Monday, February 15, 2010
Saddle Up: Kansas faces real test
By Eamonn Brennan
Saddle Up is our daily look at the hoops your TV wants you to watch tonight. It'll thank you later.
No. 1 Kansas at No. 23 Texas A&M, 9 p.m., ESPN: Last week, Kansas went to Texas in what for months preceding seemed as though it would the game of the year. It, um, wasn't. Kansas' deep and talented squad had little problem with a Texas team that's still trying to figure itself out. Texas A&M, meanwhile, is in the ascendancy -- the Aggies have won their last four games and six out of their last seven, and A&M is a perfect 13-0 at home in 2009-10. In many ways, this is Kansas' real Big 12 road test. If the Jayhawks are going to roll through the Big 12 without losing a single game, tonight is likely their biggest obstacle.
How do the two teams stack up? A&M's biggest strength is their ability to get to the free throw line. Much like Kansas State, the only team that shoots more free throws per possession than the Aggies, A&M thrives on getting into the lane, getting easy two-point buckets, and -- failing that -- drawing contact and getting fouled. That is a significantly more difficult task against the Jayhawks than against most teams, because Kansas doesn't allow penetration, and when teams do get past the Jayhawks, they have to contend with Cole Aldrich, arguably the game's most dominating interior defender. We know the Jayhawks' story by now. If you can keep the game close, slow the pace, force them to take outside shots and get them to ignore Aldrich on the offensive end, you can win.
It's very, very, very difficult to do those things to Kansas. But it's not impossible. A&M will get its shot tonight.
Connecticut at No. 3 Villanova, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: This would seem like a pretty straightforward game for Villanova. When Connecticut isn't inconsistent, it's mediocre, and Jim Calhoun's return to the sideline this weekend didn't seem to have much effect on the Huskies. Villanova should win easily, right? Right.
Of course, things are never that simple: It was just yesterday that a mediocre Big East team on the wrong side of the bubble went to a dominant Big East competitor's house and won in front of its crowd of 30,000. That was Louisville, which beat Big East leader Syracuse, and if Villanova didn't think it was capable of losing a random Big East game to a desperate team, yesterday's upset should have warmed them to the possibility. It can happen, and it will be Jay Wright and Scottie Reynolds' job to make sure it doesn't.