Wednesday, January 31, 2007

NCAA Tournament Stock Report

After an exciting week of basketball that included upsets, down-to-the-wire finishes, bubble games, and more, the NCAA Tournament Stock Report is back. As stated last week, it is essentially a compilation of teams that are rising and falling with an eye on the NCAA Tournament. It will discuss teams whose potential seed is rising or falling, as well as clubs that are making moves either in or out of the at-large picture.

Starting Sunday night, this column will be replaced with “Road to Selection Sunday”, which will cover everything you need to know leading up to the second Sunday in March.


Virginia: Following a three-game losing streak in early January, the Cavaliers have won four straight contests, including a comeback victory at Clemson on Sunday. UVA is now 5-2 in the ACC, tied for third with Duke.

Florida State: The Seminoles are making a move after starting the ACC season 0-3. They have won four of their last five, with wins over Maryland and Virginia Tech. However, all four wins have been at home.

Duke: Remember when the Blue Devils started the ACC campaign 0-2? Since then, Duke has run off five straight victories, the last two over Clemson and Boston College. Their schedule to finish the year is treacherous, though.

Georgetown: The Hoyas were 4-3 to start the season, and were very disappointing. However, Georgetown has won 11 of 13, including a road win at Michigan and at home against Notre Dame. They are third in the Big East.

Indiana: With their win over Wisconsin on Wednesday, the Hoosiers are inching closer to locking up an at-large bid. The victory cements their position as a top three team in the Big Ten, and they have won 11 of their last 13.

Texas: The Longhorns did something on Wednesday that Texas A&M and Kansas couldn’t do: win at Texas Tech. The victory over the Red Raiders if Texas’ third straight victory, putting them tied for first at 6-1.

Kansas State: After Wednesday’s victory over Missouri, the Wildcats are right back in the at-large hunt. They lost three in a row to open 2007, but have won six straight games, five in the Big 12. KSU needs some quality wins, though.

Stanford: The Cardinal are one of the hottest teams in the country, despite their double-overtime home loss to Gonzaga. They defeated USC and UCLA back-to-back before the loss. They have won six of eight, and are third in the Pac-10.

BYU: With Wednesday’s road victory over Utah, the Cougars are now 6-2 in the conference, and have won 11 of their last 13 games. BYU beat Air Force a week ago, and are starting to make a move in the at-large picture.

UNLV: Tuesday’s road win at Colorado State makes the Rebels’ case for an at-large bid even better. Their RPI is now in the top ten, and they own road wins over Nevada and Texas Tech. The MWC is a two-bid league.

Wichita State: The Shockers are right back in the mix for an at-large bid. They pulled off their third win in a row—and second on the road—when they beat Northern Iowa on Tuesday. The win pushes them to 6-6 in the MVC.

Creighton: After heading into conference play with a 6-4 record, the Blue Jays have turned things around, and are tied for first in the MVC at 9-3. Despite their poor non-conference resume, they are looking like a tourney team.

Southern Illinois: The Salukis’ profile is looking better and better every week. Wednesday’s win over Indiana State keeps them in a tie for first place in the MVC, and a top ten RPI strengthens their resume.

New Mexico State: Their win over Boise State at home on Wednesday gave them their 17th win in 18 games. However, their RPI (81) is awful, meaning they can’t really slip up too much the rest of the way for an at-large bid.


Maryland: The Terrapins look like the same team they have been the past couple of seasons—play well in non-conference, fade in the ACC. Their blowout loss at FSU Tuesday puts them at 2-5 in the conference.

Georgia Tech: I touched on the Yellow Jackets last week, but their awful play deserves more knocking. Tech lost to Wake Forest on Tuesday, meaning they still have not won a road game since 2005, and are now 2-6 in the ACC.

Clemson: The Tigers still are probably safe in terms of at-large hopes, but they need to start winning games down the stretch. Their collapse against Virginia marks their fourth loss in five games, putting them at 4-4 in the conference.

Syracuse: The Orange were looking good, winning four in a row a couple of weeks ago in Big East play. However, they have since lost three in a row, including one at home to Notre Dame in which they gave up 61 points in the first half.

Villanova: The Wildcats are another team that was going the opposite direction a week ago. ‘Nova had won three straight games, but lost back-to-back games to Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, moving them to only 3-5 in the Big East.

Michigan: Wednesday’s loss at home over Iowa really hurts their at-large hopes. It was their third straight loss, as the Wolverines loss at Indiana and Wisconsin last week. Michigan still can’t win on the road, either.

Michigan State: Yes, the Spartans nearly knocked off Ohio State in Columbus, but MSU’s slow starts are beginning to catch up with them. They are only 4-4 in the Big Ten, and their 1-5 record in true road games is glaring.

Texas Tech: Those wins over Texas A&M and Kansas seem like ages ago. The Red Raiders lost their second in a row, this time at home to Texas. It followed a road loss to Missouri, dropping Tech to 4-3 and sixth in the Big 12.

Arizona: The Wildcats just keep falling. They were absolutely annihilated at the hands of North Carolina on Saturday in Tucson. UA had a chance to get back on the right foot, but they looked terrible, and are still only 5-4 in the Pac-10.

California: The Golden Bears might have to kiss their at-large hopes goodbye. Their home sweep at the hands of UCLA and USC make them 4-5 in the Pac-10 and only 12-9 overall. They have now lost three straight games.

LSU: This season’s most disappointing team continues to drop. The Tigers’ loss at home to Alabama drops them to 2-5 in the SEC, and was their fourth straight loss. With three of their next four on the road, LSU is in trouble.

Northern Iowa: The loss at home to Wichita State puts the Panthers at only 6-5 in the Missouri Valley, in fourth place. UNI has now lost three straight, and five of their last seven. Their non-conference profile isn’t strong, either.

Colonial and Atlantic-10’s shot at two bids: With VCU’s loss at Hofstra, and Xavier and George Washington both losing on Wednesday, these two conferences are looking like one-bid leagues. Billy Packer-types love this, since it likely means more “Big Six” teams will get bids.

Wednesday, January 31st Predictions

Prediction Record: 319-151

VCU at Hofstra- Prediction: Hofstra 76, VCU 72
Ohio State at Purdue- Prediction: Ohio State 66, Purdue 61
Vanderbilt at Florida- Prediction: Florida 80, Vanderbilt 69
Wisconsin at Indiana- Prediction: Indiana 68, Wisconsin 67
Georgia at Tennessee- Prediction: Georgia 73, Tennessee 71
Creighton at Bradley- Prediction: Bradley 75, Creighton 70
Alabama at LSU- Prediction: LSU 67, Alabama 55
Texas at Texas Tech- Prediction: Texas Tech 72, Texas 66
Gonzaga at Stanford- Prediction: Stanford 71, Gonzaga 65

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

It's Never Too Early to Look at March

Let’s face it: NCAA Tournament pools are won by people who pick the right sleepers to reach the Final Four, and those that have the foresight to spot a high-seeded bust when they see them. Those cute, 12-over-5 upset picks that everyone in your office had? That doesn’t do it. The big money (figuratively speaking, right?) is made when you choose the middle-range seeded team that makes a deep run, or when you have a top-seeded team getting knocked out in round two.

We all know the basic rule of thumb: all four #1 seeds have never made the Final Four. Well, where does the Final Four come from? Last season, we saw a #2, a #3, a #4, and a #11. The previous season, there were two #1s, a #4, and a #5.

In short, you can pencil at least one #1 seed into the National Semifinals. Including last season’s anomaly, there have only been two years since 1979 that no #1 seed has reached the Final Four. Double-digit seeds are also not very likely to reach the Final Four. It has happened twice since 1979. However, it is not uncommon to see a team that is sixth-seeded or lower in the Final Four, and fives are also fairly prevalent. The rest of the Final Four teams? Mostly teams seeded two through four.

What’s the point of all this, you ask? We are only nearing the end of January, but it’s time to look at some teams that can A) ruin your bracket or B) carry your bracket to the top of the standings. The teams in Group A that I will discuss are potential high-seeded teams that I don’t think have the necessary make-up to make a deep run in March. Group B teams are squads that will likely be seeded five through eight or lower, but have what it takes to pull off a few upsets and end up in Atlanta

Don’t Trust These Teams

Ohio State: Sure, the Buckeyes have an outstanding freshmen class. Sure, Thad Matta has Greg Oden. However, I’m not totally convinced about this team. Oden is still not a dominating force on the offensive end. He doesn’t have great post moves, and struggles when he is double-teamed. Moreover, if he tires or gets in foul trouble, OSU severely lacks post depth. On the perimeter, both Daequan Cook and Ron Lewis have seen their numbers go down in recent weeks, demonstrating inconsistency and a growing reliance on Oden. Additionally, this is a young team that does not force a lot of turnovers on defense and is susceptible to good three-point shooting teams, and teams that can throw tall, long athletes at Oden.

