Saturday, top-ranked and unbeaten
UCLA visits Mac Court in Eugene to face a University of Oregon team that was
also unbeaten before being tripped up Thursday night by the USC
Also Saturday, Ohio State’s dandy
bunch of freshmen get their first taste of road action, Big Ten style, when the
Buckeyes visit Champaign to take on the University of Illinois.
Another dandy on tap for Saturday
is the best non-conference tilt of the weekend when the University of
Connecticut Huskies venture into Baton Rouge where Glen Davis and the
rest of his LSU buddies will be waiting.
But what is the most intriguing
matchup of the weekend?
I offer up UNLV’s Mountain West
Conference clash with the Air Force Academy Saturday in Colorado
The Falcons gained national
awareness almost immediately this season by smacking Stanford to earn a spot in
the College Basketball Experience semifinals, where they suffered what has
proven to be their only loss (to Duke) before handling Bob Knight’s Texas Tech team in the third-place game the next evening in Kansas City.
They’ve since soared to a 14-1
record and are nationally ranked (including the final spot in this week’s
Frankhoops.com Top 25).
But the Rebels, if not quite the
‘Runnin’’ versions that played in four Final Fours under Jerry Tarkanian
(and won it all in 1990), are playing better right now than at any time since
Tarkanian stepped down as the program’s coach after the 1991-92
Lon Kruger’s team is off to a
surprising 14-2 start, with consecutive non-conference road victories against
Northern Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Texas Tech and Houston before its MWC-opening
97-94 victory over Utah in Las Vegas Wednesday night.
Both have built strong enough
at-large resumes so far that, barring collapses, they each should be in
relatively comfortable positions to be invited into the NCAA Tournament field in
March if someone else wins the conference tournament.
So there you have it: The Game of
Who would have thought it possible,
even a few weeks ago, right?
A look at that and other cool
matchups on Saturday and Sunday:
Frank Says: The Ducks were
stunned by USC Thursday night (84-82). And that score is any indication, then
they’re going to have to play much better defensively, in half court and in
transition, if they are going to upset the No. 1 Bruins who always play
exceptional defense. And Ben Howland’s team seems to be much more
explosive on the offensive end than it was during its Final Four run of last
Arizona at Washington State
Frank Says: In another
Pac-10 game of note, the Wildcats will attempt to improve to 13-1 overall and
4-0 in conference play with their 13th win in a row when they stroll
into Pullman, Wash., to play against one of the handful of biggest surprises,
team-wise, of the season. The host Cougars are 13-2 and 2-1 after their 20-point
victory over Arizona State Thursday. And they came oh-so-close (losing, 57-54,
after holding a 10-point advantage early in the second half in Pauley Pavilion)
to handing UCLA its only loss last week. Coach Tony Bennett has one of
the most underrated backcourts (at both ends of the court) in the country in the
junior duo of Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver. Something to consider:
Over their past five games, the Wildcats have averaged 89 points. In the same
stretch, WSU has allowed an average of 53.2 points. Something’s gotta give,
Ohio State at
Frank Says: If the Illini
are going to contend for a Big Ten title – although most, including myself, have
all but conceded it to Ohio State or Wisconsin – they’d better not lose many, if
any, games on their home court. And Coach Bruce Weber’s team couldn’t
find a better way of bouncing back from consecutive road losses, including a
10-point decision to Michigan in its Big Ten opener, than by knocking off a club
that oozes Final Four potential.
Virginia Tech at
Frank Says: The Hokies were
looked upon as strong NCAA Tournament bid contenders coming into the season. But
a 10-4 start (with losses to Western Michigan and Marshall), including a narrow
home victory over Wake Forest in their ACC opener, hasn’t exactly made them look
like “tourney locks”. A very strong performance – especially one that helps them
carry a victory out of Cameron Indoor Stadium – could alter that
Frank Says: Coach Mark
Gottfried’s team grinded out a 13-1 non-conference record in near-methodical
style, led by the potent post punch of senior Jermareo Davidson and
Richard Hendrix. But picking up wins in the Southeastern Conference –
especially away from the friendly confines of home – more often than not
requires a bit more than just “methodical”.
Frank Says: The youthful
Huskies, after being spoon-fed a very tender diet of home cookin’ for their
first 11 games, found out how tough to digest road fare can when they finally
ventured away from home and lost by 10 points in a Big East Conference game
against West Virginia. Well, get ready kids: Things aren’t going to be any more
palatable in Baton Rouge.
Kansas State at Texas
Frank Says: Did the
Wildcats’ performance while losing at Xavier earlier this week reveal the look
of a team that could be in contention for one of the top three our four spots in
the Big 12 Conference standings in early March 12? Well, not really. But a more
viable test – on the home court of a team that might be the best club in
the conference right now – is on tap for Bob Huggins’ crew in this
UNLV at Air
Frank Says: Would the Rebels
be 14-2 and looking like, perhaps, the co-favorites to win the Mountain West
Conference if UNLV Coach Lon Kruger’s son hadn’t transferred from Arizona
State in July to spend his senior season playing for pops? Uh, you be the judge:
Kevin Kruger is averaging 14.4 points and 5.1 assists per game, and had
25 points, eight assists and only two turnovers in the team’s 97-94,
double-overtime victory over Utah Wednesday night. Duh!
Georgia Tech at
Frank Says: And then were
two – unbeaten teams, that is, after Oregon was dispatched by USC Thursday night
in Eugene, leaving just Clemson and UCLA as Div. I clubs with spotless records.
And the Tigers survived their toughest test yet with a 68-66, ACC-opening
victory at Florida State Wednesday night to go to 15-0. The chances that the
Tigers will be 16-0 seem solid, if you think the fact that Georgia Tech hasn’t
beaten an opponent on its home court in two years means anything.
Notre Dame at
Frank Says: The Irish looked
every bit the Big East Conference title contenders --- yeah, as remarkable as
that would have sounded in November – while coasting over disappointing
Louisville Wednesday night in South Bend. The Hoyas take a six-game winning
streak into their Big East opener, including a 16-point decision in Ann Arbor
Florida State at North Carolina
Frank Says: Can anyone slow
down the Tar Heels? Well, probably not in Chapel Hill, that’s for sure. Seven of
their 13 victories have come by margins of 25 or more points. ACC competition
has got to be a lot tougher than that, right? You would think so. But then again
. . .
Kansas at South Carolina
Frank Says: Things could
prove a bit tricky before the start of Big 12 play for Bill Self’s
Jayhawks (10 in the Frankhoops.com Top 25) when they go into Columbia to face a
10-2 Gamecocks’ squad that is definitely flying under the national radar. Of
course, the 21-point loss to Clemson – at home – might be a reason for that lack
of national respect.
Frank Says: Both squads are
coming off losses in their Big East openers, the Golden Eagles at Providence and
the Orange at home to Pittsburgh. The loser of this one needn’t panic – yet.
FYI: This is the first time Jim Boeheim’s team has played outside of New
York this season.
Inducted into the USBWA Hall of
Fame in April, 2005, 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
email@example.com. Read more of Burlison’s pieces at