StatJunkie's Hoop Blog | thoughts on ncaa hoops from http://statjunkie.org

Jan/12

21

Top 5 Games to Watch in Second Half of the Year

January and February are busy months in the world of sports. With the NFL season determining its champion and professional basketball and hockey in full swing, it is easy to wait until March to turn your full attention to NCAA Hoops. However, the second half of the college basketball season is under way and there are many match ups that will be not only entertaining to watch but also of crucial importance to seeding when the selection committee sits down to set the field. The early out of conference games go a long way to determining a team’s strength of schedule, but the committee loves teams that finish strong down the stretch. How a team performs at the end of the season more closely resembles what we all can expect to see in the tournament. Here are 5 of the best games to watch in the next month and a half, all of which can be seen on Direct TV no matter where you live. Learn more at http://www.directstartv.com/.

5. Duke @ UNC, Feb 8th

Whether you believe this rivalry is over hyped by the media or not, it’s compelling this year for a few reasons. This will be the first real challenge that North Carolina will have since getting taken behind the woodshed by Florida State and the first chance to show people it’s closer to the extremely talented group we thought they were rather than the soft team that got beat by 33 in Tallahassee. Harrison Barnes isn’t dominating as expected but the Tar Heels still lead the nation in points and rebounds per game. Once again Duke is built around a talented freshman point guard in Austin Rivers, a structure which didn’t take them to the Final Four last year. Never the less, they’ve beaten a lot of good teams and I hear they’re pretty well coached.

4. Wichita State @ Creighton, Feb 11th

A chance to tell your friends you saw it coming as both of these teams are candidates to make a surprise run in the tournament and bust a few brackets. Of course Creighton is the real story having perhaps the nation’s best all around player and a Naismith front runner in Doug McDermott. He can do a lot including rebound and shoot the 3 and the Blue Jays are a more complete team than people realize. They have the size to play with any team in the country. But don’t sleep on Wichita State, they played them tough in late December and will be very competitive for an At-Large bid. The UNLV team everyone loves for their wins over UNC and Illinois? The Shockers beat them by 19 points.

3. Michigan @ Michigan State, Feb 5th

You can’t say Tom Izzo and his staff shied away from a challenge when scheduling their out of conference games. After dropping the first two games of the season to UNC then Duke, (brutal) Michigan State rattled off 15 straight wins. After watching Michigan’s one point victory in a stellar game on January 17th, I can’t wait to watch the rematch. Big Blue appears to be back to relevance and the team’s leading scorer Tim Hardaway Jr. is even bringing out the black socks. This will be pivotal game in a Big Ten conference which is having a very strong year. In fact, the Big Ten is having a great run lately, winning its third consecutive Big Ten / ACC Challenge earlier in the season.

2. Syracuse vs. Georgetown, Feb 8th and Syracuse vs. UCONN, Feb 11th

Syracuse will most likely be undefeated when they face two tough games against ranked conference opponents within 3 days. It’ll be interesting to see if they can retain their focus and intensity over that span. Plus the Orange and the Huskies have a history of some fairly epic games late in the year (recall the longest game in Big 12 history back in 2009). Syracuse is the deepest and best team in the nation and one would think a place on the top line is all but assured. If any chinks in the armor exist they’ll be visible for the first time here.

1. Kansas @ Baylor, Feb 8th

The turnaround within the Baylor basketball program is a great story and one that should be getting a lot more attention. It has been 8 years since the program suffered one of the worst scandals in recent memory when Patrick Dennehy was murdered by a teammate. They won three games in the NCAA tournament in back in 2010 and this season has been perfect, until they lost for the first time to Kansas in Allen Field house. When Kansas comes to Waco in February the Bears will be looking to avenge that loss. Also watch one of the best individual matchups of the year when Baylor’s Perry Jones III and Kansas’s Thomas Robinson go head to head. Robinson is having a monster year averaging 12 rebounds and nearly 18 points a game.

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