Sunday, December 31, 2006
- Standard bracketing rules apply (no two teams from the same conference in the same half-bracket, etc.)
- Numbers in parenthesis next to the team indicate what 1-16 ranking they are
Note: A complete bracket will be released on Tuesday, with all 65 teams and their respective seedings.
San Antonio Region:
1. Florida (3)
2. Duke (6)
3. Butler (11)
4. Nevada (15)
San Jose Region:
1. UCLA (1)
2. Ohio State (8)
3. Oklahoma State (9)
4. Clemson (16)
East Rutherford Region:
1. North Carolina (2)
2. Alabama (7)
3. Pittsburgh (10)
4. Tennessee (14)
St. Louis Region:
1. Wisconsin (4)
2. Arizona (5)
3. Air Force (12)
4. Notre Dame (13)
17th Team: Oregon
Others Considered: UNLV, Washington State, Kansas, Texas A&M, Maryland
Friday, December 29, 2006
Georgetown at Michigan (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN2): Two teams that have disappointed so far this season and need to turn things around. Georgetown started out 4-3, but has won five in a row. Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert are an excellent frontcourt duo, while Jonathan Wallace leads the way in the backcourt. Jessie Sapp is a solid scorer. Michigan is 12-2, but that record is deceiving. Their best win was over Davidson and they have only one road win. Dion Harris and Courtney Sims form a good inside-outside combo, and Lester Abram is a solid all-around player. Brent Petway is active up front. Prediction: Michigan 71, Georgetown 65
Connecticut at West Virginia (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN2): This game will teach us a lot about both teams. Connecticut wins the award for having the most inflated ranking (#9) due to an extremely easy non-conference schedule. Moreover, the Huskies haven’t left the state yet. Jeff Adrien is a double-double machine in the paint, while A.J. Price and Jerome Dyson form an explosive backcourt. Haseem Thabeet is very good defensively down low. West Virginia has one loss this year, to Arkansas. The Mountaineers have a slew of quality forwards, including Frank Young and Joe Alexander. Darris Nichols is the go-to-guy in the backcourt. Prediction: Connecticut 75, West Virginia 73
Missouri State at Creighton (Saturday, 4:05 PM, ESPN2): A Missouri Valley Conference showdown. Missouri State has been very good all season long, dropping only two games by a combined four points. Blake Ahearn is one of the best shooters in the country, while Tyler Chaney provides good size and versatility in the backcourt. Deven Mitchell and Nathan Bilyeu lead the way up front. Creighton has been a major disappointment this season, going winless on the road and coming into this game with a 5-4 record. Nate Funk and Anthony Tolliver form a very good inside-outside combo. Dane Watts is solid down low. Prediction: Creighton 70, Missouri State 67
Nevada at Gonzaga (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN2): One of the best match-ups of the weekend—and neither team is in one of the major conferences. Nevada is sporting an 11-1 record, with the lone loss to UNLV. Nick Fazekas is one of the best players in the country, putting up 20 and 10 every night. Marcelus Kemp is a big-time scorer, while Ramon Sessions is a good point guard. Gonzaga has played a very difficult schedule, but own wins over North Carolina, Texas, and Washington. Derek Raivio and Josh Heytvelt have been outstanding this season, forming an excellent inside-outside tandem. Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin are solid on the perimeter. Prediction: Gonzaga 76, Nevada 71
Northern Iowa at Wichita State (Saturday, 8:35 PM, Regional TV): Another Missouri Valley battle between two of the conference’s multiple NCAA contenders. Northern Iowa has surprised some this season, not missing a beat from last year despite the loss of two starters. Eric Coleman and Grant Stout are a dominant inside duo, while Brooks McKowen is an outstanding distributor from the point guard spot. Wichita State has lost two in a row since starting 9-0. Sean Ogirri is a very good long-range shooter, while Ryan Martin and P.J. Couisnard are versatile wings. Kyle Wilson anchors the frontcourt. Prediction: Wichita State 72, Northern Iowa 64
Wisconsin at Georgia (Sunday, 1:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): An interesting match-up between two different offensive styles. Wisconsin likes to slow it down and play a halfcourt game, while Georgia would much rather play transition basketball to get points up in a hurry. The Badgers are one of the best teams around, led by All-American Alando Tucker. Kammron Taylor is a good scorer in the backcourt, and Brian Butch seems to be improving his play lately. Georgia owns a win over Gonzaga, and has an excellent perimeter group capable of leading the Bulldogs to victories. Mike Mercer, Levi Stukes, and Sundiata Gaines are very good in the backcourt, while Takais Brown is the main man up front. Prediction: Wisconsin 68, Georgia 66
Washington at UCLA (Sunday, 5:00 PM, FSN): Two of the Pac-10’s best square off in what should be the best game of the weekend. Washington has been good so far this season, but has struggled on the road. Spencer Hawes is going to be an outstanding post player, and Jon Brockman is a big-time rebounder. Quincy Pondexter can score in a variety of ways, while Justin Dentmon is the best backcourt player for the Huskies. UCLA, the nation’s top-ranked team, has played excellent basketball throughout the year. They are coming off of a tough win at home against Washington State last night. Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison might be the nation’s best backcourt, while Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a versatile forward. Josh Shipp is another scorer on the wing. Prediction: UCLA 72, Washington 59 CLICK HERE FOR MY COMPLETE PREVIEW OF WASHINGTON-UCLA.
Other Games to Watch
Mississippi State at George Mason (Saturday, 12:00 PM, Regional TV): An interesting battle between two teams going in opposite directions. Mississippi State has been playing well, and should compete in the SEC West. George Mason is only 5-5, a far cry from last season's Final Four run. They will contend in the CAA, but have been a disappointment. Prediction: Mississippi State 74, George Mason 69
Mississippi at Saint Louis (Saturday, 2:00 PM, Regional TV): Is Mississippi for real? The Rebels are 11-2, with their only losses at Memphis and at Connecticut. A win here would be huge. Saint Louis is poised to be a favorite in the Atlantic-10, and is coming off of a last-second, controversial win over Missouri State. The inside battle between Ole Miss' Dwayne Curtis and SLU's Ian Vouyoukas will be fun to watch. Prediction: Saint Louis 73, Mississippi 62
Stanford at Arizona (Saturday, 2:00 PM, FSN): Pac-10 battle that does not have the same luster it had five years ago. Stanford did pull off a win at Arizona State last night, but Arizona is in an entirely different tier. The Wildcats have one of the best offenses in the country and will fight with UCLA all season long for Pac-10 supremacy. Prediction: Arizona 83, Stanford 66
Washington State at USC (Saturday, 6:00 PM, FSN): Another very good Pac-10 showdown. Both of these teams will compete for an at-large bid behind the top teams in the conference. Washington State has surprised some, and nearly pulled off a huge upset over UCLA last night. USC won their league opener in two overtimes over Washington. The Pac-10 might be the nation's best league. Prediction: USC 67, Washington State 63
Appalachian State at Virginia Commonwealth (Saturday, 7:30 PM): Two solid mid-majors that will make noise in their respective conferences. Appalachian State owns wins over Virginia and Vanderbilt, and have an excellent all-around guard in D.J. Thompson. VCU is one of the favorites in the Colonial after an impressive non-conference campaign, with only two losses by a combined four points. Prediction: Virginia Commonwealth 71, Appalachian State 65
Dayton at North Carolina (Sunday, 3:00 PM, FSN): A surprisingly decent match-up that might have looked better before last week's blowout loss by Dayton at the hands of Pittsburgh. The Flyers are still a potential contender in the Atlantic-10, behind guard Brian Roberts. North Carolina is one of the top teams in the country, putting up points in a variety of ways. They are legit Final Four contender. Prediction: North Carolina 80, Dayton 61
For a complete rundown of this week's top games, click here.
Winthrop at Old Dominion- Prediction: Old Dominion 73, Winthrop 71
Illinois at Xavier- Prediction: Illinois 69, Xavier 65
Providence at Florida State- Prediction: Florida State 77, Providence 70
Thursday, December 28, 2006
For a complete rundown of this week's top games, click here.
