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Friday, January 18, 2008

Weekend Preview

Although the top three or four teams this year have separated themselves from the pack and a few league leaders look like heavy favorites in their respective leagues, parity around the rest of the country is in abundance. One night, a team looks outstanding and a lock for the NCAA Tournament (more often than not, the game was at home), and the next it looks like a borderline NIT team (more than likely, this game was on the road). As a result, it makes nearly every game between potential contenders in conference play a key game. This weekend features several of those types of games, as well as other contests between teams in need of wins — it’s never too early to start thinking about the bubble. In other words, this weekend is huge in college basketball — and I guess it’s kind of big in the NFL too. So, basically, you never have to leave your couch. Records prior to Thursday night's games

Top Games

Notre Dame (+9) at Georgetown (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
The preseason favorite in the Big East matches up with one of the surprise contenders. Notre Dame was projected to finish in the bottom half of the league, but the Irish are tied for first place going into Thursday. They already have wins over West Virginia, Connecticut and Kansas State. Luke Harangody and Rob Kurz form one of the best big men duos in the league, while Kyle McAlarney can score from the perimeter. Georgetown has been in the top-10 all season long, but the Hoyas have looked extremely vulnerable lately, including a loss at Pittsburgh on Monday. The gap between Georgetown and the rest of the Big East is getting smaller every week. Still, Roy Hibbert is one of the premier big men in the country, and Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp lead an underrated perimeter group. Prediction: Georgetown 75, Notre Dame 65

Villanova (+4.5) at Syracuse (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN):
Another solid Big East match-up between two teams looking to get some momentum after slow conference starts. Villanova is just 2-2 in the league and struggled in both of its wins. The Wildcats went 10-1 in the non-conference, but didn’t pick up any marquee wins. Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher form a solid backcourt, while Dante Cunningham has emerged lately up front. Syracuse has been very impressive at home, but it has lost its last two road games. Luckily for the Orange, ‘Nova has also struggled away from home. Syracuse is still trying to consistently replace the injured Eric Devendorf, but freshmen Jonny Flynn and Donte Greene have been outstanding all season, while Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku form a dominant frontcourt duo. Prediction: Syracuse 83, Villanova 75

Ohio State (+11.5) at Tennessee (Saturday, 3:30 PM, CBS): Rematch from last year, when they two teams played two memorable games, once in the regular season and once in the Sweet Sixteen. Ohio State won both in exhilarating fashion. This year, the Buckeyes are certainly not the same team, but they seem to be playing better lately. However, OSU has lost back-to-back road games to Purdue and Michigan State and need a win. Jamar Butler has become a go-to-guy in the backcourt, while David Lighty and Othello Hunter have emerged in their second seasons in the program. Kosta Koufos is an outstanding freshman. Tennessee is the clear SEC favorite, and could end up in the Final Four when all is said and done. The Volunteers have plenty of athletes and some of the best talent in the country. They are a nine-game winning streak. Chris Lofton still needs to find his shot, but Tyler and JaJuan Smith (no relation) have filled the void.
Prediction: Tennessee 75, Ohio State 65

USC (+11) at UCLA (Saturday, 3:30 PM, CBS): Battle for Los Angeles. Heading into the season, many thought USC might threaten UCLA’s reign on top of the city; it hasn’t turned out that way, though. The Trojans have struggled despite the influx of talent in O.J. Mayo, Davon Jefferson, etc. They are just 1-3 in the Pac-10, and have lost five of their last nine overall. It seems that Tim Floyd is still trying to figure out the best way to use Mayo in the offense, while Taj Gibson has regressed offensively since last season. UCLA is one of the best teams in the country, hands-down. The Bruins have just one loss on the year, and have passed every test with flying colors since then. Kevin Love is one of the best centers in the country, while Darren Collison is finally getting somewhat healthy. Russell Westbrook has emerged as a potential star. Prediction: UCLA 68, USC 58

