Friday, February 22, 2008

Weekend Preview

Bubble battles. Key conference tilts. Oh, and #1 vs. #2 showdown. That's not even mentioning Bracket Busters, where mid-majors from across the country go at it on national television. This set of games could mean the difference between the NCAA and the NIT to many teams should they not win their conference tournament. No matter what games you are interested in, there are plenty of options to choose from this weekend; it has everything.

Top Games

Maryland at Miami (Fl.) (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
Major bubble battle in the ACC. Maryland’s NCAA chances took a hit this week when it lost at home to Virginia Tech, while Miami picked up a huge victory over Duke on Wednesday. Maryland is still riding the momentum of its one good victory, at North Carolina. Miami, on the other hand, has a top-30 RPI and several decent wins to hang its hat on – a win here would give them another leg-up on the Terrapins. Prediction: Miami (Fl.) 79, Maryland 73

Oklahoma at Texas (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC): Two of the Big 12 teams actually playing well lately go at it. Oklahoma won its third game in a row in an overtime thriller over Baylor this week, when Tony Crocker had a four-point play with seven seconds left and the Bears’ Curtis Jerrells missed two free-throws with one second left. Blake Griffin is one of the best frosh in the country. Texas is quietly becoming a sleeper for a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday; the Longhorns have won six straight and have an excellent collection of wins. Prediction: Texas 78, Oklahoma 72

Kansas State at Baylor (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Regional TV): A must-win for both teams, but for different reasons. Kansas State was one of the hottest teams in the country a couple of weeks ago, following its big home victory over Kansas. Since then, though, the Wildcats are just 3-3, and they have lost three consecutive road games. Baylor, on the other hand, has lost six of its last seven and is quickly falling out of the NCAA Tournament field and onto the wrong side of the bubble. A victory here, and the Bears are back in the hunt. Prediction: Baylor 74, Kansas State 69

Tennessee at Memphis (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): Despite the fact that it is only a non-conference game, don’t underestimate the importance of this game. Obviously, it is No. 1 vs. No. 2, which immediately makes it a must-see game. We have had some disappointing top-ranked games that haven’t lived up to the hype, but this one will be different. Both teams are in the mix for No. 1 seeds; Memphis might have one locked up already, but a win here would clinch it. Tennessee would take a huge step forward with a win over the undefeated Tigers on the road.
Prediction: Memphis 86, Tennessee 82

Arizona at Washington State (Saturday, 10:00 PM, FSN): A Pac-10 showdown between two teams heading in opposite directions. Arizona dropped yet another game on Thursday night, falling on the road to Washington. It was the Wildcats’ fourth in five games. It also moved them to just 15-10 overall, and 6-7 in the league. If that is not the definition of a bubble team, I don’t know what is. Washington State has won four in a row to separate itself from the pack in the conference, solidifying the Cougars in third-place.
Prediction: Washington State 70, Arizona 64

Louisville at Pittsburgh (Sunday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Battle in the Big East between a couple of teams looking to fight for seeding in the conference and NCAA Tournaments. Louisville is shooting towards a top-four seed come March, as the Cardinals have won six in a row to move atop the Big East. However, they face a tough final stretch. Pittsburgh is in need of a win – if it continues to lose, the bubble might not be too far off. The Panthers have dropped two in a row and five of their last nine. Prediction: Pittsburgh 71, Louisville 66

Syracuse at Notre Dame (Sunday, 2:00 PM, CBS): Another battle in the Big East with postseason implications. Syracuse could use a road win badly as the Orange have a severe lack of big wins on their resume. Furthermore, “Cuse has lost three of four and needs to straighten things out heading down the stretch. Notre Dame is quietly flying below the radar as a potential top-four seed and Big East title threat. The Irish have won 18 of their last 21, and remain only a half-game out of first-place in the conference.
Prediction: Notre Dame 83, Syracuse 73

