Weekend Preview: Awaiting Super Saturday
Saturday is full of huge hardwood matchups, and just when you're done shaking off the hoops hangover the next day, a potential Big Ten title game stares you right in the face on Sunday afternoon.
Kentucky and Tennessee get things started at noon (CBS) Saturday. The Vols are looking to avenge a loss in Lexington two weeks ago, and they just might pull it off this time.
UK has shown it can blow out good teams but can also win the tight games, even on the road. The Wildcats eeked out a narrow victory Saturday at Vanderbilt, as John Wall saved the day with a defensive gem late in Nashville.
But what can often trip up a good team this time of year is scheduling, and Kentucky is due for a battle tonight at home against South Carolina. The 9 p.m. start is a tad late, and the Wildcats will be asked to squeeze in a light workout Friday before tipping off at noon on Saturday in Knoxville. If Tennessee is looking for another resume win to bolster its tournament seeding, there will be no better opportunity.
The Big 12 then takes center stage Saturday afternoon with three big games throughout the day. Texas visits Texas A&M at 2 p.m. (ESPN), Oklahoma State welcomes top-ranked Kansas at 4 p.m. (CBS) and Missouri travels to No. 6 Kansas State for an 8 p.m. tipoff (ESPNU).
Since the Big East turned into a super-conference a few years back, folks seem to assume it's the best league in basketball every year. But this season might be different. The Big 12 is stacked, and just as capable of sending seven teams to the NCAA Tournament -- and maybe two to the Final Four -- as the Big East.
That Texas-Texas A&M tilt is sure to be a good one. It will be interesting to see how the Longhorns, at one point ranked No. 1 this season, will respond without starting point guard Dogus Balbay. He was ruled out for the season after hurting it last week, and the Longhorns were able to beat Oklahoma State without him Wednesday night. A&M (19-8, 8-5), meanwhile, runs a guard-heavy attack, so we'll see if its backcourt can set the pace and lead the home team to what would be a huge resume win.
Bebubbled Oklahoma State could practically lock up an NCAA bid with an upset of the top-ranked Kansas Jayhawks. In late January, the Cowboys won three straight games, then lost three in a row, then won three more. After Wednesday's loss at Texas, OSU fans are hoping this is not the beginning of yet another trend. If today was Selection Sunday, the Pokes would probably get in, but beating the No. 1 team in the country certainly wouldn't hurt their case. Expect a loud one at Gallagher-Iba Arena Saturday.
The best Big 12 game of the day might take place at Kansas State, where the Wildcats entertain Missouri, a very surprising third-place team that's racked up 21 wins this year. KSU got some nice early season hype before losing two games in late January, and all of a sudden people stopped talking about the Wildcats. But they've rattled off six straight wins and are perhaps the quietest No. 6 team in recent memory. KSU's backcourt tandem of Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente averages a combined 35 points, eight assists and five rebounds per game.
But Missouri has its own loaded backcourt, and although the Tigers aren't great away from home, this could possibly turn into a track meet in Manhattan. At least it will be fun to watch.
The Big East regular season title could come down to Saturday's game at Syracuse, where the Orange (26-2, 13-2) welcome Villanova (23-4, 12-3) to the Carrier Dome (9 p.m., ESPN).
This is the only meeting between the teams this year, so the winner will own the league tiebreaker. A Syracuse victory gives the Orange the conference crown; a Villanova win puts both teams at 13-3, but the Wildcats would have a slightly tougher remaining schedule that includes a season finale against West Virginia.
Villanova is more perimeter-oriented, although darkhorse Player of the Year candidate Scottie Reynolds is among the best penetrating guards in the country. Syracuse enjoys better balance and its 2-3 zone defense can be troublesome for a cold-shooting team.
Whatever happens, it will happen in front of a record crowd. More than 34,000 tickets were sold out a month ago, setting up what will be the largest on-campus crowd to watch a college basketball game.
Make sure you get the laundry and grocery store out of the way early Sunday, because a huge Big Ten tilt tips off at 4 p.m. (CBS) in West Lafayette, In.
Michigan State limps into its game at Purdue having lost four of its last six. But Tom Izzo and his Spartans have played the role of the wounded dog before, and this could very well be a moment of truth for this year's squad. A team only gets a few opportunities each season to prove itself, and I could see MSU reversing its trend of losing to the Big Ten's top teams this year. Sparty is 2-4 against Purdue, Ohio State, Illinois and Wisconsin.
But Purdue is waiting to learn more about the knee injury that do-everything star Robbie Hummel suffered in Wednesday's win at Minnesota. His presence -- 100 percent or not -- obviously would be key for a Purdue win, but the Boilermakers can be balanced if they need to be. And in what promises to be a dogfight with the gritty Spartans, balance will be necessary. This will be a great game for sure.