By Ryan Mayer
(CBS Local/CBS Miami) — This weekend officially marks the first few days of March, which means “March Madness” isn’t far behind. With the NCAA Tournament just weeks away, the college basketball action on CBS is heating up in a big way. This Saturday, the network sees an SEC clash between a pair of top 10 teams, when John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats meet Rick Barnes’ Tennessee Volunteers in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Vols are looking for revenge after the Wildcats routed them just two weeks ago 86-69 in Lexington.
Then, on Sunday, the ninth-ranked Michigan Wolverines visit #17 Maryland in a Big Ten rematch. The Terps struggled to take care of the basketball the last time these two teams met and will look to do better in front of the home fans this weekend. To get some insight into these teams and matchups, we spoke with CBS Sports college basketball studio analyst Clark Kellogg.
CBS Local Sports: A massive game in the SEC this weekend on CBS, with #4 Kentucky meeting #7 Tennessee in Knoxville. What adjustments do you see them making coming into round two?
Clark Kellogg: The first thing is the physicality that Kentucky displayed at home really bothered Tennessee. They’ll have to match that. You can’t be taller, but they’ll have to play a lot more physically.
Then, offensively I thought Kentucky totally took Tennessee out of its game. They jammed lanes, challenged passes, and Tennessee became basically a one-to-two-pass offense. They need to trust the pass a lot more in this next meeting. Those are the things I look at. The physicality on the defensive end, and on the glass that Kentucky really overwhelmed Tennessee with. Being able to match that from the Vols standpoint will be key, along with moving bodies and moving the ball with a lot more purpose and more quantity. I don’t think they made enough passes to execute high-quality offense the first time around.
CBS Local Sports: On the other side, the Wildcats really seem to have rounded into form lately. What is the biggest difference you see in this team now versus at the beginning of the year?
Clark Kellogg: A couple of things. First, the play of P.J. Washington has been brilliant. He has been extremely confident and been an inside-out matchup nightmare by both making threes and posting up with authority.
Defensively, they have become much more tied-together as a group. The contributions off the bench from their big guys have been good, and the play of Ashton Hagans has been impressive.
I think the biggest thing for them has been the play of Hagans at the point of attack defensively, and he is also running the club well offensively. The play of P.J. Washington has really helped elevate this team to another level.
CBS Local Sports: It’s a tight race at the top of the SEC, with Kentucky, LSU and Tennessee all at 13-2 in conference play. Who do you see as being the best team in the conference right now?
Clark Kellogg: Initially, you could go back three weeks or a month ago, and I thought Tennessee was the clear-cut best team, with everybody else playing for second. That, clearly, has flipped. Now, you have to put Kentucky at the top of the heap in terms of who is playing the best and who has the best chance to run deep into the NCAA Tournament.
LSU is an intriguing and dangerous team that is capable of getting to Minneapolis as well. I would not discount Tennessee either but I’m really looking to see how they play against Kentucky in this rematch this weekend.
I like Kentucky at the top of the heap in the SEC, with LSU at 1A and Tennessee at 2. There is a little bit of a gap between those teams the way I see it now.
CBS Local Sports: Sunday, it’s the Big Ten’s turn, with Maryland getting a rematch against Michigan, this time at home. Michigan is coming off that tough loss to rival Michigan State last weekend. What were the biggest trouble areas you saw in that game that the Wolverines need to fix coming into this one?
Clark Kellogg: I don’t know if it was necessarily a problem, I just want to give all the credit to the way that Michigan State played. Defensively, they were outstanding. There were no spaces, no gaps. There were shot challenges at the rim and shot challenges on the perimeter. They didn’t allow many second-chance shots. Granted, Michigan isn’t really a strong offensive rebounding team anyway, because (John) Beilein’s teams like to get back and be ready for defense after taking the shot.
The Spartans did a great job individually on Jordan Poole, and overall they were just really tightly tied together. That is why I don’t think there was a ton wrong with Michigan, it was more how Michigan State played.
Michigan has hit some speed bumps during the last month in terms of offensive execution. I think they have to try to continue to play with a little bit more pace and trust the pass. On occasion, they try to do a little bit too much off the dribble. I think, if they can get back to trusting the pass a little more and really moving that ball side to side, that will create a little more fluidity on the offensive end.
CBS Local Sports: The last time these teams met, the Wolverines hounded the Terps into 16 turnovers, 13 in the first half. How does Maryland better handle the pressure this time around?
Clark Kellogg: Anytime you’re talking about turnovers, you have to be strong with the ball and you have to make quick decisions. And you have to make “singles” plays instead of trying to make “home run” plays. Those are the things that you can control. Those are things that you can manage when you are talking about turning over the ball a bunch in any period. I think those things are correctable, and being at home, teams typically are a little tighter in terms of the turnovers. So I think they will handle that.
Defensively, Maryland has been as good as any team in the Big Ten all season long. They’re capable of getting out into the open floor, and I think they need to be able to play some in the open court to try to play as few possessions as they can against Michigan’s half-court defense.
CBS Local Sports: Now, as we get into March officially this weekend, I wanted to ask you, 25 years in as an analyst for CBS, what is your favorite part about this time of the year?
Clark Kellogg: My favorite time is when we start the conference tournaments. I love watching these teams in the non-power conferences, with the typical one bid on the line, start to punch tickets to the field of 68. I love that. I prepare for the tournament all year long by watching these teams and conferences that don’t get a ton of national exposure. It’s a really neat culmination when these teams’ conference tournaments come to an end, and it’s a beginning, as we’re waiting for the power conferences to start. It’s a really nice crescendo into Selection Sunday.