Oklahoma State: OSU hasn’t been the same since their non-conference schedule. They were destroyed by both Kansas and Texas A&M, and have not looked overly impressive in any of their four home games (save for maybe the triple-overtime classic against Texas). The bottom line is that this team is very vulnerable in the early rounds. They are not deep at all, and are absolutely awful against pressure defenses. The Cowboys turn it over a lot and don’t have many offensive options outside of JamesOn Curry and Mario Boggan. They don’t rebound well, and are not a very good shooting team.

Memphis: The Tigers have not impressed me much this season when watching them. They are not as good as last year’s team, especially on offense. For a John Calipari team, the Tigers are surprisingly bad from three-point range. Memphis takes over 22 three-pointers per game, yet hits less than a third of them. Moreover, the Tigers are awful from the free-throw line, and they don’t pass the ball as well as they did a year ago. Their draw-and-dish game is lacking. UM has a very deep perimeter group, but they are somewhat inconsistent. If Memphis is having a bad shooting night, it could be lights-out for the Tigers.

Marquette: The Golden Eagles are playing some of the best basketball in the country lately, but what worries me about them is their tendency to play to their opponents’ level. This team has lost to North Dakota State, and beat Idaho State, Valparaiso, and South Florida by a combined eight points. While Marquette can beat nearly any team on a good night, their inconsistency scares me. Moreover, for a team with such outstanding guards, their offense is not overly productive. They don’t shoot the ball well from behind the arc, and they turn the ball over too much. Additionally, they are not very balanced, with the guards carrying most of the load. Their lack of size on defense and inability to rebound will hurt them as well.

Duke: Yes, it’s easy to pick on the Blue Devils. And no, I don’t have a huge bias against them. But every year, someone comes up with the insightful “But they’re Duke and have Coack K” quote, and pencils them deep into their bracket. Please don’t do that this year. The Blue Devils do have an outstanding defense, but it’s their offense that will end up doing them in. It starts at the point guard spot, where Greg Paulus has been extremely inconsistent and downright awful at times. Duke turns the ball over a lot for such a well-disciplined team, and they don’t have a go-to-scorer to get points down the stretch. Defensively, their one Achilles’ heel is their lack of athletes. If a team can spread Duke out and penetrate to the basket, they will knock off the Blue Devils.

Don’t Overlook These Teams

USC: What, you didn’t think a Pac-10 team would be on this portion of the column? With such a deep conference, a squad like the Trojans could end up as a 9 or 10 seed and get lost in the mix. However, USC could be a sleeper come March. They have an outstanding perimeter group, led by Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt. Their wings are athletic and quick, and can do a variety of things offensively. Taj Gibson is a beast down low, providing offensive balance. Their defense is excellent due to their long athletes on the perimeter and the shot-blocking prowess of Gibson down low. They don’t rebound the ball well, though, and will struggle against bigger teams.

Georgia: The Bulldogs have won five of their last six to get back into the NCAA Tournament picture, but I liked Georgia way before that streak occurred. That started way back on December 16th when the Bulldogs took on Gonzaga. At the time, the Zags were 9-2 and had just annihilated Washington by twenty. Well, that night Georgia dominated Mark Few and co. Their offense was outstanding, and their up-tempo style was fun to watch. The Bulldogs have more guards than a state prison, led by the ultra-quick Sundiata Gaines and the do-it-all Mike Mercer. Going into the season, their weakness was post play, but JC transfer Takais Brown has really stepped up since being inserted into the starting lineup. Throw in their clutch ability to win close games, and this team could be tough.

Southern Illinois: Here’s my mid-major choice. The Salukis have arguably the best half-court defense in the country, and will pose all sorts of nightmares to most teams in the bracket. They are very aggressive defensively, and will get up on the ball for 35 seconds. They force a lot of turnovers, and have two very quick guards in Tony Young and Jamaal Tatum. Offensively, they are not as impressive as they are on the other side of the ball, but they get the job done. Tatum and Young can both shoot the ball and penetrate, while Randal Falker gives them a post presence. Matt Shaw is an inside-outside threat up front. They slow the pace down, and get really get teams out of their game plans.

Virginia: They say guards win in March, and if that’s the case, the Cavaliers will be a darkhorse. UVA has one of the best backcourts in the country in point guard Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds. They carry most of the load for the Cavs, and both have the ability to have huge games on any night. The pair combines for over 37 points per game, a number that is even higher in ACC play. Both can shoot the ball from the outside, as well as drive to the basket for finishes. They can rebound well for their size, and distribute as well. The Cavaliers don’t have great big men, but Jason Cain is serviceable, and Mamadi Diane and Adrian Joseph are two more solid perimeter performers.

Indiana: If I had done this column in December, the Hoosiers would have been nowhere near it. However, Kelvin Sampson has Indiana rolling in Big Ten play. They really struggled offensively for most of non-conference play, but they are much improved and have the #9-most efficient offense according to Ken Pomeroy ( D.J. White is an excellent big man, and the Hoosiers have an extremely deep perimeter group, led by Roderick Wilmont and Earl Calloway. If Indiana is hitting their three-pointers, look out. Defensively, they play typical Kelvin Sampson defense. They are physical and force opponents to take bad shots.

Tuesday, January 30th Predictions

Prediction Record: 318-147

Notre Dame at Syracuse- Prediction: Syracuse 78, Notre Dame 70
Maryland at Florida State- Prediction: Florida State 73, Maryland 66
Michigan State at Illinois- Prediction: Michigan State 59, Illinois 55
Wichita State at Northern Iowa- Prediction: Northern Iowa 64, Wichita State 57
UNLV at Colorado State- Prediction: Colorado State 82, UNLV 79

Monday, January 29, 2007

Monday, January 29th Predictions

Prediction Record: 318-146

Pittsburgh at Villanova- Prediction: Villanova 69, Pittsburgh 66

The Week Ahead

With February right around the corner, the stretch drive is officially here in college basketball. Some conferences are at the mid-point in league play, meaning it’s time for teams to start making moves with an eye towards the NCAA Tournament. That “Last Ten Games” category on team’s NCAA Tournament profiles? It starts now.

Pittsburgh at Villanova (Monday):
Potential upset in the Big East. Pittsburgh has demonstrated they are the best team in the conference, winning 9 of their last 10. Villanova is only 3-4 in the Big East, but had won three in a row prior to losing a tough one on Saturday at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame at Syracuse (Tuesday): Two teams looking to keep up in the Big East standings. Notre Dame beat Villanova this weekend to move to 5-3 in the Big East, but they have been up-and-down lately. Syracuse has lost two in a row after starting 4-1 in conference play. Both teams need a win.

Maryland at Florida State (Tuesday): Big-time bubble battle in the ACC. Maryland knocked off Georgia Tech to improve to 2-4 in the ACC, but they have lost three of their last five and need a road victory. Florida State lost a heartbreaker at Boston College last week, and would like to go .500 in the conference.

Michigan State at Illinois (Tuesday): Interesting battle between 2005 Final Four teams. Michigan State nearly beat Ohio State Saturday night, and is looking more and more like an NCAA Tournament team. Illinois was dominated by Purdue over the weekend, and need a win here in order to keep their fading Big Dance hopes alive.

Wichita State at Northern Iowa (Tuesday): Don’t look now, but this game suddenly has a big impact on the MVC race. Wichita State has won two in a row to move to 5-6 in the conference, and could be making a move. Northern Iowa has done the opposite, losing their last two conference games, and is now only 6-4.

UNLV at Colorado State (Tuesday): Interesting game in the Mountain West. UNLV is trying to boost its NCAA Tournament resume, and has won four in a row, sitting at second place in the conference. Colorado State is 8-1 at home this season, and is only one game back of UNLV in the MWC standings.

VCU at Hofstra (Wednesday): First-place battle in the Colonial. VCU improved to 10-0 over the weekend, with their victory over Drexel in Philadelphia. At 18-3 overall, the Rams might also have a shot at an at-large bid. Hofstra has won 16 of their last 18 after starting the season 0-3, and is 9-1 in the CAA.

Ohio State at Purdue (Wednesday): Big Ten battle. Ohio State nearly blew a 20-point lead against Michigan State this weekend, but pulled it out in the end. They need to keep up with Wisconsin in the conference race. Purdue blew out Illinois at home on Saturday, and a win here would really boost their NCAA Tournament profile.

Vanderbilt at Florida (Wednesday):
The top two teams in the SEC go head-to-head. Vanderbilt has played outstanding lately, winning four in a row, including wins over Alabama, LSU, and Kentucky. Florida is looking like a repeat title contender, after their demolition of Auburn on the road Saturday.

Wisconsin at Indiana (Wednesday): Will the nation’s longest win streak come to an end? Wisconsin has won seventeen in a row after their victory over Iowa this weekend, and is looking like a legit Final Four squad. Indiana blew out Michigan on Saturday, moving to 5-2 and third place in the conference.

