Friday, March 2, 2007

Weekend Preview

Are you ready for the biggest weekend of the college basketball season? With several conference tournaments already underway, there are five automatic bids to hand out. Additionally, with one week until Selection Sunday, it is time for bubble teams to make a statement to the committee. Many of the teams on the fence go up against a top team with a chance to pick up a marquee win, while other bubble teams need to just continue winning and avoiding bad losses. On top of that, there are a handful of match-ups between championship contenders. Oh yeah, there's also the biggest rivalry in the game on Sunday afternoon.

Top Games

Michigan State at Wisconsin (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN): Rematch of last week’s Michigan State victory. Another win here for the Spartans, and they will get a huge boost in seeding for the NCAA Tournament. Drew Neitzel was hampered by the flu against Michigan this week, but if he is 100%, he can carry MSU. Raymar Morgan is also starting to come into his own on the wing. Wisconsin needs to bounce back from last week’s losses. Without Brian Butch, Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor will have to take on more of the scoring burden for the rest of the season. The Badgers are still in the mix for a top-seed in March. Prediction: Wisconsin 62, Michigan State 55

Texas at Kansas (Saturday, 12:00 PM, CBS): With the Big 12 title on the line, this game is the best of the weekend. Texas knocked off Texas A&M in a double-OT classic this week, while Kansas has been one of the most impressive teams in the country over the past few weeks. Kevin Durant leads the Longhorns, and he is the favorite for Player of the Year. D.J. Augustin is extremely quick at the point guard spot, and “veteran” A.J. Abrams has been a reliable three-point shooter. Kansas is absolutely loaded all over their roster. They have several future pros, including Brandon Rush and Julian Wright. A win here would add to their case for a #1 seed in March. Prediction: Kansas 81, Texas 71

Arizona at Stanford (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC): Two locks from the Pac-10 fight it out for tournament seeding. Arizona has not played that well in conference play, and struggle defensively. However, their offense is outstanding, led by forwards Marcus Williams and Chase Budinger. Mustafa Shakur has developed into a very good point guard in his senior year. Stanford has surprised some by (likely) reaching the NCAA Tournament. Lawrence Hill is a match-up problem at forward, while Brook and Robin Lopez anchor the interior. The key will be the backcourt play of both teams. Prediction: Stanford 74, Arizona 68

USC at Washington State (Saturday, 7:00 PM, Regional TV): Another Pac-10 battle between two teams heading for the Big Dance. USC fell at Washington this week, and has been inconsistent on the road lately. The Trojans are led by their perimeter group of Nick Young, Gabe Pruitt, and Lodrick Stewart. Freshman Taj Gibson has been one of the more underrated first-year post players. Washington State lost to UCLA at home Thursday night, but is still in position to get the #2 seed in the conference tournament, and a top-four seed in March. Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver form one of the best backcourts in the country. Prediction: Washington State 59, USC 53

Pittsburgh at Marquette (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): Rematch of Marquette’s win at Pittsburgh back in January. The Panthers have not looked as impressive over the past few weeks, but they are still one of the most complete teams in the country. Aaron Gray is a beast at the center spot, while Levance Fields has been a very good point guard this season. Mike Cook provides wing scoring. Marquette has also been inconsistent lately, but the Golden Eagles are still going to get to the Big Dance. Dominic James and Jerel McNeal form one of the best guard duos in the country. This should be an excellent game. Prediction: Marquette 72, Pittsburgh 68

Kentucky at Florida (Sunday, 12:00 PM, CBS): Can Kentucky finally beat a top-notch team? Will Florida break out of their recent slump? The Wildcats have already locked up a bid to the Dance, but they would like some momentum heading into the postseason. Randolph Morris is their go-to-guy down low, while Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley are a good scoring backcourt. Florida has lost three of four, and need a win to get their swagger back—and their chances at a #1 seed. Joakim Noah has struggled lately, but Corey Brewer and Al Horford are also studs up front. Taurean Green is a very good point guard. Prediction: Florida 73, Kentucky 65