Xavier at Dayton (Sunday, 2:00 PM, CSTV): Two teams that looked like locks a few weeks ago, but are now heading in opposite directions. Xavier is surging towards a two-seed come Selection Sunday, as the Musketeers have won nine in a row and 15 of their last 16. A win here would clinch the outright conference crown for the X. On the other side, Dayton badly needs a win after its loss to La Salle on Thursday, which was the Flyers’ third loss in four games, and seventh in the last 10. They miss a healthy Chris Wright tremendously. Prediction: Xavier 73, Dayton 67

Wisconsin at Ohio State (Sunday, 4:00 PM, CBS):
Battle in the Big Ten between a team still fighting for the conference title, and another team simply fighting for its NCAA Tournament life. Wisconsin is tied atop the conference standings with Purdue, although the Boilermakers beat the Badgers twice this season. They are 16-2 in their last 18 games. Ohio State is squarely on the bubble, and might be “out” right now. The Buckeyes have a severe lack of quality wins, despite their gaudy 8-5 conference record. A win here would help. Prediction: Wisconsin 68, Ohio State 64

Wake Forest at North Carolina (Sunday, 6:30 PM, FSN): Can the Demon Deacons pull off the improbable sweet of Duke and North Carolina on back-to-back Sunday nights? If they somehow do it, that would most likely virtually lock-up a bid for the surprising Deacs. Wake has won three in a row, and is right there with Maryland and Miami for the fourth spot out of the ACC. North Carolina, on the other hand, continues to play better and better as the Tar Heels get more accustomed to playing without Ty Lawson. With Duke’s recent struggles, UNC is tied atop the ACC and might be back on the No. 1-seed line. Prediction: North Carolina 87, Wake Forest 75

Other Games with NCAA Tournament Implications

Connecticut at Villanova (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN):
Villanova is back in the at-large hunt after a 22-point domination of West Virginia this week, which was the Wildcats’ third win in four games. Connecticut is quietly inching towards a potential two-seed in the NCAA Tournament, as the Huskies have won 10 in a row. ‘Nova could really help its tourney chances with a big win here.
Prediction: Connecticut 69, Villanova 67

Arkansas at Kentucky (Saturday, 2:00 PM, CBS): Classic SEC clash between a team looking to stay within striking distance of the division lead, and another simply looking to get into the at-large race. Arkansas is one-game out of the SEC West lead, behind Mississippi State, and the Razorbacks have won five of seven. Kentucky has won seven of eight, and needs a win to improve its profile. Prediction: Kentucky 71, Arkansas 64

Oregon at UCLA (Saturday, 3:30 PM, ABC): One of many Pac-10 games this weekend with major NCAA Tournament implications. Oregon’s Big Dance chances took a hit Thursday night when it blew a 15-point lead at USC and lost. The Ducks are now just 15-11 overall, and tied for next-to-last in the conference at 6-8. UCLA is fighting for a number one seed, but a fairly rough final stretch could present a problem. Prediction: UCLA 73, Oregon 61

Arizona State at Washington (Saturday, 6:00 PM, FSN): An interesting game out West. Arizona State has lost two in a row and seven of its last nine, and also has three of its last five games on the road, where the Sun Devils are just 2-5 this season. On the other side, look at the Huskies’ play of late. They knocked off UCLA at home last week, and then defeated Arizona last night at home as well. They are now 6-8 in conference play – just 1.5 games out of fourth place. Prediction: Washington 67, Arizona State 62

Saint Joseph’s at Rhode Island (Sunday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV): Two teams whose at-large hopes took a major hit this past week in the Atlantic-10. St. Joe’s lost at home to a lowly La Salle team, which essentially killed the Hawks’ momentum and any shot at a conference title. On the other side, URI lost two in a row already this week, which now means the Rams have dropped four of their last five. A win here would get them back on the right track. Prediction: Rhode Island 78, Saint Joseph’s 69

California at Stanford (Sunday, 9:00 PM, FSN): The battle of Northern California will take place Sunday night, in a game both teams need to win. For California, it needs a victory to keep its fading at-large hopes alive. The Golden Bears have won four of their last six, but are still just 6-7 in league play. On the other side, Stanford needs to win in order to keep pace with UCLA for the Pac-10 crown. The Cardinal are currently one game back. Prediction: Stanford 72, California 63

