Monday, December 31, 2007

The Week Ahead

The first week of 2008 is always an exciting one for college basketball. It still features some marquee non-conference games that could not fit in the previous calendar year, but it also marks the first full week of conference play for nearly every conference around the country. It is the week where teams begin to show their true colors – if they are a contender or a pretender. Also, don’t look now, but there’s just ten weeks until Selection Sunday – the stretch run starts now.

Top Games

Connecticut at Seton Hall (Thursday, 7:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Big East opener for both teams. Connecticut has lost only two games all season, to Memphis and Gonzaga, and look like an at-large contender. Seton Hall has been up-and-down but it has the scoring potential to play with anyone.

West Virginia at Notre Dame (Thursday, 7:00 PM, ESPN2): Another solid Big East battle. West Virginia is coming off a double-overtime loss to Oklahoma at home, while Notre Dame has won seven in a row heading into the week. Both teams would like to get off to a good start in league play.

Providence at Marquette (Thursday, 9:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): A third marquee match-up in the Big East on Thursday. Providence has been somewhat inconsistent at times this year, but the Friars are coming off a 101-point performance against Florida State. Marquette’s only loss came to Duke by four points.

Oregon at Arizona State (Thursday, 9:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Interesting Pac-10 match-up. Oregon was expected to fight for a top-3 spot in the league, but the Ducks have struggled this year and need to get on the right track. Arizona State has won six in a row, including a blowout over Xavier.

UCLA at Stanford (Thursday, 10:30 PM, FSN): Two of the contenders in the Pac-10 square off. UCLA is one of the best teams in the country and is a legit national title contender. Stanford struggled early in the year but the Cardinal have won seven in a row and have Brook Lopez back.

USC at California (Thursday, 10:30 PM): Another intriguing battle out west. USC is probably the best three-loss team in the country, but it will be interesting to see how the Trojans’ young guns react in the league opener. California looks like it should be in the running for an at-large bid in March.

Top Non-Conference Games

Kansas State at Xavier (Monday, 7:00 PM, ESPNU): Two teams looking to boost their at-large resumes before conference play. Kansas State has won four in a row but needs another big victory, while Xavier remains the Atlantic-10 favorite despite losing two of its last three.

Utah at Gonzaga (Monday, 8:00 PM, Regional TV):
A decent match-up out west. Utah looks like a contender in the Mountain West, as it has won six of its last seven. Gonzaga has lost two in a row and three of five, and need to get back on the right track heading into WCC play.

Clemson at Alabama (Tuesday, 4:30 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Should be a game filled with extraordinary athletes on both teams. Clemson might be in the running for a top-3 spot in the ACC, while Alabama could use a decent win to boost its chances of a bid out of the SEC West.

Akron at Dayton (Wednesday, 7:00 PM): An intrastate contest in the Midwest. Akron has won five in a row and nine of ten, but plays in the loaded MAC, meaning it needs resume-boosting wins like this badly. Dayton would be in the NCAA Tournament as of now, especially after its blowout of Pittsburgh this past weekend.

Houston at Massachusetts (Wednesday, 7:00 PM, CSTV): Two teams that look like surprises in their respective conferences. Houston was expected to be solid but not this good – the Cougars have just a one-point loss to VCU in the negative column. UMass is another solid Atlantic-10 group.

Kent State at North Carolina (Wednesday, 8:00 PM, ESPN): Another good mid-major visiting Chapel Hill. Kent State is arguably the MAC favorite, despite excellent showings so far from teams like Akron and Miami (Ohio). North Carolina is playing like one of the best teams in the country.

New Mexico at UTEP (Wednesday, 9:05 PM): Battle in the Southwest. New Mexico has won five in a row after back-to-back losses and is looking to get momentum heading into MWC play. UTEP could be another decent team in Conference-USA after winning its last five games.

Virginia at Xavier (Thursday, 8:00 PM, CSTV): One of the best games of the week. Virginia is 10-2 and could be in line for an at-large berth with a good ACC performance. A win here would do wonders, though. Xavier needs to pick up its play in the Atlantic-10 if it wants a bid.

Siena at Memphis (Thursday, 9:00 PM, Regional TV): Sure, it’s likely to be a blowout. However, Siena has shown the ability to beat quality teams as it knocked off Stanford earlier this year. Memphis is looking like a Final Four favorite and a tough team to beat when the Tigers are at their peak.

Other Conference Openers

Cincinnati at Louisville (Tuesday, 2:30 PM, ESPN): Cincinnati doesn’t look like it will be much of a threat in the Big East; Louisville is starting to get healthy, which bodes well for conference play.

Illinois State at Wichita State (Tuesday, 8:05 PM): Solid battle in the Missouri Valley. Illinois State pulled off a huge road win by knocking off Creighton; Wichita State fell at home to Drake.

VCU at James Madison (Wednesday, 7:00 PM): Surprisingly good intrastate conference game in the CAA. VCU is the league favorite, while JMU looks like a sleeper after a good non-conference showing.

Wisconsin at Michigan (Wednesday, 7:00 PM, Big Ten Network): Don’t expect an upset, especially after Wisconsin’s great road win over Texas Saturday. Michigan needs to improve drastically in the Big Ten.

Rutgers at South Florida (Wednesday, 7:00 PM, ESPN2):
Will either of these teams reach the Big East Tournament? Both teams have shown flashes this year, but USF has more talent than RU at this point.

St. John’s at Syracuse (Wednesday, 7:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Both teams are looking for answers heading into Big East play. St. John’s has problems everywhere, while Syracuse needs to replace Eric Devendorf.

Arkansas-Little Rock at New Orleans (Wednesday, 8:00 PM): Early-season tilt in the Sun Belt. Arkansas-Little Rock has lost two in a row since starting 9-1, while New Orleans has wins over Colorado, NC State and Tulane.

Bradley at Missouri State (Wednesday, 8:05 PM, Regional TV):
Another chance for these two MVC teams to get some momentum. Bradley lost at home this weekend to Northern Iowa, Missouri State to Southern Illinois.

Southern Illinois at Drake (Wednesday, 8:05 PM, Regional TV): The preseason MVC favorite vs. the up-and-coming MVC contender. SIU is only 6-6 on the year, while Drake is 10-1 and No. 19 in the RPI.

Penn State at Northwestern (Wednesday, 9:00 PM, ESPN2): Two of the worst major-conference programs in the country square off. However, both teams are currently riding four-game winning streaks.

Indiana at Iowa (Wednesday, 9:05 PM, Big Ten Network): One of the league favorites against a cellar-dweller. Indiana has some of the best talent in the country, while Iowa has lost six of nine.

Georgia Southern at Davidson (Thursday, 7:00 PM): Interesting match-up in the Southern. Georgia Southern is 2-0 in the conference and has played Florida and URI close. 4-6 Davidson was everyone’s preseason darling, but it has struggled.

Ohio State at Illinois (Thursday, 8:00 PM, ESPN): Two teams looking to close the gap between the top-3 and the rest of the league. OSU has won five in a row, but Illinois just lost at home to Tennessee State.

Oregon State at Arizona (Thursday, 8:30 PM, Regional TV): Although Arizona will be without star freshman Jerryd Bayless because of a sprained knee, it won’t have a problem with OSU, who has losses to Alaska-Fairbanks, Tennessee Tech and Montana State.

Villanova at DePaul (Thursday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): Is there a more overlooked good team than Villanova? The Wildcats are 10-1 and look like an NCAA Tournament squad, but they get no pub. DePaul is going to have trouble making the league tourney.

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