Friday’s Pregame Shootaround: No. 6 Texas visits No. 1 Kentucky
GAME OF THE NIGHT: No. 6 Texas at No. 1 Kentucky, 7:00 p.m. (ESPN)
No suspense here, as the Rupp Arena court will be chock full of players who rate among the nation’s best. Kentucky’s ten-man rotation has been one of college basketball’s biggest conversation points thus far, but the Longhorns are one team who (at least in the front court) won’t be at a major disadvantage from a depth standpoint. The problem for Texas is that they’re without guard Isaiah Taylor, who’s out with a broken wrist. Javan Felix is an adequate fill-in and Rick Barnes has solid options on the perimeter, but Taylor is their “difference-maker.” That could be tough to overcome in this matchup.
MID-MAJOR GAME OF THE NIGHT: Long Beach State at Stephen F. Austin, 8:00 p.m.
This is a game that in years past would be played in mid-February thanks to the now-defunct BracketBusters event. In fact, it’s a return game from SFA’s visit (and win) back in February 2013. Friday’s matchup is key for both teams but especially for Long Beach State, with this being the first of six straight on the road. Two players to keep an eye on: Long Beach State’s Mike Caffey (18.7 ppg, 4.2 apg) and Stephen F. Austin’s Jacob Parker (15.4 ppg, 6.0 rpg). The Lumberjacks have won three straight, and their defense could be the difference against the 49ers.
WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?: SMU (vs. Wyoming, 7:00 p.m. ESPNEWS)
In all honesty a Cowboy win in Dallas wouldn’t be a major surprise. Larry Shyatt’s team may not roll up the points, but they’ve been efficient offensively (Larry Nance Jr. and Josh Adams are fun to watch) and at times stifling defensively. Larry Brown’s Mustangs certainly don’t lack for talent with point guard Nic Moore leading the way. But how will they deal with a slow, slug-it-out affair? While SMU wouldn’t be characterized as a “running” team, tempo will be key in this one.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR
1. No. 11 Kansas is back in action, hosting a Florida team that has struggled offensively and can use a quality win for its resume. Forwards Perry Ellis and Cliff Alexander played well for the Jayhawks down in Orlando, and now the key is to get sophomore guard Wayne Selden Jr. going.
2. UConn enters tonight’s game against Yale at less than full strength, with Ryan Boatright (ankle) a game-time decision and both Rodney Purvis (knee) and Omar Calhoun (knee) also being question marks. But regardless of who the Huskies have on the perimeter, their front court better come ready to play with Yale’s Justin Sears being one of the Ivy League’s best.
3. City rivals Duquesne and Pittsburgh meet at the CONSOL Energy Center, with the Panthers looking rebound from what was a disappointing defensive performance in their loss at Indiana earlier this week.
4. No. 22 Oklahoma returns to the court for the first time since the Battle 4 Atlantis, as they host Missouri in the Big 12/SEC Challenge. Are the Sooners any more comfortable with forward TaShawn Thomas, who if worked into the flow consistently can give them the low-post scoring threat they lacked last season?
5. Former Big East foes Providence and Boston College meet in Chestnut Hill, and something to keep track of is the health of Providence’s Kris Dunn. Dunn was affected by an ankle issue during Sunday’s loss at No. 1 Kentucky, and when he’s hampered the Friars are as well. Also this is a chance to get another look at Providence’s LaDontae Henton and BC’s Olivier Hanlan, two of the best players in their respective leagues.
OTHER NOTABLE GAMES
- FIU at no. 5 Louisville, 7:00 p.m.
- Manhattan at Fairfield, 7:00 p.m.
- Quinnipiac at Siena, 7:00 p.m.
- Coastal Carolina at Auburn, 9:00 p.m.