Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Week Ahead

After an outstanding weekend of college basketball featuring two top-10 teams fall on the road and a few more top-25 squads drop games, it will be interesting to see if this week can continue the trend. It got off to a great start Monday, as Cleveland State went into Syracuse and upset the Orange on a 60-foot (longer than that, if you ask me) shot at the buzzer by Cedric Jackson. There aren’t too many marquee match-ups on the docket in the next couple of days, but there are certainly several intriguing battles – including a top-25 contest tonight.

Marquette at Tennessee (Tuesday, 9:30 PM): Definitely the most anticipated game of the week. Marquette has just one loss, a neutral-site defeat at the hands of Dayton, while Tennessee is coming off a blowout loss at Temple over the weekend. The Volunteers should have J.P. Prince, who injured himself in practice last week and didn’t play against Temple, available for this game. There should be plenty of interesting individual battles, including UT’s Tyler Smith against Lazar Hayward – two versatile combo forwards who can do a variety of things. Also look for the perimeter groups; both teams are deep in the backcourt.

Mercer at Oklahoma State (Wednesday, 8:00 PM): Mercer has already knocked off Alabama and Auburn on the road – can the Bears defeat another major-conference team away from home? It also doesn’t get any easier for Mercer, as this game marks the beginning of a seven-game road trip, including its next game against UCLA. Oklahoma State has lost three of its last five, although falling victim to Gonzaga, Michigan State and Washington isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Five straight home games before Big 12 play should get them headed back in the right diretion.

Siena at Pittsburgh (Wednesday, 9:30 PM): Can Siena, who was my mid-major darling before the season started, pick up a resume-building victory on the road against one of the best teams in the country? Doubtful, but the perimeter duo of Kenny Hasbrouck and Edwin Ubiles can hang with anyone in the nation. Pittsburgh has started 10-0 and is playing some of the best basketball of anyone. The Panthers haven’t won a game by less than 13 points, and only four of their wins are by fewer than 20 points.

Saint Mary’s at Oregon (Wednesday, 10:00 PM): Another chance for Saint Mary’s to show that it is going to be a team to be reckoned with come March. The Gaels have already knocked off Providence, Kent State and San Diego State, with their only loss coming against UTEP. Oregon has been inconsistent, beating Kansas State and Alabama but losing at home to Oakland and a struggling San Diego team. The Ducks are just 4-5 currently, with three games remaining before Pac-10 play begins. They can’t afford another non-conference loss here. Patty Mills should slice up a porous Ducks’ defense, though.

Mississippi State at Cincinnati (Thursday, 6:30 PM): Two major-conference clubs in the bottom half of their respective conferences looking to get some momentum before league play begins. Mississippi State has lost three of its last five games, but is coming off of a solid win over South Alabama. Outside of that, though, the Bulldogs’ best win is over St. Bonaventure – not an overly impressive resume. Cincinnati missed a chance to pick up a top-10 win when it fell to Xavier at home in the “Crosstown Shootout.” Still, the Bearcats have been fairly impressive this year, knocking off UAB and UNLV.

Evansville at North Carolina (Thursday, 7:00 PM): No, I do not think that Evansville is going to beat North Carolina, or even give the Tar Heels much of a contest, but it seems noteworthy to mention that the Aces are off to their best start in 27 years. They are 7-1, coming off of a 32-point victory over a hot Western Kentucky team. Shy Ely is a tough match-up. North Carolina is far and away the best team in the country, and is looking better and better with each game. More people are jumping on the bandwagon that the Heels are going to go undefeated.

Western Kentucky at South Alabama (Thursday, 8:05 PM):
Two of the annual favorites in the Sun Belt Conference face off for the first time this season. Western Kentucky had won four in a row, including victories over Southern Illinois, Louisville and Georgia, before falling over the weekend to Evansville. South Alabama is 6-0 against teams outside of the “Big Six” conferences, but 0-4 against teams in those leagues. Both of these teams made the NCAA Tournament last season, but are not looking like the frontrunners out of the Sun Belt this year.

Mississippi at Louisville (Thursday, 9:00 PM):
Two teams that have not lived up to their respective preseason hype face off on a neutral court in Cincinnati. Mississippi was expected to contend for the SEC West title, but injuries to Eniel Polynice and Trevor Gaskins have knocked the Rebels down a few notches. They lost to New Mexico by 33 on Saturday. Louisville had Final Four aspirations before the season, but the Cardinals lost to Western Kentucky on a neutral court by 14 earlier this season and have looked generally inconsistent all season. It will be interesting to see if they can get it together and compete for a Big East and national championship.

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