Georgia at Tennessee (Wednesday): An SEC East showdown. Georgia won yet another close game over the weekend, beating LSU on a last-second three. They have won five of their last six. Tennessee is really struggling lately, losing five of their last six and sitting at 2-4 in the conference. They need Chris Lofton back badly.

Creighton at Bradley (Wednesday): Key battle in the MVC, with at-large and conference standings implications. Creighton is tied for first in the conference at 8-3, and have won six of their last eight. Bradley didn’t look good at Missouri State over the weekend, and could really use a win here to get back on the right track.

Alabama at LSU (Wednesday): An SEC West battle between the two preseason favorites in a division that has been horrendous since the start of conference play. Alabama is 2-4 in the SEC, after their loss at home to Arkansas on Saturday. LSU is also 2-4 in the conference, and has lost three in a row since starting 13-4.

Texas at Texas Tech (Wednesday): Big 12 showdown in the Lone Star state. Texas is tied for first in the conference, and has won seven of their last nine. They are improving every game. Texas Tech fell to Missouri over the weekend after knocking off Kansas and Texas A&M in consecutive games.

Gonzaga at Stanford (Wednesday): Best non-conference match-up of the week. Gonzaga is sitting at 5-1 in the WCC, but need a quality road win after starting only 9-6 in non-conference play. Stanford is playing some of the best basketball in the country, winning six of their last seven and knocking off USC and UCLA in a four-day span.

Old Dominion at Drexel (Thursday): Another quality CAA game. Old Dominion has won two in a row to move to 7-3 in the conference, tied for third place. Drexel lost a tough one at home to league-leader VCU on Saturday, but they get big man Frank Elegar back from a one-game suspension and should bounce back here.

Washington State at Arizona (Thursday): Rematch of an overtime battle three weeks ago that Washington State won by four. The Cougars lost a heartbreaker to Oregon over the weekend in OT, but are still 6-3 in the Pac-10. Arizona was obliterated by North Carolina at home on Saturday, and is only 5-4 in the conference. They need a victory.

Duke at Virginia (Thursday): Third place is up for grabs in the ACC in this one. Duke has won five in a row since their 0-2 start to conference play, and might be hitting their stride at the right time. Virginia has won four in a row, including back-to-back road victories over NC State and Clemson. Both teams are 5-2 in conference.

Oregon at UCLA (Thursday): First-place in the Pac-10 is on the line in the best game of the week. Oregon bounced back from only their second loss of the season with a comeback win at Washington State in overtime. UCLA blew a big first-half lead at Stanford on Sunday to fall back into a tie with the Ducks at 7-2.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Power Sweet Sixteen Rankings

Another big weekend in college basketball, another shake-up in the rankings. Several bubble teams made moves--one way or the other. Some top teams picked up big wins, while others had some tough defeats that could cost them come Selection Sunday. With UCLA losing, who gets the overall #1 seed? How far do the Bruins fall? What about Oregon and their up-and-down week? Does ACC leader Virginia Tech make the cut? All that and more in this week's March Madness All Season's Power Sweet Sixteen Rankings. One more note: these will be the last rankings I post this season, as next Monday marks the first weekly "Bracket Breakdown" of the year.

- Standard bracketing rules apply (no two teams from the same conference in the same half-bracket unless there are more than 8 teams, etc.)
- Numbers in parenthesis next to the team indicate what 1-16 ranking they are

San Antonio Region:
1. Florida (3)
2. Oregon (6)
3. Butler (11)
4. Texas A&M (14)

San Jose Region:
1. UCLA (4)
2. Pittsburgh (5)
3. Oklahoma State (12)
4. Virginia Tech (15)

East Rutherford Region:
1. North Carolina (1)
2. Ohio State (7)
3. Marquette (10)
4. Memphis (13)

St. Louis Region:
1. Wisconsin (2)
2. Kansas (8)
3. Duke (9)
4. Air Force (16)

17th Team: Washington State

Others Considered: Nevada, Arizona, Kentucky, Indiana, Texas Tech

Friday, January 26, 2007

Weekend Preview

With February soon upon us, it’s almost time for the stretch run in college basketball. We all know what that means—bubble talk, conference title races, key intra-conference match-ups, and NCAA Tournament discussion. Aside from the top teams in the big conferences facing off, there is always a quality contest between two teams trying to keep pace in the at-large hunt. There is no shortage of games like that this weekend, but the best game this week is an East vs. West non-conference shootout.

Top Games

Michigan at Indiana (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN): Big Ten bubble battle. Michigan has struggled mightily on the road, and against any true quality opponents, but could fill both of those voids with a win here. Dion Harris and Lester Abram lead the way on the perimeter, while Courtney Sims needs to step up his consistency down low. Indiana has improved mightily since the start of the season, and had won five in a row prior to their loss Tuesday and Illinois. D.J. White is starting to dominate the paint, and the Hoosiers have a very deep perimeter group led by Roderick Wilmont and Earl Calloway. Prediction: Indiana 64, Michigan 53

VCU at Drexel (Saturday, 12:00 PM, Regional TV):
Two of the best in the Colonial go head-to-head. VCU is rolling along in the CAA, sitting in first place at an undefeated 9-0. They are coming off of a big road win at George Mason. They have an outstanding three-man backcourt in B.A. Walker, Jesse Pellot-Rosa, and Eric Maynor, all of whom average over 14 points per game. Drexel had an excellent non-conference campaign, and are 7-2 in the CAA, in second place. Bashir Mason and Dominick Mejia lead the way on the perimeter, while Chaz Crawford is a very good rebounder and defender inside. The thing that will make the difference in this one is the fact that Drexel will be without post star Frank Elegar, who is suspended for one game. Prediction: VCU 72, Drexel 68

North Carolina at Arizona (Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS): The best game of the weekend, and definitely one of the fastest you’ll see all season. Both teams have outstanding offenses. North Carolina has bounced back from their loss at Virginia Tech, with three straight wins by an average of 22 points per game. Tyler Hansbrough and Brandan Wright form an outstanding interior duo, while Tywon Lawson and Wayne Ellington might be the best freshman backcourt in the land. Arizona has struggled in Pac-10 play, sitting at only 5-4. However, they are explosive on the offensive end, led by forwards Marcus Williams, Chase Budinger, and Ivan Radenovic. Mustafa Shakur is playing very well at the point. Prediction: Arizona 93, North Carolina 89 CLICK HERE FOR MY COMPLETE PREVIEW OF NORTH CAROLINA-ARIZONA

Villanova at Notre Dame (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN): Interesting game in the Big East. Villanova was only 1-3 in the Big East before their recent three-game winning streak over Notre Dame, Texas, and Providence. Scottie Reynolds has developed into a big-time scorer in the backcourt, while Curtis Sumpter might be the best player in the Big East when healthy. Mike Nardi is solid on the perimeter. Notre Dame was 13-1 before losing three of their last six. Russell Carter has become an outstanding scorer on the perimeter, and Rob Kurz is a load down low. Prediction: Villanova 70, Notre Dame 66

Air Force at BYU (Saturday, 6:00 PM, Regional TV): Underrated game in the Mountain West. Air Force has been one of the best teams in the country throughout the season with their efficient offense and slow tempo. Dan Nwaelele and Jacob Burtschi are two very versatile forwards who can shoot the ball very well. Matt McCraw and Tim Anderson are two more outstanding shooters in the backcourt. BYU, tied for second in the MWC at 4-2, has a 26-game home winning streak and is very tough to beat in Provo. The frontcourt duo of Trent Plaisted and Keena Young is one of the best in the conference, while Lee Cummard can do a variety of things from the guard position. Prediction: BYU 65, Air Force 61

Oregon at Washington State (Saturday, 10:00 PM, Regional TV): Two of the most surprising teams in the country do battle. Oregon is coming off of a road loss at Washington, a game in which Player of the Year candidate Aaron Brooks was suspended. Brooks leads an outstanding perimeter group that also includes Malik Hairson, Bryce Taylor, and Tajuan Porter. Maarty Leunen is solid down low. Washington State is 6-2 in the conference, tied with Oregon for second. Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver form an excellent backcourt duo, and Daven Harmeling and Ivory Clark cause mismatches at forward. Prediction: Washington State 73, Oregon 67

Tennessee at Kentucky (Sunday, 1:00 PM, CBS):
Two SEC East teams jockeying for position, and both headed in the wrong direction. Tennessee has lost four of five, and is only 2-3 in the SEC. Moreover, star guard Chris Lofton might not be available for this game because of injury. JaJuan Smith and Ramar Smith (no relation) form a solid backcourt, and Duke Crews is an athletic big man up front. Kentucky is on a two-game losing streak, and need a win. Randolph Morris is a dominating big man at times down low, while Joe Crawford and Ramel Bradley have provided scoring punch from the perimeter. Prediction: Kentucky 72, Tennessee 64

