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Columnists | Message Board  | Jeff Borzello's Blog

By Jeff Borzello

January 5th, 2005


Game of the Week: Michigan State at Illinois

Tuesday January 5th - ESPN2, 9:30

With conference play starting up in full swing this week, the amount of top-notch games skyrocketed as opposed to the past couple of weeks. The lone game matching the top two teams from a power conference, however, resides in the Big Ten. Michigan State and Illinois face off in the first of two potentially conference-champion deciding games. Both teams are ranked in the Top 10 in the polls (with Illinois at #6 and Michigan State at #7), and Top 20 in the RPI (with Illinois at #8 and Michigan State at #18). Illinois has not missed a beat after the loss of stars Luther Head and Deron Williams, and have started the season 14-0. They own solid, neutral-court wins over Wichita State and Rutgers; a road win at North Carolina; and two home victories against Xavier and Georgetown. They are putting up 75.5 points per game, and allowing only 55.6 per game. According to Ken Pomeroy, they have 20th most-efficient offense and the 9th most-efficient defense. Michigan State, on the other hand, started off the season slowly, with a blowout loss on the road to Hawaii, and then lost their next D-1 game to Gonzaga in a classic, triple-overtime affair. Since then, though they have ran off 11 consecutive wins, including victories over Arizona and Boston College on neutral courts, and at home against Wichita State. The 12-2 Spartans are averaging almost 83 points per game, and are giving up just over 72. They have the 3rd most efficient offense, but only the 209th most efficient defense. Both of these teams are potential Final Four contenders, and should give us a great game.
Illinois is led by the inside-outside duo of All-American Dee Brown (14.2 ppg 3.1 rpg 5.6 apg, 1.6 spg) and the vastly underappreciated James Augustine (14.4 ppg 9.4 rpg, 1.5 spg, 64% FG). Brown might be the most exciting player in college basketball to watch, and is one of the best winners we have seen in awhile. He is extremely quick with the ball, and is one of the fastest players from end to end in the country. Brown is also a very good defender. Augustine is one of the best big men in the Big Ten, but does not get nearly enough credit. The lefty is tough to stop on the low block, and is a relentless rebounder. Wings Rich McBride (9.5 ppg, 42% 3pt) and freshman Jamar Smith (10.2 ppg, 57% 3pt) are solid scorers that can shoot the ball. Smith might be the best freshman shooter in the country, while McBride takes some of the pressure off of Brown in the backcourt. Forward Brian Randle (8.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) is the best defender on the team, and can guard a variety of positions. Athletic Warren Carter (5.8 ppg, 3.4 rpg) makes the most of his 13 minutes per game, and provides the Illini with a versatile scorer. Inside, Shaun Pruitt (5.7 ppg, 5.5 rpg) is a solid rebounder and defender who can also get a couple of baskets per game. Marcus Arnold (4.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg) provides depth on the interior.
Michigan State has possibly the best trio in the country in wings Maurice Ager (22.0 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 3.4 apg) and Shannon Brown (17.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 3.0 apg, 1.8 spg, 43% 3pt), and big man Paul Davis (19.9 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 61% FG). Ager is having an All-America-type season, and is one of the best offensive talents in the nation. He can shoot the ball from deep, but is at his best out in the open court, getting to the basket and finishing. He has scored at least 20 points in all but three of the game this season, and has not scored below 15 in a game yet. Brown, as with Ager, is an unbelievable athlete and can get to the basket against most defenders. He is also a very good long-range shooter, and has scored at least 20 points in 4 of his last 5 games. Davis is also having an All-America-type year on the interior. He is an all-around player inside, and can rebound and score with the best of them. He has a nice jump-shot with good range, and has hit all four of his three-point attempts this season. Point guard Drew Neitzel (8.6 ppg, 5.5 apg, 48% 3pt) is often overlooked, but is a good shooter who gets the ball where it needs to be. In addition, he does not turn the ball over much—a key part in the Spartans’ high-octane offense. Several players split time at the four-spot for Michigan State. Marquise Gray (3.9 ppg, 4.1 rpg) is athletic and is a very good rebounder; Goran Suton (4.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg) is a versatile big man that has decent range; and Delco Rowley provides depth. Travis Walton (2.9 apg) provides depth on the perimeter.
What better way to start the Big Ten season than with the top two teams in the league facing off? This should be an excellent game with several key things to watch that will determine the winner. First off all, Drew Neitzel is going to need to slow down Dee Brown and not allow him to constantly beat the Spartans down the floor. Inside, James Augustine against Paul Davis is going to be a great matchup. On the wings, Maurice Ager and Shannon Brown are going to have a huge edge over Jamar Smith and Rich McBride. If they utilize their athleticism and get easy baskets, it could be a long day for the Illini. However, they are also going to have to get out and guard Smith and McBride on the perimeter. Marcus Arnold could draw the defensive assignment on Ager, which could be big if he can slow Ager down. With the talent and personnel on both sides very close, the difference could be the homecourt advantage that Illinois is going to have. The Assembly Hall and the Orange Krush give the Fighting Illini an edge over whomever they play. On Thursday night, it will also give Illinois a win.
Prediction: Illinois 70, Michigan State 68
