Friday, January 4, 2008

Weekend Preview

With 2007 finally in our rear view mirror and conference play around the country really heating up this week, the best part of the college basketball season has already hit the ground running. With college football winding down, it’s time for hoops to take center stage. This weekend, forget about the NFL Playoffs and tune in to the dozens of quality contests over the next couple of days. There is a plethora of marquee match-ups taking place, including some very important conference battles that will have a major impact on the title race as well as a few standout non-conference battles. Just kick back on the couch all weekend and take in a full slate of college basketball (and the Wildcard games, if you really want).

Top Games

Kansas (-10.5) at Boston College (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN):
Interesting non-conference between a Final Four favorite and a team looking for a marquee win before conference play heats up. Kansas is 13-0 right now, but it has won by only nine combined points in its two games on the road this season. Mario Chalmers and Brandon Rush lead a deep perimeter group, while Darrell Arthur has great potential down low. Boston College has been solid this year, losing just two games, and looks like a potential NCAA Tournament team. Tyrese Rice is a very good guard and Shamari Spears is a tough match-up in the frontcourt. Prediction: Kansas 78, Boston College 74

Oregon (+8.5) at Arizona (Saturday, 2:00 PM, FSN): Two of the more athletic and talented teams in the conference go head-to-head with a key player from each side out with injury. For Oregon, which has struggled this year en route to a 9-4 record, will be without big man Joevan Catron. The Ducks have lost three of four and could really use a big road win early in Pac-10 play. Arizona’s star freshman guard Jerryd Bayless is likely to miss tomorrow’s game with a sprained knee. However, the frontcourt duo of Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill has been very good in his absence. The Wildcats have won seven of eight.
Prediction: Arizona 83, Oregon 75

Massachusetts (+6.5) at Vanderbilt (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV/ Talk about two surprising teams that have bounced back from key personnel losses. Massachusetts, without big men Stephane Lasme and Rashaun Freeman, has jumped out to an 11-2 record, including victories at Syracuse and Boston College. Gary Forbes has developed into a star. Vanderbilt, which lost SEC Player of the Year Derrick Byars, is one of six undefeated teams left and looks like a conference contender. Shan Foster and freshman A.J. Ogilvy form one of the best combos in the country. Prediction: Vanderbilt 73, Massachusetts 66

Saint Mary’s (+8.5) at Texas (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Two top-25 teams match-up in what could be an interesting non-conference game. Saint Mary’s is 12-1 with just a loss at Southern Illinois tarnishing its record. Furthermore, the Gaels might have emerged as the WCC favorite over Gonzaga – a win in Austin would cement that. Patty Mills, Diamon Simpson and Omar Samhan form a very talented trio. Texas has done just fine without Kevin Durant, despite losing two of its last three games. D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams are an outstanding backcourt, while Damion James has emerged as one of the best forwards in the Big 12. Prediction: Texas 77, Saint Mary’s 70

UCLA (-3.5) at California (Saturday, 6:00 PM, FSN): One of several key Pac-10 games this weekend. UCLA is coming off of a very impressive win at Stanford on Thursday, and the Bruins are again looking like a potential Final Four favorite. The Bruins have one of the best point guard-post combos in the country in Darren Collison and Kevin Love, in addition to scoring win Josh Shipp. California looks like a team that could threaten to finish in the upper-half of the conference, especially after its solid victory over USC this week. Ryan Anderson and DeVon Hardin might be the best big man tandem in the league.
Prediction: UCLA 69, California 67

USC (+7.5) at Stanford (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Regional TV): Two conference rivals looking to bounce back from a loss to open league play. USC fell on Thursday to California, its first loss since back-to-back defeats at the hands of Kansas and Memphis to open December. O.J. Mayo is a standout scorer, while Davon Jefferson is a match-up nightmare. Taj Gibson needs to find his offense again. Stanford hung with UCLA for much of Thursday’s game, but the Bruins pulled away down the stretch. Brook and Robin Lopez are a dominating inside duo at both ends of the floor, but backcourt depth has been a question all season long.
Prediction: Stanford 70, USC 65