Boston College at Duke (Sunday, 5:30 PM, FSN): Two teams looking to chase North Carolina in the ACC standings. Actually, BC is in first place currently, at 6-1, but shot-blocker extraordinaire Sean Williams was kicked off the team, and the team looks like it may struggle. Jared Dudley might be the best all-around player in the country, while Sean Marshall and Tyrese Rice form a very good backcourt. Duke is coming off of a controversial win over Clemson on Thursday. DeMarcus Nelson and Jon Scheyer have developed into a quality wing duo for the Blue Devils, while Josh McRoberts is an all-around stat-stuffer up front. Prediction: Duke 75, Boston College 69

UCLA at Stanford (Sunday, 8:00 PM, FSN):
Another Pac-10 showdown. UCLA has been one of the best teams in the country all season, and has arguably the #1 overall profile in the country. They are 7-1 in the conference. Darren Collison and Arron Afflalo form one of the nation’s best backcourts, both offensively and defensively, and Josh Shipp is another scorer on the wing. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a versatile performer up front. Stanford has surprised some this season, and is sitting at 5-3 in the Pac-10. The Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, have been outstanding down low, and Brook is coming off of a triple-double against USC. Anthony Goods is a solid perimeter player, and Lawrence Hill is a very good scorer. Prediction: UCLA 68, Stanford 67

Other Games to Watch

Providence at Connecticut (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Both teams are in need of a win to stay remotely in the at-large hunt. Providence has lost three of four since starting the season 12-3. Connecticut does not look like an NCAA Tournament team at all, losing six of their past eight. Prediction: Connecticut 70, Providence 63

George Washington at Rhode Island (Saturday, 2:00 PM, Regional TV): Battle for first place in the Atlantic-10 standings. George Washington has followed up last season’s outstanding campaign with a 14-4 record, winning seven of their last eight. Rhode Island has been a surprise at 6-1 in the conference. Prediction: Rhode Island 82, George Washington 78

Indiana State at Creighton (Saturday, 2:05 PM, Regional TV): One of several MVC showdowns this week. Indiana State needs this win to get back into the conference and at-large race, as they have lost four in a row to drop to 10-8 overall. Creighton beat Missouri State on the road Wednesday to move to 7-3 in the MVC. Prediction: Creighton 71, Indiana State 59

Illinois at Purdue (Saturday, 2:30 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Another bubble battle in the Big Ten. Illinois picked up a big home win over Indiana to move to 3-4 in the conference, but have still lost five of their last eight. Purdue is only 2-4 in the Big Ten, and are also struggling, losing three of their past four. Prediction: Purdue 64, Illinois 57

Arkansas at Alabama (Saturday, 3:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): The SEC West has been fairly atrocious since the start of conference play, and these two really need this game. Arkansas has lost four of five since their victory over Alabama on January 6th, while Alabama has lost three of their last five by an average of 24 points. Prediction: Alabama 76, Arkansas 70

Texas Tech at Missouri (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt):
Can Texas Tech keep their winning streak going? The Red Raiders have pulled off back-to-back wins over Kansas and Texas A&M. Missouri has struggled since the start of Big 12 play, but is 11-2 at home, with the losses by a combined five points. Prediction: Missouri 74, Texas Tech 69

Florida at Auburn (Saturday, 5:00 PM, Regional TV):
Potential upset in the SEC. Florida is one of the best teams in the country, and remains a favorite to win repeat national championships. Auburn is coming off of a blowout win over Alabama, and has also knocked off Tennessee and Vanderbilt at home. Prediction: Florida 77, Auburn 71

USC at California (Saturday, 6:00 PM, Regional TV): Two teams looking to get back in the win column. USC didn’t play well at all against Stanford on Thursday, dropping to 5-3 in the conference. California has lost two in a row after their 4-2 Pac-10 start, and might be feeling the loss of Devon Hardin. Prediction: USC 66, California 62

Syracuse at Louisville (Saturday, 7:00 PM, ESPN):
Two teams in the Big East looking to stay within a game of Pittsburgh. Syracuse loss at St. John’s last Sunday after a four-game winning streak put them in the thick of things. Louisville has really played well lately, winning nine of their last eleven. Prediction: Louisville 75, Syracuse 70

Bradley at Missouri State (Saturday, 8:05 PM): Big-time bubble game in the MVC. Bradley has won five of six after starting the conference season 1-3 to move into fourth place. Missouri State is struggling lately, losers of four of their last five to move back to 5-5 in the MVC after their 12-3 start. Prediction: Missouri State 81, Bradley 68

Michigan State at Ohio State (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN2): If this game was in East Lansing, it might be a lot more interesting. Michigan State has won four in a row to position themselves in the at-large discussion, while Ohio State is attempting to keep pace with Wisconsin in the Big Ten title race. Prediction: Ohio State 72, Michigan State 61

Virginia at Clemson (Sunday, 1:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): All of a sudden, this is a very interesting game. Virginia has won three in a row to move to 4-2 in the ACC, and is flying under the radar. Clemson has lost three of four since their 17-0 start, and the Tigers are now only 4-3 in the conference standings. Prediction: Clemson 79, Virginia 69

DePaul at West Virginia (Sunday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Big-time bubble game in the Big East. DePaul absolutely needs this game to stay in the discussion, as they have lost two in a row to fall to 11-9 overall and 3-4 in the conference. West Virginia has lost three of their last five, but is very tough to beat at home. Prediction: West Virginia 75, DePaul 64

LSU at Georgia (Sunday, 3:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt): Two teams in the SEC going in opposite directions. LSU, a preseason candidate to reach the Final Four, is sitting at 2-3 in the conference after dropping back-to-back games by double digits. Georgia has won four of five, and is a controversial Ronald Steele buzzer-beater from 5-1 in the SEC. Prediction: Georgia 80, LSU 74

Virginia Tech at Georgia Tech (Sunday, 3:30 PM, FSN):
Interesting battle in the ACC. Virginia Tech is a half-game out of first in the conference standings, and has won 11 of their last 13 games. Georgia Tech really needs a win here to stay in the at-large race, as they are only 2-4 in the ACC after being blown out in back-to-back road games. Prediction: Georgia Tech 78, Virginia Tech 76

Game of the Week: #4 North Carolina at #17 Arizona

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Game of the Week: #4 North Carolina at #17 Arizona (Saturday, January 27th, 1:00 PM, CBS)

With February soon upon us, it’s almost time for the stretch run in college basketball. We all know what that means—bubble talk, conference title races, key intra-conference match-ups, and NCAA Tournament discussion. Aside from the top teams in the big conferences facing off, there is always a quality contest between two teams trying to keep pace in the at-large hunt. There is no shortage of games like that this weekend, including Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech, Kentucky vs. Tennessee, Boston College heading to Duke, Michigan going to Indiana, and a host of Big East contests. However, the best game of the week is one that doesn’t involve conference play or standings positioning. It is one of the best non-conference games all year, North Carolina at Arizona. Two of the best offenses in the country will square off in what will likely be a game in the 90s. Fasten your seatbelts—it’s going to be one of the fastest games you will see all season.

Team Capsules

North Carolina is the deepest and possibly the most talented team in the country, which has helped in leading the Tar Heels to a top-five ranking and a favorite for a #1 seed come March. They are explosive on the offensive end, and have improved their defense drastically over the past few weeks. Ranked #2 in the RPI, the 17-2 (4-1 in the ACC) Tar Heels have been near the top of the rankings all season long. They opened the season with three victories, most notably over Winthrop, but lost their next one to Gonzaga in New York City. UNC bounced back to string together 12 consecutive wins, including victories over Tennessee, Ohio State, Kentucky, and Florida State. After their disappointing loss at Virginia Tech two weeks ago, the Tar Heels have dominated their competition recently, winning at Clemson and over Georgia Tech by a combined 38 points. UNC is only 1-2 in true road games this season, which could mean trouble on Saturday. The Tar Heels average almost 88 points per game, best in the ACC and 2nd in the country. They allow just under 66 a contest. According to Ken Pomeroy, North Carolina has the 4th-most efficient offense and the 2nd-most efficient defense.

Arizona has arguably the best starting five in the country on the offensive end, and that talent has translated into a very good (albeit inconsistent) season thus far. However, they really struggle on the defensive end at times, which will need to improve if they are to make a deep run in March. Ranked #3 in the RPI, the 13-5 (4-4 in the Pac-10) Wildcats opened the season with a tough loss at Virginia, but then ran off 12 straight victories, including victories over UNLV, Illinois, Washington, and Memphis. However, they have lost four of five since then, including three straight contests. The Wildcats have struggled on the road so far this season (4-4), and are 7th in the conference standings. They average over 84 points per game, good enough for the nation’s #7 scoring offense—and best in the Pac-10. On the other hand, they give up over 74 a contest, which is next-to-last in the conference. Ken Pomeroy has the Wildcats as the most efficient offensive team in the country, but the 80th -most efficient defensive team.