George Mason at Drexel- Prediction: Drexel 76, George Mason 62
Georgia at Clemson- Prediction: Clemson 79, Georgia 74
SMU at Oklahoma- Prediction: SMU 69, Oklahoma 67
California at Arizona- Prediction: Arizona 82, California 68
UNLV at Texas Tech- Prediction: Texas Tech 73, UNLV 66
Washington at USC- Prediction: USC 72, Washington 69
Washington State at UCLA- Prediction: UCLA 66, Washington State 53
Air Force at George Washington- Prediction: Air Force 74, George Washington 71
Game of the Week: #14 Washington at #1 UCLA (Sunday, December 31st, 5:00 PM, FSN)
Conference play is here. Sure, there were intra-conference games spotted randomly throughout early December and pre-Christmas, but those were just appetizers. January usually marks the true start to conference play, and in turn, the meat and potatoes of the college basketball season. This year, many major conferences are starting their league play this week, including the Pac-10 officially starting Thursday. This weekend continues that theme, as there are plenty of good games on the docket, some conference games and others key non-conference match-ups. Nevada heads to Gonzaga, Northern Iowa faces off against Wichita State, Wisconsin goes on the road to Georgia, to name a few. But the best game of the week? Two of the Pac-10’s best face off when Washington heads to UCLA in an important conference tilt. We will learn a lot about both teams on Sunday night.
Washington reached the Sweet Sixteen last season, and Lorenzo Romar and the Huskies picked up right where they left off. They opened the season with seven straight wins, including a victory over Northern Iowa, before falling to Gonzaga on the road. However, they bounced back to destroy LSU by 16 at home last week. Although the Huskies are 10-1, they haven’t left the state yet and have played a relatively easy schedule. Washington leads the conference in scoring, putting up 88 points per game (good enough for fourth in the country), but they have also given up the most points, allowing 74 a contest. Ken Pomeroy has the Huskies as the 45th-most efficient offensive team in the country, and the 62nd-most efficient defensive group.
UCLA is coming off of a 2006 Final Four appearance, and even with the loss of three starters, the Bruins have not missed a beat. Ranked #1 in the polls, the Bruins have started 11-0, including a Maui Invitational Championship and victories over Kentucky, Georgia Tech, Texas A&M, and Michigan. They have only two wins by less than 13 points, and have been dominant for the most part. The Bruins average just under 79 points per game, and are also one of the stingiest defensive teams in the country, giving up less than 60 points a contest. According to Ken Pomeroy, UCLA has the 7th-most efficient offense and the 8th-most efficient defense in the country.
Washington Team Breakdown
Washington is a program on the rise, and seems like they are able to continue their winning ways no matter who they lose to the NBA and graduation. Heading into this season, they had lost several key contributors, including All-American Brandon Roy. Lorenzo Romar has this team ready to play anyone, though. Their offensive is explosive, especially in transition, and their defense thrives on turnovers and pressure.
Washington has one of the best—and youngest—frontcourts in the country. It all starts with the freshmen duo of Spencer Hawes and Quincy Pondexter. Hawes is an extremely difficult match-up due to his all-around talent and size. The 6-11 center is tough to stop on the offensive end and is an outstanding shot-blocker. Hawes is also a good passer and rebounder. He started slowly this season, but is rounding into form lately, including a 23-point, 12-rebound performance against Glen Davis and LSU. He has scored at least 20 points in four of his last five games. Pondexter is an unbelievable athlete who is thriving in Washington's up-tempo style. He is very good at getting to the basket and has a developing perimeter game. He is also a decent passer. Early in the season, he looked like more of an impact newcomer than Hawes, and has been a consistent contributor throughout the year. Rounding out the starters is sophomore Jon Brockman. The 6-7 forward is an excellent complement to Hawes in the post. He is an excellent rebounder and a banger down low who has potential as a scorer. He is averaging a double-double currently, including a 19-point, 14-rebound outing against LSU and a 25-point, 12-rebound performance in the season opener against Pepperdine. Providing depth is Phil Nelson and Hans Gasser. Nelson is a very good outside threat who can get hot from behind the arc. Gasser gets backup minutes in the paint and provides solid scoring and rebounding.
Their backcourt is not as well-known as the frontcourt, but it is good nonetheless. Justin Dentmon leads the way. The 5-11 point guard is a good ball handler and does not turn the ball over often. Dentmon is also a good passer and a very solid rebounder who plays tough on-ball defense. He has improved greatly since last season, contributing in a variety of areas. He had an 11-point, 11-assist performance against Southern Utah, and has scored in double figures six times. He is fifth in the conference in assists. Freshman Adrian Oliver starts next to Dentmon. He started the season coming off the bench, but his production makes it hard to keep him off the court. He can score the ball well, but is also a good passer and rebounder. He had 14 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks in a win over Easter Washington earlier this season. Ryan Appleby provides very good depth in the backcourt. He started earlier in the season after playing in the sixth man role last year, but seems more comfortable coming off the bench. He is a phenomenal outside shooter who is also a decent passer. He had six threes in a game earlier this season, and also had eight assists against Gonzaga. Brandon Burmeister is an excellent shooter who gives good minutes backing up the guards.
UCLA Team Breakdown
UCLA lost three starters from their National Championship runner-up team from a year ago, but have bounced back very well. Jordan Farmar was a first-round pick, while Ryan Hollins and Cedric Bozeman were major contributors. However, Ben Howland pieced together a quality group and the Bruins might be even better than last year. Their defense is outstanding as usual, and they have several scorers that can get points on the offensive end.
Leading the way up front for the Bruins is sophomore Luc Richard Mbah a Moute. The Pac-10 Freshman of the Year a season ago, Mbah a Moute is a versatile player that can do nearly everything on the court. He is an outstanding rebounder, both offensively and defensively. Moreover, he is extremely efficient shooting the ball and is a decent passer. He is also one of the best defenders in the conference. He has two double-doubles this season, but has contributed in all sorts of ways. He had 13 points and 7 steals against Michigan, and 24 points and 11 rebounds against BYU. If he develops some consistency offensively, look out. Wing Josh Shipp has been a consistent scorer for the Bruins. He played in only four games last season due to a right hip injury, but is healthy this year. He is an excellent scorer and shooter who will is a very good second option on the perimeter. Shipp is also an underrated rebounder. He has scored in double figures in seven straight games. He hit six threes in a game earlier this year. Down low, Lorenzo Mata gets most of the minutes. He is on the team in rebounding and had 16 in an outing against UC-Riverside. He is also a good shot-blocker but does not have much of an offensive game. However, he had 12 points against Kentucky and can get putbacks and garbage points inside. Alfred Aboya gets time backing up Mata in the paint. He is a decent inside scorer and rebounder. Freshman James Keefe also sees minutes.
The backcourt has developed into one of the best in the Pac-10, if not the nation, this season. The key to the quick start for the Bruins has been Darren Collison’s ability to replace Jordan Farmar at the point. He is among the nation’s leaders in assists, and has scored in double-figures in all but one game so far. Moreover, he is an outstanding defender, and is averaging just less than three steals per game. He takes care of the ball and is extremely quick at both ends of the floor. His defense has been the key to the stingy defense that the Bruins are playing, and his playmaking ability make UCLA difficult to stop. Starting next to him is Arron Afflalo, one of the best two guards in the country. He has developed into the go-to-guy for the Bruins, leading the team in scoring. He has scored in double-figures in every game but one this season. Afflalo is one of the best shooters and on-ball defenders in the country. He has the ability to impact the game at both ends of the floor. Look for him to make a run at Pac-10 Player of the Year honors. Shooter Michael Roll and freshman Russell Westbrook provide quality depth off the bench. Roll is an outstanding shooter, while Westbrook is quick and can give Collison a breather.
This will be an interesting match-up between two of the Pac-10’s best and two teams that will likely make noise come March. UCLA likes to slow the game down in the half-court, while Washington would much rather get out and run to get points in transition. The Bruins’ lockdown defense and offense that takes care of the ball will make life difficult for Washington. On the other hand, the Huskies have the inside game to give the Bruins frontline problems. The keys for Washington will be to take advantage of their superior size and talent down low. Spencer Hawes is a dominant big man who should be able to have a field day against Lorenzo Mata down low, while Jon Brockman is a physical player who can take Luc Richard Mbah a Moute out of his game. In the backcourt, Adrian Oliver and Justin Dentmon can’t turn the ball over against the pressure of Darren Collison and the defense of Arron Afflalo. Collison is a one-man press that can disrupt a team’s offense by himself. If he takes Dentmon out of the game, Washington will struggle at both ends.
For UCLA, their biggest key will be their ability to stop Hawes and Brockman down low. Mata is a good shot-blocker who needs to keep Hawes from having a big game like he did against LSU. Mbah a Moute has more athleticism than Brockman, and needs to take advantage of that. Moreover, UCLA has far superior guards and need to demonstrate that. If Collison can constantly get into the lane so he can pitch it out to Josh Shipp and Afflalo, it could be a long day for Washington. Moreover, watch for UCLA to keep the game in the half-court, forcing Washington to defend their multiple options. Additionally, a half-court game will make Washington play where they are not as comfortable. If Washington adapts to the slow-down style, they could make it a game. However, I don’t see that happening. UCLA is too experienced—and essentially too good—for the Huskies.