Arkansas (+1.5) vs. Baylor (Saturday, 8:30 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Two at-large candidates battle in what could be an important resume game in two months. Arkansas started the season 8-1, but has since lost two of four, including a home defeat to Appalachian State. A win here would do wonders for the Razorbacks’ profile. Guard Patrick Beverley has regressed since last season, and needs to find his shot badly. Baylor has just one loss this season: a three-point defeat to Washington State in which the Bears led for much of the game. Six players are averaging at least 9.5 points per game, led by all-around stud Curtis Jerrells. Prediction: Baylor 80, Arkansas 73

Connecticut (+6)
at Notre Dame (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): The Big East has a very crowded middle-of-the-pack right now; games like this will begin to separate the teams. Connecticut opened conference play with an impressive win at Seton Hall, the Huskies’ fifth victory in a row. Jerome Dyson and A.J. Price form a very solid backcourt for UConn, which features five players in double-figures. Notre Dame started its conference campaign with a solid win over West Virginia, putting the Irish on a nine-game winning streak heading into tomorrow. Luke Harangody has been a dominating force in the frontcourt this season. Prediction: Notre Dame 83, Connecticut 78

Washington State (-3.5) at Washington (Saturday, 10:00 PM, Regional TV): Intrastate rivalry in the Pacific Northwest. Washington State is one of the top-five teams in the country and poses a real threat to UCLA in the Pac-10 after beginning the season 12-0. Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low form one of the best backcourts in the country, while Aron Baynes has given the Cougars a solid inside presence. Washington struggled in late November and early December, losing four of five, but the Huskies have since won five in a row. Jon Brockman is one of the most productive big men in the country, while Justin Dentmon leads a deep stable of guards on the perimeter.
Prediction: Washington State 71, Washington 69

Pittsburgh at Villanova (Sunday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Both teams are ranked in the top-20, but neither has looked like it in the past week. Pittsburgh was obliterated by 25 at Dayton before defeating Lafayette, but not before struggling for a half. The Panthers need to find themselves after losing both starting guards Levance Fields and Mike Cook to injury. Sam Young and DeJuan Blair are a very good frontcourt combo. I thought Villanova was extremely underrated – before its bad loss at DePaul on Thursday. Scottie Reynolds and freshman Corey Fisher form one of the best young backcourts in the country.
Prediction: Villanova 67, Pittsburgh 62

Marquette at West Virginia (Sunday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): A case of two teams going in opposite directions as conference play gets underway. Marquette opened Big East competition with a dominating victory over Providence on Thursday, pushing the Golden Eagles to 11-1. Dominic James and Jerel McNeal lead an outstanding perimeter, while Lazar Hayward provides scoring up front. West Virginia has lost two in a row, including a conference loss at Notre Dame this week. Joe Alexander and Alex Ruoff form a very solid forward duo, but they have both struggled somewhat with their shots lately. Prediction: Marquette 79, West Virginia 75

North Carolina at Clemson (Sunday, 7:30 PM, FSN): What a way to kick off conference play in the ACC. Both teams are expected to finish in the upper third of the league, with North Carolina projected to win the conference and Clemson in the three-to-five range. Not only is this game filled with quality players and teams, though, it is going to be fun to watch. Both teams like to play up-tempo basketball and love to create easy transition points with their defense. Clemson traps from the opening tip and thrives off chaos and turnovers, while North Carolina has plenty of athletes and can get from defense-to-offense faster and more efficiently than anyone in the country. Prediction: North Carolina 88, Clemson 83

Other Games to Watch

South Florida (+9) at Syracuse (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
Interesting Big East contest. Will South Florida reach the Big East Tournament? The Bulls have won 10 of 11, while Syracuse looked anything but impressive in its win over St. John’s on Wednesday. Expect a closer game than you might think. Prediction: Syracuse 91, South Florida 79

Valparaiso (OFF) at Butler (Saturday, 2:00 PM, Two of the best in the Horizon go head-to-head early in conference play. Valpo has just three losses this season – at Vanderbilt, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Butler is one of the best teams in the country, with just a one-point loss at Wright State tarnishing its record. Prediction: Butler 60, Valparaiso 53

