Friday, January 12, 2007

Weekend Preview

After two weeks or so of conference play, we still haven’t learned much. One thing we did learn, though, was that this season is going to be one of the most unpredictable in recent memory. Nearly every team in the country is somewhat erratic, and there are dozens of teams that can look like a potential Final Four candidate on any given night. As a result, the conference races in the major conferences are going to be outstanding—for both the conference title and for NCAA Tournament bids. All of the wide-open races lead to plenty of great games every night, and this weekend is no different.

Top Games

West Virginia at Marquette (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN): Key contest between two NCAA Tournament teams in the Big East. West Virginia is 3-1 in the conference, but all three wins are at home, including victories over Connecticut and Villanova. Frank Young leads the way for the young and balanced Mountaineers. Joe Alexander and Alex Ruoff are two more inside-outside forwards, while Darris Nichols runs the show for WVU. Marquette has struggled through much of the season, but beat UConn on the road this week and could be hitting their stride. Dominic James, Wesley Matthews, and Jerel McNeal form the best three-man backcourt in the country, while Ousmane Barro has been a very solid inside player for the Golden Eagles. Prediction: Marquette 70, West Virginia 63

Tennessee at Ohio State (Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS): The best non-conference game of the weekend by far. Tennessee has played better than expected this season, despite their road loss to Vanderbilt this week. Chris Lofton has been the best two-guard in the country, leading the young Volunteers to a very good start. JaJuan Smith is also a very good scorer on the perimeter, while Wayne Chism and Duke Crews are very solid down low. Ohio State is coming off of a loss to Wisconsin this week, and need a good win for their resume. Greg Oden is still not his dominant self offensively, but OSU's deep perimeter group has been outstanding. Ron Lewis and Daequan Cook can score, while Mike Conley and Jamar Butler are solid lead guards. Prediction: Ohio State 77, Tennessee 71

Villanova at Syracuse (Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS): Another Big East contest between two teams looking for bids to the NCAA Tournament. Villanova has been up and down lately, losing at home to DePaul but going on the road to defeat Georgetown. Curtis Sumpter is a big-time scorer, while Mike Nardi has become a bigger part of the offense since last year. Scottie Reynolds and sixth man Shane Clark have been solid contributors. Syracuse is playing better lately, going on the road to beat Marquette and Rutgers this week. Eric Devendorf and Demetris Nichols have been very good scorers on the wing, while Terrence Nichols and Darryl Watkins have anchored the post. Prediction: Syracuse 69, Villanova 65

Clemson at Maryland (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPNU): Will Clemson's undefeated season come to an end? Will Maryland's struggles continue after their surprising loss to Miami at home this week? Clemson has been outstanding all season long, led by one of the best guard groups in the country in Vernon Hamilton, Cliff Hammonds, and sixth man extraordinaire K.C. Rivers. Forward James Mays is 28-0 in his last two seasons. Maryland is extremely athletic and experienced. Wings D.J. Strawberry and Mike Jones are excellent scorers, while Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist are active players in the paint. Prediction: Maryland 76, Clemson 70 CLICK HERE FOR MY COMPLETE PREVIEW OF CLEMSON-MARYLAND

UCLA at USC (Saturday, 2:30 PM, FSN): Showdown in the Pac-10 and the battle for Los Angeles. UCLA had their undefeated season ended last weekend at Oregon, but the Bruins are still on the short list of national title contenders. Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo form one of the best backcourts in the country, both offensively and defensively. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a versatile, active player down low. However, wing scorer Josh Shipp won't be available for this game due to injury. USC has been one of the best teams in the conference. Nick Young and the recently-eligible Gabe Pruitt are a very good wing duo, while Taj Gibson is one of the more underrated freshmen in the country. The Trojans have a good shot at pulling this one out. Prediction: USC 67, UCLA 65

Missouri State at Southern Illinois (Saturday, 3:00 PM, Regional TV): Yet another big game between two contenders in the Missouri Valley. Missouri State is tied for first in the conference with a 4-1 record, winning three in a row. Blake Ahearn is one of the best shooters in the country, and Tyler Chaney is a very good all-around guard. Deven Mitchell is an excellent sixth man. Southern Illinois is 3-2 in the MVC, but still are one of the better teams around. They play outstanding defense, and have a very good backcourt in Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young. Randal Falker and Matt Shaw are solid up front. Prediction: Southern Illinois 63, Missouri State 59

