it's OK if he scores just two.

Does the matchup with Balbay make Walker the most important Husky to watch on Saturday afternoon? Not exactly, as sophomore forward Alex Oriakhi may be under a stronger spotlight given the combination of his recent struggles and the depth that Texas possesses inside. He's performed better of late against lesser competition, sandwiching a 14-point showing against USF in between ineffective outings in losses to Pitt and Notre Dame. Kemba may be the focal point for UConn but at least there are other options (albeit inexperienced) to put some points on the board, such as Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb and the versatile Roscoe Smith (who can also play some at the four when the Huskies go small). Outside of Oriakhi UConn really doesn't have a credible scoring threat inside, meaning that the player some have compared to Jeff Adrien has to step up if they're to exceed the preseason expectation (coaches' poll) of finishing tenth in the Big East.

Both teams average just over 12 turnovers per game but Texas has been a little better at turning over their opponents on the season, something that Connecticut will have to spin in their favor in order to win. Texas has also outrebounded opponents by a margin of plus-8.1 boards per game, and while the Huskies aren't too far off (plus-7.4) they may have a hard time hanging with the Longhorns especially if Oriakhi has a subpar game (rebounding played a critical role in Texas' win in 2003 as well). UConn's been a bit more efficient offensively, a lot of which has to do with their ability to hit the offensive glass (43.6% offensive rebounding percentage) and the excellence of Walker. But if those two sources are limited it will be up to a Napier, Lamb or Smith to get the job done offensively. Are they ready for such responsibilities? There's only one way to find out, and the answer will have a lot to do with how successful Jim Calhoun's team is Saturday as well as the rest of the season.

In regards to games with major implications at this point in the season, look no further than Florida State visiting Virginia Tech as both teams need to rack up wins due to resumes that lack standout victories. The Seminoles, who also have the albatross of a loss at lowly Auburn hanging around their necks, struggle mightily to execute offensively due not only to their lack of a true point guard but also the fact that they can't shoot well on a consistent basis. Virginia Tech on the other hand has been dealt the cruel blow of injuries to key players both before (J.T. Thompson) and during (Dorenzo Hudson, Cadarian Raines) the season, forcing Seth Greenberg to dig deep into his bench and even Frank Beamer's roster (Prince Parker makes the move over from football to add another body) to keep the ship afloat. If there's been one positive it's been the play of point guard Eric Green, whose emergence after joining the starting lineup has taken some pressure off of Malcolm Delaney.

West Virginia visits Georgetown to kick off Saturday's action, and the Mountaineers can use an attractive road victory just as much as Marquette (at Pittsburgh) can, and Syracuse looks to keep from stubbing their toe on the road against a Seton Hall squad that may have more problems that the simple fact that Jeremy Hazell (wrist) is still out of the lineup. St. John's looks to move to 4-0 but they'll have their hands full at Notre Dame, and Kansas State has a tough task in their Big 12 opener at Oklahoma State. There are also attractive league games in the Atlantic Sun (Jacksonville at Lipscomb), CAA (George Mason at Old Dominion; VCU at UNC Wilmington), OVC (Austin Peay at Murray State) and WCC (Portland at Gonzaga). And lastly Tennessee hits the road for the first game of head coach Bruce Pearl's suspension (associate head coach Tony Joes takes over in Pearl's absence), taking on an Arkansas squad that has the firepower (especially Rotnei Clarke) to send the Vols back to Knoxville 0-1 in SEC play if they aren't focused on the task at hand.

Top 25
12:00 PM (4) Syracuse at Seton Hall (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Marquette at (5) Pittsburgh (ESPN3)
4:00 PM (6) San Diego State at Utah (Versus)
1:30 PM (8) Missouri at Colorado (ESPN)
3:30 PM (9) Connecticut at (12) Texas (ESPN)
4:00 PM (11) Kentucky at Georgia (ESPN3)
11:00 AM West Virginia at (13) Georgetown (ESPN2)
3:00 PM Air Force at (14) Brigham Young (The Mtn.)
8:00 PM St. John's at (15) Notre Dame (ESPNU)
4:00 PM (16) Texas A&M at Oklahoma (ESPN3)
1:00 PM (17) Kansas State at Oklahoma State (ESPN2)
5:00 PM (18) UCF at Houston
1:00 PM (19) Michigan State at Penn State (BTN)
4:00 PM East Carolina at (22) Memphis
5:00 PM (24) Vanderbilt at South Carolina (ESPN2)

