Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Saddle Up: BYU gets a test
By Eamonn Brennan
Saddle Up is our preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch tonight. Yes, your inanimate TV has totally real, humanoid feelings about your viewing habits. Here's Wednesday night's rundown:
No. 10 BYU at New Mexico, 10 p.m. ET: BYU has had a hard time earning respect. This is probably fair. Last year's Cougars put together an impressive resumé and had the tempo-free chops to go along with it, and as soon as they got to the tournament (and as soon as yours truly picked them to finish in the Sweet 16), the Cougars lost by 13 to a so-so Texas A&M team, bowing out of the NCAAs after 40 minutes. So it's probably fair if this year's BYU Cougars -- a 20-1 team currently ranked fourth in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency ratings -- are met with a degree of skepticism from the national media. For example, Monday Digger Phelps told his ESPN studio mates that BYU was too high in the polls at No. 10, which was met with understandable agreement. BYU hasn't played anybody. But in regards to their poll placement, the numbers seem to disagree; BYU might actually deserve to be higher.
The lesson here? They have to prove it. Tonight -- an away game versus a New Mexico team that launched itself into the top 25 early in the season, beating Texas Tech and Cal on the way there -- is a chance to do just that. It's also a chance to see Jimmer Fredette, BYU's point guard and leading scorer, match up with New Mexico guard Dairese Gary. It's as good a look as the Cougars going to get for a while. They ought to make the most of it.
Notre Dame at No. 3 Villanova, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: Does Villanova want a No. 1 ranking? If so, it'll have to handle its business tonight against a pesky but not-quite-there Notre Dame team. The Irish gave Syracuse a few fits with its zone last week, but ultimately fell short because their own defense was so bad. This is a trend under Mike Brey, and it's just the way things will go for this ND team. They might win a few games, but they'll need a surge if they want to make Luke Harangody's final year anything but another stopover to the next level, wherever Harangody might end up. (Maybe the NBA, maybe not.) A quick aside here: That's sort of sad. Watching Luke Harangody is a joy. He's one of the weirdest, most effective players we've seen in decades, and he's arguably best Notre Dame player of all-time. That he has toiled away his last two years of eligibility on decidedly mediocre teams feels like a waste.
Florida State at No. 7 Duke: Duke has had its occasional issues this season, but from a tempo-free standpoint, they still look awfully good. That's good news, because Florida State doesn't fear Cameron Indoor Stadium; the Seminoles are one of only four visiting teams to have won at Cameron in the past four years. Florida State won seven in a row before back-to-back losses at Maryland and against N.C. State at home, and that last loss is not the stuff quality NCAA tournament teams are made of, even if N.C. State has been a slight surprise this season. But maybe, just maybe, if Florida state can manage to somehow keep its turnover bug at bay, its defense will be stingy enough to keep things close in Cameron. The court may look flat, but an uphill battle awaits.