North Carolina Team Breakdown

After last season’s success, in which the Tar Heels surprised everyone by replacing four lottery picks and receiving a #3 seed in the NCAA Tournament, North Carolina is even better this year. They are terrific on the offensive end, nearly unstoppable in an up-tempo game, and also very efficient in the half-court. The Tar Heels are ridiculously deep, with ten guys averaging at least 12 minutes per game, and another two getting at least seven a contest. Defensively, they have improved greatly since the start of the season, and have held 12 of their last 13 opponents to below 70 points. They have athletes and talent up and down their roster, meaning they don’t see a lot of mismatches on the defensive end. They might be the most complete team in the country.

North Carolina’s frontcourt is one of the best in the country, and the Tar Heels revolve around their trio up front. It all starts with Tyler Hansbrough. My preseason pick for National Player of the Year, Hansbrough is a beast on the interior. He is absolutely relentless around the basket, and never stops working when he is on the floor. He is very efficient shooting the ball and is a dominant scorer and rebounder. With more help inside this season, Hansbrough has had an even better season but has received less recognition due to his outstanding supporting cast. Brandan Wright has been one of the best freshmen in the country, and looks like a sure-fire lottery pick. He is extremely long and athletic, and is an excellent shot-blocker and rebounder. Wright is very efficient scoring the ball inside due to his finishing ability and variety of post moves. Additionally, Wright is outstanding at running the floor and getting points in transition. He had scored in double-digits in every game this season prior to a nine-point showing against Georgia Tech this weekend. Reyshawn Terry is vastly underrated on a national level, even though his numbers have gone down since last season. He is very smooth on the offensive end, and has the ability to shoot from long-range as well as drive along the baseline for baskets. Terry has been wildly inconsistent this year, however. He has scored in double-figures in only two of his last nine games—after averaging almost 14 a game over the previous four contests. He still is one of the best shooters in the conference, and is also a very good defender. Leading the way off the bench are wings Marcus Ginyard and Danny Green. Both are swingmen, with the ability to play both shooting guard and small forward. Ginyard is a lock-down defender who is very athletic and can really shut down the opposing team’s best scorer. He is also very long, which helps him rack up steals and rebounds. Green is a better offensive player, but he also is a very good defender. He can shoot the three with efficiency, and is one of the best free-throw shooters in the ACC. Green can do a little bit of everything on the court. Inside, Deon Thompson gets the majority of the bench minutes. He is a physical player who has shown the ability to get points and rebounds. Alex Stepheson also sees playing time.

The backcourt for the Tar Heels is also extremely deep and talented. Tywon Lawson and Wayne Ellington form one of the best freshmen backcourt duos in the country. Lawson is an extremely quick, explosive point guard who has improved in many ways since the start of the season. He loves to push the ball in the open court so he can use his speed and vision to get easy assists. Lawson is a good defender who can disrupt an opponent’s offense with his ball pressure. He does not turn the ball over much, and is a big-time playmaker. Ellington is a shooter, plain and simple. He has one of the nicest strokes in college basketball this season, which has helped him shoot over 40% from beyond the arc. However, in his last five games, he has hit only 6 of 23 three-point attempts (26%). However, he is also a solid rebounder and passer who can really fill it up if he gets hot from outside. He is third on the team in scoring, and has scored in double-figures thirteen times this season. Ginyard and Green can swing to the backcourt off the bench to provide defense and size. Bobby Frasor and Quentin Thomas help out at the point guard spot. Frasor started last season for Roy Williams, and provides a steady influence at that position. However, he has been hobbled much of the season by an injury, which has forced Thomas to get more minutes. Thomas is extremely quick who can penetrate into the lane and get assists. He sometimes tries to do too much, leading to a turnover. Wes Miller is a very good three-point shooter who has seen his minutes and three-point percentage drop drastically this season.

Arizona Team Breakdown

Arizona has been one of the best teams in college basketball at times this season, even after a disappointing season last year in which they backed into the NCAA Tournament and lost in the second round to Villanova. Moreover, the Wildcats also lost NBA Draft Pick Hassan Adams, but still have played much better than last season. They have one of the best and most balanced (four guys with at least 14.5 points per game, and another averaging 11.6) offenses in the country, and love to get out and push the ball to get points. The Wildcats don’t press on the defensive end, but have the best running game in the country. No team will beat Arizona if it is a high-scoring contest.

The frontcourt of Arizona is one of the most talented and versatile in the country. Senior Ivan Radenovic, sophomore Marcus Williams, and freshman Chase Budinger form an excellent trio capable of matching up with most frontcourts and creating mismatches all over the floor. Radenovic has had a breakout season so far this year, leading the team in rebounding while also placing second in points and assists. He is a very good inside-outside scorer who can shoot the ball with efficiency and also bang on the interior. He is one of the most difficult match-ups in the Pac-10 due to his versatility. Radenovic is also one of the best 6-10 free-throw shooters you will find, hitting his shots at a 90% clip from the line. Williams had a great finish to last season, and has carried that over to this year. He is an outstanding inside-outside player who is one of the best scorers in the conference. His three-point shooting has gone down from last season, but he is better inside the arc this year. He is also a good defender. Williams is averaging almost 22 points per game in Pac-10 play, and is shooting 55% from the field during that span. He has been somewhat inconsistent at times this season, but is definitely hitting his stride when it counts. Budinger has been one of the major impact freshmen this season in college basketball. He has scored double-figure points in every game except three so far—but two of them were in Pac-10 play, which could mean he might be hitting a wall. He is averaging only 10.4 points over his last five games. However, he has shown the ability to score in a variety of ways and is exciting to watch. He is also a solid rebounder and an excellent passer. The supremely athletic Budinger was called the most talented recruit to ever play at Arizona by Lute Olson. Jordan Hill and Brett Brielmaier provide depth off the bench, but play less than ten minutes per game.

Arizona’s backcourt is also one of the best in the country, and is much improved over last season. The key to it all has been the play of point guard Mustafa Shakur. After not living up to his high school hype during his first three years at Arizona, Shakur has been one of the best point guards in the country this season, ranking third in the nation in assists at just under 8 per game while also putting up over 14 points per game. Shakur is a very capable three-point shooter and a good defender who is at his best when leading the fast break for the Wildcats. His ability to take care of the ball and find open teammates has been the main reason for the great start of Arizona. His backcourt partner is Jawann McClellan. The 6-5 junior was primed for a big season after playing in only two games last season due to injury. He has enormous potential and is very athletic. Moreover, McClellan is an excellent three-point shooter and has already made more threes this year than he did during his entire freshman season. His defense and rebounding are also solid. However, he is 0 for 15 from long-range in his last five games, and is averaging only 7.2 points per game in that span. Like the frontcourt, the backcourt for the Wildcats lacks quality depth. Freshman Nic Wise provides a couple of minutes of rest for Shakur at the point, while Daniel Dillon is a very good defender who can lockdown opponents off the bench.

Match-Up Analysis

If you like lots of scoring, this is the game for you. If you like up-tempo basketball with back and forth offense, this is the game for you. If you don’t, and just like to see two Final Four contenders go at it—and who doesn’t?—this is also the game for you. In other words, don’t miss this one. Both teams love to get up and down the floor to get points in transition, and would rather have the game in the 80s and 90s than the 60s. Luckily for them, I don’t see either team attempting to slow the game down. There are several outstanding match-ups all over the court. The frontcourt battles will be outstanding, especially between Brandan Wright and Marcus Williams, and Tyler Hansbrough and Ivan Radenovic. The quickness at point guard of Mustafa Shakur and Tywon Lawson will be a thing of beauty, as well.

If Arizona is going to knock off the Tar Heels, they will need to do several things. Obviously, they are going to need to play some sort of defense. They were better against UCLA this past weekend, but the Wildcats still struggle immensely on that side of the ball. They are awful in the man-to-man, but have a decent zone that they have used several times in recent games. However, their athleticism and quickness could be key against North Carolina’s up-tempo offense. UNC would rather push the ball in transition, which could play into Arizona’s hands. If the Wildcats don’t have to lock down defensively in the half-court, they have an advantage right away. Offensively, they are going to need to take advantage of their mismatches. Ivan Radenovic is too quick for Tyler Hansbrough, and could take him outside to open up the lane for the other Wildcats. Moreover, if Marcus Williams and Chase Budinger can get Brandan Wright away from the paint defensively, UNC will really struggle to stop dribble penetration. Virginia Tech killed North Carolina with penetration and transition points, which is exactly what Arizona likes to do. Defensively, Radenovic and Williams will need to stop Hansbrough and Wright. Neither is especially adept on that side of the ball, which could mean a long day with the dominating big man of the Tar Heels. Moreover, Shakur can’t allow Lawson to beat him back in transition for easy baskets.

