Slight edge to Memphis in true rivalry game
Joe Murphy/Getty Images
By Jay Bilas
Outlook: This game provides a true rivalry between two teams that love to pressure, speed up the game, force turnovers and get out in transition. It also features two coaches who are flamboyant salesmen who were questionable fits at their schools, yet they have reinvented and reinvigorated the two programs that seemed headed nowhere before their arrivals. Each team brings great athletes, really good defense and a high confidence level. Of course, the fact that Memphis is the last unbeaten team in the country, and Tennessee represents Memphis' toughest challenge before the NCAA Tournament, adds a great level of interest to the game.
Join Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis and Digger Phelps in Memphis, Tenn., on Saturday as they break down the day in college basketball (ESPN, 11 a.m. & 8 p.m. ET).
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
After early-season struggles, Chris Lofton has found his shooting stroke in SEC play.
Bubble Games To Watch
By Andy Glockner
Mississippi State's loss to Ole Miss opened the door for the Hogs to catch the Bulldogs in the SEC West, which would greatly enhance their profile. Kentucky needs to get the next two at home to be 10-3 in league play heading to Knoxville, where they could survive a loss and still get to 12 SEC wins. That would make things awfully interesting. Maryland at Miami (Fla.) (Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN Full Court)
The Terps' loss to Virginia Tech and Miami's big upset of Duke make this game more meaningful for both teams. This is the only meeting of the regular season, so tiebreaker value abounds. The Canes have three home games left, so 8-8 or better in the ACC isn't a reach if they can get this one. Maryland's final stretch isn't easy, so the Terps don't want to mess around. Arizona State at Washington (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET)
The home loss to Cal last weekend puts an enormous amount of pressure on the Sun Devils in this one. They missed at Washington State on Thursday, so unless they can sweep the L.A. schools at home, they're going to need a couple of road wins down the stretch. The game at Oregon State should be one, and this one looks more promising than the trip to Oregon. Saint Joseph's at Rhode Island (Sunday, 4 p.m. ET)
This is a huge game for both teams in an incredibly compact A-10. This is the only game between these two clubs, so it holds tiebreaker potential, too. The game is probably more critical to Rhode Island at the end of a make-or-break homestand, as Saint Joe's Joe's is in better shape in the standings and gets three in a row at home after this one.
Player To Watch
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
Courtesy of two miraculous finishes, the Sooners have put themselves into the NCAA Tournament conversation. Now 18-8 and tied for fourth in the increasingly difficult Big 12, Oklahoma is a No. 9 seed in Joe Lunardi's most recent Bracketology.
A tough nonconference schedule that included Memphis, USC, Arkansas, Gonzaga and West Virginia has helped the Sooners ride to 30th in the RPI. A signature February win would help even more and Oklahoma has a perfect opportunity on Saturday when it visits steamrolling Texas (ABC regional coverage, 3:30 p.m. ET). The Longhorns have won six in a row. Texas remains D.J. Augustin's team but the emergence of the frontcourt, in particular Damion James and Gary Johnson, has the Longhorns hovering near a No. 1 seed.
That's where Blake Griffin comes in. The freshman forward, who recently said he'll return for his sophomore season, deserves to be mentioned when the talk of super freshmen surfaces. Griffin averages 15.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game, and it's the reliable combination of both scoring and boarding that makes him so vital. In the Sooners' shocker against Texas Tech, he had just nine points, five of which came at the free-throw line; but he also had 17 rebounds. In the stunning OT win against Baylor, Griffin's handprint was everywhere with a career-high 29 points and 15 boards, his eighth double-double of the year.
Texas couldn't stop him earlier this year. He had 19 and 9 in the 64-54 loss on Feb. 6. Certainly winning at Texas, where the Horns are 14-1, isn't easy, but if Griffin can muscle his way around in the frontcourt, Oklahoma might go from in the conversation to talk of the town.
