Will the Jayhawks hold court in the Phog?
Peter G. Aiken/US Presswire
By Jay Bilas
Outlook: Kansas is an outstanding defensive team with great size. The Jayhawks have two of the best defensive guards in the country in Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers. Sasha Kaun is a very good post defender, especially teaming with Darnell Jackson and Darrell Arthur. Brandon Rush is an excellent and versatile perimeter defender who moves his feet, has long arms and can match up with a guard or a small forward on the defensive end. Kansas rebounds, challenges shots and pressures the ball effectively. The Jayhawks do a good job of avoiding the offense's ball screens, instead turning and trapping ball screens and pressuring the ball to disrupt opposing offenses. On the offensive end, KU runs a lot of "3 around 2" high-low action with ball screens and duck-ins, which can put a lot of pressure on opposing big men to defend out on the floor. Kansas coach Bill Self runs a lot of creative sets, including his "2-game," 1-4 high sets and single, double and staggered screens.
Join Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Hubert Davis and Digger Phelps in Lawrence, Kan., on Saturday as they break down the day in college basketball (ESPN, 11 a.m. & 8 p.m. ET).
Bubble Games To Watch
By Andy Glockner
AP Photo/Julie Jacobson
OU freshman Blake Griffin is trying to keep the Sooners' tourney hopes alive.
This game is big for A&M (7-6 Big 12) and critical for Oklahoma (6-7); the Sooners are tied with three other teams for fifth place in a league that might not get six bids. After this game, the Aggies (currently tied with Baylor for fourth place) close at Baylor and vs. Kansas (at home); if the Aggies lose these last three, they probably wouldn't be able to overcome a 7-9 league mark. The Sooners have better computer numbers but can't afford a home loss that would condemn them to .500, at best, in the Big 12. They also already have lost to A&M, so getting swept would be bad tiebreaker news.
Illinois State at Southern Illinois (Saturday, 8:30 ET)
This should be fun. This meeting in Carbondale probably will be followed by a rematch in Saint Louis in the Valley semis. If either team wins both games and then draws Drake in the championship game, the Valley could find a way to get two bids regardless of who takes the automatic bid. A split of the two games makes an at-large much less likely for either team.
No. 4 UCLA at Arizona (Sunday, 4 ET)
After Thursday's home loss to USC, this game suddenly is a lot more important for the Wildcats. If they lose here, they'd be 7-9 in the Pac-10 heading to the Oregon schools for the final weekend. If they can't get it done at McArthur Court, end up 8-10 and then lose in the Pac-10 quarters, is it possible the Cats -- even with the No. 1 strength of schedule in the land -- could miss the dance? Hmmm
This could be the road win that more or less puts the Tigers into the field of 65, but it's a game that Maryland needs very, very badly at home after the back-to-back losses to Miami and Virginia Tech. As long as the Tigers can finish in the league's top four, they stand a very good chance of making the NCAAs.
Player To Watch
Dominic James, Marquette
The battle to rest in New York is almost as fierce as the battle to get to New York. Since the Big East expanded its tournament to include first-round games in 1983, only one team has won the championship without the benefit of a first-round bye. Gerry McNamara's pixie dust led Syracuse to the unprecedented title two seasons ago.
After a sluggish league start left them for conference roadkill, the Golden Eagles are in the fight, a half-game behind Connecticut and Notre Dame for the fourth and final bye spot. Marquette has just two league games left to claw for the spot, Saturday's tip with conference-leading Georgetown (2 p.m. ET) and the season ender at Syracuse (March 8, ESPN, 4 p.m. ET).
Blessed with a trio of talented guards, the Golden Eagles remain Dominic James' team. The former Big East Rookie of the Year has played like a postman this season. Neither flu nor sprained wrist nor balky ankle has kept James from the court. Two games ago, James twisted his ankle badly enough that he wondered if he would even play in a pivotal game against Villanova. Thirty-three minutes, 25 points, 6 steals, 5 3s and 4 assists later, both he and coach Tom Crean had the answer.
