Friday, December 16, 2005

Weekend Preview

As a result of final exams at most schools, it has been a slow week in college basketball, as demonstrated by the lack of big games. That will continue this weekend, even though there are several marquee games on the docket. This is one of the last opportunities for teams to beef up their non-conference resume and to get a look at themselves prior to conference play. That should lead to plenty of quality contests and an exciting couple of days in college hoops.

UCLA at Michigan (Saturday, 12:00, ESPN)- A solid rivalry matchup between two teams that could be major players in their conference races. Michigan is 7-0 with wins over Miami (Fl.) and Notre Dame, and are looking like the surprise team in the Big Ten. Daniel Horton is one of the best point guards in the league, while Courtney Sims is developing into a stud big man down low. UCLA is 7-1, coming off of a victory over Nevada. The perimeter-oriented Bruins have one of the best backcourts in the country in all-conference point guard Jordan Farmar and super scorer Aaron Afflalo, both sophomores. Cedric Bozeman is a versatile third option.

Louisville at Kentucky (Saturday, 2:00, CBS)- Click here for my complete preview of this game.

Tennessee at Texas (Saturday, 2:00, ESPN)- A matchup of two teams in need of a win. Tennessee is undefeated and unproven, and are looking for a huge win to add to their NCAA profile. They are 5-0, with all the wins over mid-major squads. Five players average in double figures for the Volunteers, including Chris Lofton (45% from three) and C.J. Watson, one of the best backcourts in the SEC. Texas needs a victory after getting embarassed by Duke last weekend. Daniel Gibson needs to look for his shot more on offense, while PJ Tucker has to utilize his strength to get easy buckets inside. LaMarcus Aldridge is a potentially dominant inside player.

Arizona at Utah (Saturday, 4:00, ESPN)- Both teams have fallen on somewhat hard times since the loss of three star seniors, including Andrew Bogut of Utah, and Salim Stoudamaire and Channing Frye of Arizona. Arizona has shown a tendency to be undisciplined and sloppy this season. Hassan Adams is a versatile player with loads of talent, while Chris Rodgers and Mustafa Shakur are a very good backcourt when playing to their potential. Utah has road losses to Rice and Colorado, and need a big win at home against a quality opponent. The combination of forward Bryant Markson and guard Johnnie Bryant has been very successful for the Utes.

Northern Illinois at Illinois-Chicago (Saturday, 5:00)- This is a game between two teams that should contend for an automatic bid in their league, if they develop consistency. Northern Illinois has a solid home win over DePaul, but not much else in terms of their schedule. Todd Peterson and James Hughes are a good frontcourt duo, while Cory Sims and Mike McKinney are solid guards. Illinois-Chicago has victories over major-conference teams Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, and Northwestern, but also lost to Denver and St. Xavier (an NAIA team) at home. Justin Bowen and Othyus Jeffers form one of the best frontcourt combos in the Horizon League.

Utah State at Hawaii (Saturday, 6:05)- This could go a long way towards determining who the second best team is in the WAC, behind Nevada. Utah State beat Oral Roberts but lost to Utah and Middle Tennessee State, and are currently an unimpressive 4-2. Guard Jaycee Carroll (46% from three) is an outstanding shooter that is averaging 20 points per game, while Nate Harris (14.3 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is tough to stop in the frontcourt. Hawaii opened the season with a victory over Michigan State, but have since lost to 2-5 UNLV, and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Julian Sensley has the talent to be one of the top players in the WAC, while fellow forward Ahmet Gueye (15.2 ppg, 7.2 rpg) is very productive as his bookend. Guard Matt Lojeski provides balance from the perimeter.

DePaul at Old Dominion (Saturday, 7:00)- An underrated game that ODU has to look out for if they are to build an at-large resume. DePaul is coming off of back-to-back road wins against Dayton and Wake Forest, and they have also beat UAB, Creighton, and Northwestern. Old Dominion, on the other hand, is coming off a 19-point loss to Drexel. DePaul is led by do-it-all guard Sammy Mejia, while forward Karron Clarke is a solid performer up front. ODU has an excellent frontcourt duo in Alex Loughton and Arnaud Dahi, as well as a very good backcourt of Isaiah Hunter and Drew Williamson.

Tennessee Tech at Cincinnati (Saturday, 7:00)- A longshot upset pick. Tennessee Tech has been somewhat of a surprise, sitting at 6-1 (3-0 in the OVC) and atop the conference standings. Six players average over nine points per game, including forward Derek Stribling, a versatile player who is shooting 57% from beyond the arc. Belton Rivers and Anthony Fisher are a solid backcourt. Cincinnati has looked impressive of late, winning at Vanderbilt and then destroying Ohio. James White is one of the best all-around players in the Big East, while Eric Hicks is a double-double monster down low. Freshman point guard Devan Downey has been the key to the Bearcats' recent success--he has averaged 21 points, 4 assists, and 4 steals in the past two games.

