Eamonn Brennan: Greetings, Myron. With the ACC/Big Ten Challenge behind us, we now turn our attentions to slightly less prestigious but no less pressing matters: the Big East/SEC Challenge! Under normal circumstances we could criticize the two leagues for blatantly copping the ACC/Big Ten style, but (A) who cares, it's more good basketball, and (B) we should probably take pity on the Big East, because it is dying.
The purpose of this edition of the Watercooler is to preview both days of the Big East/SEC. So, Myron, let's start off at the top: What game are you most looking forward to?
Myron Medcalf: Hello again, Eamonn. Back again at the Watercooler. And you're right. If this Big East-ACC/Big Ten-SEC challenge gives us good basketball, then I'm all for it. I'd love to see Kentucky-Syracuse, but that won't happen this season. Yet, I'm still interested and intrigued by Kentucky's matchup at Notre Dame's Joyce Center, home to a multitude of upsets. Can't wait to see how the young Wildcats react, weeks removed from their loss at Duke. Big game for both teams. But little pressure on Notre Dame. A lot on Kentucky. I love the matchup and the stakes.
EB: Yeah, and the matchups themselves are pretty fascinating. No one would claim Mike Brey's team is anywhere near as big or as athletic as Kentucky's, but the Irish are savvy and veteran -- two squishy terms that nonetheless apply in this case -- and they're capable, if Brey so chooses, of totally slowing down the game to a crawl. I'm not sure whether they need to do that against this UK team in their own building, but it will be interesting to see if they try.
MM: And there's always the "What if Alex Poythress goes Beast Mode?" factor. That guy can take over a game. But, like you said, this is a veteran team. And they're playing at home, where Brey has orchestrated many upsets under similar circumstances. It will be interesting. 1B for me is Tennessee versus Georgetown. Another gut check for both squads. Georgetown took Indiana to overtime, but now they're out to prove that wasn't a fluke. Tennessee fell to an underrated Oklahoma State squad in Puerto Rico, their only loss. And any game involving Otto Porter is worth watching.
EB: It is worth asking whether Tennessee's horrendous offensive performance against Oklahoma State was a fluke. I'm assuming it was. (OSU played great, sure, but I think Tennessee scored approximately 23 points. It was bad.) In any case, we'll get a good read on that against Georgetown, which is already a good defensive team and has the potential, with Porter on smash, to be a really effective offensive group too.
And lest everybody forget, Jarnell Stokes is still here. Speaking of "beast mode."
MM: He's definitely in beast mode -- and he needs to be with Jeronne Maymon still injured. Stokes is so much stronger than he was last season. Cuonzo Martin's top task is ensuring that Jarnell isn't working alone. That's why this is such a great test. Georgetown is versatile, balanced. One guy can't carry the workload against the Hoyas or they'll score 19 points in regulation again. Something to prove for both programs.
EB: Was it 19? I could have sworn it was 23.
Another game not to be slept on: Marquette-Florida. Myron, did you know that Dean Oliver's RPI-alternative Basketball Power Index does not list either Indiana or Duke as the No. 1 team in the country?
And did you also know that the team it does list is the Florida Gators?
Before our readers start furiously clacking four-letter words in our general direction, I am not saying that I think Florida is better than Indiana or Duke. (Numbers and November don't go together well. Small sample sizes and all that.) But it is worth mentioning, if only to drive home the fact that this Florida team has been pulverizing people.
MM: I love the way Mr. Oliver thinks. I'm with you. I'd take Duke and Indiana over Florida right now. But let's not pretend that the Gators are outside the conversation. It's like Beyonce, Selita Ebanks and Halle Berry. They're all in the same league. If Florida would have beaten Georgetown in the aircraft carrier game that was canceled, then I think folks would view the Gators differently right now. But they destroyed a Wisconsin squad that's not as bad as Florida made it look. That's why Florida could enter SEC play as the league favorite over Kentucky. The Gators are that good, especially with Scottie Wilbekin back from suspension. They're legit.