Bracket Busters Games

Davidson at Winthrop (Friday, 7:00 PM, ESPN2):
Last year, Winthrop was everybody’s favorite upset pick; will Davidson be the 2008 version of the Eagles? There’s certainly a chance, as the Wildcats are undefeated in the Southern Conference and have shown the ability to hang with the big boys in close losses to North Carolina, Duke and UCLA. Stephen Curry is an outstanding shooter and scorer, while Jason Richards is a playmaker who leads the nation in assists. Thomas Sander and Boris Meno lead a deep and versatile frontcourt. Winthrop took a step back from the past few seasons, but a recent losing streak by UNC-Asheville gave first-place back to the Eagles. They have defeated Miami (Fl.), Georgia Tech and Akron this season. Michael Jenkins is an outstanding long-range shooter who has taken more of a scorer’s role this season, while Chris Gaynor is a very solid all-around point guard. Taj McCullough is tough to defend down low; he has plenty of talent and potential.
Prediction: Davidson 73, Winthrop 70

UC Santa Barbara at Utah State (Friday, 9:00 PM, ESPNU): One of the major reasons to watch this game is the simple fact that it will pit two of the best perimeter players in the country against each other in Utah State’s Jaycee Carroll and UCSB’s Alex Harris. Both are outstanding long-range shooter who can also get inside the arc and finish baskets near the rim. Utah State has lost three straight games, though, and is essentially fading from the WAC title race. Still, Carroll gives the Aggies a chance to win against anyone. Kris Clark is a very solid point guard, while Gary Wilkinson is the main man up front. UCSB is just a game and a half out of first-place in the Big West, and the Gauchos are heating up. James Powell starts next to Harris on the perimeter. Chris Devine is the leader up front, while Ivan Elliot is another option in the frontcourt. Prediction: Utah State 78, UC Santa Barbara 72

Virginia Commonwealth at Akron (Saturday, 11:00 AM, ESPN2): A similar game to the George Mason-Ohio match-up, as both pit CAA and MAC teams against each other, but this game does not carry too much at-large implications. VCU was everyone’s NCAA Tournament darling after it defeated Duke in the first-round and took Pittsburgh to overtime. Eric Maynor returns from that squad; he is one of the best point guards in the country. Jamal Shuler is a big-time scorer on the wing, while Michael Anderson is an inside-outside option. Akron has won three straight road games in the MAC to move within two games of Kent State. Jeremiah Wood could certainly cause problems for VCU, but he is injury and will likely not play. Nick Dials and Cedrick Middleton will have to take on more of a scoring role in his absence. Nate Linhart and Quade Milum are solid forwards up front.
Prediction: Akron 69, VCU 65

George Mason at Ohio (Saturday, 1:00 PM, ESPN2):
A couple of weeks ago, it seemed like these two teams might get at-large bids; however, George Mason has lost two of its last three, while Ohio has dropped three of its last five. George Mason had a killer home loss to UNC-Wilmington, but the Patriots still have wins over Dayton, Kansas State and VCU. Will Thomas is a load to stop down low – he’s basically a double-double guarantee every night. Folarin Campbell is versatile and experienced, while John Vaughan has developed into a consistent option this season. Ohio is in a tailspin, but the Bobcats still have the talent to turn it around and make a run in the MAC Tournament. They already have beaten Maryland, St. John’s and Kent State. Ohio has one of the most underrated big men duos in the country in double-double threat Leon Williams and Jerome Tillman. Bubba Walther is the team’s best outside option. Prediction: Ohio 72, George Mason 67

Niagara at Appalachian State (Saturday, 1:00 PM): Some complained when Appalachian State didn’t make the televised portion of the Bracket Busters, although ASU has lost two in a row. Niagara has won three in a row to get back into the MAAC title race. Charron Fisher is one of the best players in the mid-major world. Prediction: Appalachian State 80, Niagara 73

