Friday, February 8, 2008

Weekend Preview

With just over four weeks to go until Selection Sunday, the NCAA Tournament picture is starting to clear up in some areas--but becoming increasingly more blurry in others. Bubble teams are not really separating themselves from the rest of the pack, while conferences races are getting tighter and tighter around the country. Conference tournaments are around the corner--it's time for teams to get some momentum. This weekend has plenty of key games on the slate.

Top Games

Marquette (+4.5) at Notre Dame (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN):
One of the many games this weekend matching-up two teams heading in opposite directions. Marquette has lost three of its last six, including a 14-point defeat to Louisville at home on Monday. On the other hand, Notre Dame continues to answer the critics by winning – most recently, it was a 26-point thumping of Seton Hall on the road. Can Marquette stop Luke Harangody and the Irish inside? That will be they key to the game. Prediction: Notre Dame 80, Marquette 70

USC (+5) at Washington State (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC):
If you had asked me two weeks ago who this game was a must-win for, there was no way I would have said Washington State. However, with the Cougars’ recent play – losses in four of five, three straight home losses – this might be the biggest game of the year for WSU. USC, on the other hand, has won six of seven and is looking better and better in the Pac-10. WSU won the first match-up between the two. Prediction: Washington State 69, USC 63

Mississippi (+7.5) at Arkansas (Saturday, 5:05 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
Although the SEC West crown is somewhat irrelevant (witness last year), these two teams would love to get that division title. Ole Miss has lost three of four to drop to 3-4 in the SEC, while Arkansas is rolling, having won three in a row by a combined 55 points. Both teams are heading in the opposite directions when it comes to NCAA seeding.
Prediction: Arkansas 79, Mississippi 67

Baylor (+18) at Kansas (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): If this game was in Waco, Texas, the Bears would have a chance. Since it’s not, though, it will be tough for Baylor to come out on top despite its tremendous guard group. The Bears had lost two in a row before beating Texas Tech this week, while KU had struggled slightly last week. However, the Jayhawks are still one of the most complete teams in the country and a favorite to cut down the nets in April. Prediction: Kansas 84, Baylor 72

Georgetown (+2.5) at Louisville (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): The top two preseason teams in the Big East battle it out. Interestingly, a win here by the Cardinals would put them within one game of the Hoyas in the conference standings – a far cry from the dysfunctional team they were just a few weeks ago. Can the somewhat erratic Cardinals knock off the disciplined and methodical Hoyas? If Edgar Sosa and the guards perform, there’s a good chance. Prediction: Louisville 73, Georgetown 68

Purdue (+10) at Wisconsin (Saturday, 9:00 PM, Big Ten Network): First place in the Big Ten is on the line Saturday night when two 9-1 teams face-off. Purdue won the first meeting between these two teams by four just a couple of weeks ago. The Boilermakers have been a huge conference surprise, but many still doubt their legitimacy due to the weak schedule. The same can be said for Wisconsin, however. A win here would help. Prediction: Wisconsin 66, Purdue 61

Saint Joseph’s (+9.5) at Xavier (Sunday, 12:00 PM, Regional TV): Surprisingly, it’s a battle for first in the Atlantic-10. St. Joe’s fell to Duquesne this week, taking some of the luster off the game, but the Hawks will have Ahmad Nivins back, one of the best big men in the conference. Xavier needed a last-second tip-in by Derrick Brown to knock off Saint Louis. It was the Musketeers’ fifth win in a row, and 11th in 12 games. Prediction: Xavier 78, Saint Joseph’s 70

Indiana (+3) at Ohio State (Sunday, 1:00 PM, CBS):
Although both teams are within two games of first-place in the Big Ten, neither looks like much of a conference threat right now. Indiana needed double-OT to beat Illinois and really hasn’t proven much over the course of the season. Ohio State has won four of five, but it hasn’t been overly impressive. A convincing win by other side here would be a big step towards contention. Prediction: Ohio State 72, Indiana 68

Arizona State (+9.5) at Arizona (Sunday, 2:30 PM, FSN): This game would have been a marquee match-up a couple of weeks ago. However, since then, ASU has lost five in a row, four by double-figures, while UA has proven to be a legit top-five seed in the NCAA Tournament. The match-up between freshmen guards James Harden of ASU and Jerryd Bayless of ‘Zona should be outstanding. Prediction: Arizona 75, Arizona State 60

Clemson (+9) at North Carolina (Sunday, 6:30 PM, FSN): Everyone remembers the first match-up between these teams, when UNC’s Wayne Ellington hit a three-pointer with the clock winding down to give the Tar Heels a two-point win. Well, don’t expect the same in the rematch – especially if Ty Lawson plays. If he doesn’t Clemson’s pressure could rattle Quentin Thomas. Prediction: North Carolina 88, Clemson 78

