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Saddle Up: Embrace the comedown

1/14/2010

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

Not to be a bummer, but after Wednesday night's furious torrent of college basketball goodness, Thursday night feels a little ... meh. But it's still college basketball, and if there's one thing I've learned in a couple of years writing about college basketball, it's to embrace even the "meh" nights. Before we know it, it'll be June, and we'll be stuck in a temporal desert with nary a game to quench our basketball thirst. Or, to be more precise: the offseason sucks. Let's enjoy this while it lasts, eh?

No. 14 Gonzaga at Saint Mary's, 11 p.m. ET, ESPN2: Let's go ahead and call this the game of the night, because it is. Gonzaga has proven itself worthy of a top-15 ranking; newcomer Elias Harris has added a versatile scoring threat to the Zags' already-dangerous inside-out combo of Matt Bouldin and Robert Sacre. But if it wants to handle business in their own league, Gonzaga has to beat St. Mary's in Moraga. This is easier said than done, as the Gaels, while objectively less talented than Gonzaga (especially after the loss of frequently injured, frequently brilliant guard Patty Mills to the fringes of the NBA draft) have proven a tough out throughout the season thus far. The Gaels have won at Oregon and Utah State, lost by two to Vanderbilt early in the year, and sit comfortably inside Ken Pom's top 30. They're tough. Maybe tougher than usual. We'll find out tonight.

Seton Hall at No. 12 Georgetown, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Bobby Gonzalez says his team is "in the mix": "Last year we won 17 games, the year before we won 17 games, but we didn't know that in every single game, we could win," Pirates coach Bobby Gonzalez said a day before his team left to travel to Thursday night's Big East meeting with Georgetown. "But we know this year that every single game, we have a chance. We're fighters, we're in the mix. Not that we're being cocky or anything, but now there are no games where we just walk into the building and say, holy (cow), we have no chance." This is a step forward. It's never good to assume you have no chance before you win; blind faith is better than sheer terror, even in the face of certain defeat. (I'm pretty sure Jake Sully said that once.) But in the mix or not, getting a win at Georgetown is going to be very, very difficult, no matter how dedicated or frisky you are.

Auburn at No. 10 Tennessee, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: The product on the floor might be a little lagging here, but this game is interesting for purely psychological reasons: How will Tennessee react? Do they ride high off Sunday's win over then-No. 1 Kansas and storm an inferior Auburn team? Do they come back down to Earth and put up a stinker? Is this all armchair mumbo-jumbo that has very little to do with actual basketball? Maybe. But admit it. You're interested to see how Tennessee does in their post-Kansas world, both tonight and in the near future. Whatever happens, it'll be worth the watch.

Everywhere else: A maddeningly inconsistent Indiana team will visit a maddeningly inconsistent Michigan team in Ann Arbor tonight; expect a lot of missed threes and a lot of Diet Coke consumed by one Mr. Tom Crean ... Arkansas will attempt to stand up to Jarvis Varnado and Mississippi State in Starkville ... Same goes for Cleveland State at Butler, as the Bulldogs continue to roll through the Horizon League with relative ease ... Arizona State will visit Oregon, Arizona will visit Oregon State, Cal will take on Washington State, and Stanford will play at Washington in a series of Pac-10 games that make me mad at the Pac-10 for being so bad. This could have been a great night. Now, I'm more likely to watch Radford play Coastal Carolina. You think I'm joking. I'm not.