NCAA Division I Games
12:00 PM Austin Peay at Murray State (ESPNU)
12:00 PM Hofstra at Northeastern
12:00 PM North Carolina at Virginia (ESPN3)
12:00 PM Davidson at Western Carolina (ESPN3)
1:00 PM Robert Morris at Mount St. Mary's
1:00 PM Binghamton at New Hampshire
1:00 PM Charleston Southern at VMI
1:30 PM Tennessee at Arkansas (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Baruch at Yale
2:00 PM Lehigh at American
2:00 PM Detroit at UIC
2:00 PM Stony Brook at Cornell
2:00 PM George Mason at Old Dominion
2:00 PM Georgia Southern at Appalachian State
2:00 PM Army at Colgate
2:00 PM Samford at Elon
2:00 PM Texas A&M-CC at McNeese State
2:00 PM Maine at UMBC
2:00 PM Chattanooga at UNC Greensboro
2:00 PM Denver at Louisiana-Monroe (ESPN3)
2:00 PM Baylor at Texas Tech (ESPNU)
2:00 PM Marywood at NJIT
2:00 PM Stetson at USC Upstate
2:00 PM New Orleans at Carver Bible College
2:30 PM California at Arizona State (FSN)
2:30 PM Wake Forest at North Carolina State (ESPN3)
3:00 PM Florida State at Virginia Tech (ESPN2)
3:00 PM Lamar at Central Arkansas
3:00 PM SMU at Tulane
3:30 PM Lafayette at Holy Cross
3:30 PM Long Island at Central Connecticut State
4:00 PM UTEP at UAB (CBS College)
4:00 PM Georgia Tech at Boston College
4:00 PM Harvard at Dartmouth
4:00 PM Quinnipiac at Fairleigh Dickinson
4:00 PM Union (NY) at Columbia
4:00 PM Charlotte at St. Bonaventure
4:00 PM Citadel at Furman
4:00 PM Alabama at Mississippi State (ESPN3)
4:00 PM Hampton at Coppin State
4:00 PM Delaware at Drexel
4:00 PM Florida Gulf Coast at East Tennessee State
4:00 PM Richmond at La Salle
4:00 PM Wright State at Loyola (IL)
4:00 PM Howard at Morgan State
4:00 PM Delaware State at North Carolina Central
4:00 PM Utah State at Nevada (ESPNU)
4:00 PM Florida A&M at North Carolina A&T
4:00 PM Ball State at Northern Illinois
4:00 PM Stephen F. Austin at Southeastern Louisiana
4:00 PM Maryland-Eastern Shore at South Carolina State
4:00 PM George Washington at Saint Joseph's
4:00 PM St. Francis (NY) at Bryant University
4:30 PM Texas-Arlington at Nicholls State
5:00 PM Lyndon State at Brown
5:00 PM Northwestern State at Texas State
5:15 PM North Florida at Belmont
5:30 PM Utah Valley at Chicago State
5:30 PM Alabama A&M at Mississippi Valley State
6:00 PM LSU at Auburn (ESPN3)
6:00 PM Miami (FL) at Clemson (ESPNU)
6:00 PM Towson at Georgia State
6:00 PM Coastal Carolina at Liberty
6:00 PM Bethune-Cookman at Norfolk State
6:00 PM Western Illinois at Oakland
6:00 PM Charleston at Wofford
6:00 PM New Mexico at Wyoming (CBS College)
6:30 PM Stanford at Arizona
6:30 PM Oregon State at Washington (FSN NW)
6:30 PM Alcorn State at Jackson State
7:00 PM Southern Miss at Marshall
7:00 PM UC Irvine at Long Beach State
7:00 PM VCU at UNC Wilmington
7:00 PM Kent State at Akron
7:00 PM Bowling Green at Buffalo
7:00 PM Tennessee Tech at Eastern Kentucky
7:00 PM Arkansas State at Florida Atlantic
7:00 PM South Alabama at Florida International
7:00 PM Sacred Heart at Monmouth
7:00 PM High Point at Radford
7:00 PM Eastern Illinois at Southeast Missouri State
7:00 PM Tennessee State at Tennessee-Martin
7:00 PM Eastern Michigan at Toledo
7:00 PM Saint Francis (PA) at Wagner (FCS)
7:00 PM James Madison at William & Mary
7:00 PM Gardner-Webb at Winthrop
7:00 PM Southern University at Grambling State
7:30 PM Jacksonville at Lipscomb
7:30 PM Jacksonville State at Morehead State
7:30 PM North Carolina-Asheville at Presbyterian
8:00 PM Mississippi at Florida (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Iowa State at Nebraska (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Providence at Rutgers (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Rice at Tulsa
8:00 PM Troy at Arkansas-Little Rock
8:00 PM Bucknell at Navy (CBS College)
8:00 PM Saint Mary's at Pepperdine
8:00 PM South Dakota at SIU-Edwardsville
8:00 PM Sam Houston State at Texas-San Antonio
8:00 PM Milwaukee at Green Bay
8:05 PM Southern Utah at UMKC
8:30 PM Middle Tennessee at Louisiana-Lafayette
8:30 PM Alabama State at Arkansas-Pine Bluff
8:30 PM Portland at Gonzaga
8:30 PM Centenary at North Dakota State
8:30 PM Oral Roberts at South Dakota State
8:35 PM Duquesne at Houston Baptist
8:35 PM Weber State at Northern Arizona
9:00 PM Fresno State at New Mexico State (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Texas Southern at Prairie View A&M
9:05 PM Montana State at Northern Colorado
10:00 PM UC Santa Barbara at Pacific
10:00 PM Cal Poly at UC Davis
10:00 PM San Diego at Loyola Marymount
10:00 PM TCU at UNLV (The Mtn.)
10:05 PM Montana at Sacramento State
10:05 PM Eastern Washington at Portland State
10:10 PM Cal State Northridge at Seattle
10:30 PM Idaho at San Jose State
10:30 PM Cal State Fullerton at UC Riverside
10:30 PM Oregon at Washington State
11:00 PM San Francisco at Santa Clara
12:30 AM Boise State at Hawaii

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