College Hoops Moves Front & Center

The Super Bowl, and the sea of hyperbole that engulfed it, has mercifully come to close. That can only mean one thing: it's full-tilt college basketball, all the time, from now until the Final Four! Your hoopaholic binge starts this week, with two very large showdowns for Stanford on the road...

OK, so now that we've got the last of the football nonsense out of the way, full attention can be focused where it belongs at this time of the year . . . and I'm not referring to "Desperate Housewives" or "Lost", either.

 

College basketball – you've got to love it!

 

Nearly every conference has a high-profile showdown or two this week, the most notable of those on tap in Chapel Hill Tuesday night when No. 2 Duke takes its unbeaten Atlantic Coast Conference record into the Dean Smith Center to face a North Carolina team that appears much more prepared to knock off the Blue Devils than most would have projected in November.

 

There are also nifty games in the Southeastern (Tennessee at Kentucky) and Missouri Valley (Wichita State at Northern Iowa) conferences on Tuesday evening; in the ACC (North Carolina State at Miami) and Mountain West (Air Force at San Diego State) on Wednesday and the Pac 10 (Stanford at Cal) on Thursday.

 

And there's a flock of them on Saturday, including in the Big East (Connecticut at Seton Hall) and SEC (LSU at Florida).

 

Here's a closer look at some of the key games this week:

 

MONDAY

Louisville at Cincinnati: The host Bearcats have dropped six of their past eight games and are slip-slidin' away on the NCAA Tournament at-large bubble. The Cardinals have lost five of seven and need to turn things around just to get a glimpse of that bubble. Hence: big game in the Big East.

 

TUESDAY
Duke at North Carolina:
Maybe it's just a hunch but the Blue Devils are going to have to play a lot better in this one than they did in gut-crunching wins over Boston College and Florida State last week in order to climb on their bus for that short jaunt back to Durham at 10-0 in the ACC.

 

Tennessee at Kentucky: Here's another opportunity for the Wildcats to beat a really good team for the first time since knocking off West Virginia in Kansas City on Nov. 22.

 

Wichita State at Northern Iowa: Barring the unforeseen, these are two of the (at least) four Missouri Valley Conference teams that will be in the NCAA Tournament. These are two of the three (along with Creighton) that share the conference lead. Hence: big game in the MVC.

 

WEDNESDAY

Syracuse at Connecticut: You would have to think the Orange will be a lot more competitive earlier against the Huskies than the last time they played in the Carrier Dome when they trailed by 20 points at intermission before losing, 88-80. And you would think that splitting its second-round Big East games (after going 4-4 over the first half) would be enough to secure an NCAA Tournament at-large bid for Syracuse, regardless of what happens in the conference tournament. Wouldn't you?

 

North Carolina State at Miami: The Hurricanes are in third place in the ACC after three consecutive wins. But their at-large hopes will be solidified – or deflated – over the next four games: vs. the Wolfpack, vs. UNC, and at Duke and Boston College.

 

Indiana at Wisconsin: Both of these Big Ten clubs seem destined to get into the NCAA Tournament. But that "destiny" will get a bit more precarious for the loser of this one.

 

Air Force at San Diego State: The Aztecs (8-1) suffered their only Mountain West Conference defeat in Colorado Springs. The Falcons (6-3) can't afford to lose this one and maintain strong MWC regular-season championship hopes. Hence: big game in the MWC.

 

UAB at UTEP: The teams share second place (at 6-1) in Conference USA. The team that comes out on the short end of the score in this one loses whatever slender hope it had of catching Memphis. A victory would also add a bit of juice to the visitors' already decent NCAA Tourney at-large aspirations.

 

THURSDAY

West Virginia at Pittsburgh: Has anyone played a more challenging stretch of three games (at Connecticut, at Georgetown and home to the Mountaineers) this season than has Coach Jamie Dixon's team?

 

Stanford at California: The teams are tied for second place (at 8-3) in the Pac 10. The winner will be rewarded two-fold: It stays firmly in the hunt for a conference title and picks up valuable NCAA Tournament at-large brownie points.

 

SATURDAY

Connecticut at Seton Hall: Barring a stumble at South Florida on Wednesday night, the Pirates will take a six-game winning streak into their game with the Huskies. Wow! They've made just a little bit of progress since losing by 53 points at Duke on Nov. 16, haven't they?

 

Stanford at Gonzaga: This is another non-conference game in which several other Pac 10 teams have almost as much at stake (in reference to NCAA Tournament at-large bids and seeding) in the outcome as does the team involved in the game itself.

 

LSU at Florida:  The "co-SEC Game of the Week" (along with Tennessee at Kentucky) pits, arguably, the two most talented teams in the conference.