For North Carolina to win on the road, they will have to stop Arizona’s outstanding offense. The Tar Heels play better defense than the Wildcats, but that won’t mean too much in a game that is guaranteed to have at least 170 points combined between the two teams. However, once Arizona gets into a half-court setting, North Carolina should be able to get key stops late in the game. Marcus Ginyard, Danny Green, and Reyshawn Terry are athletic wing players who are exactly the type of players needed to slow down Arizona’s outstanding perimeter guys. Moreover, Lawson is quick and a pest on the defensive end, which could disrupt Shakur and the Wildcats offense. Wright’s shot-blocking will be big as well. UNC really locked down in the second half against Clemson and Georgia Tech, and will need to do the same here. Offensively, their main mission will be to get the ball to Hansbrough and Wright. Arizona simply won’t be able to stop them. Hansbrough is way too strong for Radenovic, and could dominate the paint for the Tar Heels. Wright is very long and athletic, which could spell trouble for Williams or Budinger. Moreover, the Tar Heels need to try to wear out Arizona. UNC goes 10-12 deep every night, while each of Arizona’s starters average over 30 minutes per game. If the Wildcats have foul trouble, that will be huge for UNC. In the end, despite North Carolina’s seemingly huge advantage inside and on the bench, Arizona’s home-court advantage and scoring balance will be too much for North Carolina to handle. Plus, the Wildcats absolutely need this win. I have to give the edge to a desperate team at home.

Prediction: Arizona 93, North Carolina 89

Prediction Record: 6-2

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Thursday, January 25th Predictions

Prediction Record: 298-136

Winthrop at High Point- Prediction: Winthrop 68, High Point 66
Clemson at Duke- Prediction: Duke 74, Clemson 64
Oakland at Oral Roberts- Prediction: Oral Roberts 77, Oakland 69
UCLA at California- Prediction: UCLA 71, California 67
USC at Stanford- Prediction: Stanford 65, USC 62
Oregon at Washington- Prediction: Oregon 82, Washington 76

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

NCAA Tournament Stock Report

Welcome to the first installment of March Madness All Season’s new feature, “NCAA Tournament Stock Report”. Essentially, it is a compilation of teams that are rising and falling with an eye on the NCAA Tournament. It will discuss teams whose potential seed is rising or falling, as well as clubs that are making moves either in or out of the at-large picture.

Once we get closer to March, this will be replaced with “Road to Selection Sunday”, which will be released every Sunday night from mid-February until March 11th.


Virginia Tech: Picked up wins over Duke and North Carolina two weeks ago, and also got two tough victories at home over Maryland and at Miami (Fl.). Could be a contender in the ACC race.

Marquette: Pitt might now have some competition for the Big East title. Marquette has won five in a row after starting the conference season 0-2, including a road victory this past weekend in Pittsburgh.

Louisville: Could the Cardinals be moving back into the discussion for the NCAA Tournament? They have won four of their last five in Big East play, including a road win at DePaul and dominant home victories over Providence and Connecticut.

Villanova: Another Big East team looking much better lately. Since starting 0-2, the Wildcats have won on the road at Providence and Georgetown and also beat Texas and Notre Dame at home.

Texas Tech: With Bobby Knight’s record-breaking campaign, the actual play of the Red Raiders has been overshadowed. They have won 6 of 7, including back-to-back home wins over Kansas and Texas A&M, and are now in 1st place in the Big 12.

Indiana: Despite their loss at Illinois on Tuesday, the Hoosiers look like a team that could make noise in March. They had won five in a row prior to the loss, with wins at Connecticut, and over Michigan State.

Stanford: The Cardinal are positioning themselves to be in the at-large hunt come March. They are 4-3 in the Pac-10, and have won four of five, including a victory over Washington State.

USC: The Trojans are four points away from being undefeated in the Pac-10. They have won four of their last five, including a road win at Oregon and a home victory over Arizona. Looking like a tough out.

Washington State: The Cougars could make a case for a top-four seed at this point in the season. They are 5-2 in the conference, with road wins at USC and at Cal, as well as a home win over Arizona.

Vanderbilt: Like every year, the Commodores are making their way onto the bubble. This could be different, though. They have won four of their last five, with home wins over Alabama and Tennessee, and road wins over Kentucky and LSU.

Georgia: The Bulldogs are another SEC team making moves. They have won four of five, with the lone loss at Alabama on a questionable buzzer-beater. UGA has beat Vanderbilt, Arkansas, and Kentucky in their recent streak.


Maryland: Despite their win Wednesday over Georgia Tech, the Terrapins are still only 2-4 in the conference and had lost three of their previous four, including a home loss to Miami. They need to finish very strong in their last ten.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets seemed to be hitting their stride after beating Duke and Florida State. However, they have been blown out in back-to-back road games to UNC and Maryland to drop to 2-4 in the ACC.

Boston College: The Eagles are still 6-1 in the ACC and in first place in the conference. However, since Sean Williams and Akida McClain were kicked off the team, they were blown out at Clemson and needed a buzzer beater to beat Florida State at home.

Providence: The Friars were in the thick of the at-large discussion only a few weeks ago. However, they have lost three of four, including a road loss at Seton Hall. Four of their next five are on the road, which could spell doom.

West Virginia: The Mountaineers were the talk of the Big East after their 3-0 start, but they are 1-3 since then, with a loss to Cincinnati being the latest defeat. They need to win on the road.

Notre Dame: The losses for the Irish keep mounting, on and off the court. They have lost two of three, and have yet to win on the road this season. Moreover, point guard Kyle McAlarney was dismissed from the school on Tuesday.

Connecticut: At this rate, UConn won’t make the NCAA Tournament. Who would have thought that heading into the season? They have lost six of eight, and are now 2-4 in the Big East. Their at-large chances are fading fast.

DePaul: The Blue Demons’ inconsistency is catching up to them. After their loss to Georgetown, DePaul is now 11-9 overall and 3-4 in the Big East. With three of their next four on the road, this team could be done.

Arizona: The Wildcats still have some of the best computer numbers in the country, but their 5-4 Pac-10 record isn’t getting them anywhere. They have lost four of six, and are playing awful defense.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide simply can’t win away from home. They are 2-3 in the SEC, with all three losses coming on the road—by an average of 24 points per game. If that keeps up, the Tide are going to be an early out in March.

LSU: Another SEC favorite that has faltered since conference play started. The Tigers have not played well at all lately, including their disappointing loss at home to Vanderbilt Wednesday. Big Baby and co. need to right the ship immediately.

Arkansas: Does anyone want to win the SEC West? Anyone? The Razorbacks have lost four of five, including one on the road Wednesday at SEC East bottom-feeder South Carolina. No SEC West team has won a conference game on the road yet.

Tennessee: The Volunteers seemed to be hitting their stride after winning nine in a row. However, they lost their next three road games by a combined six points, and barely escaped South Carolina at home. The loss at Ole Miss Wednesday didn’t help.

Wichita State: Who would’ve thought the Shockers would be out of the MVC race before the end of January? They have lost 8 of 12, and are now only 4-6 in the conference. They only have three MVC road games left, but they are struggling.

Indiana State: Any at-large hopes the Sycamores had this season are pretty much gone after their four-game losing streak, including a home loss Wednesday to Evansville. 10-8 overall and 4-5 in the MVC aren’t cutting it.

Missouri State: The Bears were looking very good, at 12-3 overall and 4-1 in the MVC, on January 9th. However, since then, they have lost four of five, including two home losses. They are now only 5-5 in the MVC.

Wednesday, January 24th Predictions

Prediction Record: 293-132

VCU at George Mason- Prediction: George Mason 68, VCU 63
DePaul at Georgetown- Prediction: Georgetown 70, DePaul 62
Texas A&M at Texas Tech- Prediction: Texas A&M 66, Texas Tech 64
Texas at Nebraska- Prediction: Texas 74, Nebraska 70
Kentucky at Georgia- Prediction: Georgia 69, Kentucky 62
Vanderbilt at LSU- Prediction: LSU 67, Vanderbilt 60
Creighton at Missouri State- Prediction: Missouri State 75, Creighton 72
Michigan at Wisconsin- Prediction: Wisconsin 71, Michigan 57
Georgia Tech at Maryland- Prediction: Maryland 82, Georgia Tech 73

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Who's Got the Right Stuff?

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With a single look at the college basketball landscape this season, one thing is clear immediately: the parity is unbelievable. On any given night, there are probably about forty or fifty teams that can beat one another. And honestly, that really isn’t too much of an exaggeration. Just take a look at the RPI rankings for a few examples. USC, the #60 team in the RPI, has wins over Arizona (#3), Oregon (#12), and was one point from defeating UCLA (#1). Want to go a step further? Look at Utah, the #147th ranked team in the latest RPI. They beat #8 Air Force and #24 Washington State. In other words, this college basketball season has been one of the most unpredictable ones in recent memory.

Once we get into March, it will get even more unpredictable. A one-game series on a neutral court? Anything can happen. Moreover, with the parity this season, there are more teams with a legit shot at getting to the Final Four than ever before. No team is perfect and every team has weaknesses. But that’s what makes March Madness fun, right?