Prediction: UCLA 72, Washington 59
Prediction Record: 3-1
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Coaching in any sport has to be one of the toughest jobs out there. However, coaching college sports is the worst when it comes to stress and lack of job security. For example, in college basketball, one has to worry about keeping the fan base happy, the boosters happy, recruiting, getting to the NCAA Tournament, winning conference championships, etc. Moreover, depending on which program he (or she) is at, they are held to higher standards—which could result in a coach getting canned before they deserve it.
It seems that more and more coaches are getting fired in recent years, because of the additional stress that the current state of college basketball provides. Coaches that get to the NCAA Tournament but don’t win games are under fire, coaches that get to the Final Four in the past five years are getting heat from people, and the list goes on. And writers and broadcasters wonder why coaches are quick to jump ship to get the easy money?
Here are ten coaches that should start worrying about their job if they continue to “struggle”:
Ernie Kent, Oregon: Going into the season, Kent was arguably the coach most worried about his job. His teams have consistently underachieved over the past few seasons, always having enough talent to compete in the Pac-10 but falling apart in conference play and missing the postseason. Last year, it seemed he might be on the way out at the end of the season. Kent had some personal problems that became public and the Ducks were not playing well. However, they made a run to the semi-finals of the conference tournament, which could have given Kent another year in Eugene. Kent and Oregon are off to a very good start this season, currently 11-0. Some people may wonder why Kent is even on the hot seat, considering his record in Eugene is 175-112, including three NCAA Tournaments and an Elite Eight run. Despite that, if Oregon does not play well in Pac-10 play, Kent could be gone.
Tubby Smith, Kentucky: This could be one of the more puzzling cases in the country. Smith was 241-71 at Kentucky heading into this season, averaging 27 wins per season, reaching the NCAA Tournament each season and the Sweet Sixteen eight times. Oh, the Wildcats also have a national championship under Smith. What’s the problem, you ask? The “decline” of the Kentucky program, according to the Wildcats fans. There are numerous websites calling for the firing of Smith, and the school newspaper had to reject a full-page ad calling for Smith’s firing placed by a professor at the school. This season might not have helped Smith all that much. The Wildcats are 9-3, but have lost to UCLA, North Carolina, and Memphis. The diehard Wildcats fans expect Kentucky to win these types of games. Tubby might have to get to 25 wins for the clamoring to stop.
Mike Brey, Notre Dame: Yet another successful coach that needs to worry about his job. Brey is 128-71 during his six-plus years at Notre Dame, but there are some rumblings about him potentially losing his job. The main reason is the fact that the Irish have not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2003. ND went 9-7 in both 2004 and 2005 but were relegated to the NIT, and last year, the Irish went 6-10 in Big East play and barely reached the conference tournament. So far this year, Brey has done a fine job at attempting to keep his position. The Irish are 10-1, including wins over Maryland and Alabama. If Brey can put the Irish in the Big Dance this year, he need not worry about his job security.
Tommy Amaker, Michigan: If I had to put money on one coach not being in his current position next season, it would be Amaker. The Wolverines have not reached the NCAA Tournament under Amaker, and he is only 154-126 in his five years at Michigan. They seemed well on their way to the Big Dance last year, but the Wolverines collapsed down the stretch and were forced to play in the NIT. They made the NIT Championship Game, but that is not what Michigan fans want to see. Michigan is not doing much to help Amaker keep his job this year. While they are 10-2, they have been blown out by the two good teams they have played, North Carolina State and UCLA. If they don’t find a way to go on the road and beat teams, Amaker could be gone at the end of the season.
Steve Alford, Iowa: Sure, he got an extension at the end of the season. Didn’t the recently-fired Alabama football coach Mike Shula get one last year, too? In other words, don’t think that Alford is safe just because he got an extension. Additionally, that was under the previous AD, Bob Bowlsby. On the other hand, though, Alford might be the safest coach on this list—which isn’t saying much. He is 135-92 at Iowa, including back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances and three trips to the Big Dance overall. The problem is that Alford hasn’t been able to win once he gets into March. The Hawkeyes have won only one game in the NCAA Tournament under Alford. It doesn’t look much better this season—Iowa is 7-6 and seemingly destined for the bottom half of the conference.
Kevin Stallings, Vanderbilt: Another coach that needs to start getting to the Big Dance if he wants to be in his position much longer. Stallings is 122-96 at Vanderbilt, but he has reached only one NCAA Tournament despite lofty expectations last season. With the SEC on the rise and several of their teams making legitimate claims as National title contenders, the Commodores are behind the curve. Vandy is 7-4 this season, with losses to Appalachian State and Furman. Moreover, they don’t seem like they will finish any better than fifth in the SEC East division. The strict academic requirements of the university could be hindering his recruiting ability, but he is going to need to find a way to win.
Stan Heath, Arkansas: Another SEC coach in trouble. Heath has felt pressure ever since he took the Arkansas job, as there were rumors last season that he needed to reach the NCAA Tournament—or he would be fired. We will never know if that was true or not, as he led the Razorbacks to the Big Dance for the first time as the Arkansas coach. Despite that, though, Heath is only 61-57 in his four seasons in Fayetteville. Like Alford, Heath received an extension last year through 2011, but the Razorbacks fan base are still not happy with rebuilding seasons. Heath needs to keep winning and contending for Tournament berths. Even that might not be enough, though, as the fans expect to compete for SEC titles and Final Four berths.
Gary Williams, Maryland: Here’s another coach that is under pressure even with a national championship under his belt. Williams is always one of the most intense coaches in the country—seemingly always sweating through his suits during games—but he has struggled lately. The Terrapins have had back-to-back 19-win seasons resulting in the NIT. Moreover, off-court issues and multiple assistant coaches leaving have put a negative spin on Williams’ recent resume. Prior to the NIT appearances, though, Williams had led Maryland to 11 consecutive NCAA Tournament berths, 7 Sweet Sixteens, and even two Final Four berths. Despite that, Williams is in trouble. The Terrapins are 11-2 so far this season, but 0-1 in the ACC. The fans want to see Maryland contend with North Carolina and Duke for league titles—not with Florida State for middle-of-the-pack ACC finishes.
Tim Welsh, Providence: Probably the least known of the coaches on this list, Welsh faces the least pressure to win yet could be on his way out if he doesn’t improve the Friars this season. Welsh is only 127-114 in his eight seasons at Providence, with only two NCAA Tournament appearances. Additionally, the Friars didn’t reach the Big East Tournament last season, and haven’t had a winning season in three years. Don’t count Welsh out yet, though—Providence is a young team on the rise. If Welsh continues to get solid recruits and improve the team, he could have a few years left in him. However, heading into this season, the Friars have struggled mightily with in-state rival Rhode Island (PC won this year’s match-up 95-66) and also fell to Brown earlier this season. That won’t help.
Dave Odom, South Carolina: Despite back-to-back postseason championships, Odom is feeling some pressure to win more in Columbia. The letters in front of those championships is the reason why: NIT. The Gamecocks have won two straight NIT titles, but haven’t reached the NCAA Tournament in more than two seasons. Odom is 100-70 in his five years at South Carolina, but his Gamecocks don’t usually contend for SEC or even division crowns. This season does not bring much optimism for Odom despite a 7-2 record. The Gamecocks struggled with South Carolina State and Princeton at home, and also lost to UC-Irvine by 15. If Odom does not start competing in the SEC, he could feel even more pressure next year.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Bradley at Northern Iowa (Wednesday): Two potential contenders in the Missouri Valley face off. Both teams have played better than expected after losing several contributors. Bradley has a couple of solid wins and is led by guard Jeremy Crouch, while Northern Iowa owns a win at Iowa and has the MVC's best center in Eric Coleman.
George Mason at Drexel (Thursday): Last year's favorite vs. this year's favorite? George Mason has fallen considerably since last year, while Drexel has put itself at the front of the pack with wins against St. Joseph's, Villanova, Syracuse, and Temple.
Georgia at Clemson (Thursday): Are either of these teams contenders in their conference races? Georgia has surprised some this season and has a win over Gonzaga, while Clemson remains a mystery. They are undefeated but have not played anyone of significance.
SMU at Oklahoma (Thursday): This might not be the most attractive game on paper, but it could be intriguing. SMU is 9-1 and could make a run at the #2 spot in Conference-USA behind Memphis. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is in the middle of a rebuilding season, but will be a good test for the Mustangs.
California at Arizona (Thursday): Pac-10 play kicks off with two NCAA teams from last year. This year, they are worlds apart. Cal started off well, but lost center Devon Hardin for two months with an injury. Arizona has looked like one of the best teams in the country.
UNLV at Texas Tech (Thursday): Could this be the night that Bobby Knight breaks the all-time win record? UNLV has been surprisingly solid this year, and owns a win over Nevada. However, behind Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno, Knight should get his record.
