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Friday, February 10, 2012
Creighton, Baylor have point to prove

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Editor's note: Myron Medcalf and Eamonn Brennan met Thursday to look ahead to the weekend's college basketball action including Wichita State-Creighton, San Diego State-UNLV, Baylor-Missouri and Michigan State-Ohio State.

Myron: Well, Eamonn. Here we are again for another Watercooler chat. We've already established the rule. Don't ever underestimate a weekend slate in college basketball. With all of the intriguing matchups this weekend, I'm having a hard time controlling my internal hype meter. I think this is going to be another great one.

Doug McDermott
Is it panic time for Doug McDermott and Creighton? The Bluejays can't afford a third straight loss on Saturday.

Eamonn: My internal hype meter may forever be askew, given what I witnessed in Chapel Hill on Wednesday night. I'm still reeling. It may be too much to ask for anything close this weekend -- but like you said, never sleep on this game of ours. The sky is always the limit.

Which game are we looking forward to most?

MM: So many to choose from, but I like Wichita State at Creighton because I feel like the Bluejays are playing for so much. Somehow, they have lost two in a row. Doug McDermott's national player of the year stock has taken a major hit. And the schools are big rivals in the MVC. So I just think McDermott is going to pull a Jimmer. He has to. Three in a row would change everything. Should be a great game. What game is the most intriguing to you?

And if we see a Duke-UNC-like finish this weekend, I think my head will explode the way yours nearly did Wednesday.

EB: Correction: There was no "nearly" about it. I was picking up pieces of my skull off the Dean Dome floor at 3 a.m. Wednesday night. [North Carolina blogger] Robbi [Pickeral] was there. She saw.

MM: I believe that. Surprised you're functioning properly right now.

EB: It's the upset of the week.

There are many to choose from, but if I had to pick, San Diego State-UNLV is right there. The Aztecs nipped the Rebels in Viejas Arena in the first installment. Mountain West title chase implications abound. Can Steve Fisher's unlikely team pull off its most unlikely feat of the year?

I'm also looking dead on at Baylor-Mizzou. We talked about it on my drive to Charlotte from Chapel Hill on Thursday -- the Bears got punked by Kansas this weekend. Frankly, they were punked by Mizzou in Waco in the last meeting. To me, this is Baylor's last chance to show us something. What are you? A glorified AAU team, as our colleague Doug Gottlieb hilariously tweeted Wednesday? Or a legitimate Final Four contender proportionate to your talent? Put up-or-shut up time for Scott Drew's team.

Kansas Hoops
Baylor had an opportunity to prove itself against Kansas at home and whiffed … badly.

MM: Well, with SDSU-UNLV, let's just hope it's as good as the first game. Wow. Best pre-UNC-Duke game of the year, IMO. The Mountain West is a tough league. It's going to be hard for Steve Fisher's squad to get the W on the road against a UNLV team that might have three conference losses after Saturday's game. That's why the Runnin' Rebels, coming off a road loss at Wyoming, will come out strong. They're desperate. But I just hope it's another great game.

Now … on Baylor. I'm with you. Put up or shut up. Nothing wrong with taking a loss at Mizzou. But the Bears can't get punked again. At some point, you have to throw a punch at the bully who's stealing your lunch money every day. Baylor has been picked on in big games. We're one month from Selection Sunday, and we're still questioning this team. Baylor has to make a statement and actually put up a fight for 40 minutes.

That said, they're not the only squad that has to answer some questions about its recent performances. Who's under the most pressure this weekend? A Syracuse team that wasn't very physical against Georgetown? Murray State? UNC? Florida? Some other team that I haven't mentioned because sleep deprivation has placed certain limits on my ability to think?

EB: Dude, I'm right there with you.

I'd say there's a fair amount of pressure on Murray State. One loss is whatever. But the Racers have flirted with losses fairly regularly this season. What if they come out flat again this weekend and drop another one? Does Murray State wake up and say, oh, shoot, we're still a mid-major, and we can't lose again? Does the pressure suddenly mount? Gauging the Racers' response to Thursday night's home loss to Tennessee State is going to be fascinating.

Austin Peay is bad, so the Racers will probably be fine. But they were feisty at home last time.

Speaking of teams rebounding from home losses … the Tar Heels. Oh, the Tar Heels. They host Virginia this weekend. The Cavaliers are tough, man. I see it going one of two ways: UNC comes out flat and unsure and shaky and gets caught in a too-close-for-comfort sort of affair. Or, conversely, they come out focused and engaged and just flat dominate. Myron, if you had to guess between the two, which would you predict?

MM: I can't shake the image from Wednesday yet. They were up by double digits. At home. Against their greatest rivals. And they just stopped playing. We've talked about UNC's lack of a killer instinct. This is the worst scenario for a team that's lacked the bravado I think it will need to reach the Final Four. I think we're going to find out Saturday that UNC's problems are even greater than what we saw Wednesday. UVa could certainly beat UNC if the Tar Heels come out flat again.

But UNC has to do more than just win, right? It has to pounce. Tar Heels running out of time to put it together, though. Do you trust this team in March?