Here’s a look at the teams that I could foresee making a run to Atlanta in early April:

North Carolina: Arguably the most talented and deepest team in the country. Tyler Hansbrough is one of the best low-post scorers in America, and works very hard for his points and rebounds. Brandan Wright is a sure-fire lottery pick and creates mismatches up front with his athleticism. Reyshawn Terry is an underrated all-around player, while freshman guard Tywon Lawson helps to form an excellent backcourt. Danny Green and Marcus Ginyard are defensive stoppers, and Bobby Frasor and Quentin Thomas give a veteran hand in the backcourt. Alex Stepheson provides depth up front. Youth and inexperience might be the only two things that can stop the Tar Heels.

Pittsburgh: Despite their loss at home to Marquette, this team is loaded. Aaron Gray is a force in the paint and gets a double-double nearly every night. Levon Kendall is a versatile big man, while Tyrell Biggs and Sam Young are solid off the bench. Levance Fields has been an excellent point guard replacing Carl Krauser, while Mike Cook has provided the Panthers with the wing scorer they’ve been lacking in recent years. Ronald Ramon is a very steady combo guard, and Antonio Graves has blossomed in his senior year. However, their perimeter scoring is somewhat inconsistent and they lack interior rebounding and production outside of Gray.

Marquette: They say guards win in March, and if that’s the case, the Golden Eagles are in good shape. Dominic James is an explosive point guard who is not afraid of contact. Jerel McNeal is an excellent all-around player who is very good on the defensive end and can also score, while Wesley Matthews is a nice inside-outside option on the wing that can produce in a variety of ways. Up front, Ousmane Barro is improving with every game, and Lazar Hayward and Dan Fitzgerald are two more versatile forwards. Throw in gunner David Cubbillan off the bench, and this team could beat anyone on a given night. On the other hand, despite their outstanding backcourt, they aren’t a very good shooting team, and they turn the ball over way too often.

Ohio State: Although the Buckeyes have not really looked overly impressive up to this point, Thad Matta will have this team ready. Greg Oden is a potentially dominant big man once he gets healthy, and he could lead this team to the promised land. Wings Daequan Cook and Ron Lewis are prolific scorers that can fill it up in a hurry. Mike Conley is extremely quick at the point, and senior Jamar Butler provides a steady hand in the backcourt. Othello Hunter and Ivan Harris provide quality depth up front, and David Lighty is very athletic on the wing. If Oden doesn’t become dominant down low, though, Ohio State will not be dancing in Atlanta. They are simply not good enough without him.

Wisconsin: One of my picks since before the season started, the Badgers are playing outstanding basketball. Alando Tucker is the favorite right now for National Player of the Year, and is the type of player that can carry a team to the Final Four. Kammron Taylor has the ability to score points in a hurry in the backcourt, and center Brian Butch has shown flashes of his talent in the paint. Michael Flowers is the “glue guy” for the Badgers on the perimeter, while Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft are versatile sophomore forwards. Greg Stiemsma and Jason Chappell are solid role players up front. The Badgers do lack a consistent second option, though. Taylor and Butch have stepped up at various points this season, but they need to do it more often. Wisconsin also needs to improve their three-point shooting.

Texas A&M: The Aggies have won nine in a row, all by double-digits, and are absolutely annihilating any team in their path. So why isn’t A&M getting national recognition as a title contender? Your guess is as good as mine. Acie Law and Joseph Jones form an outstanding inside-outside duo, and both are improving even more as the season is progressing. Josh Carter is an excellent shooter, and Dominique Kirk is a lockdown defender on the wing. Antanas Kavaliauskas has stepped up this season as a consistent scorer in the paint. Donald Sloan and Marlon Pompey have provided very solid help off the bench, and A&M might be the best defensive team in the nation. The Aggies do lack a deep bench, and are sometimes inconsistent on the offensive end of the floor, though.

Kansas: This is a team that can beat anyone on a given night (like Florida) and lose to anyone on a given night (like at home to Oral Roberts). However, when you have talent like the Jayhawks do, one can never count you out. Russell Robinson and Mario Chalmers might be the best defensive backcourt in the country, and freshman Sherron Collins is playing the best of anyone on the team right now. Brandon Rush is a potentially explosive scorer, but needs to become more aggressive. Julian Wright is one of the best all-around players in the Big 12, and Darrell Arthur is a definite pro prospect off the bench. Sasha Kaun is a solid scorer and rebounder down low, and Darnell Jackson can bang. This team sometimes lacks focus, though, and also does not have a go-to-guy down the stretch.

UCLA: The Bruins were #1 in the polls for much of the season, and are still the clear-cut #1 in the RPI. With the kind of defense they play, don’t count out a return trip to the title game. Arron Afflalo and Darren Collison form one of the best backcourts in the country. Afflalo is an outstanding two-way player who can light it up at one end and lock it down on the other, while Collison is a pest defensively and a good playmaker offensively. Throw in Josh Shipp, and the Bruins have an excellent perimeter. Luc Richard Mbah a Moute is a very good rebounder and a mismatch at times, and Lorenzo Mata is a good rebounder and defender down low. Alfred Aboya comes off the bench up front, and Russell Westbrook and Michael Roll provide quality depth in the backcourt. UCLA is not very explosive offensively, though, and they struggle against athletic wings.

Oregon: The one big surprise on this list, in terms of the preseason until now. The Ducks are finally playing to their talent level, and luckily for them, that talent level is extremely high. They are similar to Villanova of last season, in that they play with four perimeter players and a post player. Aaron Brooks is a legit candidate for National Player of the Year after a wildly inconsistent first three years of his career. Bryce Taylor and Chamberlain Oguchi are very good shooters on the wing, and 5-6 freshman Tajuan Porter has shown the ability to fill it up in a hurry. Malik Hairston might be the most talented player on the team, and post player Maarty Leunen averages a double-double every night out. However, the Ducks do lack NCAA Tournament experience, and could struggle against teams with dominant post players.

Arizona: It’s a known fact that defense wins championships, and teams that only excel on the offensive end won’t make it too far in March. If that’s the case, the Wildcats need to improve greatly between now and the NCAA Tournament if they want to make run. They have one of the best offenses I’ve ever seen, with five guys capable of scoring 25-plus on a given night. Mustafa Shakur might be playing the best of any point guard in the country, while forwards Chase Budinger and Marcus Williams are explosive point-producers and can create mismatches. Jawann McClellan is an athletic wing that can shoot. Ivan Radenovic is an inside-outside player who can be a matchup nightmare for most opponents. As we stated before, though, Arizona really struggles on the defensive end, and the Wildcats also have a severe lack of quality depth.

Florida: Any team that won the National Championship last year and returns all five starters is still a candidate to make a return trip in my book. It also helps that the Gators are 17-2 and the clear-cut favorite to win the SEC. Al Horford and Joakim Noah form one of the better post duos in the country. Horford is an underrated rebounder and shot-blocker who can also score, while Noah is explosive at both ends. Corey Brewer is very versatile, and might be the best defender around. Taurean Green is a very steady point guard who can fill it up, and Lee Humphrey is a great long-range shooter. Walter Hodge is a very quick guard off the bench, and Chris Richard and Marreese Speights provide great depth up front. However, it is always difficult for a team to win back-to-back titles, and the Gators don’t play to their potential all the time.

Don’t forget these teams either:

Duke: Don’t count out a team coached by Mike Krzyzewski. Josh McRoberts is an all-around talent up front, and DeMarcus Nelson can do a lot of things on the wing. The Blue Devils also play very good half-court defense. They do lack athleticism and consistent scoring, though.

Georgia Tech: Although the Yellow Jackets are young, they have a lot of talent, and have quality pieces at nearly every position. Tech has athletes and scorers up and down their roster, but they struggle to score in the halfcourt. They also need to improve their defense.

Indiana: The Hoosiers are improving with every game, and have looked outstanding lately. D.J. White is potentially dominant down low, and they have a deep perimeter group. Indiana is also very good defensively. Their three-point shooting and half-court offense are somewhat inconsistent.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys have been blown out by both Texas A&M and Kansas, but they have one of the best inside-outside combos in the country in JamesOn Curry and Mario Boggan. The Cowboys are also solid defensively. If they get healthy and improve their depth, look out.

Washington State: The Cougars might be the biggest surprise this season. They have a legit shot to get a very good seed in March, thanks to their outstanding defense and Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver in the backcourt. They don’t have a very explosive offense, however.

USC: The Trojans started off somewhat inconsistent in non-conference play, but have improved greatly with the return of Gabe Pruitt. USC has wings galore, and Taj Gibson down low. They do struggle to score at times, and they don’t have a true point guard on the roster.

Southern Illinois: They might be the best defensive team in the country outside of Texas A&M. Jamaal Tatum is a good scorer, and Matt Shaw is an inside-outside threat up front. They do have long droughts offensively at times, though, which will hurt them come March.

Alabama: They seemingly have all the pieces for a deep Tournament run, except consistency and the ability to win away from home. The key thing for the Crimson Tide is to get Ronald Steele healthy. If he is not 100% in the Tournament, they will be a prime upset pick early.

