Friday, February 9, 2007

Weekend Preview

With just over four weeks to go until Selection Sunday, the NCAA Tournament picture is starting to clear up in some areas--but becoming increasingly more blurry in others. Bubble teams are not really separating themselves from the rest of the pack, while conferences races are getting tighter and tighter around the country. Conference tournaments are around the corner--it's time for teams to get some momentum. This weekend has plenty of key games on the slate.

Top Games

Marquette at Georgetown (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN): Two of the best in the Big East battle to try and keep up with Pittsburgh in the conference race. Marquette is one of the hottest teams in the country, having won eight straight league games since starting 0-2. Dominic James and Jerel McNeal form one of the best backcourt combos in the country, while Wesley Matthews is another good perimeter player. Ousmane Barro is a developing big man. Georgetown is another hot team, having won six in a row to move to 7-2 in the conference. Jeff Green and Roy Hibbert are an excellent frontcourt duo, and Jonathan Wallace and Jessie Sapp are providing solid backcourt play. Prediction: Georgetown 71, Marquette 67

UCLA at West Virginia (Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS):
Interesting non-conference, cross-country contest. UCLA is looking like a team that could repeat its Final Four run from a year ago. Arron Afflalo is a Pac-10 Player of the Year contender, and he and Darron Collison form the best backcourt in the West. Josh Shipp is a big-time scorer, and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a versatile inside performer. West Virginia is right on the bubble for the Big Dance, and a win here would do wonders for their resume. Frank Young is the best option offensively, with his ability to hit from the outside. Joe Alexander and sixth man Da’Sean Butler are two more match-up problems. Prediction: UCLA 65, West Virginia 62

Illinois at Indiana (Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS): Battle in the Big Ten. This game features arguably the biggest off-the-court storyline in the country this season—the not-so-friendly relationship between Kelvin Sampson and Illinois. Five-star recruit Eric Gordon orginally committed to Illinois, but once Sampson went to Indiana, he began to openly recruit him, eventually resulting in Gordon changing his mind and signing with Indiana. On the court, Illinois is playing very well lately, making a run at an at-large bid. They have won three in a row to move to 6-5. Warren Carter and Shaun Pruitt form one of the better frontcourt duos in the Big Ten. Chester Frazier is very quick at both ends. Indiana is looking like the clear-cut #3 team in the conference. D.J. White is a load to handle down low, while Roderick Wilmont and Earl Calloway lead a deep perimeter group. Prediction: Indiana 69, Illinois 63

Vanderbilt at Tennessee (Saturday, 1:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Two teams looking for bids in the SEC East. Vanderbilt has won five of their last six to move to 6-3 in the conference. Shan Foster and Derrick Byars form one of the best wing tandems in the country, while Dan Cage is another solid scoring guard. Ross Neltner anchors the interior. Tennessee looked a lot better this week with the return of Chris Lofton from injury. The Volunteers had lost six of eight before Lofton’s return. He leads the way on the perimeter, while Jamar Smith and JaJuan Smith are two more scorers in the backcourt. Prediction: Tennessee 74, Vanderbilt 68

Arizona at Oregon (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC):
Expect plenty of points in this Pac-10 shootout. Arizona has struggled mightily since the start of Pac-10 play, but they have won back-to-back games to move to 7-5 in the league. Marcus Williams and Chase Budinger form an explosive forward tandem, while Ivan Radenovic is a tough match-up in the frontcourt. Mustafa Shakur is a very good lead guard. Oregon is still looking for a top-three seed in March. Aaron Brooks is one of the best players around, while Malik Hairston and Bryce Taylor are scorers on the wing. Maarty Leunen is solid down low. Prediction: Oregon 81, Arizona 75

