A little holiday called Christmas is shutting down college basketball for a few days, so enjoy the holiday season with family, and tune into some NBA or NFL games if thatís your thing. The upcoming weekend does promise some solid NCAA basketball action, although it will not be nearly as captivating as this past Saturday, which contained two top ten matchups. In a few weeks when conference play begins, the college hoops season will really begin to take off. Until then, youíll have to live with the winding down of the non-conference season, but you can still find some big games sprinkled sporadically throughout the next couple of weeks, few bigger than the game between Arizona and Memphis, which grabs the honor of Game of the Week for the upcoming seven days.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Arizona at Memphs
By stifling Roy Hibbert and turning in a tremendous performance against Georgetown at home Saturday, the Memphis Tigers can now seriously argue for the nationís top ranking. In the end, the polls donít really matter at all though, so what really matters is the Tigers really went out and did exactly what we all expected them to do. That is, John Calipariís team proved to the nation that there may not be more balanced and explosive team in all of college basketball. Joey Dorsey is a monster inside, and Chris Douglas-Robertsí outstanding play has finally garnered him the attention he deserves. Derrick Rose does not even need to be the teamís star, which is a testament to the talent and depth the Tigers boast. Not only does Calipari have the pleasure of utilizing several capable guards (and the word capable is modest), but other frontcourt players such as Robert Dozier and Shawn Taggart compliment Dorsey nicely inside. If only Memphis could play North Carolina this season- imagine the magnitude of that game.
Enough about Memphis, though. Thereís another team playing in this game, and the Arizona Wildcats avenged some early struggles to win six straight contests. The winning streak includes wins over Texas A&M, Illinois, and UNLV, so Kevin OíNeill has proved he can step in for legendary coach Lute Olsen and produce results right away. Offensively, things are clicking for Arizona, but the Wildcatsí defense is the reason for their success. Over the past six games, they allowed more than 70 points in just one game, and have held their last three opponents to 58 points or less. Defense was the one thing lacking from last seasonís team, but this squad appears to have figured out how to defend the way OíNeill wants them to. With several weapons on offense including freshman sensation Jerryd Bayless, All-American candidate Chase Budinger, and athletic big man Jordan Hill, Arizona can be virtually unstoppable at times. Finally, they are starting to play that way.
Arizona has eight players averaging more than 15 minutes per game, so Memphisí absurd depth will not play as big a factor in wearing down the Wildcats. Dozier, Dorsey, and Taggart will present problems inside for the Wildcats, who do not have a true center to fill the paint. Arizona can match Memphisí athleticism though, and there really isnít anyone in America that can guard Chase Budinger. Stay up until 9 P.M. on Saturday to check this one out, because while Memphis has advantage, Arizona is more dangerous than many will give them credit for.
Tennessee at Gonzaga
Give Bruce Pearl some props for taking his team to both Xavier and Gonzaga this season, two mid-major powerhouses with real home court advantages. Tennessee already passed the first test by beating Xavier, but now they have a tough task awaiting them when they travel to the Pacific Northwest to take on Gonzaga. While Tennessee came into the season with high expectations and has performed well for the most part, the Bulldogs have been up and down this season. They still lack a statement victory and instead have only have a few quality wins. Even though they hung with Washington State, this is a big game for Mark Few, who needs to pick up a marquee victory for his program against the Volunteers. A game at Memphis in January still awaits the Zags, but the nation needs to find out how good this team is, and we will get that chance on Saturday.
Oklahoma at West Virginia
The loss to Stephen F. Austin has become even more perplexing after Oklahoma proceeded to win games against both Arkansas and Gonzaga last week. With a chance to knock off their second straight top 25 opponent, the Sooners have a shot to get it done in Morgantown. West Virginiaís off to a nice start, but with its only wins coming against cupcakes, itís hard to know what Bob Huggins has on his hands. So far, heís done a great job mixing John Beileinís system with his own, as he attempts to integrate them into a new system while not completely destroying the old one that they are most acclimated with. Jeff Capel did not enjoy a great first season in Norman, but his team has showed significant improvement early on this season. This game is up for grabs on Saturday, and it should end up being a struggle for both sides, considering how evenly matched this two teams are.
Wisconsin at Texas
Texasí loss to Michigan State should not sour anyone on the Longhorns, who stormed its way to an undefeated start with wins over Tennessee and UCLA. Wisconsinís blasting at the hands of Duke and a loss against Marquette should not have fans giving up on them either, because Bo Ryan still has the players, specifically in guard Trevon Hughes and forward Brian Butch, to compete at a high level. Hopefully for Ryan, their road trip to Austin wonít end up the way their trip to Duhram, North Carolina went, or it could be a long weekend. Wisconsin hasnít been overly impressive this season, but as stated earlier, the Badgers are still pretty talented and will most likely be competing for a bid in the NCAA tournament. Texas could run them out of the building like the Duke game, or they may struggle with the Badgers like Marquette did.
Pittsburgh at Dayton
Jamie Dixon has to be worried about this one. Last weekís win over Duke was dramatic, thrilling, and draining all at the same time. Now, he needs to get his team ready for a road game against a scary Dayton team. The Flyers are one of those teams coaches hate to play. Pitt out of the Big East is ďsupposedĒ to beat Dayton from the Atlantic Ten, meaning thereís nothing to gain out of a win and everything to lose out of a loss. Whatís worse is Dayton is more than just a formidable opponent, with a win over Louisville at Freedom Hall already on its resume, in addition to wins against Miami (OH) and Holy Cross. Led by point guard Brian Roberts and an underrated freshman in Chris Wright, the Flyers lack star power outside of those two players but are able to turn to several other players for production as well. Pittsburghís DeJuan Blair has started his college career with great success and there arenít many other players in college baskeball as fun to watch as he is. The Panthers better be focusing on Dayton, even after the big Duke win, or else they could find themselves in a similar situation to Louisville on Satuday.
OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST
Florida State at Georgia Tech
Maybe it isnít the type of showdown ESPN would be all over the instant it was scheduled, but Sundayís early ACC game between Florida State and Georgia Tech may be an interesting one to keep an eye on during a lazy Sunday afternoon. Both teams will most likely be mired in the middle of the ACC, desperate for something to distinguish them from not only the rest of the conference but also the other bubble teams trying to make it into the NCAA tournament. Georgia Techís record is a mediocre 5-5, but the Yellow Jackets have played a rough schedule and are probably a better team than that. Florida State, on the other hand, has been destroying the scrubs on its schedule but hasnít performed against major-conference competition. The Seminolesí 10-4 record looks nice on the outside, but Florida State is still very unproven and has not shown they can win without departed star Al Thornton. As they begin ACC play, Florida State has no quality wins and may be in trouble when the NCAA tournament committee selects their field if they donít win some big games in conference.
Nevada at North Carolina
North Carolina could be playing a local high school team and still find their way onto ESPN, but thatís just what happens when youíre as good as the Tar Heels have been in the past, and when youíre as good as they are this season. Nevada isnít the best of opponents, but the Wolf Pack arenít your local high school team. Without Nick Fazekas and Ramon Sessions, theyíve taken a step back, but this is still a team capable of pulling a major upset. In Chapel Hill against the top ranked team in the nation is probably a little too much to ask for, but if youíve got nothing to do on Thursday this game might be a bit entertaining. But of course the game could be over before the first television timeout as well, so maybe you want to find something else to do on Thursday.