The Week(end) Ahead: What to Watch in College Basketball 3/7-3/8

The Week(end) Ahead: What to Watch in College Basketball 3/7-3/8
Mar 06, 2009, 02:20 am
This past week was a confusing one, as the bracket picture began shifting again, making many question if there is more parity this season in college basketball than in recent memory. Regardless, it’s making for quite the finish, as teams at the bottom of the bubble picture make their cases for NCAA tournament bids. It’s also conference tournament time and with an automatic bid waiting at the end of the tunnel, teams facing uncertain post-season prospects are taking things a bit more seriously this time of the year. Last but not least, scouts are hard at work, making up for lost time, trying to make sure that not a single player falls through the cracks. This weekend is one of the most important in college basketball, for coaches, players, scouts, and fans alike. We aren’t going to miss any of the action and neither should you. Here is what we’re going to watch in college basketball this week.

Marquee Matchups:

#1 Connecticut at #3 Pittsburgh (Saturday, March 7th: 12 p.m. on CBS)

After losing on the road to Providence, third ranked Pittsburgh heads into the Big East tournament with good wins over Seton Hall and Marquette, but one tremendous test left on their schedule: a duel at home against top ranked Connecticut. A win could be the difference between a top seed and a two seed. Scouts will be watching this game for a rematch of two of the nation’s hottest post prospects, Pittsburgh’s 6’7 DeJuan Blair, who is averaging 15.9 ppg and 12.6 rpg on the season, and Connecticut’s Hasheem Thabeet, who is averaging 13.6 ppg and 10.7 rpg along with 4.5 bpg. Size isn’t everything it’s made out to be, however, because the last time these two met, Blair dominated the match up to the tune of 22 points, 23 rebounds, and a block sealing victory for the Panthers. Thabeet fouled out with 5 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 blocks—being completely embarrassed in the process.

The battle between point guards will certainly be interesting, as well, as Connecticut’s scoring guard A.J. Price does battle with the ultra efficient distributor Levance Fields, currently sporting an A/TO close to 4.00. Also, don’t forget about Pittsburgh senior combo forward Sam Young, who has regained his swagger since an off night in the loss against Providence, and will be looking to show NBA scouts his abilities for the last time in a collegiate regular season. Scouts from across the NBA will be on hand to watch this game and the terms “can’t miss” and “must see” were created for match ups such as these.

Kentucky at Florida (Saturday, March 7th: 2 p.m. on CBS)

To quote’s Andy Katz, this is an elimination game. Kentucky and Florida are the poster children for what might be the worst SEC season in recent memory and, as neither are NCAA tournament locks, this game will determine who is on the right side of the bubble and who is going to the NIT. More importantly, however, it might be the last time prospects like scoring sensation Jodie Meeks and power forward Patrick Patterson don Wildcat uniforms. The same could be said for Florida point guard Nick Calathes, another potential early entrant. Needless to say, this game has the potential to be a classic, featuring two underachieving, yet talented teams with their backs against the wall. Though it’s been a disappointing season in the SEC, we have a feeling the next week is going to be quite interesting and with more than a few surprises.

California at #21 Arizona State (Saturday, March 7th: 2 p.m. on CBS)

We wrote about California junior shooting guard Patrick Christopher at the beginning of the season as one of the prospects to follow in the PAC-10. While he has not done much to help his stock, he has led California to a good season, one that has placed the team firmly on the NCAA tournament bubble. Christopher has the opportunity to prove to scouts one last time that his name is worth remembering, with a marquee matchup against projected top three pick James Harden of Arizona State, who will test Christopher on both sides of the ball. California definitely needs this game more than Arizona State, but they will have to find a way to neutralize Hardin, first. Even if they do succeed in stopping Harden, watch out for Jeff Pendergraph, Arizona State’s rugged 6’9 big man, who possesses a set of skills that many NBA title contenders value and who’s draft stock could rise with some clutch post-season performances.