Washington at USC (Thursday): The most interesting Pac-10 game of opening night. Washington is coming off of a dominant win over LSU, but have yet to leave the state yet. USC has improved over the course of the season, and could be a sleeper in the Pac-10.
Washington State at UCLA (Thursday): Is Washington State for real? The Cougars are 11-1 but don't own any quality road wins. This might not be the best measuring stick for WSU, though, as nearly every team looks bad against UCLA, the nation's #1 team.
Air Force at George Washington (Thursday): A contrast of styles. Air Force likes to slow the pace of the game and limit possessions, while GW uses their athleticism to speed opponents up and force turnovers. Will be a good test for AFA.
Winthrop at Old Dominion (Friday): A quality mid-major battle. Winthrop has come close to beating several top teams this season, including North Carolina and Wisconsin. Old Dominion owns a dominating win over Georgetown, and could be a favorite in the CAA.
Illinois at Xavier (Friday): Is Xavier ready to take on the favorite role in the Atlantic-10? The Musketeers have struggled so far this season, losing four games and possibly ruining their at-large chances. Illinois, on the other hand, has played well despite competitive losses to Maryland and Arizona.
Providence at Florida State (Friday): Two teams that look like at-large candidates in their respective leagues. Providence has won 8 of 9 and could be a sleeper in the Big East, while Florida State owns a win over Florida and hasn't lost to a non-Top 10 team yet.
Monday, December 25, 2006
2. North Carolina
7. Ohio State
9. Oklahoma State
12. Air Force
15. Notre Dame
16. Texas A&M
18. Wichita State
25. Michigan State
Others Considered: Gonzaga, Missouri State, Southern Illinois, Marquette, Memphis, Maryland, Purdue, Florida State
Friday, December 22, 2006
Texas at Tennessee (12:00 PM, ESPN): Two teams that have improved immensely since the beginning of the season. Texas is coming off of a couple of quality wins in the past few weeks over LSU and Arkansas, and are playing their best ball yet. Kevin Durant is one of the best players in college basketball, while fellow freshman D.J. Augustin and sophomore A.J. Abrams form an underrated backcourt. Tennessee defeated Oklahoma State at home earlier in the week, looking far better than they did in the NIT Season Tip-Off. Chris Lofton is one of the best shooters in the country and JaJuan Smith also is a double-digit scorer on the perimeter. Freshmen Duke Crews and Wayne Chism man the low post. Prediction: Tennessee 74, Texas 69
Boston College at Kansas (2:00 PM, CBS): A key game for two teams needing a win heading into the new year. Boston College struggled to open the season, but have played well lately, including wins over Michigan State and Maryland. Jared Dudley is one of the best all-around players in the country, while Sean Williams is arguably the premier shot-blocker in the land. Tyrese Rice and Sean Marshall form a solid backcourt. Kansas is still somewhat of a mystery. They can look outstanding at times, but far from impressive at other junctions. The Jayhawks have an excellent forward combination in Darrell Arthur and Julian Wright. Brandon Rush needs to become more aggressive as a scorer on the wing. Prediction: Kansas 78, Boston College 72
Michigan at UCLA (2:00 PM, CBS): Could either be a blowout or a surprisingly close game. UCLA is the nation's top-ranked team, with wins over Texas A&M and Memphis, among others. Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison form one of the country's best backcourts, with Josh Shipp as another scorer on the wing. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is the team's leader in the frontcourt. Michigan has a gaudy 10-1 record, but lost their only tough game, at North Carolina State. Courtney Sims is potentially dominant down low, while Dion Harris is a solid combo guard. Ron Coleman and Lester Abram man the wings. Prediction: UCLA 65, Michigan 51
California at DePaul (2:00 PM, Regional TV): Two teams potentially going in opposite directions. California was looking solid earlier in the season, but they lost their center, Devon Hardin, for a couple of months due to injury. Without him, they could struggle. Freshman Ryan Anderson is an excellent inside-outside player, while Ayinde Ubaka is a very underrated guard on a national level. DePaul struggled to open the season, but have won five of six and are looking better. Wilson Chandler and Sammy Mejia are a very good scoring duo offensively, while Karron Clarke is also solid. Prediction: DePaul 68, California 64
Ohio State at Florida (4:00 PM, CBS): The clear-cut top game of the weekend. Two of the best teams in the country meet in a preview of next month's BCS Championship game in college football. In basketball, it should be just as good. Ohio State is looking better and better with each game, especially now that Greg Oden is healthy. Daequan Cook and Ron Lewis are explosive players on the wing, while Mike Conley and Jamar Butler are very solid point guards. Florida has seemingly lost a little of its luster still shining from last year's title. However, they are playing well, even with all of the injuries. Forward Al Horford will sit out this game with a high ankle sprain. Still, Joakim Noah and Corey Brewer are an excellent frontcourt tandem, while Taurean Green is one of the best guards around. Prediction: Ohio State 76, Florida 75
Bucknell at Texas Tech (4:30 PM, ESPN2): If Bobby Knight wins this one, he is tied for the wins record with Dean Smith. Moreover, his Red Raiders have won 5 of 6 and are rolling. Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno are one of the top backcourt duos in the country, while Charlie Burgess is another quality perimeter player. Darryl Dora is the best option up front. Bucknell is not the same team as they were the past couple of years, but they are coming off of a win at Xavier and are still tough. Donald Brown and Chris McNaughton are solid up front, while John Griffin and Abe Badmus lead the way on the perimeter. Prediction: Texas Tech 67, Bucknell 61
Dayton at Pittsburgh (8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): A surprisingly quality match-up that looks a lot more attractive now than it did a few months ago. Dayton is a potential contender in the Atlantic-10 with a 10-1 start. Brian Roberts is an explosive player who contributes in a variety of ways. Norman Plummer and Monty Scott are the main men up front. Pittsburgh is coming off of two road losses to Wisconsin and Oklahoma State, but could bounce back. Aaron Gray is a dominant center, while Antonio Graves and Mike Cook lead a very deep and talented group of peimeter players. Prediction: Pittsburgh 78, Dayton 69
Wichita State vs. USC (8:00 PM): This was expected to be the championship game in the Las Vegas Classic, but with both teams losing on Friday, this is the consolation game. Wichita State was undefeated before falling to New Mexico. Sean Ogirri leads the shooting from the perimeter, while Kyle Wilson and Ryan Martin form a solid forward combo. P.J. Couisnard sat out the UNM game, but the Shockers need him back. Southern Cal lost to Kansas State, and seemed out of sync in general. Nick Young, Lodrick Stewart, and the recently-eligible Gabe Pruitt form a terrific perimeter trio, while Taj Gibson is an athletic beast down low. Prediction: Wichita State 66, USC 62
Southern Miss at Bradley (8:05 PM): Will Southern Miss ever get a quality win after their undefeated start of 7-0? After getting blown out by Alabama in their last game against a D-1 opponent, the Golden Eagles need a strong showing. The backcourt of Jeremy Wise and Courtney Beasley lead the way for Southern Miss. Bradley has had a great non-league campaign, beating DePaul, Iowa State, Rutgers, and a couple of other quality clubs. The perimeter trio of Jeremy Crouch, Daniel Ruffin, Will Franklin is one of the guard groups in the mid-major world. Prediction: Bradley 72, Southern Miss 57
Kansas State vs. New Mexico (10:30 PM, Regional TV): The title game of the Last Vegas Classic. While many thought this would be the consolation game, both teams are playing well lately and could use a win. Kansas State seems to be coming around, not coincidentally coming at the same time as the addition of Bill Walker. He and Cartier Martin form a very good forward combo, while Lance Harris is the main man in the backcourt. New Mexico started strong but has struggled on the road this season. J.R. Giddens is a big-time scorer who can fill it up quickly. Aaron Johnson is a terrific rebounder, while Tony Danridge is another quality point producer. Prediction: Kansas State 70, New Mexico 63
Tonight (Friday): Weekend Preview
Monday: Weekly Power Rankings
Tuesday: The Week Ahead
Wednesday: Coaches on the Hot Seat
Thursday: Game of the Week, Big Ten column
Friday: Weekend Preview
And of course, I'll have my nightly predictions up everyday.
Thank you for your patience and I hope you enjoy the upcoming hoops.
Massachusetts at Kentucky- Prediction: Kentucky 66, Massachusetts 63
North Carolina at Saint Louis- Prediction: North Carolina 83, Saint Louis 74
Georgia at Georgia Tech- Prediction: Georgia Tech 77, Georgia 75
Nevada at Akron- Prediction: Nevada 70, Akron 66
Texas A&M at Auburn- Prediction: Texas A&M 64, Auburn 50
Oral Roberts at Arkansas- Prediction: Arkansas 73, Oral Roberts 60
Kansas State vs. USC- Prediction: USC 71, Kansas State 61
Wichita State vs. New Mexico- Prediction: Wichita State 74, New Mexico 63
Thursday, December 21, 2006
For a complete rundown of all this week's game, click here.