Nevada: The Wolf Pack is coming off of a loss to New Mexico State, but they are lurking out West. Nick Fazekas is one of the best players in the country, and Marcelus Kemp can really score. Moreover, they are experienced. They do struggle against athletic, up-tempo teams however.

Air Force: AFA loves to slow down the pace of the game, and they are extremely efficient shooting the ball. They also take care of the ball, which is crucial in March. The Falcons have struggled somewhat recently, though, as teams are able to adapt to their style of play. If their shots aren’t falling, they will be gone early.

Gonzaga: Despite the fact that they are really struggling lately, the Bulldogs are sleepers in March. They have a great inside-outside duo in Derek Raivio and Josh Heytvelt, and they have lots of depth all over the roster. However, they have struggled against more athletic teams and are inconsistent scoring the ball.

Texas: I’m just not going to count out a team led by Kevin Durant. I just can’t do it. He is nearly impossible to stop on the offensive end, and can definitely Carmelo Anthony the Longhorns deep into March. Throw in D.J. Augustin, the best freshman point guard in the country, and this team is tough. They are very young, though.

Tuesday, January 23rd Predictions

Prediction Record: 290-130

Indiana at Illinois- Prediction: Indiana 67, Illinois 64
Florida State at Boston College- Prediction: Boston College 71, Florida State 66
Villanova at Providence- Prediction: Providence 74, Villanova 65
Northern Iowa at Southern Illinois- Prediction: Southern Illinois 55, Northern Iowa 49
San Diego State at UNLV- Prediction: UNLV 78, San Diego State 72

Monday, January 22, 2007

Monday, January 22nd Predictions

Prediction Record: 289-130

For a complete rundown of this week's top games, click here.

Connecticut at Louisville- Prediction: Louisville 72, Connecticut 66

The Week Ahead

With a couple of weeks already finished in conference play, teams are starting to separate themselves from the pack in some leagues. Moreover, with less than two months until Selection Sunday, it is time to start building up resumes and at-large profiles for the Committee to look at. That means that every game is becoming more and more important. This week is no different.

Connecticut at Louisville (Monday): Both teams in need of a win. Louisville still has hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid, but they need some quality wins. Connecticut would not be in the Big Dance if the season ended today, and they need to start picking up wins. The loser could be out of the at-large hunt for now.

Indiana at Illinois (Tuesday): Two teams fighting for bids in the Big Ten. Indiana is looking like the #3 team in the conference, and are on a five-game winning streak. Illinois has lost five of their last seven, and could be on the outside looking in come Selection Sunday. They really need a victory here. Oh, and don't forget the best storyline in the Big Ten 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.

Florida State at Boston College (Tuesday): Interesting ACC match-up. Florida State has won two in a row, including a victory over Virginia Tech. Boston College was 5-0 in the conference before being blown out by Clemson after the Eagles dismissed Sean Williams and Akida McClain. They need a win to boost their morale.

Villanova at Providence (Tuesday): Another Big East contest between two clubs looking for a win. Villanova is coming off two big wins over Notre Dame and Texas, and looks much improved. Providence has lost two of three since starting 12-3, and can’t lose at home to a fellow potential bubble team.

Northern Iowa at Southern Illinois (Tuesday): Another key contest in an unpredictable conference. Northern Iowa is back in first place after wins at Missouri State and over Bradley, while Southern Illinois is only a half-game back with their road win at Creighton. The winner will be atop the standings.

San Diego State at UNLV (Tuesday): Two teams looking to stay within striking distance of Air Force in the Mountain West. San Diego State has disappointed somewhat this season, but has won two of three. UNLV bounced back with two wins in the last week after dropping two conference contests.

VCU at George Mason (Wednesday): Look who’s back in the mix in the CAA. George Mason has won five in a row since starting the season 0-3, and has played well lately. VCU is still the conference leader at 8-0 in the league. GMU could really get some momentum with a victory.

DePaul at Georgetown (Wednesday): Two teams possibly headed in opposite directions. DePaul didn’t play in their home loss to Louisville this weekend, and now have three of their next four on the road. Georgetown won back-to-back road games last week, and is tied for third place in the Big East.

Texas A&M at Texas Tech (Wednesday): Could Texas Tech knock off the top two teams in the Big 12 in back-to-back games? The Red Raiders upset Kansas on Saturday, and could take over first place in the conference with a win. A&M has won nine in a row, including an 18-point thrashing of Oklahoma State on Saturday.

Texas at Nebraska (Wednesday): An intriguing game in the Big 12. Texas has lost two in a row, and Kevin Durant really struggled against Villanova on Saturday. Nebraska is only 1-2 in the conference this season, but the Cornhuskers are 9-0 at home and are very difficult to beat in Lincoln.

Kentucky at Georgia (Wednesday): An SEC East showdown. Kentucky was playing very well until their disappointing home loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday, snapping an 11-game winning streak. Georgia was a Ronald Steele buzzer-beater away from sweeping Arkansas and Alabama on the road last week.

Vanderbilt at LSU (Wednesday): Another quality SEC battle. Vanderbilt is one of the hottest teams around, with wins over Tennessee, Alabama, and Kentucky in their last four games. LSU was dominated by Arkansas on Saturday, but is still tied for first in the SEC West. They need a confidence boost, though.

Creighton at Missouri State (Wednesday): Two more solid teams in the MVC go head-to-head. Creighton lost a heart-breaker at home on Saturday to Southern Illinois, dropping them out of first place. Missouri State has been inconsistent lately, losing three of their last four to fall to 5-4 in the MVC.

Michigan at Wisconsin (Wednesday): If this game was in Ann Arbor, it would be a much closer contest. The Wolverines are tied for second in the Big Ten at 4-1 in the conference, but are only 2-3 on the road and really struggle away from home. Wisconsin is one of the best teams in the country, but has won four straight games by single-digits.

Georgia Tech at Maryland (Wednesday): Two below-.500 teams in the ACC not living up to expectations. Georgia Tech followed up wins over Duke and Florida State with a poor showing at North Carolina. Maryland is 1-4 in the conference after their loss to Virginia Tech, and they need a win.

Winthrop at High Point (Thursday): The top two teams in the Big South battle it out. Winthrop, at 5-0 in the conference, has lost three games to Top 10 teams this year, and the other one to Maryland. High Point, also at 5-0, is 11-0 at home this year and has won seven in a row heading into this week.

Clemson at Duke (Thursday):
Two teams in need of a win if they want to stay in the ACC title hunt. Clemson lost back-to-back games before destroying Boston College at home on Saturday by twenty. Duke bounced back from their 0-2 ACC start with three straight wins, albeit over the bottom-feeders in the conference.

Oakland at Oral Roberts (Thursday): The two best teams in the Mid-Continent go at it. Oakland is 5-0 in the conference, and played one of the most difficult non-league schedules around. Oral Roberts, also 5-0, has a win over Kansas and the league’s best player, Caleb Green, on their side.

UCLA at California (Thursday): The first of three big Pac-10 games on Thursday. UCLA might have the best resume in the country, and picked up a nice win over Arizona on Saturday. California has played well despite the loss of starting center Devon Hardin, but need a win here to stay in the at-large hunt.

USC at Stanford (Thursday): Two teams looking to keep up in the conference standings. USC has won four of their last five, with the lone loss a two-point defeat at the hands of UCLA last weekend. Stanford has been a surprise this season, but need to start picking up some quality wins for their resume.

Oregon at Washington (Thursday): This match-up looked much more important about a month ago. Since then, Washington has lost six of seven, and now sits at 1-6 in the Pac-10. On the other hand, Oregon has been one of the best teams in the country, with only a two-point loss to USC keeping them from an undefeated record.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Power Sweet Sixteen Rankings

With only one more week until February, the conference races are starting to heat up across the country. Moreover, with all the parity in college basketball, the debate about seedings and the NCAA Tournament is beginning extra early this season. With Pittsburgh and Kansas losing this weekend, who gets the #1 and #2 seeds? Where does Arizona fit in? In other words, how will this week's results affect March Madness All Season's Power Sweet Sixteen Rankings? I will post the rankings every Sunday until I begin to release complete brackets starting in February.

- Standard bracketing rules apply (no two teams from the same conference in the same half-bracket unless there are more than 8 teams, etc.)
- Numbers in parenthesis next to the team indicate what 1-16 ranking they are

San Antonio Region:
1. Florida (4)
2. Oregon (5)
3. Duke (12)
4. Butler (13)

San Jose Region:
1. UCLA (1)
2. Ohio State (8)
3. Marquette (11)
4. Oklahoma State (16)

East Rutherford Region:
1. North Carolina (3)
2. Pittsburgh (6)
3. Kansas (9)
4. Washington State (14)

St. Louis Region:
1. Wisconsin (2)
2. Texas A&M (7)
3. Air Force (10)
4. Clemson (15)

17th Team: Nevada

Others Considered: Arizona, Memphis, Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, Kentucky, Indiana