-- Dana O'Neil, ESPN.com
Hubert Davis: Breaking down Memphis' zone offense
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Key Games This Weekend• Connecticut at Villanova, Saturday, ESPN, noon ET
The Wildcats have traveled a bumpy road in conference play. At one point, they lost five in a row. But as long as Scottie Reynolds is on the floor, opponents must be careful. Reynolds can get on a roll with his deep shooting range and athletic moves to the rim. Dante Cunningham, Casiem Drummond and Shane Clark provide support in the rebounding department. UConn is scorching hot as the Huskies continue to move up the Big East standings by winning 10 in a row after beating DePaul on Tuesday. A.J. Price has taken control of the team and established himself as the top point guard in the Big East. Forward Jeff Adrien has continued to be a rock solid scorer and rebounder, while the improving Hasheem Thabeet defends the basket with intimidating shot blocking. Forward Stanley Robinson's job description is endless as he can do it all: defend, rebound, score and block shots. Doug Wiggins and Craig Austrie provide timely baskets as the Huskies continue to ride the wave of confidence. • Oregon at UCLA, Saturday, ABC regional coverage, 3:30 p.m. ET
The Ducks have been up and down like a thermometer but always pose a threat with their ability to score points. Malik Hairston, Maarty Leunen, Bryce Taylor and Tajuan Porter are all capable of having great offensive performances. The Bruins rebounded from the Washington loss by getting revenge against USC on Sunday. Darren Collison, Kevin Love and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute played well against the Trojans. Josh Shipp and Russell Westbrook get it done on the wing with 3s and slashes to the rim. The tough defense of the Bruins and the high-scoring offensive potential of the Ducks make this game intriguing. • Kansas at Oklahoma State, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
The Cowboys broke their 16-game conference road losing streak by taking out Texas A&M in College Station last Saturday. Their tough defense held A&M to 18 second-half points. Oklahoma State will need another huge defensive effort to have a chance against the Jayhawks. Mario Chalmers leads KU into Stillwater as the Jayhawks attempt to avoid another road setback. Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson will be more than a handful for Oklahoma State forwards Marcus Dove and Ibrahima Thomas. KU's Brandon Rush and OSU's James Anderson will be an exciting matchup on the perimeter, while Cowboy guards Byron Eaton and Terrel Harris will look to make plays against the defensive pressure of Chalmers, Sherron Collins and Russell Robinson. • Kansas State at Baylor, Saturday, ESPN Full Court, 8 p.m. ET
It will be interesting to see how the Bears decide to defend Michael Beasley after watching him drop 40 points and grab 17 rebounds against Missouri last Saturday. Beasley is the talk of college basketball as he continues to dominate on a regular basis, leading the Big 12 in scoring and rebounding. Forward Bill Walker is a physical scorer that can rebound out of his area and finish with authority. Point guard Jacob Pullen can also knock down the open jumper and sets up Beasley and Walker with his dribble penetration. The Bears have good scoring balance and excellent perimeter depth to help them offset the production of Beasley. Guards Curtis Jerrells, LaceDarius Dunn, Henry Dugat, Aaron Bruce and Tweety Carter give coach Scott Drew numerous options. Forward Kevin Rogers and centers Josh Lomers and Mamadou Diene will have the main responsibility of dealing with Beasley. The perimeter play of Baylor and Beasley, the leading candidate for college player of the year, make this game a must see. • Louisville at Pittsburgh, Sunday, ESPN Full Court, noon ET
The Cards have won six in a row after beating Syracuse on Big Monday. The quality depth of Louisville has taken a toll on opponents. Terrence Williams, Jerry Smith and Edgar Sosa have been too hot to handle recently on the perimeter along with talented Earl Clark, who was terrific against Providence with 20 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assist in a 80-72 road win. Center David Padgett has continued to provide leadership and be the low-post threat. Pitt has already knocked off Georgetown at home without Levance Fields, who is now back in the lineup. DeJuan Blair and Padgett will battle down low as Sam Young and Clark go at each other on the wing. Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin will compete against Williams, Smith and Sosa, and that should provide nonstop action from start to finish. Pitt needs a win after a loss at Notre Dame on Thursday. • Xavier at Dayton, Sunday, 2 p.m. ET
Dayton will be fired up for the rematch with rival Xavier after a 69-43 loss on Jan. 24 in Cincinnati. Charles Little will be back in the lineup after missing Game 1 with a broken foot. Xavier is in the A-10 driver's seat. Drew Lavender is the straw that stirs the drink for the Musketeers, leading them in scoring and assists while handling the ball in crucial situations. Josh Duncan can flat out stick the 3, along with B.J. Raymond and defensive stopper Stanley Burrell. Derrick Brown plays above the rim in transition and is the team's best all-around rebounder. Dayton's Brian Roberts will have to be hitting on all cylinders. Little and Marcus Johnson will look to help produce some points for the Flyers. After losing at La Salle in overtime on Thursday, a win for Dayton against Xavier gets the Flyers a much-needed win against their rival. Xavier can put the conference race even further out of reach with a big road win in hostile UD Arena. -- Reggie Rankin, Scouts Inc.