The injuries have turned down the wattage on James' numbers this season, but there is no question about his value. During the Golden Eagles' current five-game winning streak, James' handprint has been everywhere. If he's not scoring (25 vs. Villanova, 13 vs. Rutgers and 19 vs. St. John's), he's directing the offense. He scored just four points against Pittsburgh but made up for it by dishing out 12 assists.
Marquette will need James on both ends of the floor against the 10th-ranked Hoyas. Containing Jessie Sapp and Jonathan Wallace will be every bit as vital as scoring against Georgetown's stingy defense.
-- Dana O'Neil, ESPN.com
Creativity of the Cameron Crazies
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Key Games This Weekend• Pitt at Syracuse, Saturday, ESPN, noon ET
Syracuse should be well-rested without a midweek game after losing to the Irish on Sunday. Pitt beat Cincinnati on Wednesday before heading to the Carrier Dome for Saturday's game. Sam Young and DeJuan Blair must take care of business as the leading scorers and rebounders. Levance Fields, Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin will have to produce points and defend Syracuse freshmen Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn. SU sophomore Paul Harris will look to play above the rim in transition and on any open lanes to the rim. The Panthers and Orange will be fighting for a strong finish with two games remaining before the Big East tourney. • Wazzu at Stanford, Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
The Cardinal are still in the hunt for the Pac-10 title after their ninth win in 10 games (a 79-69 victory over California on Sunday). In addition to the post production of the Lopez twins, guards Anthony Goods and Mitch Johnson have provided scoring on the perimeter to give Stanford a balanced attack. Stanford defeated Washington 82-79 on Thursday and will look to complete the three-game homestand 3-0 when the Cougars come calling Saturday. Washington State lost to Arizona at home last Saturday when it shot 34 percent. Taylor Rochestie, Derrick Low and defensive specialist Kyle Weaver must have a better shooting performance than that, and center Aron Baynes will need to be effective scoring and on the glass against the size of the Cardinal. Washington State needs to avenge the 67-65 overtime home lost to Stanford on Feb. 2 and build momentum going into the Pac-10 finale against Washington. • St. Mary's at Gonzaga, Saturday, 8 p.m. ET
After losing to a tough Kent State team, the Gaels beat threatening San Diego on Monday to get to 11-1 in the West Coast Conference. Leading scorer Patty Mills must distribute the ball to Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan. Simpson is an excellent rebounder with 3-point range, and Samhan can score on the low block. Gonzaga stands firm at 11-1 in the conference. Matt Bouldin is Gonzaga's leading scorer. Jeremy Pargo can make plays off the dribble, and freshman Austin Daye will not turn down an open look. Center Josh Heytvelt provides scoring and rebounding in the lane. The Zags depend on multiple weapons, with 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes per game. Gonzaga will try to avoid a sweep; the regular-season title will be determined in this one. • Kentucky at Tennessee, Sunday, noon ET
The Wildcats have an opportunity to sweep the nation's No. 1 team. In the teams' first meeting, a 72-66 Kentucky win in Lexington on Jan. 22, UK had Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford, Patrick Patterson and Perry Stevenson all score in double figures. For Tennessee, Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith, Tyler Smith and offensive spark plug J.P. Prince lead a long list of capable Vols into this important rematch as Tennessee attempts to hold on to the top spot in the SEC and Kentucky tries to keep its postseason hopes alive. • Indiana at Michigan St., Sunday, 2 p.m. ET
MSU's Drew Neitzel scored 21 points in the first meeting, an 80-61 loss to the Hoosiers in Bloomington. The problem was that no other Spartans starter reached double figures, and MSU's defense allowed Indiana to shoot 54.4 percent from the field. Eric Gordon dropped 28 points and went wherever he wanted against the Spartans' defense. MSU's Raymar Morgan must play better this time around, and Goran Suton must get more than the one rebound he did in Game 1 vs. the Hoosiers for State to be successful. -- Reggie Rankin, Scouts Inc.