Virginia Tech vs. Seton Hall- Prediction: Virginia Tech 73, Seton Hall 66
Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State- Prediction: Oklahoma State 71, Pittsburgh 67
Duke vs. Gonzaga- Prediction: Gonzaga 77, Duke 75
San Diego State at Washington State- Prediction: Washington State 74, San Diego State 69
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
For a complete rundown of all this week's top games, click here.
Alabama at North Carolina State- Prediction: Alabama 74, North Carolina State 70
Memphis at Arizona- Prediction: Arizona 91, Memphis 80
Arkansas at Texas- Prediction: Texas 77, Arkansas 71
LSU at Washington- Prediction: LSU 69, Washington 66
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
For a complete rundown of all this week's top games, click here.
Santa Clara at Kentucky- Prediction: Kentucky 72, Santa Clara 60
Drexel at Syracuse- Prediction: Syracuse 74, Drexel 66
Loyola (Chicago) at Bradley- Prediction: Bradley 69, Loyola (Chicago) 63
Illinois at Missouri- Prediction: Missouri 78, Illinois 75
South Florida at UNLV- Prediction: UNLV 68, South Florida 58
Monday, December 18, 2006
For a complete rundown of all of this week's top games, click here.
Oklahoma State at Tennessee- Prediction: Oklahoma State 73, Tennessee 70
Missouri State at Saint Louis- Prediction: Missouri State 79, Saint Louis 75
Missouri State at Saint Louis (Monday): Two teams looking for a quality win to pad their potential resumes before the the New Year. Another chance for an MVC team to pick up a road victory.
Oklahoma State at Tennessee (Monday): Could another unbeaten fall? Mario Boggan could have a field day inside against the Vols, but Tennessee's athleticism will give Ok State trouble.
Santa Clara at Kentucky (Tuesday): Santa Clara picked up a big road win at Stanford over the weekend, and look to carry that momentum over to Tuesday. Kentucky is picking up their play lately.
Drexel at Syracuse (Tuesday): Syracuse hasn't been overly impressive this season, but they are tough to beat at home. Drexel is a contender in the Colonial, but have struggled on the road.
Loyola (Chicago) at Bradley (Tuesday): Two potential contenders in their respective conferences. Loyola is coming off of a win over Northern Iowa, while Bradley beat Iowa State over the weekend.
Illinois at Missouri (Tuesday): Border war rivalry game. Illinois needs some momentum heading into Big Ten play, while Missouri could use a quality win after getting blown out by Purdue last game.
South Florida at UNLV (Tuesday): Two teams with surprisingly solid records. USF hasn't played anyone, but they have some good players, while UNLV has a big win over Nevada on their resume.
Alabama at North Carolina State (Wednesday): Alabama is looking like an SEC title contender if they get Ronald Steele healthy, but NC State is not an easy team to beat at home.
Memphis at Arizona (Wednesday): Expect a lot of points in this shootout. Arizona can score with anyone, while Memphis loves to get up and down the floor for transition baskets.
Arkansas at Texas (Wednesday): Two teams still trying to find the right rotation after the influx of several newcomers on both sides. Texas' Kevin Durant vs. Arkansas' Sonny Weems will be an interesting battle.
LSU at Washington (Wednesday): One of the best games of the week. LSU has arguably the nation's best player in Glen Davis, but Washington is tough to beat at home and are hungry for a quality win.
Virginia Tech at Seton Hall (Thursday): Both teams need a win here to get some momentum heading into league play. Tech has struggled so far this season, while Seton Hall is off to a 6-1 start.
Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State (Thursday): The Cowboys' second test of the week and Pitt's second in six days. The match-up between Mario Boggan and Aaron Gray inside is going to be outstanding.
Duke vs Gonzaga (Thursday): Too bad this game wasn't played last year. Either way, it will still be a good game. Gonzaga's explosive offense against Duke's stout defense? Should be fun to watch.
San Diego State at Washington State (Thursday): Two teams from the West Coast that will be factors during conference play. SDSU is a favorite in the MWC, while WSU is off to a surprising 10-1 start.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
2. North Carolina
3. Ohio State
5. Wichita State
10. Oklahoma State
13. Air Force
15. Notre Dame
16. Texas A&M
21. Missouri State
24. Southern Illinois
Others Considered: Boston College, Michigan State, Oregon, Memphis, Virginia, Marquette, Georgia
Friday, December 15, 2006
Pittsburgh at Wisconsin (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN): One of the best non-conference games of the year. Star center Aaron Gray is questionable for Pittsburgh, which would be a huge loss for the Panthers. He leads the way down low for them, while Levance Fields is a very solid point guard. Wisconsin has looked very impressive throughout the season, led by All-American Alando Tucker. Kammron Taylor and Brian Butch are also good performers for the Badgers. Prediction: Wisconsin 66, Pittsburgh 62 CLICK HERE FOR MY COMPLETE PREVIEW OF PITTSBURGH-WISCONSIN.
Purdue at Butler (Saturday, 1:00 PM, WGN): A match-up of two of the most surprising teams in the country. Purdue has looked like a potential NCAA contender in the Big Ten, led by Carl Landry in the low post. Butler has been one of the major stories of the first month, beating several major-conference teams in November. They are coming off of a tough loss to Indiana State, but A.J. Graves and co. will be ready. Prediction: Butler 68, Purdue 61
Kentucky at Louisville (Saturday, 1:30 PM, CBS): One of the best rivalries in the sport. Unfortunately, both teams have struggled so far this season. Kentucky has three losses already, but they were to Memphis, UCLA, and North Carolina—nothing to be ashamed of. Randolph Morris is developing into a dominant post player, while Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley provide scoring from the perimeter. Louisville has not looked impressive at all, and is coming off of a home loss to Massachusetts. Sophomore forward Terrence Williams is becoming a star. Prediction: Kentucky 73, Louisville 70
Ohio State at Cincinnati (Saturday, 3:45 PM, CBS): While it may look like a mismatch on paper, Cincinnati is coming off of a win over Xavier and is looking solid lately. Newcomers Deonta Vaughn and John Williamson have becoming a very good inside-outside duo for the Bearcats. Ohio State has become better and better over the course of the young season, especially with the debut of Greg Oden. With him on the inside, and Ron Lewis and Daequan Cook anchoring the wings, the Buckeyes are tough. Prediction: Ohio State 78, Cincinnati 69
Gonzaga at Georgia (Saturday, 5:00 PM, ESPN2): Beware of the upset here. Georgia is a potential sleeper in the SEC, with only one loss to Western Kentucky marring their resume. Mike Mercer leads a very deep perimeter group, while Takais Brown is the go-to-guy down low. Gonzaga is coming off of a 20-point thrashing of Washington last weekend. Derek Raivio has been an extremely productive guard this season, and Josh Heytvelt is a dynamite big man. Prediction: Gonzaga 83, Georgia 77
Southern Illinois at Indiana (Sunday, 8:00 PM, ESPN): Another shot for the Missouri Valley to pick up a quality win. More importantly, it’s a shot for Southern Illinois’ defense, arguably the best in the country, to be displayed on national television. Offensively, Jamaal Tatum is the main man on the perimeter, while Matt Shaw and Randal Falker are solid up front. Indiana has not been overly impressive this season, but it’s still early. D.J. White needs to dominate down low, while Roderick Wilmont and Lance Stemler also need to step up. Prediction: Southern Illinois 63, Indiana 54
Other Games to Watch
Texas Tech at Arkansas (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN): Bobby Knight continues his quest for Dean Smith's record, but he might not make any progress here against a tough Arkansas squad. Jarrius Jackson and Martin Zeno lead the way for Knight's Red Raiders, while Sonny Weems is an excellent all-around player for the Razorbacks. Prediction: Arkansas 71, Texas Tech 60
Bradley at Iowa State (Saturday, 3:00 PM, ESPN2): Another shot for the Missouri Valley to get a solid road win. Bradley already has a victory of DePaul, and have a very good inside-outside combo in guard Jeremy Crouch and big man Zach Andrews. Iowa State has struggled lately, losing three of four. Mike Taylor leads the way for the Cyclones. Prediction: Bradley 75, Iowa State 72
Western Kentucky at Tennessee (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): One of the most underrated match-ups of the day. Western Kentucky is a very good mid-major team, led by star wing Courtney Lee and guard Tyrone Brazelton. Tennessee has improved over the course of the season, capped by the complete domination of Memphis last week. Chris Lofton is making a run at All-America honors. Prediction: Tennessee 78, Western Kentucky 73
Utah State at BYU (Saturday, 6:00 PM, Regional TV): Solid Mountain-region battle. Utah State has poised themselves as a WAC contender with an 8-1 start. Jaycee Carroll is one of the most prolific scorers in the country, and is an outstanding three-point shooter. BYU was expected to be a MWC favorite, but they have struggled thus far. Frontcourt players Keena Young and Trent Plaisted are solid. Prediction: BYU 70, Utah State 67
