Saddle Up is our daily look at the hoops your TV wants you to watch tonight. Here's Thursday night's rundown:
No. 16 Wisconsin at No. 12 Purdue, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Who wants to watch some very slow, very methodical, very high-quality Big Ten basketball? I do. I occasionally complain about the Big Ten's slow pace -- and who better to pinpoint for that sloth than Bo Ryan's Wisconsin teams, who thrive on grinding games to a halt -- but the bottom line is that pace doesn't equal quality. Sure, it's fun to watch the North Carolinas and Villanovas and Missouris of the world, teams that fly up and down the court with minimal abandon, but it can be equally fun to watch two really good, really strong teams battle for every inch in a 60-possession game. That's what you can expect when Wisconsin goes to Purdue tonight: a battle. Not a blitzkrieg, but a bunker war. It might take a little more to appreciate, but when it's good, it's awfully good.
There are some stakes here, too: Michigan State is in the driver's seat in the Big Ten, of course, but both Wisconsin and Purdue have a shot. UW is two games behind the Spartans in the Big Ten, and a win at Purdue would do away with one very pesky hurdle in competing for that top spot. Meanwhile, the Boilers seemed to have recovered from their three-game slide, which began with a loss in Madison on Jan. 9. If Purdue wants to make a run and get back into national consideration -- let's not forget how many people had the Boilermakers getting to the Final Four -- it will need to prove that games like a Jan. 12 home loss to Ohio State are exceptions, not rules.
Settle in: Every possession matters, and in a game this likely to be slow, it'll feel like it.
Wake Forest at No. 22 Georgia Tech, 7 p.m. ET, RSN: Well, if it isn't the two most confusing teams in the ACC. What's up, guys? Both have 14-win records and respectable starts in conference, and both have future pro talent likely to go high in the first round of next year's NBA draft. Both are also missing that certain je ne sais quoi that makes you think either are complete teams capable of making a deep tournament run. But maybe they are. Maybe that's just me. Tonight is an opportunity for one to separate itself from the other, both in the ACC and in people's minds, and it's also a chance to see Al-Farouq Aminu match up with Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors. I'm not complaining.
Siena at St. Peter's, 7 p.m. ET: Guess who is 10-0 in conference and 17-4 overall, and who looks for all the world like another NCAA tournament bid (and potential darling-status run) is back in the works? That would be Siena. (No, sorry, it wasn't St. Peter's. Good guess though!) The Saints are rolling through conference play right now, and next up is tonight's matchup at St. Peter's, a team riding a five-game winning streak and one that played Siena close until a second-half run finished the game in the Saints favor (64-53) on New Year's Eve. But the opponent doesn't matter so much as the opportunity to check in on Siena. Are the Saints this year's bracket buster? Can they turn frequent NCAA love into "next Gonzaga" status? Is the leap within reach? I don't know, but now's as good a time as any to find out. (Also, they have a dude named Just-in'love Smith. This remains the greatest name in the history of not only college basketball but names.)
Everywhere else: Gonzaga will try to keep its conference win streak intact as the Zags visit Santa Clara on ESPN (11 ET) ... Ole Miss is still quietly ranked, and still quietly impressive, and the Rebels have a chance to improve their conference record with a road win over Arkansas ... A struggling St. John's team will head to Pittsburgh (ESPNU, 7 ET), which has maybe hit a bit of a cold-front after their early Big East-leading heatwave ... and, along with a host of other Pac-10 games tonight, Cal will visit Arizona State to see which team can lay early claim to the title of West's best. A win would likely mean more for Cal; the Bears played poorly in their nonconference but their schedule was unforgiving and a solid road win over an OK team like Arizona State would be a nice little boost to the Bears' resume.