Before I get into my weekend preview, I wanted to take a look at some of the "Undervalued Pairs" in college basketball.
These are guys that tend to get bit lost due to the "pub" accorded some of their teammates. But they deserve their own. These players make quite an impact, even if they are a bit undervalued.
Jamaal Levy & Taron Downey, Wake Forest
Levy leads the Demon Deacons in rebounding and is a very versatile defender. He's also second on the team in assists. Downey averages nine points per game, makes 84 percent of his free throws and is considered by Skip Prosser to be "the most selfless player." Downey was a starter before the arrival of Chris Paul, but now provides solid production off the bench.
Jawad Williams & Jackie Manuel, North Carolina
All Williams does is average 17 points per game while shooting 63 percent, including 42 percent from behind the arc. He has been very consistent for Roy Williams. Manuel's numbers are more modest (five points per game in 21 minutes), but his energy and versatility on defense are invaluable in a starting lineup that has so much offense.
Chuck Davis & Jermareo Davidson, Alabama
Davis leads the Crimson Tide in blocked shots – averaging 15 points per game. And he's an excellent free throw shooter at 84 percent. Davidson is Alabama's top rebounder and is rapidly improving as an offensive player (nine points per game).
Carl Krauser & Chevon Troutman, Pittsburgh
Krauser is a tough point guard who stuffs stat sheets. He notches 16 points, six assists and five rebounds per game. And he does it all with poise and savvy. He's also shooting 44 percent from behind the arc. Troutman plays bigger than his listed height of 6 feet 7 inches. He leads the Panthers in rebounds, plays solid defense, and is an effective scorer inside.
Luther Head & Roger Powell Jr., Illinois
Head is the top scorer on the nation's top-ranked team with 17 points per game. He also does a good job on defense and is a sneaky offensive rebounder for a guard. Powell provides consistent intensity and steady production – shooting 59 percent and averaging 13 points per game.
Others of note
Keith Langford & Aaron Miles, Kansas
Will Conroy & Bobby Jones, Washington
Jared Dudley & Craig Smith, Boston College
Paul Marigney & Daniel Kickert, St.Mary's
Taylor Coppenrath & T.J. Sorrentine, Vermont
Now on to this weekend's previews …
Wake Forest vs. Cincinnati
A high-octane offense pitted against a stingy defense is the first thought that comes to mind with this matchup. Wake Forest scores more than 80 points per game and Cincinnati holds opponents to just 36 percent shooting from the field. Something has to give.
Wake has good guards in Chris Paul and Justin Gray, and an inside presence in Eric Williams. I expect the Demon Deacons to make their shots and limit their turnovers against Cincinnati's pressure defense. Wake should also be able to hold its own on the glass.
Cincinnati's reputation is built on defense, but good offense will be needed to beat Wake. The game's outcome will be determined by Cincinnati's ability to score points in the half court. Nick Williams has scored 40 points in the last two games, including 12 3-pointers.That kind of shooting needs to continue and I think it will.
Cincinnati rarely loses at home and I think the Bearcats will win this one.
Pittsburgh vs. Connecticut
Connecticut is the nation's top rebounding and shot-blocking team. Because of their size in the frontcourt, it is difficult to score against the Huskies. Pittsburgh is shooting 49 percent from the field on the season and averaging 74 points per game. But that production has fallen off lately, and the Panthers are averaging just 65 points per game. Nonetheless, Pittsburgh has the personnel to win.
Carl Krauser provides good play from the point guard position and Chris Taft and Chevon Troutman are tough inside. But to beat UConn, the Panthers will need to manufacture some "low stress" scores (free throws, fast breaks, open jumpers, and put backs). And they must limit the Huskies to just one shot. Connecticut punishes teams by scoring on offensive rebounds.
The Huskies have already lost to Boston College at home. I don't think they'll lose this one. The inside play of Josh Boone, Charlie Villanueva, Rudy Gay, and Ed Nelson could be too much for Pitt to overcome.
New Mexico vs. Utah
Like Utah, New Mexico is one of the nation's top shooting teams. The Lobos make 52 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range. However, they are expected to be without leading scorer and rebounder Danny Granger. He is recovering from recent knee surgery.
Playing on the road against a hot Utah club will be very hard for the Lobos. They need to knock down a bunch of 3-pointers.They average eight per game from behind the arc, but I think it will take 10 or more to handle Utah's size and skill up front.
Texas vs. Oklahoma
Oklahoma has won eight in a row, including the last two on the road. Texas is coming off an emotional win over Oklahoma State on Monday, but found out Thursday that leading scorer and rebounder P.J. Tucker is academically ineligible for the rest of the season. And promising freshman big man LaMarcus Aldridge is out indefinitely with an injured hip. Not the best week for the Longhorns.
On paper Oklahoma would appear to be the heavy favorite. But this is a dangerous game for the Sooners. The loss of Tucker and Aldridge is a significant blow for Texas, and will be tough to overcome during the remainder of the season. But in the immediate future, other players will perform at a very high level, and the Longhorns could play surprisingly well. Perhaps well enough to win on the road.
In order to win at Oklahoma, the Longhorns will have to play a very physical game inside and shoot well from the perimeter. Brad Buckman, Jason Klotz and Mike Williams have to have big games in the paint and stay out of foul trouble. Freshman point guard Daniel Gibson has to be very efficient at running the team.
Oklahoma has a very good defense and hurts teams inside and outside on offense. Taj Gray and Kevin Bookout make a tough tandem inside, and Oklahoma has a number of capable 3-point shooters. After going scoreless at Texas A&M Tuesday, I expect Gray to have a big game.
I think this game will be more about emotion and heart than statistics. I anticipate an intense game because of how hard both teams play defense. Good shots could be hard to come by, and if that's the case, a two or three minute surge by either team could decide the outcome.
Texas will put up a tough fight, but I think Oklahoma will be up to the challenge and win at home.