Daily Word: Texas enters a tough stretch
Every weekday, Andy Katz leads a panel of our college hoops experts in a discussion of the biggest issues, trends and themes happening in and around college basketball.
1. Four of Texas' next five games are against ranked opponents. How do you expect the Longhorns to fare?
Andy Katz: I'll go with a 2-3 record. I don't know which ones the Longhorns will get, although I'll lean toward a road win at TCU. That also means the Longhorns get a win over Kansas at home or at Baylor, Oklahoma State or Kansas State. One of those can be had.
Dana O'Neil: Rick Barnes has done a terrific job with this team and not only are the results showing, but the Longhorns' confidence is rising, too. That makes Texas a dangerous team, especially against a reeling Baylor squad this weekend. I think Texas could go a critical 3-2 in this stretch -- beating the Bears, TCU and maybe stealing another on the road at Kansas State. That's a lot to ask but it wouldn't stun me. Kansas and Oklahoma State seem like tall orders, even at home.
C.L. Brown: The Longhorns' toughness has shown, especially on the road this season where they own a 3-1 record. I think at worst they go 3-2 during this stretch with one of those wins being an upset of Kansas or Oklahoma State.
2. What's this weekend's best game that no one is talking about?
Katz: I like the Iowa at Northwestern game as a possible sleeper. Northwestern has won three Big Ten games and Iowa is coming off a road loss at Michigan. Getting swept on the road this week would deal a serious blow to Iowa's Big Ten title chances.
O'Neil: I think Xavier and Providence is a good one to watch. It's a huge game for the Big East since these two teams are the only likely contenders to join Creighton and Villanova in the NCAA tournament. I want to see if Providence has legitimately turned a corner.
Brown: It may not end up being the best game but BYU-Gonzaga probably has the biggest stakes. A win for the Bulldogs and they gain a two-game lead atop the West Coast Conference. BYU probably has to win the league to get an NCAA bid and a victory in Spokane would not only tie it for first place, it'd be the confidence boost the Cougars need.
3. How does the loss of Branden Dawson change Michigan State?
Katz: The loss means the guards will have to board. The depth is in place but the Spartans must get even more overall production from the guards. This will be one of Tom Izzo's most challenging Big Ten schedules with his two best bigs hurting.
O'Neil: Couple the loss of Dawson to no Adreian Payne and suddenly Michigan State is without its two biggest rebounders and for a team that does so much on the boards, that's big. The Spartans' backcourt, already overtaxed to score a lot of buckets, is going to have to do even more and the team is going to have to rebound by committee. Bad timing with two big games coming up for Tom Izzo.
Brown: Dawson brought versatility to the lineup, whether it was by giving the Spartans a big guard or sliding in at small forward. Denzel Valentine in particular will have to expand his role, especially rebounding. Someone between freshmen Alvin Ellis III and Gavin Schilling and junior Alex Gauna will get the chance for more minutes and how they respond will impact how Michigan State emerges from Dawson's absence.
Weekend Games To Watch
After opening ACC play 1-2, Duke has rattled off three straight W's and the past two haven't been close. Florida State is off to a good start in conference play and Seminoles fans haven't forgotten the buzzer-beater that shocked then-No. 4 Duke in 2012.
That these two teams have combined to lose five conference games and are both in the top 25 should say something about the strength of the Big 12. Iowa State needs this one at home or else it will be headed to Lawrence with four straight losses.
The battle for Michigan got a lot more interesting after the Spartans took care of Indiana on Tuesday and the Wolverines kept up by beating Iowa on Wednesday. The winner of Saturday's game will leave the Breslin Center in the Big Ten driver's seat.
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