Scouting Report: Duke’s busy week, Texas’ tests and Marcus Smart’s return
Every Monday, One and One will examine the upcoming slate of games and highlight individual matchups that intrigue us in the weekly Scouting Report.
Texas’ Isaiah Taylor vs. Iowa State’s DeAndre Kane and Kansas’ Naadir Tharpe, Tuesday and Saturday. The unlikely rise of Texas to Big 12 contender status will face its most trying week. The Longhorns begin just one game behind Kansas but stare down ear-splitting tests at Hilton Coliseum and Allen Fieldhouse. In those matchups, it will be Taylor, Texas’ 6-foot-1 freshman point guard and third-leading scorer at 12.6 points per game, attempting to keep the pace and his team’s chances under control. That is no small order against Kane, the propulsive veteran floor leader for the Cyclones, and Tharpe, the combustible lead guard for the Jayhawks.
Duke vs. The twists of the schedule, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Thanks to a snowstorm, the bus that was to bring Duke to archrival North Carolina last week couldn’t even make it to Duke, let alone the Smith Center. Thus the game was rescheduled for Thursday. The Blue Devils will face Georgia Tech on Tuesday, then a hot Tar Heels squad on Thursday and then host (likely) undefeated Syracuse in a rematch of the teams’ thrilling Feb. 1 meeting. Duke already opens the week two games behind Virginia in the loss column and three behind Syracuse in the ACC race. Its standing and seeding could tumble or soar depending on how it handles some misfortune thanks to Mother Nature.
Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart vs. The downward spiral, Saturday. The star sophomore’s three-game exile for his actions at Texas Tech on Feb. 8 ends at home over the weekend, against, poetically, Texas Tech. Less lyrical is the Cowboys’ six-game losing streak, which could end Monday at Baylor — or could be extended by that trip. Time and opportunity are running short for Oklahoma State to rebound and become a viable NCAA tournament team again. Smart can carry them there. The question: Is there too much damage done already?
San Diego State’s Xavier Thames vs. New Mexico’s Cameron Bairstow, Saturday. To begin the week, just one game separates the top two teams in the Mountain West. The first of two meetings during the regular season awaits the Aztecs and the Lobos, and it may give Bairstow (20.3 points, 7.2 rebounds, 57 percent shooting) the stage to make a statement on a national scale. The 6-9 senior forward won’t match up with Thames, the cold-blooded floor general averaging 17.7 points per game for San Diego State. But it also could be Bairstow’s opportunity to push Thames for league player of the year honors.
Louisville’s Russ Smith vs. Cincinnati’s Sean Kilpatrick, Saturday. If it sounds familiar, it’s because it is – it’s a rematch of two of the best guards in the nation in the push for supremacy in the American Athletic Conference. In the first meeting, it was Kilpatrick entering the maw of the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville and dropping 28 points in a three-point win on Jan. 30. But the Cardinals have won four in a row since, all in particularly emphatic fashion. Now it will be up to Smith to lead the charge into hostile territory and give Louisville its first true, top-shelf win of the season.