Louisville (+1.5) at Kentucky (Saturday, 4:00 PM, CBS): Most other years, this game would be the marquee match-up of the week. However, neither team is looking like much of a NCAA Tournament threat at this point. Louisville is coming off of a home loss to Cincinnati, while Kentucky is just 6-6 on the season and has lost five of seven. Prediction: Louisville 72, Kentucky 68

Miami (Ohio) (-9) at Akron (Saturday, 7:00 PM): Very solid MAC contest. Miami (Ohio) has played one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the country, a schedule that has left them at just 6-6 heading into conference play. Akron had won nine of 10 before falling in overtime by two points at Dayton. Both of these teams could pose a threat in March. Prediction: Akron 66, Miami (Ohio) 60

Georgia (+12.5) at Gonzaga (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Regional TV): An interesting non-conference game between Bulldogs. Both teams could really use a win to get momentum heading into conference play. Georgia has lost two of its last four games, with the defeats coming to East Tennessee State and Tulane. Gonzaga has dropped two of three and need to pick-up a victory for seeding. Prediction: Gonzaga 83, Georgia 71

Minnesota (+12) at Michigan State (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Big Ten Network): Will Minnesota actually be a potential postseason contender in the Big Ten? The Golden Gophers were an impressive 10-2 before getting blown out at UNLV. Michigan State has improved with every game and looks like not only the conference favorite but a Final Four candidate. Prediction: Michigan 79, Minnesota 62

Southern Illinois (+5) at Illinois State (Saturday, 8:05 PM, Regional TV): A game between two teams heading in different directions – opposite directions of what was predicted. Southern Illinois has been a major disappointment, sitting at just 6-7 right now. Illinois State was a potential sleeper, but no one predicted four consecutive road wins, including one at Creighton. Prediction: Illinois State 69, Southern Illinois 64

Western Kentucky (+4.5) at South Alabama (Saturday, 8:05 PM, Regional TV): Two of the best in the Sun Belt go at it. Western Kentucky is 2-0 in the conference and came in as the league favorite, but the Hilltoppers have struggled somewhat on the road this season. South Alabama has won seven in a row, including a victory over Mississippi State. Prediction: South Alabama 87, Western Kentucky 82

Creighton (+3) at Missouri State (Saturday, 8:05 PM, Regional TV): The Missouri Valley doesn’t look like as good as it has been in the past, and it might not get two bids this year. These two teams need to turn their seasons around to make a run in the league. Creighton is 0-2 in the conference, while Missouri State has lost three of its last four. Prediction: Missouri State 67, Creighton 61

Utah State at Nevada (Saturday, 10:05 PM): Although the WAC is not going to be a multi-bid league this year, there is still some quality in the conference. Utah State, winners of five in a row and seven of eight, are led by dead-eye shooter Jaycee Carroll. Nevada has won six of seven and has one of the best wings in the country in Marcelus Kemp. Prediction: Nevada 76, Utah State 66

Xavier at Auburn (Sunday, 3:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Two teams that have both hit their stride lately – against completely different competition. Xavier has won three in a row, including wins over Kansas State and Virginia, by an average of 32 points. Auburn, though, has won five in a row over teams with a combined nine Division-I wins this year. Prediction: Xavier 75, Auburn 65


  1. Yeah, the Louisville/Kentucky game is simply going to be painful. Amazing how far the Wildcats have dropped.

  2. Not just the Wildcats, the Cardinals too. I mean, I'm usually very excited for this game because of the tradition, rivalry, etc., but this year I could essentially care less.

    I mean, Louisville could still make a run at a bid if it has a great conference record, but beating Kentucky isn't anything special this year.

    On the other side, maybe Kentucky can get some momentum going -- but it's been saying that for months now, and it hasn't happened yet.

  3. Vandy Umass should be a good one. If Vandy wins big, look out for an awesome year. Freshman center Ogilvy and sr. forward Foster may be one of the best tandums in the country. Today will tell.