Duke at North Carolina (Sunday, 4:00 PM, CBS): The best rivalry in college basketball has lost some luster this week, as Duke dropped a home game to Maryland and UNC lost two road games in a row, at Maryland and at Georgia Tech. Duke needs a win to finish above .500 in the ACC. DeMarcus Nelson is playing very well lately on the wing, while Josh McRoberts is a terrific all-around talent up front. North Carolina is falling rapidly from a top-seed, mainly because they have essentially forgot how to play defense. Tyler Hansbrough is one of the best players in the country, while Brandan Wright and Tywon Lawson have been outstanding freshmen. Prediction: North Carolina 72, Duke 65 CLICK HERE FOR A COMPLETE PREVIEW OF NORTH CAROLINA-DUKE

Automatic Bids on the Line

VMI at Winthrop (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN2): The Big South Championship is one of the more intriguing title games you will see this week. VMI led the country in scoring throughout the year, routinely putting up 100 points. However, they have slowed it down a bit in the conference tournament, making a run as the #6 seed. Reggie Williams is a very good all-around player, while guard Chavis Holmes can really fill it up. Matt Murrer is the main man down low. Winthrop led the conference from start to finish, and even knocked off Missouri State in the Bracket Buster in mid-February. They should win the conference tournament, as well. Torrell Martin and Mike Jenkins form a terrific wing combination, while Craig Bradshaw provides balance on the interior. Chris Gaynor is an experienced point guard. Prediction: Winthrop 86, VMI 76

Belmont at East Tennessee State (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN2): The Atlantic Sun should feature a very good title game. East Tennessee State won the regular-season title. Courtney Pigram is a terrific all-around guard, and is capable of carrying the Bucs. ETSU has a deep and talented frontcourt led by Brad Nuckles, a strong rebounder, and forwards Mike Smith and Andrew Reed. Belmont was the preseason favorite, and is hitting its stride. Justin Hare is a very good all-around performer, and was excellent in last year’s conference tournament. Boomer Herndon, a former Tennessee transfer, is one of the better post players in the conference. The Bruins are extremely deep and have lots of size. Prediction: East Tennessee State 74, Belmont 71

Davidson at Charleston (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN2):
This was expected to be a showdown between the top teams in the league—Davidson and Appalachian State. However, Charleston upset ASU in overtime Friday night, essentially killing the Mountaineers' at-large hopes. Davidson is led by freshman sensation Stephen Curry, who averages over 20 points per game on the perimeter. Inside, Thomas Sander and Boris Meno form one of the better post duos around. Jason Richards is second in the country in assists. Charleston, who is hosting the tournament, was the preseason favorite. Dontaye Draper is a terrific guard and distributor, and has the ability to do a variety of things on the court. Their frontcourt is very solid, with forwards Jermaine Johnson and David Lawrence. Prediction: Davidson 75, Charleston 67

Austin Peay vs. Eastern Kentucky (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN2): This was a wide-open tournament and it should be a fun title game. Austin Peay needed overtime to knock off #8 seed Tennessee State in the first round, but played well against Samford in the semi-finals. They are led by their forward duo of Drake Reed and Fernandez Lockett. Diminutive point guard Derek Wright runs the show, and wings Landon Shipley and Todd Babington are solid. Eastern Kentucky, despite being the #2 seed in the tournament, was not a favorite to be in the title game. They have one of the better perimeter trios in the league. Mike Rose can score well, Adam Leonard is a good second option, and 6-4 senior Julian Mascoll is a very good all-around performer. Prediction: Austin Peay 78, Eastern Kentucky 73

Southern Illinois vs. Creighton (Sunday, 2:05 PM, CBS):
The best conference in the country outside of the “Big Six” should feature a terrific title game. The favorite to win “Arch Madness” is Southern Illinois. Fighting for a top-3 seed in March, the Salukis are led by their terrific defense. Randal Falker is one of the best big men in the conference, and Jamaal Tatum is a clutch scorer in the backcourt. Matt Shaw is a good inside-outside player up front. Creighton likely iced an NCAA bid with their semi-final win over Missouri State. They are led by the inside-outside combo of guard Nate Frunk and big man Anthony Tolliver. Josh Dotzler is a solid point guard, and Dane Watts is a good option. SIU won the first meeting between the two. Prediction: Southern Ilinois 57, Creighton 52

Fighting for Bids

Arkansas at Vanderbilt (Saturday, 1:00 PM): The Razorbacks are trying to make a late run at a bid, and a win here would get them to 7-9 in the SEC. Vanderbilt is fighting for the second-best resume in the SEC, and could be in line for a Top-5 seed. Prediction: Vanderbilt 70, Arkansas 61

