Friday, January 25, 2008

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. It also means important games every night between either top teams in the conference, or between two teams trying to keep pace in the at-large hunt. There is no shortage of games like that this weekend, but two of the best games might be a couple of non-conference shootouts. With no football to get in the way of quality college basketball, just sit back all weekend and bask in the hoops.

Top Games

Notre Dame (+2.5) at Villanova (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Two of the better teams in the Big East, but also two of the most inconsistent. Notre Dame has looked unbeatable at home, but extremely ordinary – and worse than that – on the road. The Irish have lost two of three by a combined 45 points after winning 10 in a row. They are led by the inside combo of Luke Harangody and Rob Kurz, while Kyle McAlarney is the go-to-guy in the backcourt. Villanova looked like it was gathering momentum – and then it went and lost to Rutgers by 12 on Wednesday. No matter which way you slice it, that is an embarrassing loss. ‘Nova is now just 3-3 in the Big East, with all three losses coming to sub-100 RPI teams. Scottie Reynolds is a very good scorer in the backcourt, while Dante Cunningham has been solid up front. Corey Fisher and Malcolm Grant form a nice freshmen guard duo. Prediction: Villanova 74, Notre Dame 64

Gonzaga (+12.5) at Memphis (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN): One of the more-anticipated non-conference match-ups every January or February. Gonzaga seems to have righted the ship after struggling in late December, winning six in a row, including four West Coast Conference games. Matt Bouldin and Jeremy Pargo form a dynamite backcourt, while Josh Heytvelt seems to be regaining some of his production from last season. Austin Daye is a supremely talented freshman. Memphis is one of the two undefeated teams left in the country, and the Tigers clearly have the best shot to end the regular season with zero losses. They didn’t play well in their win over Tulsa this week, but they still have had only one game in which they won by less than 10 points. Derrick Rose is one of the best point guards in the country, while Chris Douglas-Roberts has developed into a go-to-guy on the wing. Robert Dozier is a double-figure scorer up front, and Joey Dorsey is one of the best rebounders and shot-blockers in the country. Prediction: Memphis 79, Gonzaga 68

Connecticut (+8.5) at Indiana (Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS): Another very intriguing non-conference battle right in the middle of the league season. Connecticut is an interesting team. The Huskies have the look of an NCAA Tournament, albeit an inconsistent one. However, their resume doesn’t really reflect that. A win here would be huge for their profile. They have won two in a row after losing three of four. A.J. Price has developed into one of the better guards in the Big East, while Jerome Dyson and Jeff Adrien still form a solid inside-outside tandem. Indiana has emerged as the favorite in the Big Ten, given the Hoosiers’ play lately and Michigan State’s “struggles.” Indiana has won 13 in a row since losing to Xavier and seems to be getting better and better. Eric Gordon is arguably the best guard in the country, and D.J. White has provided tremendous inside balance for Kelvin Sampson and co. Armon Bassett, Jamarcus Ellis and Jordan Crawford also contribute to a deep perimeter group. Prediction: Indiana 71, Connecticut 65

Washington (+8.5) at Arizona (Saturday, 3:00 PM, FSN): A battle in the Pac-10 of teams hoping to make a move upwards before February. Washington has won three in a row since starting 0-3, while Arizona has won three of four since going just 1-3 without star freshman Jerryd Bayless, who is now back in the lineup. UW’s Jon Brockman vs. UA’s Jordan Hill should be a solid match-up on the inside. The Huskies have really become a team to watch in the conference, due to Brockman on the inside and Justin Dentmon and Ryan Appleby on the perimeter. This team has talent, it just took until recently for it to be fully released. Arizona is a very solid team that has gotten better with each game. Bayless is nearly unstoppable at the point, while Chase Budinger is a versatile forward who can do a variety of things. Hill has developed into a go-to-guy down low for the Wildcats. Prediction: Arizona 80, Washington 71

