Friday, January 30, 2009

Weekend Preview

As January departs and February arrives, all college basketball fans know that means one thing: the stretch run in college basketball. Conference title races, rivalries, bubble teams, RPI, quality wins – the best two-month stretch of the year starts now. From here until Selection Sunday, nearly every game matters – for seeding, conference standings, and for inclusion to the Big Dance. Since it’s only the midpoint for many conferences, most leagues are still up for grabs. There are plenty of games this week that will have a direct effect on the conference standings and potential postseason hopes; furthermore, all the games are over before the Super Bowl starts, so football’s last week won’t even interfere with the start of the hoops stretch run. However, there are only a few weeks left until conference tournaments, so it's time to make a move – either in or out of the NCAA Tournament.

Top Games

West Virginia at No. 7 Louisville (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
Should be a very entertaining Big East game. Both teams have a lot of talent and play excellent on-ball defense. Louisville is one of the hottest teams in the country, and WVU is still young. Prediction: Louisville 73, West Virginia 65

Notre Dame at No. 3 Pittsburgh (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN): Both teams are coming off of a loss this week – well, Notre Dame is coming off multiple losses. The Irish need to bounce back, but they won’t likely happen against a hungry Pittsburgh team looking to get back on the right track. Prediction: Pittsburgh 78, Notre Dame 66

Michigan at No. 16 Purdue (Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS): Purdue is slowly creeping back into the Big Ten title picture after some early struggles. Michigan is doing the opposite, and could really use a road win to solidify its NCAA Tournament hopes. Manny Harris vs. E’Twaun Moore should be interesting. Prediction: Purdue 65, Michigan 54

No. 25 Georgetown at No. 8 Marquette (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
A few weeks ago, this would have been a game that hoops fans would have circled on their calendars (if people do that anymore). However, with the recent Georgetown struggles and DaJuan Summers’ injury, Marquette has a huge edge heading into the game. Prediction: Marquette 75, Georgetown 66

South Carolina at No. 24 Kentucky (Saturday, 3:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Kentucky was looking like the favorite in the SEC before its loss to Mississippi this week, while South Carolina is trying to get in the NCAA Tournament mix. A win here would do that. Prediction: Kentucky 80, South Carolina 70

Providence at No. 2 Connecticut (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): A battle in New England. Providence is the surprise of the Big East campaign, starting 6-2 thus far. However, Connecticut is rolling and a win here would make them the overall No. 1 seed come Monday. Prediction: Connecticut 84, Providence 69

No. 23 Washington at No. 14 Arizona State (Saturday, 5:30 PM, Regional TV): Both teams suffered losses on Thursday in games they were favored to win. Washington gave up 69 points in the second half against Arizona, while ASU lost to a struggling Washington State team at home.
Prediction: Arizona State 72, Washington 64

Baylor at Missouri (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
Expect plenty of points in this Big 12 battle. Baylor has lost two in a row and four of its last seven, and needs a win to stay above .500 in the Big 12. Missouri was blown out by Kansas State, but has been playing great basketball this season.
Prediction: Missouri 89, Baylor 82

Virginia Tech at Boston College (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Two of the middle-of-the-pack ACC teams hoping to garner a bid to the Dance. Va. Tech blew a 15-point lead against Clemson Thursday, while BC has won three in a row after losing four straight.
Prediction: Boston College 69, Virginia Tech 66

Florida at Tennessee (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): SEC East rivalry game. Florida might be the best team in a watered-down SEC this season, while Tennessee has lost two in a row and five of its last eight to fall to 12-7 overall. The Vols need to get some wins to avoid the dreaded bubble. Prediction: Tennessee 83, Florida 76

California at USC (Saturday, 11:30 PM, FSN): Southern California vs. Northern California. Cal has lost three of four after starting the Pac-10 season 4-0. USC is starting to get some momentum in the conference, having won four of its last five to move to 5-3 in the league.
Prediction: USC 70, California 62

Penn State at No. 9 Michigan State (Sunday, 12:00 PM, Big Ten Network): The favorite in the Big Ten vs. one of the surprises in the Big Ten. Penn State is 5-3 in the league and has won three in a row. Michigan State is looking better and better, and has won 13 of its last 14 games.
Prediction: Michigan State 67, Penn State 52

Conference Clashes

Washington State at Arizona (Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS):
Both teams picked up wins on Thursday to salvage any NCAA hopes. Washington State went into Arizona State and knocked off the Sun Devils by 10. Arizona lit up Pac-10 leader Washington for 106 points, 69 in the second half. Prediction: Arizona 63, Washington State 51