North Carolina at Virginia Tech (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC): Can the Hokies knock off another ACC favorite for the second weekend in a row? Tech defeated Duke on the road last week, and are playing well. Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon form a very good, senior-led backcourt. Coleman Collins is solid up front, and A.D. Vassallo is an excellent sixth man. North Carolina is the top team in the rankings, and are a candidate to win the championship. Tyler Hansbrough is the go-to-guy, while Brandan Wright has been one of the best freshmen in the country. The Tar Heels use a 12-man rotation that can wear down opponents--it will be interesting to see what the young players do on the road. Prediction: North Carolina 83, Virginia Tech 76

Georgetown at Pittsburgh (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): Going into the season, this would have been the game of the year in the Big East. However, since then, Pitt has shown they are clearly the best team in the conference, while Georgetown, while still a contender, is nowhere close to the Panthers. The Hoyas are led by the frontcourt duo of Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert, while their guards are improving with every game. Pittsburgh is a potential Final Four candidate, with inside-outside balance and depth. Aaron Gray is a Big East Player of the Year favorite, and Levance Fields is running the point very well. Mike Cook provides scoring from the perimeter. Prediction: Pittsburgh 71, Georgetown 60

Oregon at Arizona (Sunday, 8:00 PM, FSN): Expect a high-scoring, up-tempo battle in this Pac-10 showdown. Oregon has finally lived up to their talent level, starting 15-1 and 3-1 in the Pac-10, including a win over UCLA. Aaron Brooks has been one of the best point guards in the country, while Bryce Taylor, Chamberlain Oguchi, and Tajuan Porter have been double-figure scorers on the perimeter. Maarty Leunen is a double-double threat on the interior, and Malik Hairston looks solid coming back from injury. Arizona is one of the best offensive teams in recent memory, with the ability to have any one of five players break out and score 20-25 points. Mustafa Shakur is an excellent point guard, and forwards Chase Budinger and Marcus Williams are inside-outside scorers up front. Jawann McClellan is an athletic shooter on the wing, and Ivan Radenovic is a match-up nightmare in the post. Prediction: Arizona 89, Oregon 82

Other Games to Watch

Providence at Louisville (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Interesting Big East tilt. Providence has looked like an NCAA Tournament team so far, while Louisville has been a disappointment for the second season in a row. They need a win here to get back into the thick of things in the conference race. PC's Geoff McDermott and Louisville's Terrence Williams will be a good match-up. Prediction: Providence 73, Louisville 70

Indiana at Penn State (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): A Big Ten clash. Indiana has been playing outstanding ball lately, looking like the third best team in the conference. Penn State has struggled at times this season, and could really use a win if they have any thoughts of a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Hoosiers' D.J. White and PSU's Geary Claxton are two of the best frontcourt players in the Big Ten. Prediction: Indiana 67, Penn State 63

Oklahoma State at Nebraska (Saturday, 1:30 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Don't sleep on this game in the Big 12. Oklahoma State is coming off of a 30-point blowout at the hands of Kansas, but is still one of the top contenders in the conference. However, Nebraska has been playing well this year and have one of the best big men in the country in Aleks Maric. Look out for a possible upset, although I think the Cowboys have the post players to neutralize Maric. Prediction: Oklahoma State 70, Nebraska 67

Virginia at Boston College (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Two teams that have been up and down all season in the ACC. Virginia followed up a blowout of Gonzaga with losses to Stanford and North Carolina, and need a win. Boston College has been dominating opponents since the return of Jared Dudley from injury. They could be a title contender in the ACC. Prediction: Boston College 75, Virginia 62

Albany at Vermont (Saturday, 3:00 PM, Regional TV): The two best teams in the America East battle it out. Albany is the conference's defending champ and owns the league's best player in athletic guard Jamar Wilson. Forward Brent Wilson and wing Jason Siggers are also very solid scorers for the Great Danes. Vermont has a win over Boston College this year, and owns one of the AE's best guard-forward combos in Mike Trimboli and Joe Trapani. Prediction: Vermont 69, Albany 66

Kansas State at Missouri (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Potential bubble game in the Big 12. Kansas State has struggled since the injury to star freshman Bill Walker, losing three in a row. They need a win here. Missouri had a hot start to the season, but has cooled off lately. A win here would get them back on the right track. Prediction: Missouri 75, Kansas State 65

Vanderbilt at Georgia (Saturday, 4:00 PM): Although the winner is only likely the fourth best team in the SEC East, it is an interesting tilt between two teams that are far better at home. Vanderbilt has wins over Georgia Tech and Tennessee, and one of the SEC's best wing duos in Derrick Byars and Shan Foster. Georgia owns a victory over Gonzaga, and has an deep, talented guard group and an inside force in Takais Brown. Prediction: Georgia 79, Vanderbilt 70