Wisconsin (-1.5) at Purdue (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN): The best game in the Big Ten all weekend – and a possible upset selection. Wisconsin has been a relative surprise this season due to the fact many people doubted the Badgers in the preseason. They have won 10 in a row and sit at 6-0 in the conference. Trevon Hughes has provided quickness at the point, while Michael Flowers does a little of everything in the backcourt. Brian Butch has shown ability to score inside and out. Purdue is one of the least-publicized “good” teams in the country. The Boilermakers are 5-1 in the Big Ten, with the lone loss by three at Michigan State. They have seven of their last eight, but they need to pick up more marquee wins for their at-large profile. Keaton Grant has emerged in the backcourt lately, along with freshman E’Twaun Moore. Two more freshmen, Scott Martin and Robbie Hummel are solid players up front. They’re very young, so they will be even tougher come March. Prediction: Purdue 63, Wisconsin 61

Mississippi (+6) at Mississippi State (Saturday, 5:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
An intrastate rivalry for supremacy in the SEC West. Mississippi State is the only undefeated team in league play at 4-0, and the Bulldogs have won eight in a row overall. Jamont Gordon is one of the best all-around guards in the country, while Barry Stewart has provided scoring from the wing. Jarvis Varnado has developed into the best shot-blocker in America and an athletic rebounder. MSU plays outstanding defense, leading the country in field-goal percentage defense. Mississippi started the season with a bang, going 13-0 before dropping two of its past four. Both losses were on the road by a combined five points. Freshman point guard Chris Warren doesn’t get as much pub as some of the other rookie guards across the country, but he’s been tremendous. Dwayne Curtis gives them inside production, and Eniel Polynice leads a deep group of talented wings. Prediction: Mississippi State 70, Mississippi 63

Georgetown (+3) at West Virginia (Saturday, 7:00 PM, ESPN): Could the Big East become even more muddled this weekend, as Georgetown is the lone 5-1 team in the conference, but four teams are waiting in line at 4-2? West Virginia is one of them. Georgetown has struggled somewhat lately, winning two of their last three games by a total of five points and losing to Pittsburgh last week. Roy Hibbert is one of the nation’s premier big men, while DaJuan Summers and Jessie Sapp are the main producers from the perimeter. West Virginia has won four in a row since dropping three of four to fall from the nation’s conscience. The Mountaineers haven’t really played very good competition during the winning streak, but it will give them confidence. Joe Alexander can score in a variety of ways, while Alex Ruoff can shoot the ball well from deep. Da’Sean Butler is athletic and can score and Darris Nichols is a vastly underrated point guard. Prediction: West Virginia 73, Georgetown 69

Washington State (-2.5) at Arizona State (Saturday, 7:00 PM, Regional TV): If you like scoring, this game isn’t for you. As mentioned before, both teams love to slow the game down and play in the half-court. Therefore, expect both teams to take care of the ball and limit mistakes, and the final result will likely be in the 50s or low 60s. Arizona State has allowed more than 65 points just five times this season, while Washington State has given up more than 65 points on only three occasions all season. Both teams have plenty of solid perimeter players and a go-to-guy down low, and rely on terrific balance and offensive execution to get their points. One of the best individual match-ups in the Pac-10 will also be on display in Tempe on Saturday night as ASU’s James Harden, an outstanding scorer who can get points against anyone, will be defended by Washington State’s Kyle Weaver, one of the best defensive players in the country. Keep an eye on the last few minutes – that’s when the game will be decided. Prediction: Arizona State 66, Washington State 63 Click
here for the rest of this week’s Game of the Week preview

USC (+4) at Oregon (Saturday, 9:00 PM, FSN): One of several quality Pac-10 games this weekend. USC has won three in a row, including two games on the road, since beginning conference play at 0-3. Three of the next five are on the road, before the Trojans end the year with five of their last seven at home. O.J. Mayo and Davon Jefferson are one of the best inside-outside freshmen duos in the country, while Daniel Hackett and Dwight Lewis are good, all-around wing players. Taj Gibson needs to recover the sort of production he put up a year ago. Oregon needs a win here to get some momentum after losing three in a row to drop to 3-4 in the Pac-10. All three losses were by single-digits, but the Ducks need to figure out how to win late in games. Malik Hairston is a match-up nightmare for most teams, while big man Maarty Leunen is an inside-outside threat. Tajuan Porter can shoot and Bryce Taylor is very solid. Prediction: Oregon 74, USC 68