Baylor at Syracuse (Saturday, 7:00 PM, ESPN-Plus): Baylor is a potential sleeper to be a bubble team come March, and a win here could go a long way towards getting to that goal. Henry Dugat, Curtis Jerrells, and Aaron Bruce form a very good three-headed perimeter group. Syracuse has not looked their best so far this season, but they are still a Big East contender. Demetris Nichols is the go-to-guy, while Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris are also good contributors. Prediction: Syracuse 73, Baylor 60
Northern Iowa at Loyola (Chicago) (Saturday, 8:00 PM): A very good battle between two solid, under-the-radar clubs. Northern Iowa has remained a tough out in the Missouri Valley, led by the low-post combo of Eric Coleman and Grant Stout. Loyola (Chicago) will be a contender to Butler in the Horizon League. Blake Schilb might be the best player you've never heard of, starring in a variety of ways. Prediction: Northern Iowa 72, Loyola (Chicago) 70
Indiana State at Missouri State (Saturday, 8:05 PM): Missouri Valley Conference play heats up with one of their best teams, Missouri State, facing a team coming off of a very good win, Indiana State (over Butler). Larry Bird's alma mater is led by the backcourt of Gabriel Moore and Cole Holmstrom. Missouri State has the potential to be a Cinderella come March, starting with star guard Blake Ahearn. The Bears own a win over Wisconsin already this season. Prediction: Missouri State 84, Indiana State 65
Alabama at Southern Miss (Saturday, 8:15 PM, Regional TV): Southern Miss might be the worst undefeated team in recent memory. Their best win was over Sam Houston State, and they have played three non-D1 teams. Guard Jeremy Wise is a very solid player for the Golden Eagles, though. Alabama has struggled with off-the-court issues and injuries all season long, and would love to have their full team on the floor. Ronald Steele is an outstanding point guard, while Jermareo Davidson dominates the paint. Prediction: Alabama 77, Southern Miss 64
Loyola Marymount at San Diego State (Saturday, 10:00 PM, Regional TV): A very good battle on the West Coast. Loyola Marymount is a potential threat to Gonzaga in the WCC. Center Matthew Knight is a beast down low, and he and Brandon Worthy form an outstanding inside-outside combo. San Diego State is an NCAA Tournament-caliber team, led by underrated star Brandon Heath. Muhamed Abukar and Jerome Habel anchor the paint for the Aztecs. Prediction: San Diego State 74, Loyola Marymount 68
Creighton at Fresno State (Saturday, 10:00 PM, Regional TV): Intriguing battle between one of the best from the Missouri Valley and one of the best from the WAC. Creighton is expected to fight for a MVC crown this season, led by the inside-outside combo of Nate Funk and Anthony Tolliver. They have a win over Xavier to their name. Fresno State could be trouble for several teams, due to their versatility and athleticism. Ja'Vance Coleman is a scoring guard, while Dominic McGuire and Quinton Hosley create match-up problems. Prediction: Fresno State 78, Creighton 76
Wake Forest at Virginia Tech (Sunday, 5:30 PM, FSN): Two of the ACC's worst teams so far open their conference play hoping for a win. Wake Forest got off to a hot start, but has since faltered with stiffer competition. Kyle Visser has been a bright spot, averaging almost 20 and 9 per game. Virginia Tech has been a disappointment, but ACC play marks a new season. Zabian Dowdell leads the way for the Hokies, but Coleman Collins needs to step up. Prediction: Virginia Tech 69, Wake Forest 61
LSU at Oregon State (Sunday, 8:00 PM, FSN): An interesting cross-country road trip for LSU for another Sunday night road game. The Tigers are coming off of a tough loss in OT to Texas last weekend, but are looking good. Glen Davis might be the best player in the country, while Tasmin Mitchell is tough to guard on the wing. Oregon State has a nice froncourt duo in Sasa Cuic and Marcel Jones, and are still looking for a marquee win this season. Prediction: LSU 73, Oregon State 65
Houston at Arizona (Sunday, 10:00 PM, Regional TV): Expect a lot of points in this one. Arizona may have the most potent offense in the country, with forwards Chase Budinger and Marcus Williams capable of taking over games with their scoring. Ivan Radenovic is a match-up problem up front, while Mustafa Shakur has been one of the best point guards in the country. Houston has five guys averaging double-figures, led by the explosive guard duo of Rob McKiver and Oliver Lafayette, who combine for over 43 points per game. Prediction: Arizona 101, Houston 88
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Game of the Week: #2 Pittsburgh at #7 Wisconsin (Saturday, December 16th, 12:00 PM, ESPN)
Has there ever been a season in which there has been this many top-notch non-conference games before Christmas? So far this year, we have already had North Carolina-Ohio State, Kansas-Florida, Texas A&M-UCLA, Wichita State-LSU, Washington-Gonzaga—you get the idea. Nearly every week, one can sit down several nights a week and find a quality match-up to watch. This weekend is no different. Purdue takes on Butler in a surprising Midwest showdown, Kentucky and Louisville partake in their annual rivalry game, Gonzaga heads to Georgia to face a talented Bulldogs squad, among other solid battles. However, the top game of the weekend will pit two Top-10 teams when Pittsburgh goes on the road to play Wisconsin. Expect a physical game between two teams that have great offense-defense balance.
Pittsburgh had a disappointing finish to last season, falling in the second round to 13th-seeded Bradley. However, they returned everyone of note except Carl Krauser, and have been one of the best teams in the country thus far. The Panthers stand at 10-0, with their best wins over Massachusetts and Florida State. They struggled in a couple of their victories, though, including their last game at Buffalo, when they came back to win by three. Pitt averages just over 75 points per game, and only gives up 60 per contest. Ken Pomeroy has the Panthers as the 9th-most efficient offensive team in the country, and the 105th-most efficient defensive team.
Wisconsin also didn’t finish strong last year, collapsing down the stretch and getting blown out by Arizona in the first round. With the return of nearly everyone, though, they have looked outstanding at times this year. The Badgers are 9-1, the lone loss on a neutral court against Missouri State. Since then, they have defeated Florida State, Winthrop, and Marquette, the latter contest on the road. Wisconsin is putting up more points than usual, averaging 76 a contest, while allowing just over 60 per game. According to Ken Pomeroy, the Badgers have the 17th-most efficient offense and the 63rd-most efficient defense.
Pittsburgh was the Big East favorite coming into the season, and they have not disappointed so far. They are looking much better than any other Big East squad, although their #2 ranking might be a little high for the Panthers at this point. Pitt can score from a variety of positions on the court, and they have plenty of depth to throw different combinations at opponents. Their offensive is much improved from last season, while their defense is still solid. The Panthers are a potential Final Four contender.
The frontcourt starts with All-American candidate Aaron Gray. The 7-foot center is one of the best big men in the country and is having an even better season than last year. He is an excellent rebounder and efficient scorer who is a solid passer and shooter. Gray has double-doubles in all but three games this season, and he is doing an excellent job of staying out of foul trouble. Levon Kendall starts next to Gray. The 6-10 senior is an inside-outside scorer who can do a little bit of everything on the court. He can score, rebound, and play solid defense. Moreover, Kendall is a very good passer and does not turn the ball over much. Sam Young has a lot of potential up front, but he has been hampered all season long by a knee injury. He is a match-up problem because of his athleticism and scoring ability. Young loves to get out in the open court for transition dunks. Tyrell Biggs also provides depth down low. He is an efficient scorer who makes the most of his time on the court. He can also rebound well.
The perimeter group is deep and talented. The main difference between last year’s team and this year’s squad is the ability of Pitt’s wings to score points. They struggled to do that on a consistent basis last year, but they have been much better this season. Mike Cook is a main reason for that. The East Carolina transfer is second on the team in points. He is tough to stop when driving to the basket, and is also a solid rebounder and a capable passer. He had 9 assists in a game earlier this season. Antonio Graves is also a double-figure scorer on the perimeter. While it seems like he has been at Pitt forever, Graves is starting to step up as a senior. He is also a very good defender who can shoot the three efficiently. Levance Fields runs the point. He has done an excellent job of stepping into the starting role after the loss of Carl Krauser. He is not much of a scorer this season, but he is an excellent playmaker who creates for his teammates. He is a crafty offensive player who takes care of the ball well. Fields is also a solid rebounder. Sixth man Ronald Ramon is a former starter who has provided Pitt with outstanding long-range shooting and good bench play. He does not make many mistakes and does a little bit of everything. Wing Keith Benjamin also provides depth for the Panthers. He has athleticism and is a decent three-point shooter. He has improved his scoring this season, but the rest of his numbers have gone down.
