Friday, January 6, 2006

Weekend Preview

With college football out of the way, conference play gets in full swing this weekend in college basketball. I already touched on some of these games over at CollegeHoopsNet, but here is a complete rundown of all the key contests over the next two days.

Top Games

Kentucky at Kansas (Saturday, NOON, ESPN)- Two of the nation's most storied programs face off in a history-filled matchup. Kentucky has not been very consistent this season, but are looking better and better with each game. Rajon Rondo is the best point guard in the country, while the Wildcats are also getting production from perimeter threats Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford, and Patrick Sparks. Kansas has started slowly thanks to a young, inexperienced lineup. Brandon Rush can be a star if he realizes how good he is, while C.J. Giles and Sasha Kaun are decent options down low. Prediction: Kentucky 79, Kansas 74

Illinois at Iowa (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN)- Two of the eight Big Ten teams expected to fight for NCAA bids go at it in one of many solid conference tilts. The Fighting Illini are coming off of a win over Michigan State on Thursday, and are looking like one of the best teams in the country. Dee Brown is one of the best players in the country; Jamar Smith and Rich McBride provide perimeter production; and James Augustine is one of the conference's best big men. Iowa is coming off a blowout loss at Wisconsin, but will still contend in the Big Ten. They have one of the best trios around in Jeff Horner, an all-around solid point guard; Adam Haluska, an excellent scorer on the wing; and Greg Brunner, a double-double machine in the post. Prediction: Iowa 71, Illinois 69

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

Northern Iowa at Missouri State (Saturday, 8:00 PM)- Two of the many teams in the Missouri Valley Conference expected to fight for the conference title and NCAA bids battle. Northern Iowa may be the best mid-major team in the country other than Gonzaga. They have one of the conference's best quartets in guards Ben Jacobson and Erik Crawford, and post players Eric Coleman and Grant Stout. Missouri State started the season off hot, but have cooled off since. They have seven players averaging at least eight points per game,w with five in double-figures. Guards Blake Ahearn and Tyler Chaney lead the way. Prediction: Northern Iowa 73, Missouri State 68

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

West Virginia at Villanova (Sunday, NOON, ESPN FullCourt)- Two of the Big East's best battle it out in what should be a high-scoring affair. 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, West Virginia has been somewhat inconsistent this season, but can beat any team on any night. They have an excellent inside-outside duo in Mike Gansey, a very good all-around player, and Kevin Pittsnogle, a versatile scorer. Prediction: Villanova 82, West Virginia 75

Michigan State at Wisconsin (Sunday, 1:30 PM, CBS)- Two of the several contenders for a Big Ten title go at it in one of the most difficult places to play for the visiting team. 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. Michigan State is coming off an unimpressive performance in a loss to Illinois. They have an outstanding trio in wings Shannon Brown and Maurice Ager, both athletic players that can shoot the ball and run the floor; and big man Paul Davis, who is having an All-America-type year in the paint. Prediction: Wisconsin 74, Michigan State 71

Other Games to Watch:

Florida at Georgia (Saturday, NOON, ESPN FullCourt)- Will Florida's unbeaten season come to an end on the road against Georgia? The balanced Gators go up against a Georgia team led by an outstanding quintet of guards. Prediction: Florida 73, Georgia 68

Cincinnati at Marquette (Saturday, NOON, Regional TV)- Marquette is coming off of a dominant win over Connecticut, while Cincinnati is looking like one of the best teams in the country. Prediction: Cincinnati 69, Marquette 67

Oklahoma at Nebraska (Saturday, 1:30 PM, ESPN FullCourt)- Will Oklahoma's trend of not playnig well against inferior opponents cost them on the road against a game Nebraska team? Prediction: Oklahoma 75, Nebraska 64

Notre Dame at DePaul (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt)- DePaul has collected a slew of quality wins, while Notre Dame has nearly pulled off road wins against Michigan and Pittsburgh. Prediction: Notre Dame 76, DePaul 72

USC at Arizona (Saturday, 2:00 PM, Regional TV)- USC has surprised some with their good start, while Arizona is looking to contend for a Pac-10 title. Prediction: Arizona 80, USC 68

Buffalo at Northern Illinois (Saturday, 3:00 PM)- Is Buffalo's 11-1 start for real? Can Northern Illinois contend for a MAC title? Prediction: Northern Illinois 73, Buffalo 66

Colorado at Texas (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt)- A veteran Colorado team led by Richard Roby have started off 10-1, while Texas is coming off an excellent road win at Memphis. Prediction: Texas 79, Colorado 69

Toledo at Akron (Saturday, 7:00 PM)- Two of the contenders in the MAC square off. Akron is led by forward Romeo Travis, and Toledo counters with the duo of Justin Ingram and Keonta Howell. Prediction: Akron 73, Toledo 65

Kansas State at Iowa State (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt)- Kansas State has had a surprising start, while Iowa State has eyes on a conference title in the weak Big 12. Prediction: Iowa State 79, Kansas State 72

Texas Tech at Texas A&M (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Regional TV)- Two of the Big 12's numerous medicore teams that are going to be near the bubble all season. Watch Tech's guard duo of Martin Zeno and Jarrius Jackson, and A&M's inside-outside combo of Acie Law IV and Joseph Jones. Prediction: Texas A&M 70, Texas Tech 65

Gonzaga at St. Mary's (Saturday, 11:00 PM, ESPNU)- Gonzaga goes on the road to visit their main competition in the West Coast Conference. Daniel Kickert needs to have a big game for St. Mary's. Prediction: Gonzaga 77, St. Mary's 73

Temple at St. Joseph's (Sunday, NOON, ESPN FullCourt)- Two teams in the Atlantic-10 that have played tough schedules up to now that need to start winning in order to enter the NCAA conversation. Prediction: St. Joseph's 63, Temple 59

Tennessee at South Carolina (Sunday, 1:30 PM, ESPN FullCourt)- Are either of these teams going to make a run at an NCAA bid? Tennessee looks to be one of the SEC East's best right now, while South Carolina needs to pick up quality wins. Prediction: South Carolina 78, Tennessee 76

Winthrop at Memphis (Sunday, 2:00 PM)- One of the best mid-majors in the country pays a visit to one of the best teams in the country. Winthrop could be a potential sleeper come March, while Memphis could be a potential Final Four team. Prediction: Memphis 72, Winthrop 58

Bradley at Southern Illinois (Sunday, 3:00 PM, ESPNU)- Another excellent matchup of Missouri Valley contenders. Southern Illinois is the lone undefeated team, while Bradley is looking like it will stay in the race to the end. Prediction: Southern Illinois 71, Bradley 67

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