I'll get this out quick so that it doesn't get in the way of the real game today. After a sweep by the Big East on Day 2, the SEC cannot win the challenge today, but could still tie if they were to have a sweep of their own. Syracuse started yesterday's games with a hard fought win over Florida. The Gators had a subpar shooting night, only hitting about 35% of their 3 pointers. Pactric Young quickly got into foul trouble, and wasn't able to ever find his rhythm after that. Brad Beal had perhaps his worst game of the season, and couldn't find a way to attack the zone. Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine led the Orange to the win.
In the other games, Cincinnati overcame a halftime deficit to beat Georgia. It looked for a little while that the upset might happen, but Dion Dixon had a great second half to lead the Bearcats to the win. Seton Hall dominated Auburn for an easy home win. Herb Pope was dominant as you might expect with a double double. In the most exciting game of the day, Louisville and Vanderbilt went to overtime in a defensively dominated game. John Jenkins was lights out shooting the ball, but it wasn't enough as Peyton Siva scored a go ahead layup with only about a second left. The Vanderbilt free throw shooting was incredibly poor, and it definitely cost them a win. Chane Behanan was also very impressive for Louisville both offensively and defensively.
Day 3's games take place on a day of all around great sports. Most of the good basketball games will be forgotten with the SEC championship and Bedlam games being played. Here's what the SEC/Big East challenge has to offer.
The first game takes place in Storrs, CT as the UConn Huskies welcome the Arkansas Razorbacks. On paper it looks like a total mismatch, but I think it could be a competitive game. Arkansas coach Mike Anderson has gone against Calhoun recently, as they met in the Elite 8 only a couple of years ago when he was with Missouri. UConn is the defending national champions, though they are missing Kemba Walker who graduated early to declare for the NBA. Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb now lead the Huskies, who are ranked #10.
Overall, I think UConn will be too much for Arkansas. The 40 minutes of hell wasn't successful when Mizzou had a more talented team than the Razorbacks do now. Calhoun is too experienced to not have the team ready for it. Napier is a good enough ball handler to get through it. Losing Marshawn Powell doesn't help Arkansas either.
Up next is a rematch game as the 17th ranked Pitt Panthers travel to Knoxville to take on the Volunteers. The Vols are reeling after losing 3 of the last 4 games, the only win being over D2 Chaminade. Pitt, on the other hand, is still building momentum after losing only their second non-conference home game ever in the Petersen Event Center to Long Beach State. The Panthers will also be without Travon Woodall, their starting point guard, who injured his abs and needs to rest for a month.
This game has a potential to be an upset, but it also has the potential to be a blowout. Ashton Gibbs is perhaps the best shooter in the country, and will push for a spot on an All-American team. Freshman Khem Birch was highly ranked coming out of high school, but still hasn't made the transition to be an effective player at the college level. Overall, I don't think the Vols will have enough to beat a hardened team like Pitt even though it is at home. Their defense was bad against Oakland in a loss, as they gave up 89 points. Pitt will have enough of an edge on defense that they won't need that many points, and I think Pitt will struggle at first, but put the game out of reach midway into the second half.
The third game after LSU takes the court is between the 24th ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs and the West Virginia Mountaineers. Mississippi State started the year with a shocking loss in the second game to Akron. After that, however, they have been on a roll, and won six straight including wins over Texas AM and Arizona. WVU has a loss of their own against a MAC team, dropping their second game to Kent State. WVU has been pretty normal for a Huggins coached team, great on defense, but sometimes struggles to score. Kevin Jones is leading the team with an average of 21 points a game and 12 rebounds a game. He hasn't shot the ball all that well from 3, but has shot it well from closer range.
This game should be the best of the day, as both teams are quite similar, though WVU doesn't have the quality wins that Mississippi State has yet. The key to the game will definitely be defense, as both teams have a player that can put up 30 in any game with Dee Bost and Kevin Jones. Overall, though, I think that the inexperience of the 'eers will be too much for them in their first road game, and the Bulldogs pick up a much needed win for the SEC.
Last is the game the LSU fans will care about, as the Tigers travel to Piscataway to take on the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. The game will be on ESPNU at 6:00, and can be found at the following link if you don't have it on TV.
The Tigers are coming off a great road win against Houston in which Storm Warren made two free throws with only a second left to give the Tigers a 1 point win over the Cougars. Rutgers has had an up and down season so far to say the least. They have an unimpressive 4-3 record and really don't have a quality win to speak of. It's uninspiring if you are a Rutgers fan, because they haven't shown that they harnessed the momentum that they had at the end of last year. Gilvydas Biruta has been great so far, and is averaging over 12 points a game and also leads the team in rebounding.
Overall, the Tigers showed a lot of heart in their comeback win over Houston. They were down for a majority of the game, and gave up a basket with only 9 seconds left, but still were able to come out with a win. Both teams shot the ball poorly, so it was the rebounding that might have been the difference. LSU had a 5 rebound edge, with the last one being the difference as Storm Warren used it to draw a foul and go to the line. Anthony Hickey had a poor shooting day, going 1-11, but filled up the stat sheet elsewhere with 5 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists, but also 4 turnovers. Justin Hamilton's 11 and 7 was key as well.
What to look for in this game: the center match up with Hamilton and Biruta. Whoever can get the other into foul trouble will certainly go a long way to determining the game. Although LSU has a couple of capable back ups with Johnny O'Bryant and Malcolm White, Biruta is the kind of player that can get them into foul trouble quickly with their shot blocking tendencies.
I predicted before the season that LSU would win this game, and I'm sticking with it. LSU has too many players that are capable of scoring in double digits for Rutgers to cover. They have to be much better shooting the ball, but I think they will have an edge rebounding again and it will be enough to pick up the win. Rutgers is, however, favored by 5 in Vegas, so it would be considered a minor upset if the Tigers win.