Ohio State at Iowa State (Saturday, 8:00, ESPN2)- One of the best games of the weekend. Both teams are looking for a quality win to the put on their non-conference resume. Ohio State is 6-0, with two solid victories over Virginia Tech and St. Joseph's. Five palyers average in double figures, led by Je'Kel Foster's 16 points per game and 57% 3-point shooting percentage. Terence Dials can be a dominant player inside, while JJ Sullinger leads a host of perimeter players from the Buckeyes. Iowa State has struggled somewhat this season, with losses to Iona and Fresno State, but also have wins over Northern Iowa and Iowa. Curtis Stinson is one of the best all-around players in the nation, while his backcourt partner Will Blalock is an outstanding point guard. Rahshon Clark is a matchup problem in the froncourt, due to his athleticism and scoring variety.

Oregon at New Mexico (Saturday, 9:00, ESPN Full Court)- Two teams out west that need a win here to have any chance at an at-large berth come March, if it is not too late. New Mexico has a bad loss to New Mexico State and no wins that really jump out at you. Mark Walters and David Chiotti are a good inside-outside combo for the Lobos. Oregon has lost three in a row before beating Santa Clara on Tuesday. Malik Hairston is an excellent all-around player on the wing, while Aaron Brooks and Bryce Taylor round out a very good perimter trio.

Fresno State at Pacific (Saturday, 10:00)- A matchup of two teams from the West that have surprised some this season. Fresno State was not expected to be a major player in the WAC race, but are 4-2 with a win on the road at Iowa State. Swingman Quinton Hosley is averaging 19 points and 9 boards per game (including three straight double-doubles), while guard Ja'Vance Coleman is putting up over 17 per contest. Pacific was supposed to fall in the Big West race after the loss of several key seniors from last season. However, the Tigers are 6-3 and looking good. Christian Maraker is playing like one of the best players in the country, and is coming off a 34-point, 12-rebound performance against Western Kentucky. Johnny Gray and Mike Webb form a solid backcourt.

Virginia Tech vs. Stanford (Saturday, 12:30, ESPN)- A late night matchup of two teams that need to pick up some quality wins. Virginia Tech is 7-3, including a loss at Duke after a half-court buzzer shot lifted the Blue Devils to victory. Coleman Collins is one of the most underrated, albeit one of the best, big men in the country. Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon form a versatile backcourt, while Deron Washington gives the Hokies an athletic forward. Stanford is the biggest disappointment in the country so far, sitting at 2-3 with losses to UC-Irvine, Montana, and UC-Davis. Matt Haryasz is averaging a double-double for the Cardinal, while Dan Grunfeld and Chris Hernandez comprise what is potentially one of the best perimeter duos in the country.

Davidson at Syracuse (Sunday, 1:00)- A possible upset brewing at the Carrier Dome. Syracuse has struggled against mid-majors at home this season, including two close wins against Manhattan and Cornell, and a loss to Bucknell. Gerry McNamara is playing the point guard role, and has seen his efficiency shooting the ball go down. Demetris Nichols has developed into a very good perimeter scorer for the Orange, while Terrence Roberts is a decent option down low. Davidson is 6-2, with the only losses at Duke and at Charlotte. Ian Johnson is a very good forward, while Brendan Winters may be the best player in the Southern Conference.

Miami (Fl.) at North Carolina State (Sunday, 5:30, FSN)- Two teams that could be on the bubble come March have their first ACC game of the season. NC State is 7-1, with their best win coming on the road at Notre Dame. Ilian Evtimov is an inside-outside scorer from the forward position, while Cedric Simmons is becoming a solid option down low. Gavin Grant is a very versatile, all-around player on the wing. Miami started 4-3 without starting point guard Anthony Harris, but now they have him back from injury, and that should help him tremendously. Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite are an excellent scoring duo on the wing for the Hurricanes.

Valparaiso at Duke (Sunday, 8:00, FSN)- It would have been more plausible to conceive the thought of an upset prior to last week's Meadowlands Massacre, in which Duke beat #2 Texas by 31 points. JJ Redick had 41 points, and is a contender for National Player of the Year, while Shelden Williams is possibly the most dominant big man in the country. Sean Dockery leads a host of role players capable of stepping up any night. Valparaiso is coming off of a win at Charlotte, and look very solid. Dan Oppland (20.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg) is one of the best players in the conference, while big man Mohamed Kane (12.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg) gives Oppland a very good partner in the frontcourt. Ron Howard is the main man on the perimeter.

Xavier at Creighton (Sunday, 8:05)- A game between two teams that could potentially receive at-large bids to the Big Dance. Xavier is 5-1, the lone defeat a 3-point loss at Illinois. Brian Thornton is a good option down low, while Justin Doellman and Justin Cage are also solid players up front. Stanley Burrell is the go-to-guy in the backcourt. He is shooting an astonishing 56% from long range. Creighton may be without star guard Nate Funk for the rest of the season, but they are still a quality club, as demonstrated by their 26-point win over Nebraska. Johnny Mathies is a good all-around guard, while Jimmy Motz, Anthony Tolliver, and Dane Watts comprise a good forward trio. Freshman Josh Dotzler has been impressive at the point.

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