Oklahoma State at Texas A&M (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN): This could be a huge bubble game in the Big 12 come March. Oklahoma State has already beat the Aggies once, and a sweep would be crucial. Ok State has lost three of its last four, while A&M has lost four of six in Big 12 play. Prediction: Texas A&M 76, Oklahoma State 70

Stanford at No. 17 UCLA (Saturday, 3:30 PM, CBS):
Another intrastate battle this weekend. Stanford fell a point short of knocking off USC on the road Thursday, while UCLA beat up on a slumping California team. Stanford has now lost four of six, while UCLA has gone 2-2 ini its last four.
Prediction: UCLA 71, Stanford 59

No. 5 North Carolina at North Carolina State (Saturday, 3:30 PM, CBS):
Tobacco Road rivalry game. North Carolina is coming off an exciting win over Florida State on Ty Lawson’s three-point at the buzzer, while NC State beat Miami (Fl.) in overtime. They had lost five of six prior to that game. Prediction: North Carolina 86, North Carolina State 73

Kansas State at No. 11 Texas (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Kansas State is not a Big 12 contender, but it did blow out Missouri this week and is 13-7 overall. Texas is staying on the heels of Oklahoma and Kansas in the Big 12 race, having won three in a row.
Prediction: Texas 75, Kansas State 60

Arkansas at LSU (Saturday, 5:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): SEC West clash. Arkansas picked up its first SEC win of the year on Thursday, defeating Alabama at home. LSU, meanwhile, went into Tennessee and knocked off the Volunteers, pushing them to 4-1 in the SEC. Prediction: LSU 83, Arkansas 71

Miami (Fl.) at Maryland (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
Two struggling teams that need to get back on track. Miami is 3-4 in the ACC and has lost three of its last four games, while Maryland has dropped five of seven and is just 2-4 in conference play. Who will right the ship?
Prediction: Maryland 79, Miami (Fl.) 74

Wisconsin at Northwestern (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Big Ten Network): Two Big Ten teams in need of a win and momentum. Wisconsin needs to turn things around, having lost five in a row since starting 3-0. Northwestern escaped Indiana at home to avoid starting 2-6 in conference play. Prediction: Wisconsin 66, Northwestern 62

Cincinnati at No. 21 Villanova (Sunday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Both Big East teams picked up big wins on Wednesday, with Cincinnati knocking off Georgetown and Villanova beating Pittsburgh. Cincy could use another win, while ‘Nova needs to avoid a home loss. Prediction: Villanova 73, Cincinnati 63

Saint Joseph’s at Dayton (Sunday, 12:00 PM, Regional TV): The best teams in the Atlantic-10 besides Xavier, the winner will stay on the Musketeers’ heels. St. Joe’s is 5-0 in the A-10 and has won seven in a row. Dayton escaped Saint Louis Thursday, winning its fourth game in a row. Prediction: Dayton 72, Saint Joseph’s 66

Other Games to Watch

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at Sam Houston State (Saturday, 3:00 PM, Regional TV):
The two leaders in the West Division of the Southland Conference do battle. Corpus Christi is 5-0 in the league, starting off impressively. SHS has won four in a row in the league, all by single-digits. Prediction: Sam Houston State 69, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi 61

New Mexico at Utah (Saturday, 3:30 PM, Regional TV):
Two of the four teams tied for first place in the Mountain West. New Mexico has won four of its last five games, including a 19-point drubbing of BYU. Utah has won seven of nine, the last being an overtime victory over BYU.
Prediction: Utah 72, New Mexico 62

Bradley at Illinois State (Saturday, 4:05 PM, Regional TV): Northern Iowa has a big edge in the Missouri Valley, but these two teams are next-in-line. Bradley ended Illinois State’s undefeated season earlier this month, and is 7-3. ISU lost to N. Iowa on Wednesday, dropping to 6-4 in the MVC. Prediction: Illinois State 70, Bradley 59

San Diego at No. 20 Gonzaga (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN2): This would have been a much better game in the preseason, before San Diego lost Brandon Johnson for the season. Instead, Gonzaga is a hot team, having won seven in a row, while USD has been blown out in back-to-back games. Prediction: Gonzaga 84, San Diego 67

Yale at Cornell (Saturday, 7:00 PM): The last two undefeated teams in the Ivy League (although only two league games have been played). Cornell is the favorite to win the league; the Big Red have won seven games in a row. Yale has won five in a row heading into this showdown. Prediction: Cornell 68, Yale 54

No. 22 Saint Mary’s at Portland (Saturday, 9:00 PM, Regional TV):
Battle for second place in the West Coast Conference. Saint Mary’s fell to Gonzaga on Thursday after star Patty Mills injured himself in the first half and didn’t return in the second. Portland is coming off a blowout win over San Diego. Prediction: Saint Mary’s 75, Portland 66

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