Virginia at Virginia Tech (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV):
Two of the top four teams in the ACC look to keep pace for first place in the conference. Virginia is tied for first right now, and has won seven in a row. Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds form the best two-man backcourt in the country, and can carry the Cavaliers at any time. Mamadi Diane is another good perimeter scorer. Virginia Tech has been up and down for most of the season. Zabian Dowdell and Jamon Gordon form an excellent, senior-laden backcourt, while A.D. Vassallo is a very good shooter on the perimeter. Coleman Collins anchors the post. Prediction: Virginia Tech 73, Virginia 68

Creighton at Southern Illinois (Saturday, 6:05 PM, ESPN2): Battle for the lead in the Missouri Valley. Both teams are 11-3, but Southern Illinois won the first meeting between the two. Creighton has bounced back very well from a poor showing in their non-conference season. Nate Funk and Anthony Tolliver form one of the best inside-outside combos in the conference, while Dane Watts is a solid all-around performer. Southern Illinois plays outstanding defense, and could be a big-time sleeper in March. Jamaal Tatum is a good backcourt scorer, while Randal Falker looks like a candidate for MVC Player of the Year. Matt Shaw is solid inside and out. Prediction: Southern Illinois 64, Creighton 60

Florida at Kentucky (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): This is one of the last opportunities left for Florida to potentially lose before the conference tournament. The Gators have been running through any opponent put in their path, and doing it in convincing fashion. Joakim Noah and Al Horford form one of the best inside duos in the country, while Corey Brewer is an excellent all-around player and one of the best defenders around. Taurean Green is very solid at the point. Kentucky has flown under-the-radar a bit this season, but look like the second best team in the SEC. Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley are two good scorings wings, and Randolph Morris is a potentially dominant big man. Prediction: Florida 70, Kentucky 65

Boston College at Florida State (Sunday, 3:00 PM, FSN): The first of two important ACC battles Sunday afternoon. Boston College has stayed strong despite the dismissal of shot-blocking extraordinaire Sean Williams, sitting at 8-2 and tied for first in the conference. Jared Dudley is one of the best all-around players in the country, and is a favorite for conference player of the year. Tyrese Rice and Sean Marshall are two very solid scorers on the perimeter. Florida State has played well lately, winning five of their last seven, including a road win at Duke. Al Thornton is one of the best players in the conference, while Toney Douglas and Jason Rich lead a host of perimeter athletes. Prediction: Florida State 71, Boston College 64

Duke at Maryland (Sunday, 5:00 PM, FSN): A must-win for two teams heading in the wrong direction. Duke has lost three in a row, and is only 5-5 in the ACC. DeMarcus Nelson is the go-to-guy offensively for the Blue Devils, while Josh McRoberts does it all at both ends. Greg Paulus is a solid point guard, while Jon Scheyer is improving with every game. Maryland is 3-6 in conference play, and absolutely needs to hold serve at home this weekend. Ekene Ibekwe and James Gist are two athletic, active inside players, while D.J. Strawberry is a very good player at both ends of the floor. Greivis Vasquez has been impressive as a freshman. Prediction: Maryland 73, Duke 70

Other Games to Watch

VCU at Old Dominion (Saturday, 12:00 PM, Regional TV): Two of the best in the Colonial go head-to-head. VCU has won 19 of their last 21 games, and is sitting in first at 13-1 in conference play. Old Dominion is making a move lately, winning six in a row—including four road games. Prediction: Old Dominion 78, VCU 75

Purdue at Ohio State (Saturday, 12:15 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Interesting contest in the Big Ten. Purdue is on the bubble for the Big Dance, and needs a marquee win for their resume. This would do it. Ohio State is tied for first in the conference, and is in the running for a top seed come March. Prediction: Ohio State 72, Purdue 61

Iowa at Wisconsin (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN): Surprisingly good game in the Big Ten. Iowa has won three in a row in the conference to move to 6-4 in league play, after going only 8-6 out-of-conference. Wisconsin is tied for first in the conference, and looks like a favorite for a #1 seed Selection Sunday. Prediction: Wisconsin 62, Iowa 53