Syracuse at Villanova (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN2): Both teams are likely in the Tournament as of right now, but a win here for either would lock up a bid. ‘Cuse has won five in a row, while ‘Nova has won six of their last eight. Prediction: Villanova 68, Syracuse 62

Southern Illinois vs. Bradley (Saturday, 2:35 PM, Regioanl TV): Missouri Valley semi-final match-up. Southern Illinois would like a MVC Tourney title to boost their profile, while Bradley needs to knock off SIU to keep their at-large hopes alive. Prediction: Southern Illinois 64, Bradley 53

Tennessee at Georgia (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): SEC East showdown. Tennessee is one of the hottest teams in the league, with six wins in their last seven games. Georgia needs a win to stay above .500 in the SEC and in the mix for a bid. Prediction: Georgia 75, Tennessee 70

Ohio State at Michigan (Saturday, 4:00 PM, CBS): Meaningful Big Ten battle. Michigan picked up a huge win over Michigan State at home this week, while Ohio State would likely lock up a #1 seed with a victory here. Prediction: Ohio State 69, Michigan 65

Creighton vs. Missouri State (Saturday, 5:05 PM, Regional TV): Two MVC teams that look like NCAA teams as of now. However, Missouri State was left out last year with better computer numbers. The winner would definitely be in; the loser will sweat it out. Prediction: Creighton 71, Missouri State 66 *Both teams play Friday night in MVC quarterfinals

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at Sam Houston State (Saturday, 6:00 PM): While neither team will get an at-large, the winner will guarantee themselves an NIT bid. Both teams are 12-3 in the Southland, and the conference title is on the line. Prediction: Sam Houston State 83, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 77

New Mexico State at Nevada (Saturday, 10:05 PM, ESPN2): The top two teams in the WAC go at it. NMSU hosts the league tournament, and a win here would give them a sweep of the Wolf Pack. Nevada needs to bounce back after their OT loss at Utah State. Prediction: Nevada 72, New Mexico State 62

Clemson at Virginia Tech (Sunday, 1:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): If Clemson doesn’t get a win here to get them to 7-9, they might as well kiss their NCAA hopes goodbye. Virginia Tech still has a shot at the ACC title, and is fighting for the second-best profile in the league. Prediction: Virginia Tech 76, Clemson 70

Boston College at Georgia Tech (Sunday, 3:00 PM, FSN): Georgia Tech picked up a monumental win over North Carolina on Thursday to get them to 7-8. A win here could clinch a bid. Boston College needs momentum heading into the ACC Tournament. Prediction: Georgia Tech 73, Boston College 60

Must-wins for Bubble Teams

Florida State at Miami (Fl.) (Saturday, 12:00 PM, Regional TV): The Seminoles need a win to get to 7-9 in the ACC. 6-10 simply won’t cut it. The Hurricanes have shown the ability to pull an upset, as evidenced by their wins over Maryland and Virginia. Prediction: Florida State 70, Miami (Fl.) 68

Georgia State at VCU (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): VCU may have won the CAA regular-season title, but they are by no means a lock for the Big Dance. A loss her could potentially kill their at-large hopes, while a win lets them live another day.
Prediction: VCU 74, Georgia State 60

Xavier at La Salle (Saturday, 12:00 PM, Regional TV): The Musketeers are in good shape for an at-large bid if they just get a couple more wins. A loss her would cripple their profile, and could also drop them from a tie for the Atlantic-10 championship.
Prediction: Xavier 76, La Salle 62

Illinois at Iowa (Saturday, 12:05 PM, ESPN FullCourt):
Two middle-of-the-pack Big Ten teams battle it out. Illinois would get to ten wins with a road win at Carver-Hawkeye. A loss here would drop them back into the muddle of 9-7 teams from around the country.
Prediction: Iowa 63, Illinois 58

Oklahoma State at Baylor (Saturday, 1:30 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Can the Cowboys pick up their first road win of the season? They have played absolutely awful this year away from home, and will not make the Big Dance unless they improve on that statistic.
Prediction: Baylor 67, Oklahoma State 64

