Kentucky-Louisville Highlights Saturday Hoops

There’s a good day of college basketball ahead for New Year’s Eve and it tips off with Kentucky-Louisville (Noon ET, CBS). Louisville’s loss to Georgetown this week took a little bit of steam out of this matchup, but it’s still not only for a lot of bragging rights in the Commonwealth State, it’s a good indicator game about where both teams fit into the national picture. The personnel matchup works in UK’s favor. Anthony Jones is a force in the middle for the ‘Cats, scoring, rebounding and blocking shots, while Michael Kidd-Gilchrist kicks in points and rebounds himself. This goes right at a potential soft spot for Louisville—while Gorgui Deng and Chase Behanan are good down low, the Cards are still oriented to the guards and they were beaten on the glass by Georgetown—not badly, but enough to be the difference. To win today Louisville will have to dominate the backcourt, and I can’t see that happening against freshman playmaker Marquis Teague and two-guard Doron Lamb. It should be a competitive game, but Kentucky is able to keep their in-state rival at arm’s length.

The rest of the TV card is found on ESPN2 with an all-day lineup…

Virginia Tech-Oklahoma State (Noon ET): These teams played in November at Madison Square Garden and Tech got a two-point win because they owned the glass. Oklahoma State has struggled to a 7-5 record and has to get more consistent play from Jean-Paul Olukemi down low. The Hokies are getting steady work in the paint from Dorian Finney-Smith, and the backcourt of Erick Green and Dorenzo Hudson is enough to make them the better team in this spot. Is it enough to overcome homecourt advantage in Stillwater? That’s another question and with a good little point guard of their own in Keiton Page I take Okie State to pull one out.

Providence-Georgetown (2 ET): The question for Providence was how the solid December play of guards Vincent Council and Gerard Coleman, along with post man LaDonate Henton would translate into the Big East. A 24-point loss at the hands of St. John’s. Playing at home is Georgetown’s cushion against a post-Louisville letdown and they roll to a win.

Illinois-Purdue (4 ET): The teams have similar profiles in that both have a respectable developing backcourt. Purdue has the best player on the floor in Robbie Hummel, whose back is healthy after derailing him last year and he can score both inside and out. Illinois has the most imposing post presence with Meyers Leonard. Illinois has the better December resume with a win over Gonzaga and losses to UNLV and Missouri, while Purdue’s losses include early disappointments in Alabama, Xavier, Butler and Temple. But I also think Purdue is going to improve at a better rate and Illinois needing two overtimes to win a home game with a Minnesota program missing its best player to injury wasn’t a good sign. Playing at home in the Boiler Room, Purdue gets a win.

Ohio State-Indiana (6 ET): In the Notebook’s Big Ten preview earlier this week, I looked at Indiana and noted that they were going to be tested right away, with Michigan State and then Ohio State. The Hoosiers lost decisively to Michigan State, and now get an even tougher home game. Cody Zeller, the 6’11” freshman who’s been the cornerstone of this new era of IU hoops was non-existent against the Spartans and needs to play big today, dealing with both the incomparable Jared Sullinger and the solid DeShaun Thomas. I see Zeller having a bounceback game, but he still needs at least one of two things to help: Either Christian Watford has to make sure he gets on the boards, in addition to scoring, or a backcourt that’s probably without injured guard Will Sheehy has to match up with a Ohio State’s duo of Aaron Craft and William Buford. IU lost by 15 to Michigan State—they’ll be right there in this one in front of a pumped crowd, but it won’t be enough to win.

Gonzaga-Xavier (8 ET): Since a brawl in Cincinnati and ensuing suspensions, Xavier has been in a tailspin, losing three straight winnable games, including Oral Roberts and Hawaii. Gonzaga has stepped up with wins over Arizona and Notre Dame and represents a formidable test for the Musketeers. Excuses have to be over for Xavier, as everyone is back and should be playing in rhythm again. They’ll own the backcourt battle with Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons, while Gonzaga’s Elias Harris and Robert Sacre give the Zags the edge up front. It comes down to whether Xavier’s Kenny Frease gives them some frontline help, or Gonzaga point guard Kevin Pangos can mitigate the effects of his counterparts. I like Frease, Xavier and homecourt tonight in Cincinnati.

Oregon-Washington (10 ET): Washington didn’t play well in December, but they made a loud statement to open Pac-12 play when they blasted a decent Oregon State team on Thursday night. The Huskies are very backcourt-oriented, with four guards drawing a lot of minutes and production. A key to their season will be center Aziz N’Diyae, a potential game-changer, not just scoring and rebounding, but blocking shots. Oregon has a solid forward in E.J. Singler and a couple good guards themselves with Devoe Joseph and Garrett Sim, but if N’Diaye is ready to play, the Ducks have no way of answering him. I’ll go with Washington.