Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Saddle Up: DeMarcus, Jarvis. Jarvis, DeMarcus.
By Eamonn Brennan
Saddle Up is our nightly look at the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Tuesday night's rundown.
No. 2 Kentucky at Mississippi State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Unstoppable force, immovable object. DeMarcus Cousins, Jarvis Varnado. Even if Kentucky rolls over Mississippi State in Starkville tonight -- certainly no guarantee, despite Kentucky's vastly superior backcourt talent -- this matchup alone is worth your undivided attention. Cousins is a dominant freshman with a burgeoning skill set and one of the best interior offensive stat lines in the country. (Cousins gets a ton of offensive rebounds, takes a ton of shots, and makes most of them.) Varnado, meanwhile, is the best shot blocker in the country, and maybe of the past decade -- averaging five blocks a game this season, he's well on his way to setting the NCAA career record for blocked shots. He also leads the Bulldogs in rebounds, many of which come on the defensive end; he's one of the best in the country at that, too.
Unfortunately for Mississippi State, Varnado can shut down Cousins and the Cats can still roll. (Kentucky still has this dude named John Wall. I suppose he's pretty good.) Regardless of the outcome, though, Cousins-Varnado might be the year's best big man matchup, at least until we can get these two to play Cole Aldrich in a game of 21. You should probably watch.
No. 25 Wake Forest at Virginia Tech, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: While Indiana is taking its probable beating from Michigan State on ESPN at 7 p.m., you might also flip over to ESPN2, a game with actual tournament implications. (Though I suppose Michigan State could lose to Indiana, and that would have tournament implications ... but whatever, you see what I mean.) See, Virginia Tech is 20-4. That's a gaudy record. It was also amassed against one of the worst schedules in the history of college basketball, and I'm barely exaggerating: The Hokies are ranked No. 344 -- No 344! -- in nonconference strength of schedule this season. They have one win over a team in the RPI's top 50 (Clemson). Their best wins are over Seton Hall, Miami, North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia (twice). Sorry, but this is not the résumé of an NCAA tournament team -- at least not yet. Tonight, Va. Tech gets its chance to prove the haters wrong, notch another RPI top-50 win and build momentum for its backloaded ACC slate, which includes games at Duke, vs. Maryland and at Georgia Tech. Contender or pretender? Tonight, the Hokies have a chance to answer.