WEEKEND WATCH
Originally Published: Jan 4, 2012

At the Watercooler: Weekend preview

By Eamonn Brennan & Myron Medcalf
ESPN.com

Editor's note: Myron Medcalf and Eamonn Brennan met at the watercooler to discuss what they're looking forward to this weekend in college basketball.

Eamonn Brennan: Greetings, Mr. Medcalf. Happy New Year. I presume you've recovered enough from the festivities to discuss college basketball, yes? Because all I did was have a schmancy dinner with friends, and by Tuesday night I still wasn't moving all that well. I think this means I'm getting old.

Myron Medcalf: If that NYE celebration means you're getting old, then I'm ancient. I was asleep on my couch before midnight with two little girls who were supposed to wake me up once the ball dropped. Last time I count on them. But I enjoyed getting the rest, something we'll all need if this week is any indication of what's ahead for conference play. Before we get to the weekend, how about the week?

Minnesota over Michigan State? Wow. Marquette-Connecticut with a crazy finish that sent the game into overtime and an officiating crew that started the extra period with the teams going in the wrong direction -- and then cost the Huskies a bucket because of the error. Illinois loses to Purdue in Chapter 1 of "The Big Ten Gauntlet," and Gonzaga continues its mission to win the Big 12 title without actually competing in the Big 12 by beating Oklahoma State on the road. It's not even Saturday yet. What game on this weekend's slate is the most appealing matchup in your eyes?

Brandon Paul
Bradley Leeb/US PresswireBrandon Paul and Illinois look to get back on track against OSU.

Eamonn: Before Wednesday night, I think the most obviously eye-catching game (if because of the casual draw to rankings alone) was Ohio State at Illinois. After Illinois' loss at Purdue, it's not looking quite like the matchup of Big Ten titans it could have been. And I don't say that because one Big Ten road loss invalidates what the Illini have done this season. That's not the case. It's the way Illinois lost -- going 10-of-26 from 3 and 11-of-33 inside the arc, and scoring just 0.97 points per trip, while getting significantly outrebounded by a team whose best big men are all still works in progress. We've long since established the truth about these Illini: For as good as their start was (and as good a story as it was to see), it's hard to trust their ability to knock down shots. Beyond that, they don't do a whole lot well.

But that doesn't mean I'm looking forward to the OSU-Illinois game any less. In fact, it should be fascinating. Will Illinois be one of those teams that just gets hot at different times and ends up with the how-did-you-lose-to-Purdue-and-beat-Ohio State record to prove it?

Myron: That's what is so fascinating about Ohio State-Illinois. I'm not saying that two losses will disqualify the Illini or any team from the Big Ten title hunt. But with so many tests ahead and everyone else, two immediate losses could. So now Illinois is already in a "We-might-have-to-win-this-if-we're-still serious-about-the-Big-Ten-title" game. I love the fact that we have stakes this early in the Big Ten, America's best league. I can't wait to see if Illinois meets the challenge.

That could be the theme for the entire weekend. A bunch of squads have crucial opportunities to make statements about their relevance within their respective leagues. I'm looking at you, Marquette. The Golden Eagles just won an overtime thriller over Connecticut. Georgetown comes to town Saturday. Marquette has a great opportunity to get a big win early in Big East play. And Georgetown, game by game, has figured out its true ceiling. If the Hoyas can score, consistently, watch out.

Georgetown is a very good defensive team with a lot of offensive potential. So I'm definitely looking forward to that game because Marquette (44th in adjusted offensive efficiency, 91st in adjusted defensive efficiency per Pomeroy) and Georgetown are in that assembly of Big East schools -- everyone not named Louisville, Cincy and Syracuse, in my opinion -- that we're still assessing. As you can see, I really love this matchup.

Eamonn: You do love that matchup, eh? You also better be careful, so casually putting "America's best league" after the Big Ten like that. Jim Delany is likely to trademark that and leave you out in the cold. (I heard that's what happened with "Legends and Leaders," but the original inventor was so embarrassed he just let the Big Ten take it. I'm kidding, but it feels plausible.)

I hate to say this, but I really don't think Illinois is serious about the Big Ten title hunt. Not in this league, not with so many contenders standing in its way. The Illini just aren't there. And, you know, that's OK! They were supposed to be bad this season, and they aren't, and I think after the last few years Illini fans are just happy to be happy.

I covered Friday's Memphis-Tennessee matchup in the video above, and that's kind of an interesting game for a couple of reasons: It might be the last time these two teams play for a while and Memphis really needs this game. The rest of Conference USA is somehow looking even worse than anyone expected to start the season (I blame Marshall), and the Tigers won't have another chance to get even a decent win outside their own conference. They might not need it; maybe they'll easily cruise to the C-USA tournament title. But that's a huge risk, and one Memphis could face if it doesn't take care of business the rest of the way. The Tigers have had their nonconference chances, and they haven't come through.

Myron: True. Illini fans will certainly accept this. Much better than what they were forced to accept last season.

As for the other matchup you mentioned, I hate that this could be the end for Tennessee-Memphis. I get the philosophy. Pastner doesn't want to give his in-state rival any recruiting advantage. But you know how you eliminate that advantage? By beating your in-state rival. What happened to that mentality? "We're better than those guys across town/the state/the border and we'll prove it so the recruits can see for themselves." Like you said, it's important for both teams. Memphis needs any...

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