Thursday, January 7, 2010

Game of the Night, Jan. 7

Game of the Night: Western Kentucky at South Alabama (6:05 PM, Regional TV)

The first full week of conference play has been loaded so far, but the schedule hits something of a lull on Thursday. With the BCS title game occurring, most eyes won’t be watching college basketball anyway. As a result, there aren’t too many marquee games on the docket. There is Penn State vs. Michigan, but neither of those teams is going anywhere; the most exciting one could be a Sun Belt showdown between Western Kentucky and South Alabama.

Neither team has lost a conference game this season, with South Alabama sitting at 3-0 (11-4 overall) and Western Kentucky at 1-0 (8-4 overall). USA is currently on a three-game winning streak, including a 67-66 win at Florida on December 22. The Jaguars also own a win at Arkansas. South Alabama is deep and balanced, and its quickness and athleticism on the perimeter make them difficult to defend. Tim Williams is a very good scorer and rebounder, averaging 14.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. Bryan Sherrer and Martino Brock are also putting up double-figures in points. LaShun Watson is active and productive off the bench.

Western Kentucky got off to a slow start this season, losing three of its first five games. However, the Hilltoppers are 6-1 since then, including wins over Vanderbilt, Murray State and most recently, Mississippi State. WKU is led by one of the better mid-major guards in the country, A.J. Slaughter. He can shoot from deep and is an excellent offensive player. Normally a perimeter-oriented team, this version of the Hilltoppers has a loaded frontcourt. Steffphon Pettigrew is a very good scorer and rebounder down low, but he can also step out and shoot. Jeremy Evans is another player who can score points and grab boards on the interior. Versatile Sergio Kerusch is an outstanding option, but he has missed the last four games with a broken foot.

The winner of this game will have the inside edge to the regular-season Sun Belt title. Both teams have plenty of scoring options, and can get points in a variety of ways. USA is very good at defending in the half-court, and can also force turnovers. Offensively, the Jaguars get to the free-throw line and attack the basket. WKU gets on the offensive glass and produce second-chance points. However, the Hilltoppers do struggle from three-point range. Defensively, they force turnovers and don’t commit fouls. The difference in this one will be the balance of Western Kentucky. Slaughter is capable of carrying the Hilltoppers offensively, and Pettigrew and Evans are both very solid on the interior.

Prediction: Western Kentucky 73, South Alabama 71

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