Arkansas at LSU (Saturday, 3:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Going into the season, this might have been a game for SEC West supremacy. That’s not the case now. Arkansas is 4-5 in conference, and needs a win to get to .500. LSU has lost six in a row, and is only 2-7 in the conference. Their hopes are fading fast. Prediction: Arkansas 63, LSU 59

Austin Peay at Samford (Saturday, 3:00 PM):
The top two teams in the Ohio Valley go head-to-head. Austin Peay has won 13 of their last 14 games, and is 13-2 in conference play. Samford has been up and down at times, but they are have won five of their last seven to move to 11-4 in the OVC. Prediction: Samford 65, Austin Peay 60

Texas Tech at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): A couple of weeks ago, this would be a game between two Big 12 locks. Instead, the two teams are a combined 8-9 in the conference. Tech has lost four in a row, while OSU has lost two in a row, and is 0-5 on the road. Prediction: Oklahoma State 73, Texas Tech 66

Alabama at Mississippi (Saturday, 5:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): All of a sudden, this is a bubble game in the SEC West. Alabama is on the right track, having won three in a row to take control of the division. Ole Miss has entered the at-large discussion with two straight wins to move within one game of ‘Bama. Prediction: Mississippi 81, Alabama 77

Providence at Pittsburgh (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN):
Important game in the Big East. Providence is in the midst of the bubble talk, with a 5-4 conference record but an up-and-down resume. Pittsburgh looks to stay in control of first place in the conference; the Panthers have won 11 of 12. Prediction: Pittsburgh 76, Providence 63

Akron at Toledo (Saturday, 7:00 PM): The two division leaders go head-to-head for MAC supremacy. Akron is 9-1 in the conference, and have won nine in a row heading into this game. Toledo has lost two of three since starting conference play with seven straight wins. Prediction: Akron 67, Toledo 65

Butler at Wright State (Saturday, 7:00 PM): Despite Butler’s lofty ranking, and national coverage, the Horizon isn’t the Bulldogs’ just yet. Wright State is only a half-game behind Butler for first place, having won six in a row and 13 of their last 15. Butler has only one league loss thus far. Prediction: Wright State 66, Butler 64

Xavier at George Washington (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN2): Two Atlantic-10 teams look to keep pace with Massachusetts in the conference race. Xavier has disappointed somewhat this season, but has won nine of its last twelve. George Washington has lost two in a row since starting the A-10 at 6-1. Prediction: George Washington 82, Xavier 78

Missouri State at Northern Iowa (Saturday, 8:05 PM, Regional TV): Even though the Missouri Valley is better than last season, they will likely get only 3 bids to the Dance. Missouri State is looking like #3 right now, with four straight wins to move to 9-5 Northern Iowa has played themselves out of a bid, losing five of six. Prediction: Missouri State 73, Northern Iowa 68

Connecticut at Georgia Tech (Sunday, 1:00 PM, CBS):
Two of the most disappointing teams in the country look to start a late-season surge. Connecticut has won two straight after losing eight of ten to move to 4-6 in the Big East. Georgia Tech is firmly on the bubble after winning two straight. They can’t lose here. Prediction: Georgia Tech 72, Connecticut 58

Vermont at Albany (Sunday, 2:00 PM, Regional TV):
First-place in the America East is on the line. Vermont is 10-1 in the conference, and has won 13 of their last 14 overall. Albany is 11-2 in league play, and has won eight in a row after struggling somewhat earlier in the season. Prediction: Albany 71, Vermont 64

Stanford at Washington (Sunday, 7:00 PM, FSN):
Intriguing game in the Pac-10. Stanford has dropped two of three (one at home to Gonzaga) to move to fifth place in the conference. Washington has shown some life lately, winning four of their last five to get back to 5-7 in the conference. Prediction: Washington 76, Stanford 71

1 comment:

  1. You have some pretty good insight. You predictions although a bit off in some cases are insightful.