Wisconsin was somewhat overshadowed in the Big Ten heading into the season by Ohio State and their influx of talented freshmen. That has continued into the season, especially with the recent debut of Buckeyes center Greg Oden. I still think that the Badgers are going to win the Big Ten title, edging OSU. Wisconsin is not an explosive offensive team, but they have several options and are a disciplined, well-coached team. Their stingy defense reflects that, as well. Look for them to be a high seed come March.
Alando Tucker is clearly the go-to-guy on this team. Tucker is one of the best scoring forwards in the country and could be the most versatile scorer in all of college basketball. He's not an outstanding shooter but he has excellent body control and creates mismatches with his size and scoring ability. He can take over a game at any time, and is also a decent rebounder and passer. Joining Tucker up front is former McDonald’s All-America Brian Butch. He has yet to live up to the hype he had coming out of high school, but he has developed into a solid post player. He is capable of getting a double-double on a given night, but is more of a 10-point, 6-rebound-type of player. Jason Chappell rounds out the starting trio. He is a good role player who provides good rebounding and defense. He does not play many minutes, but can do a little of everything down low. Marcus Landry is an intriguing player up front. He is very athletic and can score in a variety of ways. He has shown flashes of excellence throughout his short career with the Badgers, and is coming off of an 11-point, 4-rebound, 4-block performance against Marquette. Wing Jason Krabbenhoft is another solid player in the frontcourt. The 6-7 sixth man is a very good shooter who is also the team’s leading rebounder. Greg Stiemsma averages under ten minutes per game, but is a serviceable role player in the paint.
The backcourt is led by Kammron Taylor. He can play both guard spots, and is the team’s best perimeter score. Taylor is a very good three-point shooter who can get hot from behind the arc. He is also a decent defender and a good passer. He needs to develop more consistency, though. Taylor is the team’s second option behind Tucker, but he is just as prone to scoring 17 points as he is to scoring 5. Michael Flowers lines up next to Taylor in the backcourt. He contributes in nearly every way for the Badgers, and might be the best defender on the team. He can score (21 points vs. Winthrop), rebound (6 boards vs. Marquette), pass (6 assists vs. Missouri State), and get in the passing lanes (5 steals vs. Southern). He is a very underrated player in terms of what he does for Wisconsin. Off the bench are two quality freshmen. Jason Bohannon did not play against Marquette, but is potentially a very good scorer. He can put up points in a variety of ways, and can also shoot well. Trevon Hughes is extremely quick backing up at the point guard spot. He can get into the lane against most people and create opportunities.
This game should be an outstanding match-up between two of the best teams in the country. Both teams like to play a half-court game with transition baskets coming only when the opportunity presents itself. Moreover, two of the best players in the country will be on the court Saturday, in Wisconsin’s Alando Tucker and Pittsburgh’s Aaron Gray. The keys for Wisconsin to win will be to take advantage of Tucker’s match-up. He will likely be defended by Mike Cook, who is not strong enough to guard Tucker—although most people aren’t. If the Badgers can constantly get the ball to Tucker in positions to score, they will immediately have an advantage. Moreover, they need someone besides Tucker to step up. Kammron Taylor has shown the ability on several occasions to be a second scorer, but he has also been extremely inconsistent this season. Marcus Landry or Joe Krabbenhoft could potentially help off the bench, while Michael Flowers is also capable of scoring. Brian Butch might be the most important player for Wisconsin on Saturday. In addition to defending Gray on the inside, he is going to have to provide post scoring for the Badgers. If he lets Gray dominate the interior on both ends, that could spell trouble for Wisconsin. On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh also needs to take advantage of their mismatches. Aaron Gray needs to control the paint. Brian Butch nor Jason Chappell nor Greg Stiemsma can defend Gray one-on-one, so he could be poised for a huge day. Additionally, the Panthers need to find a way to stop Alando Tucker. Mike Cook, as mentioned before, is not strong enough, while Levon Kendall is not quick enough. The ideal person could be Sam Young, but he has been hampered by a knee injury all season, and won’t be healthy enough to pose much of a challenge. If Tucker gets his points, Pitt has to stop the complementary scorers from going off. Antonio Graves and Levance Fields have to keep an eye on Michael Flowers and Kammron Taylor—not allowing them to get 20-plus points like they are both capable of. The point guard match-up will also be a battle to watch. Levance Fields has been one of the best lead guards in the country this season, but he has struggled scoring the ball. If Michael Flowers can slow down Fields, and not let him get the Pitt offense going, the Panthers are going to struggle against Wisconsin’s stout defense. In the end, I think Wisconsin’s home-court advantage, in addition to the fact that no one on Pitt can stop Alando Tucker, will give the Badgers the victory.
Prediction: Wisconsin 66, Pittsburgh 62
Prediction Record: 2-1
Sunday, December 10, 2006
3. North Carolina
4. Ohio State
5. Wichita State
10. Oklahoma State
14. Air Force
15. Southern Illinois
16. Notre Dame
18. Texas A&M
22. Missouri State
Others Considered: Boston College, Michigan State, Oregon, Memphis, Virginia, Marquette, Arkansas, Purdue
Friday, December 8, 2006
Indiana at Kentucky (Saturday, 12:00 PM, CBS): Two of the most storied programs in college basketball go head-to-head. Both teams have struggled so far this season, combining for five losses. However, don’t expect any sort of blowout. Indiana is led by D.J. White on the inside, who needs to dominate the paint more than he does. JC transfer Lance Stemler is a nice complement on the interior. Roderick Wilmont leads a deep perimeter group. Kentucky counters with Randolph Morris in the post. He outplayed Tyler Hansbrough last weekend, and will look to take over again. Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley are solid perimeter scorers for the Wildcats. Perimeter: Kentucky 70, Indiana 64
Wisconsin at Marquette (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN): Intrastate battle between two of the top teams in the country. Wisconsin has only one loss this season, and could be a sleeper Final Four team. Alando Tucker is one of the best scorers in the country, while Kammron Taylor and Michael Flowers form a solid backcourt that just needs to become more consistent. Brian Butch is a decent post option that will get points and rebounds. Marquette has struggled against nearly every team they’ve played this season, and have a loss to North Dakota State. Dominic James might be the best point guard in the nation and carries the Golden Eagles at times, while Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews round out an excellent perimeter. Ousmane Barro is an emerging big man. Prediction: Wisconsin 69, Marquette 66
Texas A&M at UCLA (Saturday, 2:30 PM, CBS): The best game of the weekend. Two top ten teams that love to get it done on the defensive end of the court and could be playing deep into the NCAA Tournament. UCLA is ranked #1 in the country and has been very impressive thus far. Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo form one of the best backcourts in the country. Josh Shipp is another excellent scorer on the wing, while Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a potential All-America up front. Texas A&M is coming off of a tough loss at LSU, but have been solid this season. Acie Law and Joseph Jones are one of the best inside-outside combinations in the nation, while Dominique Kirk is a lockdown defender. Antanas Kavaliauskas is an underrated big man. Prediction: UCLA 65, Texas A&M 58 CLICK HERE FOR MY COMPLETE PREVIEW OF TEXAS A&M-UCLA.
