College Hoops Wednesday: Your Commentary

March 2nd, 2011
Just two games remain for teams in the middle of the Big East pack to separate themselves and earn a first round bye, a fact that makes the game between Connecticut (21-7, 9-7) and West Virginia (18-10, 9-7) all the more important to both. Kemba Walker's been the player whose received the lion's share of the attention for the Huskies and rightfully so as he's one of the top candidates for Big East Player of the Year. But how far Jim Calhoun's team goes in March may be decided by the growth of the freshman class, with Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier and Roscoe Smith all playing important roles for the Huskies. Lamb is the team's third-leading scorer and may have shown signs of snapping out of a funk that followed his best run of play this season, and he can do a variety of things offensively when on.

Napier has been the ball-handler the Huskies have needed for much of the season, and his emergence allows Walker to work off the ball more often. And Smith has arguably been UConn's best perimeter defender in addition to averaging nearly seven points and five rebounds per game. Alex Oriakhi is the main man inside for UConn, and as a team they shoot 42.9% from the field. Shot selection at times can be an issue, especially for Walker given the team's reliance on his offense, but they also grab nearly 15 offensive rebounds per game. The task for West Virginia will be to force UConn into challenged looks while also controlling the boards, something the Mountaineers have shown an ability to do for much of this season. Opponents shoot 40.8% against West Virginia, and senior guard Joe Mazzulla is a solid on-ball defender.

But the defensive presence who has stepped up for West Virginia of late (outside of the scoreless game at Pitt) is forward John Flowers, who leads the Big East in blocks and has grabbed 10 rebounds in two of the last three games. Flowers' scoring average has tripled from last year, adding a needed compliment to Truck Bryant, Kevin Jones and Casey Mitchell. Deniz Kilicli may be the strongest player in the Big East, and his physical play will test the Husky big men inside. If Oriakhi, Tyler Olander and Charles Okwandu shrink away from the physical play UConn will be in trouble. But UConn may have the trump card off the bench in sophomore Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, who did what coaches hope players who aren't playing as much as they'd like do: he worked on his game and got better. The Huskies have been better offensively as a result, and if Coombs-McDaniel can be a consistent option over the next few weeks UConn has the ability to make some noise.

Other games of note include Kansas hosting Texas A&M with the opportunity to lock up at least a share of the Big 12 title, and ACC rivals Duke and North Carolina look to take care of business before their meeting in Chapel Hill on Saturday night. BYU plays their first game without the suspended Brandon Davies against New Mexico, who handed the Cougars their only loss of the season. Cincinnati at Marquette is a critical Big East matchup with both in the running for an at-large bid (many would argue that both would be in at this point), and conference tournament play begins in the Atlantic Sun and Ohio Valley conferences.

Top 25
9:00 PM (22) Texas A&M at (2) Kansas (ESPN2)
10:00 PM New Mexico at (3) BYU (The Mtn.)
9:00 PM Clemson at (4) Duke (ESPN)
9:00 PM (5) Pittsburgh at South Florida (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Providence at (11) Louisville (ESPN3)
7:00 PM (13) North Carolina at Florida State (ESPN)
7:00 PM (16) Connecticut at West Virginia (ESPN2)
11:00 PM (21) Utah State at New Mexico State (ESPN2)

NCAA Division I Games
2:30 PM Kennesaw State vs. Belmont*
6:30 PM Iowa at Michigan State (BTN)
7:00 PM Colgate at American (CBS College)
7:00 PM Lafayette at Holy Cross (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Temple at Massachusetts
7:00 PM Memphis at East Carolina
7:00 PM George Washington at Rhode Island
7:00 PM Army at Bucknell
7:00 PM SMU at UCF
7:00 PM Saint Louis at Dayton
7:00 PM St. Bonaventure at Duquesne
7:00 PM Fordham at La Salle
7:00 PM Navy at Lehigh
7:00 PM Maryland at Miami (FL) (ESPNU)
7:00 PM UAB at Southern Miss
7:00 PM Richmond at Saint Joseph's
7:00 PM Tennessee-Martin vs. Tennessee State*
7:00 PM Ball State at Western Michigan
7:00 PM Charlotte at Xavier
7:30 PM Colorado at Iowa State (ESPN3)
7:30 PM Miami (OH) at Buffalo
7:30 PM Northwestern State at Nicholls State
7:30 PM Oklahoma at Texas Tech (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Mississippi at Auburn (ESPN3)
8:00 PM LSU at Georgia (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Tulsa at Rice
8:00 PM Cincinnati at Marquette (ESPN3)
8:00 PM Texas-Arlington at Texas A&M-CC
8:00 PM TCU at Air Force (The Mtn.)
8:00 PM Southeastern Louisiana at McNeese State
8:00 PM Eastern Michigan at Northern Illinois
8:00 PM Sam Houston State at Stephen F. Austin
8:00 PM Central Arkansas at Texas-San Antonio
8:00 PM Houston at Tulane
8:05 PM Texas State at Lamar
8:30 PM Minnesota at Northwestern (BTN)
8:30 PM Rutgers at DePaul (ESPN3)
8:35 PM Portland State at Northern Arizona
9:00 PM Mississippi State at Arkansas (ESPN3)
9:00 PM Utah at Colorado State (CBS College)
9:00 PM Cal State Bakersfield at Boise State
9:00 PM Campbell vs. East Tennessee State*
9:00 PM Southeast Missouri State vs. Eastern Kentucky*
9:05 PM Idaho State at Montana State
9:05 PM Sacramento State at Northern Colorado
9:05 PM Marshall at UTEP
10:05 PM Eastern Washington at Weber State
11:00 PM Long Beach State at UC Riverside