Tough test for Tigers when Zags visit Memphis
Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
By Jay Bilas
Outlook: Memphis is playing a difficult nonconference schedule, and John Calipari did the right thing by putting two high-profile nonleague games in January (Gonzaga) and February (Tennessee). While some may discount the tough slate by pointing out that Memphis is playing its tough nonconference games at home, that is a non-starter with me. Is the implication that home wins are relatively meaningless? The wins Memphis has against Georgetown and Arizona were big-time Ws, and beating Oklahoma, UConn and USC in the Garden were important W's as well. And, while few will buy into this completely, Conference USA is a much improved league at the top, and Memphis' march through the conference obscures the better teams in the league, especially on the road. I'm not suggesting that Conference USA is the equivalent of the Pac-10, but C-USA's top five teams are pretty darn good relative to some of the other non-BCS leagues that we in the media seems so enamored with. Memphis' offense has been talked up to no end, and the offense is well-conceived. But, these Tigers would be 18-0 running flex, the shuffle offense or motion. What sets Memphis apart is not its offense, but its defense and ability to score off it. If you make a mistake, it's a runout. If you pick up your dribble, Memphis is all over you. And if you fail to get back in transition, Memphis will get to the rim or spot up for an open and opportunistic 3. Memphis is hard working and mentally tough. If you are hoping that Memphis is casual and undisciplined, forget it. They are not. You can expect Gonzaga to play a lot of zone, and Memphis will continue to see match-up zones and junk defenses. USC hit Memphis with a triangle-and-two, and several other teams have mixed it in as well, including Tulsa on Wednesday night. In zone or soft man, there are two guys that must be guarded on the perimeter, Doneal Mack, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Willie Kemp. Memphis' other players can hit 3s, but Mack (the lefty), CDR (the underrated) and Kemp are the three you really have to pay special attention to. Gonzaga must punish Memphis for any defensive gambles and break all pressure to score. The Zags are more skilled, while Memphis is more athletic and powerful. Gonzaga can win if it has the mental and physical toughness to handle the Memphis pressure and attack it to score at the point it is applied. If they cough up "live ball" turnovers or take quick and contested shots, forget it. Remember, UConn is almost as good defensively as Memphis, and Gonzaga handled the Huskies in Boston. This is a pretty darn good team.
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images
If Memphis can limit Gonzaga's Matt Bouldin, the Zags will be in for a long afternoon.
By Dana O'Neil
AP Photo/Darron Cummings
Butler needs A.J. Graves to find the shooting form that made him the preseason Horizon League Player of the Year.
ESPN's College GameDayJoin Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis and Digger Phelps in Carbondale, Ill., on Saturday as they break down the day in college basketball.
ESPN, 11 a.m. & 8 p.m. ET • Creighton at Southern Illinois, 9 p.m. ET
The Saluki's will try to remain perfect in conference play at SIU arena after a one-point loss to Missouri State on Wednesday. The Jays are also trying to regroup after their 68-60 overtime home loss to red hot Drake. Randal Falker is a live body on the glass and leads SIU in scoring. Guard Bryan Mullins is dropping 13.8 points per game the last four games. Dane Watts and P'Allen Stinnett share the scoring load for Creighton. Guard Nick Bahe is a great 3-point shooter off the catch, and point guard Josh Dotzler is a penetrator that takes great care of the ball with 78 assist to 38 turnovers. With Drake and Illinois State currently at the top of the Missouri Valley, a win for the Bluejays will keep them in striking distance. But SIU can't afford to drop this one at home if it plans on making a run in the second half of the conference schedule. -- Reggie Rankin, Scouts Inc.