Xavier at Massachusetts (Sunday, 12:00 PM, Regional TV): Don’t overlook this game when looking at this weekend’s top games. The Atlantic-10 is playing outstanding basketball this season, and could be in line for four or five bids to the NCAA Tournament. Xavier has won eight of its last nine, including a 26-point victory over Dayton on Thursday. Six players average in double-figures for the balanced Musketeers. Drew Lavender is one of the better point guards in the country; he leads the way for X. UMass has lost three of its last five to drop to 2-2 in the conference. However, the wins were at home against a good Charlotte team and on the road at Dayton. All three losses were by single-digits. Ricky Harris and Gary Forbes both average more than 20 points per game on the wings, while Chris Lowe is a very good distributor. Etienne Brower is the main inside producer. Prediction: Massachusetts 78, Xavier 71

Vanderbilt at Florida (Sunday, 1:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): A few weeks ago, most would have figured these roles would have been reversed; at the time, Vandy was 16-0 and rolling, while Florida was an overrated 15-2 team that would falter once conference play. Instead, Vandy has struggled in league play. The Commodores are just 2-2 in the SEC, with back-to-back losses to Kentucky and Florida before beating LSU. Shan Foster and freshman big man A.J. Ogilvy form one of the best inside-outside combos in the league. On the other side, Florida has solidified itself as legit contender for the SEC title and a club that could potentially win a game in the NCAA Tournament. The 4-1 Gators have five guys averaging at least nine points per game, including three freshmen. UF is very young but very talented. Nick Calathes is one of the better rookie point guards in the country, while Chandler Parsons and Jai Lucas also start. Marreese Speights has the talent and potential to be one of the most dominant big men in the nation. Prediction: Florida 71, Vanderbilt 66

Others Games to Watch

North Carolina State (+8) at Florida State (Saturday, 1:30 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): A couple of ACC teams vying to get back in the league race. NC State has not lived up to preseason expectations, playing much the same as it did last year and is 1-3. Florida State had a chance to beat both Clemson and Duke, both faltered down the stretch. The Seminoles have lost three of four. Prediction: Florida State 72, North Carolina State 62

Oklahoma (+5) at Baylor (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
An interesting meeting in the Big 12 between a team that had some momentum about a month ago and one that is one of the hottest around. Oklahoma has struggled since the injury to freshman Blake Griffin, while Baylor is coming off a five-overtime victory at Texas A&M. I wonder if fatigue could be a potential factor in this one. With the way the Bears are playing, I doubt it. Prediction: Baylor 68, Oklahoma 59

UNLV (+3) at San Diego State (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Versus): The top two teams in the Mountain West go head-to-head. UNLV, which made a Sweet Sixteen run a year ago, has won 10 of its last 12, including a 29-point pasting of BYU last week. San Diego State leads the conference at 4-1, but the Aztecs dropped close three-point game at BYU on Wednesday. SDSU has lost just one game by more than eight points.
Prediction: San Diego State 76, UNLV 70

Utah State (+5) at New Mexico State (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN2):
In what is a down year in the WAC, these two teams look like the best bets for the automatic bid. Utah State is 5-0 in the conference and has won 10 straight games overall. The Aggies have really bounced back from a disappointing start. NMSU has lost two of its last three since starting the league season 3-0. It needs a bounce-back win here. Prediction: New Mexico State 74, Utah State 66

Stanford (-1.5) at California (Saturday, 7:00 PM, Regional TV): A battle in northern California. Stanford is tied for second in the Pac-10 with a 4-2 conference record. The Cardinal’s only losses in the league are to UCLA and at Oregon. California has struggled since conference play began, losing four of its last five after winning its first Pac-10 game of the year. Cal’s Ryan Anderson and DeVon Hardin vs. Stanford’s Lopez twins should be a tremendous battle down low. Prediction: California 69, Stanford 65

