Hey… Hey you… You can come out now. No, really, it’s okay. I promise. Come on out… That’s it… There you go… See? Those mean old Mountaineers are gone. They can’t hurt anybody anymore.
If Monday still has you curled up in the fetal position with a rotten taste in your mouth, I hope I can interest you in finding your way back to a television for a spectacular slate of basketball games this weekend. Why don’t we all just take a page from my freshman year geology professor’s syllabus and "drop our lowest test score?" Let’s forget all about Monday. Monday doesn’t count. Let’s set our sights on Texas Tech and also settle in for these other fine weekend matchups…
Big 12 Game of the Weekend: West Virginia at (19) Texas (7:00 p.m., Longhorn Network)
You could probably put three of the five Big 12 games on Saturday in a hat and draw one out to get your Game of the Weekend, but I think this might be the one to keep a closer eye on. Truthfully, West Virginia is not much different from most teams who go on a surprising late-season tear – they defend their home court, and they nip bad on struggling teams on the road. As momentum builds, they become seemingly unstoppable. But now the Mountaineers face arguably the toughest test remaining on their schedule in a date with the white-hot Longhorns in Austin. The question won’t be about what happens when Texas has the ball (neither Rick Barnes’ offense nor Bob Huggins’ defense are anything to write home about this year) but rather, can the Mountaineers duplicate even a fraction of the success they had shooting the ball against Iowa State? They’ll face a Longhorn defense that, while staunch in the post, is mostly unimpressive defending the three. And if there’s one thing the college basketball world learned Monday night, it’s that a perimeter defense that brings anything less than its "A" game against WVU is in for a long night. The Javan Felix-Juwan Staten matchup was a great one in the first go-around between these two teams – an 11-point win for Texas – so expect much of the same from the rapidly-improving point guards.
Big 12 Upset Watch: Kansas State at Baylor (6:00 p.m., ESPNU)
Beating Kansas and Texas in a 48-hour stretch is as impressive a feat as you’ll find in the Big 12 this year, and the surging Wildcats have done just that. But the road has proven to be a different beast for Kansas State, going winless since Jan. 7 at TCU – their only true road victory dating back to, coincidentally, last year in Waco. Sadly, the last time Baylor won in Waco themselves was Jan. 11, and after an epic slide in the weeks that followed, the Bears now have a very small window of opportunity to get back into the soft mumblings of NCAA Tournament conversation. To do so, they will need to take advantage of a home stand Feb. 15 and 17 against K-State and Oklahoma State. Otherwise, they could find themselves in the midst of a downward spiral not unlike the one that relegated them to the NIT last year. After a lackluster stretch of performances, Isaiah Austin is averaging 17.5 points per game in his last two, so look for him to carry the load with a massive size advantage down low. It will be interesting to see if the threat of a post-Kansas hangover for the Wildcats, coupled with the "now or never" narrative surrounding Baylor’s season, propels the Bears to a win they so desperately need. If it does, it will be the first time they’ve clipped Kansas State in the regular season since January 2012 and could spark the beginning of a climb back into contention.
Others Around The Country
(3) Florida at (14) Kentucky (Saturday, 8:00 p.m., ESPN2): Doesn’t it feel like we’ve waited a lifetime for these two to play? It’s been seven years since Florida has left Rupp Arena with a win – you know, back when the Gators were headed for a second straight national title – and kenpom.com says to expect much of the same in this one (a 67-66 win for UK). I don’t know how Billy Donovan and John Calipari plan to match their guys up defensively, but the world deserves to see Casey Prather and Julius Randle go toe-to-toe.
(25) Pittsburgh at North Carolina (Saturday, 12:00 p.m., CBS): Expect a raucous crowd at the Dean Dome, where Tar Heel fans haven’t seen their team play in almost two weeks. The wound from Tyler Ennis’s buzzer-beater on Wednesday will certainly still be fresh for the Panthers, and after the most recent apocalyptic snowstorm in North Carolina, there should be plenty of salt to rub in it. UNC will be vying for a seventh win in eight games in their first and only matchup of the season with Pitt. Point guard Marcus Paige has been superb lately. Look for a big game from the Marion, IA, native.
(6) Villanova at (18) Creighton (Sunday, 4:00 p.m., Fox Sports 1): I’m not sure how you top the 96-point Broadway show that the Blue Jays put on in their first go-around at Villanova, but you better believe they’re going to try for their home crowd. In that game, Doug McDermott, Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat combined to outscore the Wildcats 69-68 with 18 threes among them. There’s no real point here, it’s just an incredible stat. But Jay Wright’s teams have a reputation of resiliency (winners of six straight since), so expect a much better effort from JayVaughn Pinkston, James Bell and Co. on Sunday.