 

Players of the Week

 

Nick Fazekas (6-11, Jr., Nevada): Fazekas helped his team move into a tie for the Western Athletic Conference league with road victories against Louisiana Tech (65-53) and New Mexico State (90-81). He had 23 points, 10 rebounds and two steals in Ruston on Thursday, and 36 points, eight rebounds, three assists and two steals in Las Cruces two days later.

For the season: 21.6 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game.

 

Rudy Gay (6-8, So., Connecticut): The Huskies faced two of their biggest tests and Gay's play was a big reason they responded well in each. He scored 22 points with three rebounds and four steals in their 80-76 Big East victory over Pittsburgh in Storrs on Tuesday. Saturday in Bloomington he scored 19 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked two shots during his team's 88-80 win over Indiana.

For the season: 15.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game.

 

Taurean Green (6-0, So, Florida): The Gators' playmaker had 17 points, four assists and a steal during his team's 69-58 SEC victory at Mississippi on Tuesday. Four nights later in Gainesville, he scored 29 points with four rebounds, nine assists and three steals as Florida out-sprinted Kentucky, 95-80.

For the season: 14.8 points, 3.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.

 

Chris Hernandez (6-2, Sr., Stanford): He helped the Cardinal continue a remarkable season's turnaround during Pac 10 play. His three free throws with .2 second to go on Jan. 29 sent a game with Washington into overtime, with Stanford prevailing, 76-67. He had 15 points and four assists. On Thursday night in Eugene, he scored 20 points – including a game-deciding 3-pointer – during a 57-56 victory against Oregon. Saturday evening he scored 22 of his game-high 28 points after intermission as the Cardinal knocked off host Oregon State, 71-64.

For the season: 13.7 points, 2.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.

 

Reyshawn Terry (6-8, Jr., North Carolina): The Tar Heels will take a three-game winning streak into their Tuesday night ACC showdown with Duke in Chapel Hill and Terry's play contributed to the most recent of those victories. He had 20 points, nine rebounds and two assists during the 77-62 win at Maryland on Thursday night, and 19 points and 11 rebounds Saturday as the host Tar Heels handled Clemson, 76-61.

For the season:  13.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game.

 

Scout.com's updated Top 25

(Last week's ratings in parentheses; records as of Feb. 5)

1. (1) Connecticut (20-1) Next game: vs. Syracuse (Wednesday)

2. (2) Duke (21-1) Next game: at North Carolina (Tuesday)

3. (3) Memphis (21-2) Next game: at Marshall (Saturday)

4. (4) Gonzaga (18-3) Next game: vs. Saint Mary's (Monday)

5. (5) Texas (19-3) Next game: at Texas Tech (Monday)

6. (6) Villanova (17-2) Next game: vs. Saint Joseph's (Tuesday)

7. (7) Florida (20-2) Next game: vs. South Carolina (Wednesday)

8. (9) George Washington (18-1) Next game: vs. Dayton (Wednesday)

9. (10) Pittsburgh (17-3) Next game: vs. West Virginia (Thursday)

10. (11) West Virginia (17-4) Next game: at Pittsburgh (Thursday)

11. (12) North Carolina State (18-4) Next game: at Miami (Wednesday)

12. (13) UCLA (19-4) Next game: at Washington State (Thursday)

13. (8) Illinois (20-3) Next game: at Ohio State (Sunday)

14. (14) Ohio State (16-3) Next game: at Michigan (Thursday)

15. (15) Georgetown (16-4) Next game: vs. St. John's (Thursday)

16. (17) Tennessee (16-3) Next game: at Kentucky (Tuesday)

17. (18) Michigan State (17-5) Next game: vs. Purdue (Wednesday)

18. (24) Iowa (18-5) Next game: at Northwestern (Wednesday)

19. (20) Boston College (17-5) Next game: at Wake Forest (Wednesday)

20. (16) LSU (15-6) Next game: vs. Arkansas (Wednesday)

21. (ur) North Carolina (14-5) Next game: vs. Duke (Tuesday)

22. (19) Northern Iowa (20-4) Next game: vs. Wichita State (Tuesday)

23. (23) Oklahoma (14-5) Next game: at Oklahoma State (Wednesday)

24. (ur) Kansas (15-6) Next game: at Nebraska (Wednesday)

25. (21) Michigan (16-4) Next game: vs. Ohio State (Thursday)

Dropped out: Washington (22) and Indiana (25)

 

Inducted into the USBWA Hall of Fame last April, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is also a columnist for the Long Beach (Calif.) Press-Telegram. He can be reached at frank.burlison@presstelegram.com. Read more of Burlison's pieces at www.FrankHoops.com


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