Clemson (+9) at Duke (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN):The popular opinion around the country is that the ACC is North Carolina’s to lose. While that may be the case, don’t give them the title just yet. Both of these teams are going to have something to say about it before the year is all said and done. Clemson took North Carolina to overtime and the Tigers probably should have won that game if not for late-game heroics by Wayne Ellington, and Duke is playing some of the best basketball in the country, at both ends of the floor. As mentioned above, both teams like to spread the floor and create opportunities going to the basket. Each team has a plethora of athletic wings and guards who can take defenders one-on-one off the dribble, and then make plays in the lane. Click here to read the rest of this week's Game of the Week. Prediction: Duke 81, Clemson 70

Arizona (+1.5) at California (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Regional TV): One of several very solid Pac-10 games this weekend – similar to every other weekend out West. Arizona is a completely different team without Jerryd Bayless, and it showed last week when the Wildcats went 1-3 without him then blew out Houston on the road in his first game back. He combines with Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill to form one of the best trios in the country. California is 2-2 in the Pac-10, losing to UCLA at home and Oregon on the road. The Golden Bears have the talent to get an NCAA bid; will they be able to finish high enough in the standings to garner one? Ryan Anderson and DeVon Hardin form a dominant inside duo, while Patrick Christopher is a prolific scorer from the wing and Jerome Randle is an explosive guard. Prediction: California 73, Arizona 70

Illinois State (+5) at Drake (Saturday, 8:05 PM, Regional TV): A battle for supremacy in the Missouri Valley. Both teams are 6-0 and are clearly the two best teams in the conference – and neither was a favorite to finish in the upper half of the league. Illinois State has won nine in a row, including four consecutive road games. It plays outstanding defense and doesn’t allow its opponents to get open shots from anywhere. Osiris Eldridge and Levi Dyer form a solid inside-outside duo, while Dom Johnson runs the point. Drake has been even more of a surprise, since it was expected to finish at or near the cellar of the league. The Bulldogs have won 14 in a row, and their lone loss on the season was at the hands of Saint Mary’s, on the road by six back in early November. Furthermore, their leading scorer, Josh Young, has missed the last couple of games due to injury. They are solid at both ends of the floor, and are deep and balanced offensively. Leonard Houston can score and Adam Emmenecker is a very solid playmaker. Prediction: Drake 72, Illinois State 66

Arizona State (+8) at Stanford (Saturday, 10:00 PM, Regional TV): One of the best games of the weekend, regardless of conference. Arizona State has been one of the many surprises this season, as the Sun Devils were undefeated in the Pac-10 heading into Thursday. They have won nine in a row, and 13 of their last 14. James Harden is one of the best freshmen in the country, despite his lack of notoriety, while Jeff Pendergraph provides balance down low. Stanford is 2-2 in the Pac-10, and look like a potential contender now that Brook Lopez has more than a handful of games under his belt. The Cardinal nearly knocked off Oregon on the road over the weekend and played UCLA tough in the Pac-10 opener. Brook and Robin Lopez form an intimidating inside duo, while Anthony Goods is the main player on the perimeter. Prediction: Stanford 66, Arizona State 62

Marquette (+2.5) at Connecticut (Sunday, 1:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Two likely postseason participants battle in the Big East. Marquette is one of the top contenders for the league title and a top-three or four seed in the Big Dance. The Golden Eagles own a win at Wisconsin in the non-conference, and are 3-1 in the Big East, with the lone loss at West Virginia. Dominic James and Jerel McNeal lead a loaded perimeter group for Tom Crean, while Lazar Hayward has finally given Marquette an inside presence up front. Connecticut has suffered many close calls this season, as three of its losses were by six points or less, including last weekend’s stunner at Georgetown. A.J. Price has emerged as one of the best guards in the Big East, while Jerome Dyson is making an impact at both ends of the floor. The Huskies are still deep and imposing down low. Prediction: Connecticut 73, Marquette 68

Oregon (+9) at Washington State (Sunday, 8:00 PM, FSN): Yet another standout Pac-10 game this weekend. Oregon seems to have picked up some momentum lately after struggling after losing three of four last month. Since then, the Ducks have won three in a row, with wins over Arizona, California and Stanford. Malik Hairston is a versatile player on the wing, while Maarty Leunen is a double-double threat every night out. Tajuan Porter needs to be more consistent. Washington State is still one of the best teams in the country despite its disappointing showing at UCLA last weekend. The Cougars play outstanding defense and are very efficient offensively. They don’t make mistakes, which makes them difficult to defend. Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low are one of the best backcourts in the country, while Aron Baynes has been a very productive player down low.
Prediction: Washington State 68, Oregon 59