But I really don't know what to say about Marquette. The Golden Eagles also lost a measuring stick game when their aircraft carrier matchup against Ohio State was canceled due to condensation. Marquette had Butler on the ropes but blew it down the stretch in Maui. Todd Mayo would really help right now. So many question marks for Buzz Williams' squad. I don't think the ceiling is as low as it looked in the final minutes of the Butler loss. Here's their chance to prove that they can make some noise in the Big East.
EB: What do we make of Syracuse at Arkansas? I don't think there's any question Syracuse is a better, more talented team all around. But I also think Arkansas has a major opportunity, as a young team (with no small amount of talent itself) to notch a big win over a superior foe with the strength of a sort of reborn home-court advantage. I'm almost too young to remember the glory days of Nolan Richardson, but that's what Mike Anderson's tenure is all about. Maybe Friday night can be one of those markers.
MM: I agree. I loved those Arkansas squads. Corliss Williamson & Co., my favorite team when I was kid. Anderson needs the kind of win that can get the program rolling in 2012-13, a la Indiana's upset over Kentucky. Because I think this Razorbacks squad has the pieces, now it just needs some momentum. A win over a ranked Syracuse team would build a lot of it. Few duos are more talented than B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell. But they need that victory so that they can prove something to themselves. And if you're Syracuse, what do you really know about yourself? The Orange beat San Diego State outdoors in the season opener. No real challenge since. True road game in a hostile spot. That's a test. Let's see how they respond.
We can't overlook Alabama versus Cincinnati, either. Great barometer for both. It's tough to gauge their respective starts. I know Cincy is a good team. I think Alabama is a good team. I don't know much more than that. If Anthony Grant pulls off this road win though? Wow. It will prove that Bama is as good as it's looked thus far, despite its previous wins against so-so competition. Sean Kilpatrick and Co., however, could keep rolling. More evidence to justify their national ranking.
EB: I watched all of Cincinnati's win over Oregon the other night, and I can confirm that they are, indeed, a good team. How good seems to have a lot to do with how well they are shooting the ball from the perimeter, because right now there isn't a whole lot going on at the low post. They rebound well, and they defend like crazy, and Sean Kilpatrick and Justin Jackson and the rest are athletic and strong and really impressive. But they're far from flawless as yet.
Alabama is Alabama: They defend like crazy too, and they're still built around the Trevors (Releford and Lacey), but they have to (A) get to the free-throw line more often (they rank No. 276 in free-throw rate) and (B) make free throws when they do (they're shooting just 64.6 percent).
MM: That's a great stat. Cincy could make this the kind of rugged game that's decided at the free-throw line. I just think the Tide will have a small margin for error. The Bearcats, who shoot 40 percent from the 3-point line, are versatile. They're athletic and deep enough to adjust to any style. And that's why Bama needs more from Devonta Pollard. Yes, he's a freshman. But he's shooting 33 percent from the field while playing 23 minutes per game. He has been to the free-throw line 10 times, made four of his attempts. This is THE recruit in Grant's 2012 class. And the bar is automatically raised when you're a McDonald's All-American. The potential is there. But his growth could decide the outcome in this game and Bama's potential come March.
EB: Right on, Myron. We've officially covered the obviously good games. This being a competition in which relatively similar teams are matched up against one another, I'm not sure there's much in the way of a "sleeper" game offered Thursday or Friday.
Might I nominate South Carolina-St. John's? I've seen a lot of the Johnnies this season -- they've been on national TV a fair amount in the first couple of weeks -- but Frank Martin's deep rebuilding project team is 5-1. Eh? Ehhh? Anything?
MM: Definitely an "Eh" from me. Martin's squad lost me when it was crushed by Elon. But I'll tune in because St. John's will give us at least four dunks that seem SportsCenter-worthy. But they're so unpredictable, I never assume much about Levin's team. I guess my sleeper is Georgia at South Florida. Georgia has been solid in spurts (ask Indiana) but doesn't matter because the Bulldogs don't finish. And South Florida isn't the defensive power that reached the NCAA tournament last season. That's why this matchup matters. Both need a boost. Maybe the winner will wake up. Viewers, however, might fall asleep.
EB: There are some definite stinkers in the mix, but hey, you have to take the good with the bad. Which coincidentally is how I hope our readers approach our Watercooler efforts. Here's to the steady drumbeat of great hoops. Until next time, Myron.