EB: I've sort of bought in to the theory that UNC was maybe just a little bored by the regular season -- that it had its sights set on bigger things, and lost the trees for the forest, so to speak. But I'm starting to think that maybe this team is just a guy or two short. Some more perimeter shooting would be nice, of course, but the intangible may be just as important as the tangible. It feels like they need a jerk, a guy who wants to rip out his opponent's heart for 40 minutes every night. I don't know that they have that kind of guy.

Then again, maybe we're making too much of things. Wednesday night's meltdown was indefensible, but it was also rather unlucky. Maybe we see it for what it was: three bad minutes in an otherwise good game? Three insane minutes in an otherwise impressive season? I don't know. But Saturday should tell us more.

Other national title contenders are in the mix this weekend, too. I want to get to Ohio State-Michigan in a second, but first, in what world could Vanderbilt upset Kentucky this weekend? If I'm the rest of the country, I'm watching this UK team come together in utter horror and dismay. I'm hiding under my blanket every time Anthony Davis swats a shot, every time Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (now there's a player on a title contender with edge to spare) races at the rim for a euro-step 2, every time Marquis Teague plays cool and confident in the flow of the game. My goodness, they're scary. Can Vanderbilt hope to hang?

MM: Well, I created a variety of scenarios for a Florida upset earlier this week. And the Wildcats foiled all of them. I think Vanderbilt is a similar squad. They'll spread the floor and pray that they find a way to keep up with the Wildcats. But I don't think the Commodores can handle Calipari's Crew. Not the way Kentucky is embarrassing teams. Now there's a group of young guys who enjoy hurting your favorite team's feelings. So edgy. After that Gators win, Calipari said his team hasn't reached its ceiling. Should the NCAA just give them the crown now?

The NCAA still controls our championship, right?

EB: I believe so. We'll have to check with the rules committee.

Anthony Davis
Can anyone slow down Anthony Davis and Kentucky in the SEC? Vanderbilt will try on Saturday.

I agree with you on Vandy/Florida. Both perimeter teams. I thought Florida had a decent chance at UK, if only because the Gators don't want or need to go into Anthony Davis territory to get their points. They're just fine shooting a bunch of 3s. Thing is, Kentucky has a bunch of good, athletic defenders. And because Davis covers everything up in the lane, they can extend all the way out to the perimeter and prevent open looks. Who cares if they get beat on the dribble? Anthony will take care of that, thanks very much.

I think Vandy has to go the opposite route. They have to get the ball into Festus Ezeli early and often. He's a big, physical dude who should be able to get position on Davis with his core strength. If he can, maybe you can get him into foul trouble. That's how Indiana took him out of the game (or how Davis took himself out of the game); that may be Vandy's only chance Saturday.

It's hard to imagine, frankly. This team is just so good, and still improving. Shudder.

MM: Good call. We're still waiting for another team to go after Davis. Ezeli certainly has the size to push Davis around, but my national player of the year continues to improve defensively. Vandy will need a balanced attack to pull off the upset.

During that Kentucky blowout over Florida, I was trying to think of teams that might give the Wildcats serious problems. Ohio State came to mind. Jared Sullinger is so physical inside. They have a talented point guard in Aaron Craft and they're versatile (Deshaun Thomas, William Buford). But Sullinger is at the center of my theory. He's so physical. That's why Saturday's matchup with the Spartans should be war. They don't get much tougher than Sullinger and Draymond Green.

EB: I know I said SDSU-UNLV was the game of the weekend earlier, but I might have to revise my stance. Come to think of it, OSU-MSU is as high on my list as any.

MM: I second that. Way bigger than Creighton-Wichita State, obviously.

EB: Michigan State remains underrated, by the way. Of course, that awful loss at Illinois didn't help matters much. But this might be one of the best five teams in the country. It's deep, balanced, big, physical, great on the boards, better on defense and can score the rock, too. And it's led by one of the best pure leaders in the game in Draymond Green. A couple of years ago, when he earned his stripes, Tom Izzo called Green a warrior and a true Spartan. He hasn't deviated from that since. What a game this is going to be. I can't wait.

It may not be bigger than Creighton-WSU (OK, maybe it is), but it's going to feel bigger, you know? It's going to feel epic.

Because it will be.

MM: I agree. This is huge for both schools. Huge for the Big Ten. Huge for the national scene. We're trying to sort things out still. This is a chance for us to learn more about both teams. But I'm excited because of the physicality. Neither team backs down in high-level games. Draymond Green has always had heart. But now, he's added some elite skills to go with it. The Spartans have struggled on the road. But Green can carry this team to an upset. But the Buckeyes have a lot of weapons. True or false? If Buckeyes beat Spartans, they'll pull away from the rest of the league (three other contenders would have four losses) and win another Big Ten title?

EB: I think that's unquestionably true. Which, given this team's talent and how well it's played in pretty much every game this season (save a few exceptions), is how it should be.

My only hope? That the officials get out of the way and let the big fellas play. I have a bad feeling about this, because we've seen overzealous zebras kill games early and often this season. Too many early whistles could really hurt this game. Swallow 'em up, boys. We're not here to see you.

MM: I agree. Don't disrupt what could be a great game.