Other Games to Watch

Chattanooga (+13.5) at Davidson (Saturday, 2:00 PM): Battle for first place in the Southern Conference. Both teams are 7-0 in the league, with Chattanooga winning eight of its last nine and Davidson winning five in a row heading into Thursday. Both teams struggled in the non-conference, losing to several big-name opponents, but both teams seem to have righted the ship in league play. Prediction: Davidson 77, Chattanooga 63

Mississippi State (PICK) at Alabama (Saturday, 3:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): An SEC West battle. Mississippi State has emerged as the favorite in the division, starting SEC play 3-0 after its win over Kentucky this week, while Alabama has struggled so far, sitting at 0-3 with each of the losses by seven points or less. The Tide need a win to stay in the hunt for the SEC West title. Prediction: Alabama 69, Mississippi State 66

Maryland (+19) at North Carolina (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC): Don’t expect a lot of defense in this game. Both teams love to get up-and-down the floor, scoring points in transition and creating turnovers with their defense. A battle of sophomore point guards will also take place, as UNC’s Tywon Lawson takes on Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez. Watch that match-up carefully; both players are supremely talented. Prediction: North Carolina 91, Maryland 76

Texas A&M (-1) at Kansas State (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN): Two teams potentially going in opposite directions this week. Texas A&M went into Wednesday as one of the hottest teams in the country, but the Aggies were blown out by Texas Tech and need to get back on the right track. Kansas State is coming off a win last weekend at Oklahoma in overtime. How will Michael Beasley fare against the experienced Aggies?
Prediction: Kansas State 71, Texas A&M 66

Pittsburgh (-4) at Cincinnati (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): A battle between two surprise three-win teams in the Big East. Pittsburgh has managed to stay in the hunt for the conference title despite the loss of Levance Fields and Mike Cook to injury, as it defeated Georgetown in impressive fashion Monday. Cincinnati has defeated Louisville, Syracuse and Villanova so far in the conference season. Prediction: Pittsburgh 67, Cincinnati 62

Charlotte (+7.5) at Massachusetts (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV): Two of the hottest teams in the ultra-hot Atlantic-10 faceoff. Charlotte is 2-0 in the conference, and the 49ers have won five of their last six games, including victories over Saint Joseph’s and at Clemson. Massachusetts had lost two in a row before going into Dayton on Wednesday and dominating the Flyers (sans Chris Wright) on their home floor. Prediction: Massachusetts 73, Charlotte 65

Kent State (+2) at Ohio (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN Classic): Two of the MAC favorites jockey for early-season position. Kent State has won 10 of its last 11 games, including wins over Illinois State, George Mason and Cleveland State. On the other side, Ohio has struggled somewhat lately, losing two of four, including a disappointing defeat at the hands of Bowling Green to start conference play last week. Prediction: Ohio 71, Kent State 65

Kansas (-7) at Missouri (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPNU): Are the Tigers going to be the team to actually give Kansas a decent test? Nebraska was supposed to, then Oklahoma – and both teams were blown out of the gym. Missouri has the talent to hang with the Jayhawks, and its style of defense could rattle KU early. However, it will be interesting to see if the Tigers will be able to sustain their pressure throughout the entire game against the relentless KU attack. Prediction: Kansas 89, Missouri 84

Kentucky (+7.5) at Florida (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): One of the classic rivalries in the SEC East doesn’t have the same sort of luster this season as the two perennial powers are down. Kentucky is looking to turn its season around after winning last weekend and taking Mississippi State to the wire. Florida’s young players are starting to come together, as evidenced by its impressive SEC start so far. UK needs Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks back. Prediction: Florida 75, Kentucky 68

Michigan State (-1) at Minnesota (Sunday, 4:00 PM, Big Ten Network):
One of the Big Ten favorites faces off against one of the conference surprises. Michigan State has struggled somewhat lately, especially offensively, scoring just 102 points total against Iowa and Ohio State. Minnesota is a potential NCAA Tournament team, as the Golden Gophers sit at 2-1 in the Big Ten after beating Penn State on the road. Prediction: Michigan State 61, Minnesota 57

