Monday, January 1, 2007

The Week Ahead

As the calendar year turns, it's almost time for college basketball to take center stage. With bowl season winding down, and NFL interest waning for fans of the teams not in the playoffs, college hoops and conference play are soon to be in full swing. By the way, don't look now, but there's only ten weeks until Selection Sunday. In other words, the terms "bubble", "RPI", etc. will be part of the everyone's vocabulary in no time. This week is stacked with key conference battles and a couple of contests with potential at-large implications.

New Mexico at Texas Tech (Monday): Will Bobby Knight finally break the all-time wins record? The Red Raiders are playing much better lately, and could be a Big 12 sleeper. New Mexico has struggled on the road, but did get a win over Wichita State last week.

Wichita State at Southern Illinois (Monday): A Missouri Valley showdown. Wichita State has lost three in a row since starting 9-0, but are still one of the best in the MVC. Southern Illinois is arguably the best defensive team in the country and are a MVC favorite.

Indiana at Ohio State (Tuesday): An interesting Big Ten contest. Indiana has three losses, but are playing good basketball and defeated Southern Illinois two weeks ago. Ohio State has not defeated anyone of note, and could use a conference win to get their momentum back.

Mississippi State at Missouri (Tuesday): Intriguing non-conference match-up of two teams in need of wins to boost their at-large profiles. Mississippi State is coming off of a loss to George Mason, and needs a win here. Missouri started 9-0 before falling to Illinois and Purdue, and need to get back to playing like they did in November.

Missouri State at Bradley (Tuesday): Another Missouri Valley battle. Missouri State looks like one of the better teams in the MVC, but has blown a few late leads to cost them wins. Bradley had a nice non-conference resume, but lost to Northern Iowa in MVC play last week.

Winthrop at Texas A&M (Tuesday): Yet another shot for Winthrop to pick up a marquee non-conference win to boost their at-large resume. They have lost close ones to North Carolina and Wisconsin, and would love a victory. Texas A&M is one of the favorites in the Big 12, and could use a quality win here.

Louisville at Notre Dame (Wednesday): Big East opener for both squads. Louisville has disappointed this season, but could turn things around with a very good conference showing. Notre Dame has been a big surprise, but starting PG Kyle McAlarney was arrested last week for marijuana possession. Keep an eye on that development.

Kansas State at Xavier (Wednesday): Both teams are playing well lately after starting off very slowly. Kansas State is hitting their stride after the addition of Bill Walker, winning six in a row after starting 4-3. Xavier is coming off of a win over Illinois after losing three of their previous four.

Clemson at Florida State (Wednesday): ACC showdown between two teams looking to make a early January statement. Clemson is still undefeated and got a little more respect with their win over Georgia this weekend. Florida State has won eight in a row, including wins over Florida and Providence.

Villanova at West Virginia (Wednesday): Interesting Big East contest with two teams that were better last year but have exceeded expectations in the first half of the season. Villanova has won only one game by less than ten points this season, and look like a contender. West Virginia is coming off of a big win over Connecticut, and have momentum.

Illinois at Michigan (Wednesday): Are either of these teams Big Ten contenders? Illinois has been impressive at times this season, but have not had any true marquee wins. Michigan has struggled mightily against any good team it has faced, and needs a win here.

Gonzaga at Virginia (Wednesday): A battle of two teams in the midst of a losing streak. Gonzaga has lost three in a row, including one at home to Nevada. Virginia had lost three of five before beating Puerto Rico-Mayaguez and American. Both desperately need a win for their at-large profiles--the Cavaliers a lot more than the Bulldogs.

Pittsburgh at Syracuse (Thursday): One of the best games of the week. Pittsburgh is clearly the Big East favorite, but have struggled on the road so far this season. Syracuse is not playing their best basketball yet, but they are tough to beat at home and have experience.

Marquette at Providence (Thursday): Another quality Big East showdown. Marquette has had their share of trouble this season, struggling with inferior teams and even losing to North Dakota State. Providence has a loss to Brown on their resume, and are coming off of a 30-point loss to Florida State.

Bradley at Wichita State (Thursday): Is there ever a night without great Missouri Valley basketball? Bradley has surprised some this season, but need to get some road wins in conference play to contend. Wichita State has not been playing well lately, and--if they lose Monday at SIU--will be in the midst of a four-game losing streak.

USC at Oregon (Thursday): Nothing like a Thursday night of Pac-10 hoops. Both of these teams are fighting for an upper-division finish to contend for an at-large bid. USC split last week, beating Washington but losing to Washington State at home. Oregon is still undefeated, and could use another Pac-10 win.

Arizona at Washington (Thursday): Two of the Pac-10's best battle it out. Arizona is looking better and better and could give UCLA a run for their money in the conference title race. Washington could potentially compete, but the Huskies looked awful against UCLA this weekend and are 0-2 in the conference. They need a win here.

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