Auburn at Mississippi (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt):
Ole Miss has nearly fallen from off the bubble radar, but a win here would give them a share of the SEC West title. Likewise, a win for Auburn would give the Tigers an unlikely split of the division title. Prediction: Mississippi 72, Auburn 66

South Florida at DePaul (Saturday, 2:00 PM): The Blue Demons are making a late run at an NCAA bid, and a 9-7 Big East record would help out their resume. However, a loss at home to USF would be disastrous for their hopes.
Prediction: DePaul 75, South Florida 58

Northwestern at Purdue (Saturday, 2:17 PM, ESPN FullCourt): An absolute must-win for the Boilermakers. A win over the Wildcats would be their third in a row, and would also get them to 9-7 in the Big Ten. They have won five of their last seven games. Prediction: Purdue 60, Northwestern 48

Northeastern vs. Drexel (Saturday, 2:30 PM, ESPN FullCourt): CAA quarterfinal match-up. Northeastern made a run to get the fifth seed, while Drexel has arguably the best non-conference resume of any CAA team, but they finished fourth in the conference. Prediction: Drexel 69, Northeastern 59

Oklahoma at Kansas State (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC): Kansas State would get to 10-6 in the Big 12 with a win here, but only one of those wins was impressive (Texas). Even with a win, the Wildcats need a good performance in the Big 12 Tournament. Prediction: Kansas State 71, Oklahoma 62

Cincinnati at West Virginia (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): The Mountaineers are in a similar position to Kansas State. They have a gaudy conference record, but a poor non-conference schedule. A win here is imperative for their postseason hopes. Prediction: West Virginia 73, Cincinnati 57

Massachusetts at St. Joseph’s (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV):
A big game for UMass. The Minutemen would get a share of the Atlantic-10 title with a win, getting to 13-3 in the league. Is that worth an at-large bid? Only time will tell.
Prediction: Massachusetts 76, St. Joseph’s 74

Towson vs. Old Dominion (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Similar to the other CAA quarterfinal battles. Old Dominion is one of the hottest teams in the country, winning eleven in a row. However, a loss to Gary Neal and Towson would cripple their hopes. Prediction: Old Dominion 74, Towson 63

TCU at San Diego State (Saturday, 6:00 PM, Regional TV): The Aztecs are making a late run at an at-large bid out of the Mountain West. TCU hurt Air Force’s resume last week; can they burst San Diego State’s bubble with a road win?
Prediction: San Diego State 72, TCU 55

Texas Tech at Iowa State (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt):
The Red Raiders look like the fourth team in the Big 12 pecking order right now, but they need a road win over the Cyclones. A road win would drop them back into the pack with OSU and KSU. Prediction: Texas Tech 68, Iowa State 66

Alabama at Mississippi State (Sunday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt):
Two SEC West teams fighting for the division title. However, Alabama is likely the only one with at-large hopes. They need a road win here, or they will drop to 7-9 in an unimpressive SEC West.
Prediction: Mississippi State 71, Alabama 64

Providence at St. John’s (Sunday, 2:00 PM): Can the Friars keep their drowning at-large hopes above water? They picked up a big road win at South Florida this week, but the Red Storm gave PC problems in the first meeting. Prediction: St. John’s 63, Providence 58

Drexel at VCU (Sunday, 3:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Arguably the most important bubble game on Sunday. Both teams are in the mix for an at-large bid, as Drexel has the better non-conference resume, but VCU won the regular season title. Drexel has good inside-outside balance with Frank Elegar in the post and Bashir Mason and Dominick Mejia on the perimeter. VCU is deep and athletic. They have a terrific perimeter group, led by Eric Maynor at the point and B.A. Walker on the wing. Prediction: VCU 70, Drexel 66

Old Dominion vs. George Mason (Sunday, 5:30 PM, ESPN FullCourt): This was shaping up to be an even better semi-final match-up, but Hofstra fell in the quarterfinals to last year's Final Four participant George Mason. ODU has won twelve in a row after yesterday's escape against Towson. If ODU wins, they might get a bid. Prediction: Old Dominion 73, George Mason 62

San Diego vs. Gonzaga (Sunday, 9:30 PM, ESPN2): The Bulldogs were lucky to win the West Coast regular season title, and need to reach the tournament title game to have a chance. A loss here, and they might be out despite a great SOS. Prediction: Gonzaga 71, San Diego 65

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