As I’m writing this, it is currently three degrees outside, with the high for today climbing to around 14.. The high for tomorrow is supposed to be 24 degrees. Needless to say, it’s a perfect weekend to spend indoors watching some hoops. This weekend is loaded with quality games, as the Pac-10, Big East and ACC all have some huge in-conference match-ups. Here’s some games to keep an eye on.
Saturday, Jan. 17
12 p.m. ESPN #13 Notre Dame at #8 Syracuse
The Irish badly need a win to keep pace in the conference standings, especially after getting blown away in overtime at Louisville on Monday. Luke Harangody continues to put up absurd numbers, while Kyle McAlarney, Tory Jackson and Ryan Ayers provide firepower from the perimeter, but depth is a real concern. The Irish essentially have only a seven-man rotation, and that fatigue has already hurt them late in games this season, The Orange were beaten up by Georgetown last time out, but they’re still one of the pleasant surprises of the season. They’ve got a ton of firepower and plenty of experience, but the key for them is PG Jonny Flynn. He sets the tone for this team, and when he gets going, the entire team follows. Look for the Orange to ride their home crowd to a victory.
1:30 p.m. CBS #12 Georgetown at #2 Duke
Just when you thought the non-conference schedule was done, CBS delivers this gem to your doorstep. The Hoyas have won two in a row since stumbling out of the blocks in the Big East, and they’ve got great balance, with four players averaging between 12 and 15 points per game. Freshman Greg Monroe has blended into the offense nicely, and guards Austin Freeman and Christ Wright continue to improve each game. The key is forward DaJuan Summers, who has the talent to take over a game but doesn’t always play like it. Duke meanwhile, has some pretty good balance of their own, with Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson leading the way. Singler and Scheyer are playing more confidently than ever, and Henderson is always good for a couple highlight reel plays each time out. With a deep bench that includes heady PG Greg Paulus, the Devils are going to be tough to beat on their home floor. Look for the Hoyas to make it interesting, but Duke to take home the W.
3:45 CBS #15 Arizona State at #7 UCLA
Finally, some love for the Pac-10 on here, as the two most talented teams go head to head in what should be a fun match-up. The Sun Devils have stumbled a bit to start conference play, but still boast one of the best players in the nation in James Harden, who is capable of taking over at any time. Harden and Jeff Pendergraph form one of the best 1-2 combos in the conference, and they’ll be looking for a win after their loss to USC last time out. The Bruins have quietly won 10 straight behind the veteran leadership of Darren Collison and Josh Shipp. Nine players average double-digit minutes for this team, and like all Ben Howland teams, it starts at the defensive end for them. Look for freshman Jrue Holiday to get the assignment on Harden much of the time. Harden and the Devils can keep it close, but the defense and veteran play of the Bruins should prove to be too much here.
6 p.m. ESPN #1 Pittsburgh at #20 Louisville
At the risk of repeating myself, here’s yet another terrific Big East match-up. The Panthers are ranked #1 for the first time in their history, and they boast as talented a trio as any team in the country, with forwards DeJuan Blair and Sam Young, as well as guard Levance Fields. These Panthers defend, they rebound, they hit shots and they love to play physical down low. The Cards have shot out of the gates in the Big East, winning two tough games already in knocking off Notre Dame and Villanova. Forwards Terrence Williams and Earl Clark are as versatile as any players in the nation, and guards Jerry Smith, Andre McGee and Edgar Sosa are capable of getting hot in a hurry. The key will be freshman center Samardo Samuels, who has struggled with foul trouble at time. If he can stay on the floor, he gives Louisville a body to hassle Blair down low. However, Blair is adept at creating space and drawing contact, and he could give the Cards fits all game. Look for Louisville to hang tough, but Pitt should pick up a big road win.
9 p.m. ESPN Miami at #6 North Carolina
There’s never really a good time to play UNC, but you surely don’t want to face them after a couple losses. The Heels rebounded nicely from their first two losses of the season by pounding Virginia on Thursday, and they appear to have remembered why they’re the favorites to win it all. Tyler Hansbrough attacked the basket all night, repeatedly earning trips to the foul line while Ty Lawson masterfully directed the offense. The Heels shared the ball, got into transition, and more importantly, played defense. Miami comes in with one of their most talented teams in recent memory, but they rely heavily on guard Jack McClinton to carry the offense. McClinton is a terrific scorer, and given the recent success of Tyrese Rice and Jeff Teague against the Heels, he has to be feeling confident. However, the Canes don’t have anywhere near the depth of talent as UNC, and the Dean Dome is always a tough environment. Look for Miami to hang around early, but the Heels win going away.
Sunday, Jan. 18
12 p.m. Kentucky at Georgia
Yes, neither team is ranked. Yes, the SEC appears to be a notch below the other BCS conferences. But this game offers something that no other game this weekend can…Jodie Meeks. The UK guard, who scored a school-record 54 points at Tennessee on Tuesday, has joined Stephen Curry as must-see TV. Capable of exploding at any time, Meeks will no doubt be the focus of every defense the rest of the season, but with Patrick Patterson down low, the Cats should be able to keep the defenses honest. Georgia, to be frank, doesn’t have anyone capable of guarding Meeks, so it will be interesting to see how they defend him. Look for the Cats to avenge last year’s SEC Tournament loss with a victory here.