Cincinnati at Seton Hall (Sunday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Two teams heading in opposite directions in the Big East. Cincinnati lost a tight one at home to Connecticut this week to drop to 4-3 in the conference, while Seton Hall has won three in a row by double-figures, including Thursday nigh at Providence, to improve to 4-3. The winner will remain a contender in the conference title race. Prediction: Seton Hall 73, Cincinnati 64

Clemson at Miami (Fl.) (Sunday, 1:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): With Miami’s great 12-0 start but 2-4 record since then, many people are calling the Hurricanes’ this year’s Clemson – a reference to the Tigers’ famous collapse in ACC play last season. Miami is 1-3 in league play. On the other side, Clemson is 3-3 in its last six games, but two of those wins came in overtime at home. It remains to be seen how good they really are. Prediction: Miami (Fl.) 75, Clemson 69

Providence at Syracuse (Sunday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
Are there two more inconsistent teams in the Big East? Providence beats UConn on the road then gets blown out at home by Seton Hall; Syracuse loses by double-digits to Villanova at home then takes Georgetown to overtime on the road. Which version will show up this weekend? Both teams need a win to boost their at-large resumes.
Prediction: Syracuse 81, Providence 73

Duke at Maryland (Sunday, 6:30 PM, FSN): Can Maryland pull off the improbable sweep of North Carolina and Duke in back-to-back games? The Terrapins have won six of seven, including their huge upset of the Tar Heels on the road last weekend. Duke is emerging as a legit contender to North Carolina’s league title hopes. The Blue Devils are undefeated in the ACC, and have just one loss the entire season – in overtime to Pittsburgh. Prediction: Duke 83, Maryland 79

Keep an Eye On

South Carolina (+7.5) at Kentucky (Saturday, 1:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
Interesting battle in the SEC East. Can Kentucky keep its hot streak alive at home, or will South Carolina hop into the division race with a big road win?
Prediction: Kentucky 64, South Carolina 58

Texas A&M (+1.5) at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN): It will certainly be a much more competitive game than it looked a few weeks ago. A&M has lost three in a row, while OSU showed some life with a near-upset of Texas. Prediction: Oklahoma State 67, Texas A&M 63

Appalachian State (+2.5) at Chattanooga (Saturday, 3:00 PM, Regional TV):
Will either of these teams challenge Davidson in the SoCon? ASU has won seven in a row and nine of its last ten, while Chattanooga has lost two straight road games. Prediction: Chattanooga 71, Appalachian State 61

Virginia Tech (+6) at Boston College (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Two teams in need of a win. Tech has dropped two in a row to fall to 2-3, while BC lost by 18 to Virginia in its last outing.
Prediction: Boston College 79, Virginia Tech 64

Iowa State (+12) at Kansas State (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): So much for ISU making noise in the Big 12 – the Cyclones lost by 24 to Kansas. Kansas State has won eight of its last nine. Prediction: Kansas State 76, Iowa State 63

New Mexico (+7) at BYU (Saturday, 6:00 PM, Regional TV): The Mountain West is fairly wide-open this season, with these two among the six teams within one game of first-place. BYU is outstanding on its homecourt. Prediction: BYU 73, New Mexico 65

Georgia (+13.5) at Tennessee (Saturday, 7:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Two one-loss teams battle in the SEC East. UGA has played well lately, winning five of seven, while UT fell at Kentucky in its last game. Prediction: Tennessee 84, Georgia 70

Minnesota (+7) at Ohio State (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Big Ten Network):
Two teams headed in the wrong direction. Minnesota has lost two in a row and four of six, while OSU dropped three in a row before beating Illinois. Prediction: Ohio State 69, Minnesota 61

Texas Tech (+11.5) at Texas (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Two teams playing solid ball lately. Tech has won two of three, while Texas righted its ship with a road win at Oklahoma State. Prediction: Texas 79, Texas Tech 66

DePaul (+13) at Marquette (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPNU): A surprise Big East contender against a preseason contender choice. DePaul is 4-2 in the conference, and has won seven of eight. Marquette has lost two in a row by 36 points. Prediction: Marquette 71, DePaul 59

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