I finally got a win last week in my Game of the Week column, when Memphis pulled off a victory at home against Gonzaga. They used their athleticism and depth to offset another great game by Adam Morrison. The decision to use Shawne Williams on Morrison down the stretch turned out to be the difference for the Tigers. Hopefully, my winning ways will continue this week.
Other Games of Note
Villanova at Louisville (Thursday, 7:00 PM, ESPN)- Two of the Big East’s best battle it out in the first conference game of the season for each team. Villanova is one of the top two teams in the country, and has continued to win without Curtis Sumpter. The Wildcats have the best backcourt in the country in wings Randy Foye, a Player of the Year candidate, and Allan Ray, an excellent scorer; and point guards Mike Nardi, a very good shooter, and Kyle Lowry, a hard-nosed scorer and defender. On the other side, Louisville has a nice inside-outside trio in guard Taquan Dean, one of the best all-around players in the country, and post men Juan Palacios and David Padgett, both versatile big men that have good range and can also score down low. Brandon Jenkins is a very good option on the perimeter. Prediction: Villanova 75, Louisville 72
UCLA at Arizona (Thursday, 10:30 PM, FSN)- Two of the Pac-10’s top three go at it in what should be a great matchup. Arizona pulled off a sweep of the Washington schools last week on the road, giving them a nice start in conference play. Hassan Adams is one of the best players in the country, while point guard Mustafa Shakur, and wings Marcus Williams and Chris Rodgers are all athletic scorers on the perimeter. UCLA has overcome several injuries to keep up their winning ways this season. Jordan Farmar and Aaron Afflalo are one of the best backcourt duos in the country, and wing Josh Shipp has returned from injury to give the Bruins another perimeter stud. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is the main inside player. Prediction: Arizona 84, UCLA 79
Iowa at Wisconsin (Thursday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt)- In the Big Ten this season, up to eight teams are going to fight for NCAA bids. That means that every night, high-quality games are going to be played in the conference. Wisconsin has found a way to continue winning, even without overly impressive talent. Alando Tucker is one of the most versatile scorers in the country, while Kammron Taylor is a solid offensive point guard. Brian Butch gives the Badgers an inside presence. Iowa has struggled at times this season, but are getting healthy at the right time. They have one of the best trios in the conference in Jeff Horner, an all-around point guard, Adam Haluska, an excellent wing scorer, and Greg Brunner, a double-double machine on the inside. Prediction: Wisconsin 66, Iowa 61
North Carolina State at North Carolina (Saturday, 3:00 PM, ESPN2)- One of the best ACC matchups of the early conference season. Both of these teams should contend for NCAA bids. NC State has a very balanced attack that they have used to get off to an excellent start. Ilian Evtimov is an inside-outside threat; Cedric Simmons is a solid low-post option; while Cameron Bennerman and Gavin Grant can take their man off the dribble. North Carolina is a very young team, but will improve as the season goes on. The frontcourt trio of Tyler Hansbrough, one of the best freshmen in the country; David Noel, an athletic scorer and rebounder; and Reyshawn Terry, a versatile scorer, is one of the best in the country. Prediction: North Carolina State 70, North Carolina 66
LSU at Connecticut (Saturday, 4:00 PM, CBS)- Two of the most talented teams in the country battle it out in a non-conference battle. Connecticut might be the best team in the country, and just got super-passer Marcus Williams back from suspension. Rudy Gay is one of the best players in the nation; Rashad Anderson is an outstanding scorer off the bench; and Josh Boone is a low-post force. LSU has a phenomenal freshman forward duo in Tasmin Mitchell and Tyrus Thomas. The inside-outside combo of guard Darrell Mitchell and big man Glen Davis is the best in the SEC. Prediction: Connecticut 79, LSU 71
Ohio State at Indiana (Saturday, 4:00 PM, CBS)- Another top-notch Big Ten matchup. Ohio State has surprised some with their undefeated start. Je’Kel Foster is one of the best three-point shooters in the country, while Terence Dials is a solid inside player. Ron Lewis and J.J. Sullinger lead a host of talented wings. Indiana may be the best hope the Big Ten has for the Final Four. The inside duo of D.J. White and Marco Killingsworth is one of the better tandems in the nation, while Robert Vaden and Marshall Strickland are very good perimeter scorers. Prediction: Indiana 78, Ohio State 73
Duke at Wake Forest (Sunday, 8:00 PM, FSN)- The first road test for the Blue Devils in the ACC. Duke has the best inside-outside combo in the nation in Player of the Year candidate J.J. Redick and big man Shelden Williams, possibly the best post player in the country. Freshman Greg Paulus is developing into a very good distributor at the point, while fellow frosh Josh McRoberts is also coming into his own. Wake Forest has its own inside-outside duo in guard Justin Gray, an excellent scorer, and Eric Williams, an efficient but not dominant low-post option. Trent Strickland is an athletic scorer and rebounder on the wing. Prediction: Duke 83, Wake Forest 76
Other Predictions on Key Games
Manhattan at Iona (Friday, 7:00, ESPNU)- Prediction: Iona 75, Manhattan 70
Kentucky at Kansas (Saturday, NOON, ESPN)- Prediction: Kentucky 79, Kansas 74
Illinois at Iowa (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN)- Prediction: Iowa 71, Illinois 69
Northern Iowa at Missouri State (Saturday, 8:00 PM)- Prediction: Northern Iowa 73, Missouri State 68
West Virginia at Villanova (Sunday, NOON)- Prediction: Villanova 82, West Virginia 75
Michigan State at Wisconsin (Sunday, 1:30 PM, CBS)- Prediction: Wisconsin 74, Michigan State 71


Check out Jeff Borzello's March Madness All Season blog for detailed coverage of the college game on a daily basis.




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