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Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Saddle Up: Time for a brawl

By Eamonn Brennan

Saddle Up is our daily preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Wednesday night's rundown.

No. 21 Pittsburgh at No. 6 West Virginia, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN360: Aw, you guys. Stats LCC has a case of the bummers: "Two weeks ago, the matchup between West Virginia and Pittsburgh was shaping up to be one of the most highly anticipated meetings in this storied rivalry. A sudden string of losses by the Panthers dashed that prospect, but it likely won't diminish the atmosphere in Morgantown." Never fear, nameless Stats LLC writer. Sure, the Backyard Brawl won't be quite as brawl-y as it might have been for the Pittsburgh team that jumped to a 5-0 record in the Big East. (The difference in brawl escalation probably lies somewhere between brass knuckles and a trident.) Sure, Pittsburgh's 1-3 record in its last four games ruined the prospect of having two top-10 teams in a hated rivalry facing each other in ever-hostile Morgantown.

But Stats LCC, don't you see? This is still an awesome college basketball game. Pittsburgh is reeling, so what better time to get hot and steal a huge Big East road win than now? And West Virginia? The Mountaineers are coming off a controversial last-second win over Louisville, have lost two Big East games by a combined three -- yes, three -- points, and are developing the sort of edgy home atmosphere that should simultaneously outrage fans and scare opponents. (When your own student newspaper thinks you've gone too far, you've probably gone too far.) And, lest we forget, a win for Pitt means the Panthers leapfrog the Mountaineers and get right behind Syracuse and Villanova in the Big East race. (A panther leapfrogging a human? I am thoroughly enjoying this mental image.)

So don't fret, Stats LLC. This game might not be as cool as it would have been two weeks ago, but it's still an awesome Big East rivalry with plenty on the line. There's no reason to frown.

(OK, maybe one reason: The game's not actually on TV, but rather on ESPN360. Get your laptops ready. It's 2010, people. The power of the Internet compels you.)

UAB at Memphis, 8 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports: This might be the first game we've featured that's been on CBS College Sports, but that's because few CBS CS games have had this sort of import. Sure, Memphis is in the midst of what appears to be a very short rebuilding, but the Tigers are still a solid Conference USA team and tonight they face the biggest threat to their longstanding C-USA crown: UAB. Mike Davis has the Blazers playing better than at any time in his tenure. Elijah Millsap & Co. are 18-3 and 6-1 in the conference so far, but if they want to seize the title, even for one year, they'll have to go through the house that competitively priced shipping costs built. (Um, the FedEx Forum. No one?)

Mississippi State at No. 20 Vanderbilt, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN360: If Kentucky continues to play how it did Tuesday night, the Cats are going to roll to an easy SEC title. But they're not without challengers. Kevin Stallings' ever-improving Vanderbilt team is one such challenger. The Commodores are a mere half-game back of Kentucky and, if they manage to survive their upcoming slate, could welcome UK to Nashville on Feb. 20 with the division title on the line. Meanwhile, Mississippi State still doesn't have Renardo Sidney, and it's not looking good. But the Bulldogs are worth watching merely for the defensive brilliance of Jarvis Varnado, a once-in-a-generation shot-blocking machine.

Everywhere else: New No. 1 Kansas will try to avoid the fate of last week's No. 1 when it hits the road for a meeting with a marginal conference opponent ... Georgetown gets a courtesy date with South Florida ahead of Saturday's big matchup with Villanova ... The surprising Temple Owls host Duquesne, a similarly surprising team but for different reasons ... and Penn State goes to Columbus, so make sure to have your Evan Turner scoresheet watch in full effect. It could get awesome.