Keep an Eye On

UTEP (+6.5) at Houston (Saturday, 2:00 PM):
Can either of these teams remotely push Memphis in Conference-USA? Both teams have solid scorers and athletes, but have been inconsistent all year. Prediction: Houston 78, UTEP 71

BYU (+2.5) at Utah (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Versus):
Two of the myriad contenders in the parity-filled Mountain West square off. BYU has been a disappointment after a hot start, while Utah has plenty of close losses. Prediction: Utah 74, BYU 68

Texas Tech (+7) at Oklahoma (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Two teams going in opposite directions, as Tech dominated Texas A&M on Wednesday and Oklahoma lost Blake Griffin for up to four weeks. Prediction: Oklahoma 63, Texas Tech 57

Mississippi (-5) at Auburn (Saturday, 5:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): This game should be filled with plenty of athletes and scoring. Mississippi has three of its next five games on the road; are the Rebels for real? Prediction: Mississippi 77, Auburn 73

Baylor (+2.5) at Nebraska (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Will either of these teams make a run at an NCAA Tournament bid? Baylor has a nice resume so far, while Nebraska has faltered lately. Prediction: Nebraska 68, Baylor 65

Arkansas (PICK) at Georgia (Saturday, 7:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Interesting game in the SEC. Arkansas was looking fine until its home loss to South Carolina, while Georgia is undefeated at home. Prediction: Georgia 70, Arkansas 64

Valparaiso (+1.5) at Cleveland State (Saturday, 7:30 PM, Regional TV/HorizonLeagueNetwork.tv): The top two threats to Butler’s throne in the Horizon go at it. Valpo has lost four of six, while Cleveland State is undefeated in the Horizon heading into Thursday. Prediction: Cleveland State 65, Valparaiso 57

Boston College (+5) at Virginia (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): The ACC is jam-packed with mediocre teams in the middle, and these teams are trying to separate themselves. BC is off to a 3-0 start; UVA is 0-2. Prediction: Boston College 79, Virginia 75

Louisville (-7.5) at Seton Hall (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Expect a high-scoring game filled with turnovers, pressure defense and scoring. Louisville’s talented frontcourt will be the difference. Prediction: Louisville 78, Seton Hall 76

Miami (Fl.) (+1.5) at North Carolina State (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
Two teams needing a win to get back on the right track. Miami lost handily at BC, while NC State lost its last two games by a combined 47 points.
Prediction: North Carolina State 69, Miami (Fl.) 65

Indiana State (+12.5) at Creighton (Saturday, 8:35 PM, Regional TV): Outside of Illinois State and Drake, no one in the MVC has been overly impressive. Creighton could stake its claim to third place with a win here, while ISU could make a statement on the road. Prediction: Creighton 71, Indiana State 61

Florida State (+1) at Wake Forest (Sunday, 1:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Both teams are 1-2 in the conference, but they each have plenty of room to move up in the wide-open ACC. They are a combined 0-4 in the past week. Prediction: Wake Forest 71, Florida State 63

West Virginia (-7.5) at South Florida (Sunday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): An interesting Big East contest. WVU has struggled somewhat on the road this season, while USF has performed well at times on its home floor. Prediction: West Virginia 74, South Florida 65

6 Comments:

Anonymous kurt w said...

Nice job with the preview.

Hope you're wrong about UA/MSU.

6:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a note, the Valpo/CSU game is also broadcast Live (for free) across the country on the HorizonLeagueNetwork on the net. I saw noted that once before for a previous HL game, and thought it was worth mentioning that all HL home games that are not on national TV are on HLN.

7:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That Creighton/Indiana State is on the Blue Jays home floor.

8:49 AM  
Anonymous Abby said...

I think you missed Indiana's game this Sunday.....

11:19 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

Yeah, I messed up on that Indiana State-Creighton game...I could've sworn I saw it as being at ISU. Either way, I think Creighton is going to win.

As for Indiana, I didn't forget anything...playing at home against Penn State (w/o Claxton) is going to be a blowout, and not a remotely interesting game.

1:59 PM  
Anonymous kurt w said...

Glad you were wrong about the UA/MSU game. Lol.

1:51 PM  

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