Friday, December 22, 2006

Weekend Preview

Conference play is around the corner and non-conference games are winding down--finally. For many fans, we are reaching the point of the college basketball season where things really start mattering--the meat and potatoes of the season. Before we get there, though, there are still some loose ends to tie up in 2006. While there are only a couple of days left for Christmas shopping, don't forget to tune into a ton of college basketball on Saturday. There are no games from Sunday to Tuesday, but there are a handful of high-quality match-ups this weekend that are must-see television.

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

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