Monday, January 9, 2006

The Week Ahead

After an exciting weekend of upsets and down-to-the-wire games, a new week of college basketball is upon us. Selection Sunday is only 9 weeks away and conference play is beginning to separate pretenders and contenders. Who will step up this week and win key games? Who will falter down the stretch and start to drop in the standings?


Top Games

Cincinnati at Connecticut- Two of the best teams in the Big East battle it out in Storrs. Connecticut is coming off a two-game stretch in which they lost to Marquette and narrowly escaped LSU at home. They will need to bounce back. Marcus Williams seems to be close to hitting his stride, while Rashad Anderson needs to get his stroke back. Rudy Gay, Hilton Armstrong, and Josh Boone comprise one of the best frontcourts around. Cincinnati has surprised some with their good start under Andy Kennedy. They went into Marquette on Saturday and got a victory, something UConn couldn't do. The Bearcats are an excellent shot-blocking and defensive team, but they are awfully thin on the bench. Eric Hicks is a beast on the inside; Armein Kirkland and James White are very good scorers on the wings; and Devan Downey is one of the best freshman point guards in the country.

Texas at Iowa State- The parody-laden Big 12 does not really have a clear-cut #2 after Texas. Iowa State is a good a choice as any. The Cyclones have wins over Iowa and Northern Iowa, and have won 5 in a row. The backcourt of Curtis Stinson, an excellent all-around guard, and Will Blalock, an underrated shooter and passer, is one of the best in the country. Rahshon Clark is a versatile matchup problem in the frontcourt. Texas seems to have bounced back from their 2-game struggle session back in December. They have possibly the best quartet of players in the country: Guard Daniel Gibson is an excellent scorer; P.J. Tucker might be a Player of the Year candidate before the season is over; Brad Buckman is a solid scorer and rebounder; and LaMarcus Aldridge is one of the best centers in all of college basketball.

Other Games to Watch

Oral Roberts at Valparaiso- The two best in the Mid-Continent go at it in a game that could go a long way towards determining the champion. ORU will be without star guard Ken Tutt, who is out for up to 6 weeks.

Cal State-Fullerton at Pacific- Two of the favorites in the Big West battle for league supremacy. Pacific is coming off of a horrendous loss at home to UC-Riverside, while CS Fullerton has not lived up to expectations thus far.

Gonzaga at Santa Clara- Will Gonzaga lose a conference game this season? Santa Clara, at home, has a chance as they have one of the league's better players in Travis Niesen.


Top Game

North Carolina State at Boston College- The race for the ACC's #2 spot heats up in Massachusetts. Both teams are coming off road losses, the Wolfpack to North Carolina and the Eagles to Georgia Tech. NC State is a very balanced team that can beat you from anywhere on the court. Ilian Evtimov is a versatile scorer; Cedric Simmons is a legit low-post option; and Engin Atsur and Gavin Grant are two very solid guards. Boston College is a frontcourt-laden team, with one of the best forward tandems in the country in Jared Dudley, an inside-outside scorer, and Craig Smith, a beast on the block. Sean Marshall and Tyrese Rice provide perimeter scoring.

Other Games to Watch

Kentucky at Vanderbilt- Two of the SEC East's top contenders look to get off to a good start in the league season. Vanderbilt have one of the best players in the league in Shan Foster, while Kentucky has All-American Rajon Rondo and get Randolph Morris back from suspension.

Wisconsin at Minnesota- Two of the Big Ten's eight potential NCAA teams battle it out. Wisconsin is hot lately, led by Alando Tucker, Kammron Taylor, and Brian Butch. Minnesota is coming off of a home loss to Northwestern, although Vincent Grier and Maurice Hargrow are a very good wing duo.

North Carolina at Virginia Tech- Two teams expected to be on the bubble at the start of the season are going in different directions. North Carolina is developing into a very good team, with one of the top frontcourts in the conference, including star freshman Tyler Hansbrough. Virginia Tech is 0-2 in the ACC, but have an excellent inside-outside duo in Zabian Dowdell and Coleman Collins.


Top Games

Indiana at Michigan State- Possibly the Big Ten's two best Final Four contenders go at it in East Lansing. Indiana received news this week that D.J. White re-injured himself and might miss the rest of the seasonn. Even without him, the Hoosiers are a very good team. Marco Killingsworth is an offensive force down low, while Robert Vaden and Marshall Strickland are very good perimeter producers. Michigan State is 0-2 in the Big Ten, but don't let that fool you. This team can beat anyone. Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager form one of the best wing duos in the country, and Paul Davis is having an All-America-caliber season down low.

LSU at Arkansas- The two best teams in the SEC West look to get a head-start in the race for a title. LSU is, without a doubt, the best 5-loss team in the country. Glen Davis is one of the country's best big men, while Darrell Mitchell is developing into an All-SEC guard. The freshmen forward tandem of Tyrus Thomas and Tasmin Mitchell is extremely talented. Arkansas is coming off a loss to Mississippi State, but need a win here to get back in the SEC West race. Ronnie Brewer is one of the best players in the conference, while guard Jonathan Modica and post player Darian Townes are also very solid offensive options.

Maryland at Duke- One of the best rivalries in the country opens another chapter with both teams looking like ACC title contenders, even though Maryland had a bad loss at Miami over the weekend. The Terrapins are athletic and deep, and can beat with you with a number of players. Chris McCray and DJ Strawberry are a big, defensive-minded backcourt, while Nik Caner-Medley, Ekene Ibekwe, and James Gist are three solid scorer up front. Duke has the best inside-outside tandem in the country in JJ Redick, a Player of the Year candidate, and big man Shelden Williams, a double-double lock every night. Greg Paulus is developing into a very good point guard; Sean Dockery is a vastly underrated guard; and Josh McRoberts is starting to become the player everyone thought he would be.

Other Games to Watch

Georgetown at West Virginia-
Syracuse at Notre Dame-
Wichita State at Bradley-
Southeastern Louisiana at Northwestern State-
Iona at St. Peter's-
Nebraska at Kansas State-
Georgia at Tennessee-
Baylor at Texas Tech-
Creighton at Northern Iowa-
Kansas at Colorado-
Texas A&M at Oklahoma State-


Top Games

DePaul at Pittsburgh-
Washington State at UCLA-

Other Games to Watch

Albany at Boston University-
Austin Peay at Murray State-
UNC-Wilmington at Drexel-
Washington at USC-


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