|No. 6 Syracuse vs. No. 1 Louisville is one of five matchups between top-25 teams Saturday. (usatoday.com)|
Conference play is in full force, which means no November games where Duke plays a local junior college team with no player taller than 6-foot-6. Conference play means rivals and legitimate match-ups. Saturday is giving us five games between top-25 teams that are sure to produce exciting moments. This will probably end up being a weekly feature, so don't worry about the brilliant analysis only being limited to five games. Here's the breakdown:
No. 6 Syracuse vs. No. 1 Louisville
L'Ville's Russ Smith (18.9 ppg) has proven his great play is less fluke and more Wooden Award candidate and is living up to the nickname Pitino gave him, "Russdiculous." So to sum up the game in Pitino speak: Russdiculous will have to play great against Boeheim's Zonediculous defense while Pitino yells from the sideline hopefully wearing his Whitediculous suit. Should be fun — I mean, ridiculous.
No. 8 Gonzaga vs No. 13 Butler
Cinderella fans are about to explode with excitement over this one. Smart move by ESPN starting the College Gameday series at historic Hinkle Fieldhouse as darling Butler takes on the original mid-major darling Gonzaga. And it's a battle of the Bulldogs. What else do you need?
It was almost perfect. ESPN officials were beaming with pride at this scheduling. The only downside, and it's a fairly large one, is Butler will be without top scorer Rotnei Clarke, who suffered a neck injury against Dayton last Saturday. (Dayton just ruined its chance of getting any games on ESPN this year.) The loss of Clarke is probably too much for Butler to overcome. Scoring could be tough to come by with the absence of his 16.3 ppg average and Gonzaga has too many weapons. But don't count out the magic of Hinkle (oh, hey Indiana) and coach Brad Stevens. Butler won't give up without a fight.
No. 17 Missouri vs No. 10 Florida
Florida not only has the home-court advantage, but they can score in bunches. The Gators are averaging 77 ppg in their last four games. Bowers being out does hurt the Tigers, especially from a scoring aspect. Mizzou is still looking for that signature win to announce its welcome into the SEC, in football and basketball, and this is the type of win that would send a big message to the conference.
No. 11 Ohio State vs. No. 18 Michigan State
Coming off a big home upset of then-No. 2 Michigan on Sunday, Ohio State can't afford a let-down against rival Michigan State. But will they again rise to the challenge? Who knows. The Big Ten might as well be a lottery drawing. Just when we think we've kind of got the conference sorted out, Bo Ryan and Wisconsin come in and destroy everything we once thought. Maybe Illinois is what we originally thought and isn't a title contender? Maybe Michigan runs away with the title? Maybe Iowa wins 12 straight conference games and shocks everyone? Maybe we find out Aaron Craft's red cheeks give him superpowers that suddenly stop working in big games? Truly anything could happen with this conference.
All I know is Michigan State really needs a big conference win for the resume and this is the time to get one. The Buckeyes have been unstable and unable to play a complete game. Now is Michigan State's chance to strike and get a signature win to start a brutal conference stretch.
No. 21 Oregon vs. No. 24 UCLA
Oregon has been a great rebuilding story that reached its height with an upset win over then-undefeated Arizona last Thursday. UCLA has a coach, Ben Howland, on the hot seat and a group of freshmen still learning to play together. Both the Ducks and Bruins come into this game undefeated in conference play, both trying to convince the public that the hype (UCLA's came at the beginning of the season, Oregon's is now) is deserving.
UCLA has more big-name stars in Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson, but don't overlook the balance of Oregon. UCLA gets the advantage playing at Pauley Pavilion, so it just depends which Bruins team shows up: the one that scored 97 against Missouri or the one that scored 57 against Utah.