Drexel at Old Dominion (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV): Two of the best teams in the CAA battle it out. Both teams fell to Hofstra this week, meaning a win here by either team would be huge to keep pace with the Pride and VCU. The Dragons have excellent inside-outside balance with Bashir Mason and Dominick Mejia on the perimeter, and Frank Elegar inside. ODU is led by Valdas Vasylius on the inside, and Drew Williamson at guard. Prediction: Drexel 63, Old Dominion 61

Washington at California (Saturday, 5:00 PM, Regional TV): Pac-10 battle between two teams in need of a win. Washington is 1-4 in the conference, struggling mightily on the road. Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman are solid inside. California lost Devon Hardin, likely for the season, but freshman Ryan Anderson has stepped up. They are coming off of a blowout home loss to Washington State. Prediction: California 74, Washington 66

Florida State at Georgia Tech (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPNU): Two middle-of-the-pack ACC teams that have the talent to be a top-three team but the inconsistency to lose on any given night. Florida State is on a two-game losing streak, including a 26-point defeat at North Carolina. Al Thornton can't do it all by himself. Tech might be hitting their stride, coming off a big-time win over Duke. Thaddeus Young and Javaris Crittendon are two of the best frosh in the ACC. There will be plenty of athletes in this one. Prediction: Georgia Tech 78, Florida State 71

Mississippi State at Kentucky (Saturday, 7:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Kentucky has been flying under the radar lately, but the Wildcats are playing some very good ball and could be a sleeper come March. Mississippi State, meanwhile, has not lived up to their preseason hype (whatever hype that may have been), and need a win if they want to stay in the NCAA Tournament hunt. Prediction: Kentucky 72, Mississippi State 63

Washington State at Stanford (Saturday, 7:00 PM, Regional TV): Yet another decent game in the Pac-10. Washington State is one of the hottest teams in the country, leading the conference with a 4-1 record. Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver form an underrated backcourt. Stanford beat Virginia and Washington this week, and is tough to beat at home. Prediction: Washington State 65, Stanford 61

Pennsylvania at Columbia (Saturday, 7:00 PM, Regional TV): Two of the best teams in the Ivy go head-to-head. Penn is the head-and-shoulders favorite in the conference, but Columbia has played some good basketball at times this season, and is not easy to beat at home. Columbia's John Baumann and Penn's Mark Zoller will match-up well at the forward spot. Prediction: Pennsylvania 73, Columbia 65

Bradley at Indiana State (Saturday, 7:30 PM, Regional TV): Going into the season, this game would have been a very mediocre game in the MVC. Now, it is a contest between two teams in the running for at-large bids. Indiana State is tied for first in the conference with a 4-1 record, and have looked excellent over the past few weeks. Bradley looked lost early in the conference year, but have bounced back. Prediction: Indiana State 68, Bradley 56

Michigan at Purdue (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Two Big Ten teams fighting for positioning in the conference as well as at-large bids. Michigan looked awful in the 2006 portion of their season, but have been solid lately, including a win over Illinois. Purdue has some quality wins on their resume, but the Boilermakers have not played well in conference play. Prediction: Purdue 67, Michigan 58

Xavier at Saint Louis (Saturday, 9:00 PM, Regional TV): This game looked far more attractive a few weeks ago. Since then, Saint Louis has lost to Duquesne and St. Bonaventure, while Xavier has separated themselves as the Atlantic-10 favorite. Can Ian Vouyoukas dominate the smaller Xavier frontline? That will be the key for SLU. Prediction: Xavier 70, Saint Louis 65

Gonzaga at Santa Clara (Saturday, 10:00 PM, Regional TV): Although Gonzaga struggled towards the end of non-conference play, they are still the clear favorites in the West Coast Conference. Santa Clara is one of the few teams that could potentially knock them off, and now is as good of a time as ever for Steve Nash's alma mater. However, the Bulldogs have been playing well in league play, and are too tough. Prediction: Gonzaga 80, Santa Clara 72

BYU at UNLV (Saturday, 10:00 PM, Regional TV): Mountain West showdown. Both teams are contenders in the conference, although UNLV has lost two straight games, to Air Force and Wyoming, and BYU is 2-0 within the league. This game is a contrast in personnel, as UNLV is led by their excellent perimeter group and BYU is paced by their frontcourt duo of Keena Young and Trent Plaisted. Prediction: UNLV 73, BYU 66

Illinois at Michigan State (Sunday, 1:30 PM, CBS): Two teams going the wrong way in the Big Ten. Illinois didn't start off well in the conference, but picked up a big one-point at home against a mediocre Iowa team this week. Michigan State has struggled in league play after having an excellent start to the season. Drew Neitzel needs some help from the rest of the Spartans. Prediction: Michigan State 57, Illinois 51

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