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Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Saddle Up: Florida, OSU battle big boys

By Eamonn Brennan

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

No. 2 Kentucky at Florida, ESPN, 9 p.m. ET: ESPN resident bracketologist Joe Lunardi (perhaps you've heard of him?) sees big implications in Tuesday night's pair of ESPN games. Can you blame him? We'll get to Ohio State-Purdue in a minute, but Florida has a major opportunity. It gets the Kentucky Wildcats, unbeaten and riding high, in Gainesville. For Kentucky, there would be no shame in losing to a motivated Florida team on the road tonight; if Tennessee's weekend upset over Kansas tells us anything, it's that elite teams can and will often lose on the road to merely good teams. That would be the case tonight ... if a "merely good" Florida team shows up. The Gators have the potential to beat Kentucky in Gainesville -- they topped Michigan State on a neutral court earlier this year. Florida has also lost to Richmond and South Alabama. This is why tonight's opportunity is such a major one. Playing the Wildcats at home is Florida's chance to steal a win that most of us will recognize as the difficulty of a road contest, but that the selection committee will see first and foremost as a quality résumé win. And a big performance against John Wall's crew might just make Florida's own highly touted freshman, Kenny Boynton, a household name, too.

Ohio State at No. 6 Purdue, ESPN, 7 p.m. ET: If Florida's date with the Wildcats is an uphill battle, Ohio State's trip to Mackey Arena to face a brutally tough Purdue team is more like trying to play laser tag on Mt. Everest. But, much like Florida, this is the Buckeyes' chance to change their entire season, to prove they're fully recovered from losing uber-versatile Wooden Award candidate Evan Turner to a busted back, to show that with Turner in the lineup, they're just as good as anyone in the Big Ten. There's a bit of immovable-object-meets-unstoppable-force stuff going on here; is Turner good enough to shed Purdue's smothering defense? It's a tall order, but if anyone can do it, Evan can.

Texas A&M at No. 12 Kansas State, ESPN 2, 7 p.m. ET: If you knew nothing about either team, and merely glanced at their records, you'd be forgiven for thinking Texas A&M (12-3, 1-0 Big 12) was Kansas State's (13-2, 0-1 Big 12) relative equal, at least in terms of perception. But Kansas State's last loss, a 74-68 loss at Missouri, was its first since Nov. 20; in the meantime, Frank Martin's team has shot up the polls and gained a measure of respect most K-State hoops fans will find foreign. A&M, on the other hand, has yet to achieve the same level of national respect, despite an impressive record and three OK losses (West Virginia, New Mexico, at Washington). Tonight, A&M gets a shot to prove its worth, while simultaneously making an argument for Big 12 as the deepest conference in the land.

Everywhere else: Baylor will look to build off its blowout win over Oklahoma as it travels to Colorado ... Florida State should handle N.C. State, probably the ACC's worst team, at home ... Maryland will travel to Wake Forest in the much-anticipated "Battle Of Teams That Seem Like They Should Be Better Than They Are Based On Star Power" ... and Northern Iowa, or as we Iowans call it, "UNI," will look to extend its winning streak another game against Bradley in Cedar Falls.