Creighton at Oral Roberts (Saturday, 3:00 PM, ESPN2): Two of the best mid-major programs in recent years, both teams came into the season with lessened expectations. Creighton’s lack of attention seems somewhat deserved, as the Bluejays are just 9-7 in conference play, but Oral Roberts has not missed a beat, as it has won 12 of its last 13 games. Creighton is led by the inside-outside combo of P’Allen Stinnett and Dane Watts. Watts is very experienced and can do a variety of things. Booker Woodfox leads a host of talented guards in the rotation. Oral Roberts misses departed seniors Caleb Green and Ken Tutt, but the Crusaders still have more than enough weapons to make noise. Robert Jarvis is an explosive guard who can score, while point guard Adam Liberty has improved his all-around game. Shawn King is a defensive ace who can rebound against anyone in the league. Moses Ehambe is an excellent three-point shooter. Prediction: Oral Roberts 70, Creighton 61

Nevada at Southern Illinois (Saturday, 4:30 PM, ESPNU): Maybe this game would have been better last season, when both teams were legit Sweet Sixteen threats and had something to truly play for in late February. Both teams are playing well lately, though. Prediction: Southern Illinois 64, Nevada 53

Drake at Butler (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN2): Two of the best teams in the country, regardless of conference affiliation, and two teams that will be in the mix for top-four seeds come Selection Sunday (although Drake’s loss to Bradley on Tuesday night could change that). Butler has lost just two games all season, to Wright State and Cleveland State on the road. The Bulldogs own wins over Ohio State, Texas Tech, Virginia Tech, Florida State and Southern Illinois. Mike Green and A.J. Graves form one of the best backcourts in the country, while Pete Campbell is an outstanding three-point shooter. Freshman forward Matt Howard provides a low-post presence that they were missing at times last year. Drake was one of the biggest surprises in the country, as it had won 20 games in a row prior to losing to Southern Illinois and Bradley in the past three games. The most impressive win for the Bulldogs was over Duquesne, although they also beat Iowa and Iowa State. Josh Young and Leonard Houston are solid scorers on the wings, while Adam Emmenecker is a good distributor at the point. Jonathan Cox is a double-double threat inside.
Prediction: Butler 66, Drake 60

Miami (Ohio) at Valparaiso (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN Classic): Another game that would have been better off scheduled for earlier in the season. Miami (Ohio) was the talk of the mid-major world in November and December, but they are just 13-12. Valpo had lost five in a row before winning its last game. Prediction: Valparaiso 68, Miami (Ohio) 64

Marist at Cleveland State (Saturday, 6:30 PM, ESPNU):
Two teams who were playing much better a few weeks ago. Marist has dropped to sixth in the MAAC with losses in five of its last six games, while Cleveland State has lost six of its last nine. Prediction: Cleveland State 71, Marist 62

Vermont at UNC-Wilmington (Saturday, 7:00 PM): A match-up between two mid-majors with a lot of potential but don’t have much of a chance at the postseason barring a run in their respective league tourneys. Vermont has an outstanding duo that is vastly underrated on a national level in guard Mike Trimboli and Marquis Blakely. UNCW has four double-figure scorers and could be a real sleeper in the CAA Tournament due to its late play and overall talent and balance.
Prediction: UNC-Wilmington 74, Vermont 66

Georgia Southern at Austin Peay (Saturday, 8:00 PM): An interesting game between the second-best team in the Southern and the Ohio Valley leader. GSU is 12-5 in the Southern and second in its division; however, it’s in Davidson’s division, so they’re five games back. APU had won five in a row before falling at Tennessee State on Monday.
Prediction: Austin Peay 76, Georgia Southern 66