Key games this weekend• Connecticut at No. 8 Indiana, Saturday, 1 p.m. ET
UConn showed fire and desire as they smashed Marquette, 89-73, on Jan. 20. The Huskies will need another special defensive effort to contain the multiple weapons of the Hoosiers and must be able to make some shots in Assembly Hall. Connecticut shot 54 percent from 2 and 43 percent from 3 against Marquette, and they must be sure to pack their offense for the road this week. Guarding Eric Gordon, Jordan Crawford and Jamarcus Ellis is a tall chore, but the athletic perimeter of the Huskies, especially A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson and Stanley Robinson should be able to matchup. The shot-blocking presence of Hasheem Thabeet and the physical play of Jeff Adrien will make double-double producer D.J. White earn his keep. • No. 11 Wisconsin at Purdue, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN360.com)
Sophomore guard Keaton Grant leads the young Boilers in scoring as Purdue finds itself in the thick of the things in the Big Ten with a 5-1 record after beating Penn State on the road, 64-42. The Badgers are perfect in conference play at 6-0 after beating a stubborn Michigan team in the Kohl Center on Tuesday. Wisconsin has balanced scoring attack in Big Ten play with five different players having scored at least 20 points in conference games. All the Badgers' conference wins have come against the bottom half of the Big Ten, and they lead the league in scoring defense at 54.4. A win for Purdue would add a legitimate contender to their résumé, and if the Badgers can hold off the youth of the Boilermakers, Wisconsin can maintain their position at the top of the conference standings. • No. 15 Mississippi at Mississippi State, Saturday, 5 p.m. ET (ESPN Full Court, ESPN360.com)
The Rebels and Bulldogs have played their way into the SEC championship discussion. Despite a disappointing loss on the road at Auburn, Ole Miss is a quality team with both their season losses coming in SEC play. The first came against the well-oiled machine of Tennessee in Knoxville. Mississippi State is 4-0 in conference play, while Mississippi is 2-2. The Bulldogs' top scorers are Jamont Gordon, Charles Rhodes and Barry Stewart. Gordon and Stewart can score off the dribble, make enough 3s to keep the defense honest and get to the rack in transition. Inside Rhodes scores with power moves, and the extra long Jarvis Varnado is the best shot blocker in college basketball. The Rebels counter with super frosh Chris Warren, who is coming off a career-high of 25 points. But more importantly, he has been consistent all season. The inside attack is handled by Dwayne Curtis and, combined with Warren, gives the Rebels balance inside and out. It should be fun to watch Ole Miss try to give the Dogs their first loss in conference play. • No. 9 Georgetown at West Virginia, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN, ESPN360.com)
The Hoyas set the tone with hustle and intensity in home wins against Notre Dame and Syracuse, improving to 15-2 overall and 5-1 in the Big East. On defense, Roy Hibbert controls the paint while guards Jonathan Wallace, Jessie Sapp and Jeremiah Rivers lockdown the perimeter. When Big Roy is aggressive and assertive and gets double-figure shot attempts, the Princeton offense seems to run smooth and creates open looks on the arc. West Virginia lacks depth inside, and with forward Joe Alexander nursing a groin injury, the Mountaineers will attempt to swarm Hibbert in the lane on defense and shake loose Alex Ruoff and Darris Nichols for open looks on offense. After an in-state battle with Marshall in Charleston that resulted in a 66-64 win, the Mountaineers return to Morgantown thinking upset. • No. 6 Washington State at Arizona State, Saturday, 7 p.m. ET
The Cougars' road swing that started in Tucson (with a 76-64 loss) will end Saturday with a hot Sun Devils team that Herb Sendek has believing can be a major player in the Pac-10 race. The perimeter of Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver can not only defend but can score. Low knocks down the 3 and is automatic from the free-throw line. Weaver attacks off the bounce, excels in transition and can make the open 3 when defenders play off him. Arizona State, which is also an excellent defensive team, is coming off a Thursday loss to Washington. Freshman guard James Harden and forward Jeff Pendergraph are the team's leaders in scoring and rebounding. Freshman guard Ty Abbott has helped with his 3-point shooting, and the Sun Devils are going to play with a lot of confidence and urgency at home. • No. 22 Xavier at Massachusetts, Sunday, 12 p.m. ET
Drew Lavender leads the Musketeers into battle against the Minutemen after dishing out six assists in a local clash with Dayton that ended in a 69-43 win for Xavier. UMass guard Ricky Harris is fresh off a sensational week averaging 23 points per game in wins over Dayton and Charlotte, as well as a 30-point performance in a loss to St. Joseph's. B.J. Raymond, C.J. Anderson and the super athletic Derrick Brown will lead the way for Xavier against the versatile Gary Forbes and solid point guard Chris Lowe, who keeps everyone involved. A UMass win would put it at 3-2 in the Atlantic 10 after getting tripped up in at Saint Joe's in a 81-77 loss. A win for Xavier would improve it to 16-4 and 4-1 in the A-10 to remain in the top spot. • No. 13 Vanderbilt at Florida, Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (ESPN Full Court, ESPN360.com)
After being humbled with a 20-point loss at the hands of the Volunteers, the Commodores rebounded by beating up on LSU, 92-76. Shan Foster will attack the fearless, young Gators in an attempt to get Vandy to 3-2 in SEC play. Nick Calathes and Jai Lucas will try to keep close tabs on Foster, while Marreese Speights will be the first line of defense against A.J. Ogilvy. A win for Florida gets the Gators to a surprising 5-1 record in the SEC after beating South Carolina on Wednesday in Columbia. • No. 3 Duke at Maryland, Sunday, 6:30 p.m. ET
The Terps had a week to rest and prepare for the Blue Devils. James Gist will attempt to lead Maryland to a second win over a highly ranked team after knocking the wind out of the No. 1 Tar Heels. The Terrapins will have to deal with the young, deep Blue Devils that attack on both ends of the floor with their pressure defense and spread offense. A win for Duke would get them to 5-0 after beating Virginia Tech, 81-64, on Thursday. With consecutive home games against NC State and Miami following Sunday's game, DeMarcus Nelson and Company could head to Chapel Hill with a 7-0 ACC record on February 6. -- Reggie Rankin, Scouts Inc.