Oklahoma State at #4 Oklahoma (Saturday, March 7th: 3:30 p.m. on ABC)

The Bedlam series continues, only this time, it’s in Norman, home of the Oklahoma Sooners. Fresh off of a disappointing loss to Missouri, Blake Griffin, Willie Warren, and company are looking to finish the season off in style: sweeping the state’s greatest rivalry. While most of scouts’ attention is going to be focused on Griffin and Warren, both lottery prospects, pay attention to Oklahoma State’s sophomore swingman James Anderson, an athletic shooter who is quietly turning into one of the nation’s top scorers. The Cowboys are sitting on the bubble with a 20-9 record, looking for one final marquee victory before heading into the postseason. Don’t miss this last opportunity to watch some of the nation’s finest prospects, including the projected number one pick, face off in one of the most highly contested rivalries in the country.

Texas at #9 Kansas (Saturday, March 7th: 4 p.m. on CBS)

Texas, after a once promising season, has fallen squarely on the bubble and following a loss to fellow bubble team Oklahoma State should look to steal a victory from ninth ranked Kansas before heading into the postseason. The battle here in the post, between Texas combo-forward Damion James and Kansas’s bruising big man Cole Aldrich, is of particular interest to scouts, as both big men are first round prospects and with a string of big performances, either might elect to test their fortunes in the draft this summer. On the perimeter, Kansas point guard Sherron Collins and Texas shooting guards A.J. Abrams have both seen better days as prospects, but have rebounded as of late and reinserted themselves back in the draft picture. Collins, in particular, is looking to bounce back from his horrendous shooting night in a loss at Texas Tech to lead the Jayhawks to victory.

#6 Louisville at West Virginia(Saturday, March 7th: 9 p.m. on ESPN)

West Virginia seems safely in the NCAA tournament, but a win at home against sixth ranked Louisville would certainly seal the deal for the 21-9 Mountaineers. With Oklahoma losing to Missouri, Louisville might be building its resume towards making a case to be a number one seed in the NCAA tournament. The key to this game, however, lies in Louisville’s ability to stop the inside-outside combination of power forward De’Sean Butler and shooting guard Alex Ruoff, who combine for 33.7 ppg, 9.6 rpg, and 5.1 apg. West Virginia is a tough team to beat when these players are on target, but Louisville is not going to make this an easy game. Though they are still inconsistent in their backcourt, their perimeter and frontcourt depth, primarily the trio of Terrence Williams, Earl Clark, and Samardo Samuels. Scouts will be watching to see if Williams and Clark, in particular, can adjust to handle whatever defense West Virginia scheme throws at them and produce. Louisville is deeper and more talented, but never count out West Virginia, who has proven to be a tough team for the conference’s elite teams to handle.

Alabama at Tennessee (Sunday, March 8th: 12 p.m. on CBS)

Tennessee must win this game in order to solidify their spot on the right side of the bubble and for Alabama, the season ends if they cannot make a run at the SEC title. That being said, this is likely the last time to see Alabama’s senior wing Alonzo Gee, who is a fringe prospect at best, but could make some noise in workouts considering his NBA caliber size and athleticism for the wing position. He will likely be facing off against Tennessee combo forward Tyler Smith, one of the most versatile players in college basketball, who will more than likely test his fortunes in the NBA draft this summer.

#7 Duke at #2 North Carolina (Sunday, March 8th: 4 p.m. on CBS)

There are few rivalries as legendary as this, and it should not disappoint as the red hot Duke Blue Devils travel to Chapel Hill to avenge their home defeat and make a play at a top two seed in the NCAA tournament. The player to watch is Duke swingman Gerald Henderson, who has been on an absolute tear recently, improving on a day to day basis, and showing scouts that he deserves to be a mid to high lottery pick. He will face UNC swingman Danny Green, one of the ACC’s better defenders, and a draft prospect in his own right. North Carolina has the advantage in the post, where senior Tyler Hansbrough is still one of the NCAA’s top big men and looking to prove his dominance against a weaker Duke frontcourt. He will face off against Duke combo forward Kyle Singler, who has emerged as a lottery prospect, and whose unique variety of size, smarts, and skill will be difficult for the Tar Heel defense to handle. Last, but certainly not least, be sure to check out North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson, who had a promise in the first round last year before his arrest, and has improved exponentially this season in North Carolina’s fast-paced offense. This is a game not to be missed and certainly one of the biggest tickets of the season.

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