Bubble Games

Miami (Fl.) (+5) at Virginia Tech (Saturday, 2:00 PM):
Are either of these teams legit at-large contenders in the ACC. Miami looks like its collapse is nearly complete, after the ‘Canes lost their sixth in seven games to drop to 2-6 in the ACC. Tech had won three in a row before falling to NC State, but they are 5-4 in the ACC. Prediction: Virginia Tech 67, Miami (Fl.) 61

Western Michigan (+4.5) at Ohio (Saturday, 2:30 PM, Regional TV):
I spoke on Wednesday about this being the year the MAC finally gets two bids. Well, since then, both Akron and Ohio have lost, keeping both on the bubble. Interestingly enough, WMU leads the West Division with a 7-2 record but is not in contention for an at-large bid.
Prediction: Ohio 73, Western Michigan 65

Seton Hall (+5.5) at Villanova (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPNU): Two Big East teams going in the wrong direction in their hopes for an at-large bid. Seton Hall has lost two in a row since its five-game winning streak, including a 26-point defeat at home against Notre Dame. ‘Nova is completely falling apart, losing five in a row. Both need to right the ship. Prediction: Villanova 77, Seton Hall 69

Oregon (+5) at California (Saturday, 7:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
These were two of the last teams out of the field on Monday, but it will be interesting to see if it stays that way. Oregon was obliterated by Stanford last night, its fifth loss in six games. Cal escaped Oregon State at home for its third straight win. Prediction: California 75, Oregon 69

North Carolina State (+8.5) at Maryland (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
Whoever wins this game will be in the Field of 65 on Monday; the loser, probably not. NC State has won two in a row and four of its last six, while Maryland is one of the hottest teams around, having won three in a row and nine of its last 11.
Prediction: Maryland 71, North Carolina State 64

Other Games to Watch

Alabama (+6) at Kentucky (Saturday, 1:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
Kentucky is becoming an interesting team to watch over the SEC season. The Wildcats have won four in a row – including back-to-back road games – and are now 5-2 in the SEC. A win here would help them in their quest for a shocking NCAA bid. Prediction: Kentucky 73, Alabama 63

Boston College (+19.5) at Duke (Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS): If Boston College has any hopes of an at-large bid, it needs a win here. Unfortunately, Duke is playing some of the best basketball in the country, so I don’t see it happening. BC has lost five in a row, Duke has won 10 in a row and is 20-1 overall after its road win at North Carolina. Prediction: Duke 89, Boston College 69

Texas A&M (-2) at Missouri (Saturday, 1:30 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
Battle in the Big 12. Texas A&M has righted the ship after its three-game losing streak earlier in the conference season, winning four in a row. Missouri has shown the ability to win at home, knocking off Texas and Kansas State so far in Columbia. Prediction: Texas A&M 76, Missouri 73

Georgia Tech (+8.5) at Connecticut (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN): Despite the record disparity, this game should be a chance to catch plenty of talented athletes go at it at both ends of the floor. Tech has won four of its last five to move to .500 in the ACC, while UConn has won six in a row and is one of the hottest teams in the country.
Prediction: Connecticut 69, Georgia Tech 58

Vanderbilt (+2.5) at South Carolina (Saturday, 5:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): An interesting game in the SEC East. Vanderbilt has been struggling somewhat lately, and a loss here would hurt its at-large profile. On the other side, South Carolina is coming off a road win at Mississippi last weekend. Prediction: Vanderbilt 74, South Carolina 71

Boise State (+4.5) at New Mexico State (Saturday, 7:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Utah State is in the driver’s seat in the WAC, but the winner of this will keep pace. Boise State has won five in a row, and its only two league losses were by a combined seven points. NMSU is one of the teams to beat BSU, and it’s looking for a sweep. Prediction: New Mexico State 78, Boise State 72

Siena (+5) at Rider (Sunday, 3:00 PM): Another battle for first in the MAAC. Rider won the first meeting between these two teams last weekend at Siena. The Saints are 9-3 in league play, one game back of the Broncs. Rider has won nine in a row, including three straight road games. Expect plenty of points in this one. Prediction: Rider 85, Siena 79

UCLA (+9.5) at Washington (Sunday, 4:30 PM, FSN):
Two teams heading in completely opposite directions. UCLA is looking more and more like one of the favorites to win the national title, while Washington has quickly fallen from 3-3 in the Pac-10 to 3-7 and out of the postseason picture. Prediction: UCLA 73, Washington 63

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