Rider at Cal State Northridge (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPNU):
Two teams heading in the wrong direction at the wrong time. Rider has lost three in a row since beating Siena and Niagara in back-to-back games, while CSU Northridge had lost two in a row before bouncing back with a couple of wins over mediocre teams. Rider is led by one of the best players in the country, forward Jason Thompson. He can do everything on the court, and will be one of the few players to average 20 points and 10 rebounds in the country this season. His brother, Ryan Thompson, is a terrific second option due to his versatility and all-around ability. CSU Northridge has a very solid backcourt in Deon Tresvant and distributor extraordinaire Josh Jenkins, one of the country’s premier passers. Jonathan Heard and Calvin Chitwood form a good forward duo, while Tremaine Townsend is a double-double threat every night out.
Prediction: Cal State Northridge 83, Rider 77

UW Milwaukee at Bradley (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN360):
How did this game make the televised section of the Bracket Busters? UW Milwaukee is just 12-11 overall with an 8-6 Horizon record, and they have to visit a hot Bradley team that has won eight of 10, including a win at Drake tonight. Prediction: Bradley 70, UW Milwaukee 61

Siena at Boise State (Saturday, 10:00 PM, ESPN360): Both of these teams, despite the closeness of their respective league races, are arguably the most talented squads in their conferences. Siena defeated Stanford earlier in the season, putting the nation on notice. Kenny Hasbrouck and Ronald Moore form an outstanding guard tandem, while Edwin Ubiles is an extremely difficult match-up on the wing. He can score in a variety of ways, and is tough to stop. Alex Franklin provides scoring and rebounding down low. Boise State has won seven of its last eight to move into first-place in the WAC. The Broncos have an outstanding post duo in Reggie Larry and Matt Nelson, one of the most productive inside tandems in college basketball. Larry might be the best big men you’ve never heard of. Tyler Tiedeman is an unbelievable three-point shooter on the wing, while Matt Bauscher can do a little of everything.
Prediction: Boise State 79, Siena 75

Portland State at Cal State Fullerton (Saturday, 10:30 PM): The Big Sky leader vs. the hottest team in the Big West. PSU has won eight games in a row and has a 2.5-game lead on Northern Arizona, while CSU-Fullerton has won seven of its last eight, with just one win coming by single-digits. Prediction: Cal State Fullerton 81, Portland State 68

Kent State at Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 11:59 PM, ESPN2): Another match-up between two teams that could certainly win a game or two in the NCAA Tournament. However, in Kent State’s case, they have to get there first. A win here would do wonders for the Golden Flashes’ NCAA Tournament profile. They have solid wins over mid-major clubs such as George Mason, Ohio, Akron, Illinois State and Cleveland State, but no marquee victories. Kent State has a very good forward duo in Mike Scott and Haminn Quaintance, both of whom can score and rebound. Guard Al Fisher is the team’s leading scorer, while Chris Singletary is solid. Saint Mary’s is in the mix for a top-five or six seed come March, if the Gaels continue to play the way they have. The own wins over Drake, Gonzaga, Oregon, Seton Hall and Ohio, among others. Patty Mills is one of the premier freshman point guards in the country, while Diamon Simpson is arguably the most difficult personnel match-up in the WCC. Omar Samhan makes a difference at both ends of the court and Todd Golden has shown the ability to shoot and distribute. Prediction: Saint Mary’s 74, Kent State 70

Wright State at Illinois State (Sunday, 6:30 PM, ESPNU):
The next two games could have potential at-large implications, depending on how the rest of the regular-season plays out. Wright State looked like an NCAA Tournament team earlier in the season, but the Raiders faltered during the middle part of the season. However, they have won 10 in a row and are rolling. Vaughn Duggins and Todd Brown are the go-to-guys on WSU; both are very solid guards who can score. Forwards Scottie Wilson and Jordan Pleiman provide balance – Wilson has good range. Illinois State is second in the Missouri Valley – in most years, it would be more than enough for an at-large bid, but not this season. ISU’s best non-conference win is over Cincinnati. Osiris Eldridge is one of the best players in the conference, while Dom Johnson and Boo Richardson are also solid guards. Anthony Slack is the team’s best frontcourt player. Prediction: Illinois State 66, Wright State 61

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