Xavier at Creighton (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Regional TV): Look out for these two teams as potential sleepers come March. Xavier, the one-loss Atlantic-10 favorite, has been getting balanced production from a variety of positions. Josh Duncan is an emerging star at the forward position, while Stanley Burrell is one of the best shooters in the country. Justin Doellmann and Justin Cage are two versatile forwards. Creighton has not been overly impressive this season, with losses to Nebraska and Dayton. Nate Funk and Anthony Tolliver form an excellent inside-outside combination. Dane Watts is a solid role player. Prediction: Xavier 74, Creighton 72
Arizona at San Diego State (Saturday, 9:00 PM, Regional TV): Excellent West Coast battle that should be high-scoring with all of the athletes and scorers on the floor. Arizona has one of the most potent offenses in the country, second in the nation in points. Chase Budinger and Marcus Williams form an excellent forward tandem, while Ivan Radenovic is an underrated inside-outside option up front. Mustafa Shakur is finally living up to the potential he had coming out of high school. San Diego State has had several close calls this season, but has only one loss. Brandon Heath is one of the best all-around players in the country, leading the Aztecs with 20 points per game. Muhamed Abukar and Jerome Habel are a very good inside duo, while Lorrenzo Wade is a versatile wing. Prediction: Arizona 89, San Diego State 82
Washington at Gonzaga (Saturday, 11:00 PM, Regional TV): Another outstanding intrastate battle between two of the West’s best, and a rematch of last year’s classic. Washington has been one of the most impressive teams in the country so far. Freshmen Quincy Pondexter and Spencer Hawes have made immediate impacts up front, while double-double extraordinaire Jon Brockman rounds out an excellent frontcourt. Justin Dentmon leads the backcourt. Gonzaga has not missed a beat without Adam Morrison despite this week’s loss to Washington State. Derek Raivio and Josh Heytvelt form a very good inside-outside combo, with Raivio becoming a go-to-guy on the perimeter. Jeremy Pargo and sixth man Matt Bouldin are two more scorers in the backcourt. Prediction: Gonzaga 76, Washington 74
Maryland at Boston College (Sunday, 6:30 PM, FSN): Two of the ACC’s best do battle in both team’s first conference game of the year. Maryland has been extremely impressive all season—even with their loss last week to Notre Dame. D.J. Strawberry has been the leader for the Terrapins, while Greivis Vasquez and Mike Jones are scorers on the wing. Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist form a solid inside duo. Boston College started off very slowly with losses to Providence and Vermont, but has bounced back nicely with wins over Michigan State and Massachusetts. Jared Dudley is one of the best all-around players in the country, and is making a nice campaign for All-America honors. Sean Williams dominates the paint with his rebounding and shot-blocking prowess. Tyrese Rice and Sean Marshall form a solid backcourt for the Eagles. Prediction: Boston College 71, Maryland 67
LSU at Texas (Sunday, 8:00 PM, ESPN): An intriguing battle between two teams that will be better by the time the NCAA Tournament rolls around. LSU is coming off a very impressive win over Texas A&M at home, and is slowly rounding into form. Glen Davis is one of the best big men in the country, dominating the paint every night out. Tasmin Mitchell and Dameon Mason form a solid wing combo, while Darnell Lazare and Garrett Temple average double-figures for the Tigers. Texas is led by the best freshman, and one of the best players, in the country in Kevin Durant. The young Longhorns also rely heavily on fellow freshmen D.J. Augustin and Damion James, while “veteran” (sophomore) A.J. Abrams is a potent outside shooter who has played well early. Prediction: LSU 75, Texas 69
Other Games to Watch
George Mason at Duke (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN): Match-up between a Final Four team and a #1 seed from last year’s NCAA Tournament. In other words, this could have been a good game—last season. Duke has been a sloppy team throughout the year, but they have a distinct edge here. Josh McRoberts is a potentially dominating big man, while DeMarcus Nelson is a very good all-around wing. George Mason has struggled all season, starting 4-3 and scoring less than 63 points per game. Folarin Campbell is a solid wing that can do it all. Prediction: Duke 75, George Mason 60
Mississippi at Memphis (Saturday, 1:00 PM, Regional TV): Interesting game between two teams in need of a win. Ole Miss has had an impressive start, but is still looking for a marquee win, while Memphis is coming off of a blowout loss to Tennessee. They need to bounce back strong. Look out for the match-up between Mississippi’s Bam Doyne and Memphis’ Chris Douglas-Roberts. Prediction: Memphis 84, Mississippi 66
Oral Roberts at Georgetown (Saturday, 1:00 PM): Arguably the best chance for an upset this weekend. Georgetown has disappointed this season, and has been prone to letting lesser teams in the game. Oral Roberts already has a win at Kansas, and has the post player in Caleb Green to offset the Hoyas’ advantage in the paint with Roy Hibbert and Jeff Green. However, I don’t think ORU is going to pull off two big upsets in a three-week span, and Georgetown has played better lately. Prediction: Georgetown 67, Oral Roberts 63
Missouri at Purdue (Saturday, 2:00 PM): Interesting battle between two surprising teams this season. Missouri is undefeated at 9-0 but hasn’t gone on the road yet. Stefon Hannah has been one of the best point guards in the Big 12. Purdue has only one loss this season, and has a win over Virginia to boast about. Carl Landry is making a case for Big Ten Player of the Year honors. Prediction: Purdue 72, Missouri 68
BYU at Michigan State (Saturday, 3:00 PM, ESPN2): Solid match-up between a Mountain West contender and a surprising Big Ten squad. BYU has not played up to expectations thus far, but could turn things around. Trent Plaisted and Kenna Young form a very good frontcourt combo. Michigan State has played surprisingly well this season. Drew Neitzel has emerged as a go-to-guy and leader for the Spartans, while Raymar Morgan is a good scorer on the wing. Prediction: Michigan State 69, BYU 56
Nebraska at Oregon (Saturday, 3:00 PM, FSN): Battle between two teams that have surprised somewhat so far this season. Nebraska was undefeated coming into this month, including a win over Creighton; however, they fell at Rutgers last week, tarnishing their unblemished record. Aleks Maric is their go-to-guy on the inside, averaging more than 20 points per game. Oregon is undefeated currently, with wins at Rice and Georgetown. They have an excellent perimeter group, led by Aaron Brooks and freshman Tajuan Porter. Prediction: Oregon 78, Nebraska 63
Georgia Tech at Vanderbilt (Saturday, 5:00 PM, ESPN2): Another opportunity for a young Yellow Jackets team to get a quality win on the road. They failed last week in their loss to Miami to open ACC play. Tech is led by the backcourt of Javaris Crittenton and Lewis Clinch, while freshman Thaddeus Young is one of the best newcomers around. Vanderbilt has struggled this season, including a loss to Furman, but is looking to bounce back. Derrick Byars and Shan Foster form one of the best wing combinations in the country. Prediction: Georgia Tech 80, Vanderbilt 77
George Washington at USC (Saturday, 5:00 PM, Regional TV): A couple of teams off to solid starts but looking for a good win to help their NCAA resume come March. George Washington is led by the fantastic backcourt of Carl Elliot and Maureece Rice, while athletic forward Rob Diggs and Regis Koundija lead the way up front. USC hung with Kansas for awhile on Monday, and are looking to get back on the right track. Nick Young is an underrated star, while Lodrick Stewart and Taj Gibson form a nice inside-outside duo. Prediction: USC 76, George Washington 71
Wichita State at Wyoming (Saturday, 5:30 PM): Another road game for Wichita State, who has had three straight weekend road games, and has won them all, with wins over George Mason, LSU, and Syracuse. The Shockers are led by a trio of versatile forwards in Ryan Martin, P.J. Couisnard, and Kyle Wilson. Guard Sean Ogirri can shoot it from anywhere. Wyoming won't be a pushover, though. The Cowboys are led by one of the most underrated backcourts in the country in Brandon Ewing and Brad Jones. Wing James Spencer rounds out a fantastic perimeter group. Prediction: Wichita State 68, Wyoming 62
Drexel at Villanova (Saturday, 7:30 PM): Intrastate battle between two teams vying for the state title in Pennsylvania. Drexel is one of the top contenders in the CAA, but they have not played as well as they were projected to in the preseason. Bashir Mason is leading the way on offense, but Dominick Mejia is having a down year and Chaz Crawford has not developed his offensive game. Frank Elegar leads the way down low. Villanova has been impressive so far, with only a loss to Xavier marring their record. They have not won a game by less than 13 points. Curtis Sumpter is the leading candidate for Comeback Player of the Year, putting up over 18 points per game. Mike Nardi leads the perimeter, while sixth man Shane Clark is averaging double figures. Prediction: Villanova 75, Drexel 66
Southern Illinois at Western Kentucky (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Regional TV): A terrific mid-major battle between two sleeper candidates come March. Southern Illinois has arguably the best defense in the country, and does not allow any easy baskets. Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young form a very good backcourt, while Randal Falker and Matt Shaw are solid performers up front. Western Kentucky is led by Courtney Lee, one of the best wings in the country. Tyrone Brazelton provides a very solid backcourt mate for the Hilltoppers. Prediction: Southern Illinois 62, Western Kentucky 58
UNLV at Nevada (Saturday, 11:05 PM): A potential contender in the Mountain West against a Sweet Sixteen candidate out of the WAC. UNLV is coming off of two road victories, and has looked solid this year. Wendell White and Jo'Van Adams form an excellent backcourt, while Kevin Kruger provides outstanding perimeter shooting. Nevada is undefeated and ranked, and is not looking to relinquish that status. Nick Fazekas is one of the best big men in the country, putting up ridiculous numbers of 23 points and 14 rebounds per game. Marcelus Kemp is a very good scorer, while Ramon Sessions is a solid point guard. Prediction: Nevada 73, UNLV 61