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Saddle Up: UNC gets another road test

1/13/2010

Saddle Up is a quick preview of the basketball your TV wants you to watch tonight. Here's Wednesday night's rundown.

No. 13 North Carolina at No. 19 Clemson, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Oh, road wins. How fleeting you are. If there's been a theme on the blog today, that's been it. Some schools can get them (Ohio State's win at Purdue Tuesday night, for example) and some schools can't (that would be everyone in the Big 12, naturally). North Carolina gets a chance to bring this debate into the ACC, where the young Tar Heels will visit Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, S.C., Wednesday night. At stake for the Heels is a chance to prove their brutal nonconference stretch was a growing experience, that road wins in the ACC will not only be achievable but expected, even for a young team. At stake for Clemson? The Tigers have an opportunity to not only beat a talented team and get an ACC win (duh), but to make their name nationally as a program worth watching. This has been the case for two years now, but Oliver Purnell has yet to receive the requisite recognition. Maybe that starts tonight. Maybe the Tigers can be the random car in the Tar Heels' bus side. Weirder things have happened. (Like, for example, a car hitting the North Carolina bus today. That was definitely weirder.)

No. 20 Pittsburgh at No. 15 Connecticut, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Now here's a confusing conference. The Pac-10 is wide-open because it's bad. The Big 12 is closed -- either Texas or Kansas is taking that thing, obviously -- but its middle portion, the teams that are neither good nor bad, is chock full. The Big Ten is the Big Ten; four teams can win, and the others have no shot. But the Big East? The Big East is wide open because it's good. There are at least seven teams that have been playing quality basketball and can challenge for supremacy before the year is out. Pittsburgh and Connecticut are two of those teams. From a pure efficiency margin standpoint, Pitt has recovered from its slow start and been the better team for a few weeks now, while UConn has had trouble figuring out how to make the most out of its possessions in an uptempo setting. Let's see if either team can win a measure of separation from the pack on Wednesday night.

Boston College at No. 7 Duke, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: This note is to merely let you know that this game is on. Boston College is barely hanging on to its place in the Pomeroy top 70; Duke is an efficient, balanced team coming off a conference-opening loss to Georgia Tech in Atlanta Saturday. Duke is playing at Cameron Indoor Stadium. You get the idea: It could be a long night for Al Skinner's squad.

No. 1 Texas at Iowa State, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN360: In a way, this is timed perfectly. Duke and BC will be in the second half just as the newly-crowned Longhorns will be taking on Iowa State in Ames, Iowa -- you can fire up your laptop and check out ESPN360 right at 8 p.m. (I'm getting really good at this whole corporate synergy thing, aren't I?) In a rational world, Iowa State wouldn't have the horses to dream of competing against the Longhorns; Craig Brackins is a beast, but he's no match for Damion James and Dexter Pittman and Avery Bradley and Justin Mason and insert other awesome Texas player here, because there are like 10 of them. But we do not live in a rational world. We live in a world in which only one Big 12 team has lost at home all season long. 112 other games have gone the other way -- to the home team. Factor in tonight's Kansas-at-Nebraska matchup, and we'll get a true test of just how much home court really means in the Big 12. I have a feeling that crazy 112-1 home win stat is like the entire O'Doyle family: It's going down. If not, something seriously weird is going on here.

Everywhere else: Syracuse will face a struggling (which is a nice way of saying they're bad and getting worse) Rutgers team in northern New Jersey tonight ... Michigan State will host Minnesota, yet another previously ranked Big Ten team looking to stay in the conference hunt ... West Virginia gets a relative breather with South Florida tonight after WVU's upset loss to Notre Dame Saturday ... If you like incessant motion offense, be sure to tune into Wisconsin at Northwestern ... After an upset of Georgia Tech and a close loss at Kentucky, Mark Fox will try to keep Georgia rolling as Ole Miss comes to town ... In a game that will almost certainly be high-scoring (much to Bob Knight's chagrin), Texas Tech will take on tempo-nuts Missouri in Lubbock ... and, last but not least, your ostensible mid-major game of the night: Charlotte at Xavier.

Get your couch's butt-grove ready. It's going to be an awesome night.