Friday, January 28, 2011

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, there’s no football this week, so there is nothing to 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

No. 23 Louisville at No. 5 Connecticut (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Both teams have had impressive finishes in the past couple of weeks, the latest being Louisville’s Peyton Siva’s swooping lay-up to beat West Virginia. UConn is in No. 1 seed territory, especially if it racks up another quality win within the conference. Prediction: Connecticut 66, Louisville 60

No. 21 Georgetown at No. 8 Villanova (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN): Villanova didn’t look like a Big East contender in its loss to Providence this week, while Georgetown might have put its problems in the rear-view mirror. The Hoyas destroyed St. John’s at the Verizon Center this week. Prediction: Villanova 73, Georgetown 68

No. 16 Minnesota at No. 12 Purdue (Saturday, 1:00 PM, CBS): Minnesota has had personnel problems galore lately, with the latest being Al Nolen’s potential season-ending injury. Purdue has to bounce back from its Ohio State loss, which highlighted its lack of a third scoring option. Prediction: Purdue 58, Minnesota 50

No. 9 Syracuse at Marquette (Saturday, 3:00 PM, ESPNU): Both teams are badly in need of a win here, as Syracuse has lost three in a row and Marquette is firmly on the bubble after its home loss to Connecticut earlier this week. Jimmy Butler vs. Kris Joseph will be interesting. Prediction: Marquette 77, Syracuse 72

Georgia at No. 14 Kentucky (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN): A rematch of Georgia’s upset win earlier this season, which lifted the Bulldogs into the nation’s vision. Since then, both teams have had their ups and downs – but Georgia could use a road win to add to its at-large resume. Prediction: Kentucky 71, Georgia 61

Kansas State at No. 6 Kansas (Saturday, 7:00 PM, ESPN): This game looked a lot more attractive before the season started. Kansas State has been a huge disappointment, while Kansas has just one loss. Can KSU get back on the right track with an impressive win in a hostile environment? Jacob Pullen faces Josh Selby. Prediction: Kansas 69, Kansas State 60

No. 11 Missouri at No. 7 Texas (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPNU): Arguably the best game of the week. Missouri is constantly involved in must-watch games, while Texas was this week’s Final Four flavor of the week. The Longhorns beat Kansas and Oklahoma State on the road to solidify its standing. Prediction: Texas 80, Missouri 75

No. 3 Duke at St. John’s (Sunday, 1:00 PM, CBS): St. John’s looked like a definite NCAA Tournament team, but the Red Storm have struggled mightily lately. A win here would go a long way towards determining their NCAA fate. Duke has suffered some upsets at Madison Square Garden during this rivalry. Prediction: Duke 67, St. John’s 64

West Virginia at Cincinnati (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Bob Huggins heads back to his old stomping grounds, with the Mountaineers reeling from various personnel losses and a late loss to Louisville. Cincinnati has a gaudy record without much substance. Prediction: West Virginia 62, Cincinnati 60

Non-BCS Battles

Xavier at Richmond (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN2): The Atlantic-10 is crowded at the top this season, with Richmond just one game back of Xavier (and Duquesne). This game will feature a tremendous battle at the point guard spot, with Tu Holloway against Kevin Anderson. Prediction: Richmond 63, Xavier 55

No. 9 BYU at New Mexico (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Versus): How will The Jimmer follow up his 43-point performance against San Diego State? Will he reach 50? However, don’t overlook the Lobos at The Pit. They have the length and big men to cause problems for the Cougars. Prediction: BYU 79, New Mexico 74

UAB at UCF (Saturday, 7:00 PM, Regional TV): UCF was one of the best stories in the country a few weeks; since then, though, the Knights are just 1-5 in conference play and sit in last place. UAB has had some close losses this season, but the Blazers need to keep winning for at-large hopes. Prediction: UCF 70, UAB 64

Dayton at Duquesne (Sunday, 2:00 PM): Dayton suffered a tough loss at home to Richmond earlier this week, and now the Flyers need to win on the road. Duquesne is tied with Xavier for the league lead, and the Dukes have a more favorable schedule the rest of the way. Bill Clark vs. Chris Wright will be fun. Prediction: Duquesne 73, Dayton 66

Conference Clashes

Butler at Valparaiso (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Butler was the heavy favorite to win the Horizon prior to the season, but Valpo is currently atop the standings, with the Bulldogs back in third. Butler has struggled defensively this year, but this might be a must-win for them. Prediction; Butler 65, Valparaiso 62

Saint Mary’s at Portland (Saturday, 7:00 PM): Saint Mary’s is the clear favorite in the West Coast Conference, especially after going into Spokane and defeating Gonzaga last night. Portland has a surprisingly good RPI, which means a road win here would add to the Gaels’ at-large resume. Prediction: Saint Mary’s 74, Portland 68

Austin Peay at Morehead State (Saturday, 7:15 PM): Austin Peay won the first battle between these two earlier this season, getting a leg up in a crowded OVC race. Kenneth Faried notched 23 and 23 last night, so the Governors will need to corral him and then get points from TyShwan Edmonson. Prediction: Morehead State 67, Austin Peay 59

Northern Iowa at Missouri State (Sunday, 8:05 PM, ESPNU): Missouri State still leads the Missouri Valley at 9-1, but Northern Iowa is starting to sneak up in the standings. The Bears will have an at-large shot if they roll through the league, but UNI is hot and has experience galore. Prediction: Missouri State 57, Northern Iowa 50

Other Games to Watch

No. 22 Florida State at Clemson (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Florida State is looking to separate itself as the second-best team in the ACC, and a road win here would help its case. Clemson is still searching for an identity, but the Tigers are tough at home. Prediction: Florida State 69, Clemson 66

Colorado at Baylor (Saturday, 1:45 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): A must-win game for both teams in the Big 12. Colorado was hot until it lost three straight heading into the weekend, while Baylor has been an enormous disappointment after reaching the Elite Eight last season. Prediction: Baylor 83, Colorado 75

North Carolina State at North Carolina (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN): There will be tons of freshmen talent in this game. UNC has Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall and Reggie Bullock, while NC State counters with C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown and Ryan Harrow. This one will be decided by the veterans, though. Prediction: North Carolina 81, North Carolina State 71

No. 13 Texas A&M at Nebraska (Saturday, 2:00 PM): Don’t expect a ton of points in this one. Texas A&M has been one of the more surprising teams this season, looking like a potential Big 12 and Sweet 16 contender. Nebraska was off to a hot start, but it has cooled off somewhat in conference play. Prediction: Texas A&M 60, Nebraska 54

No. 17 Wisconsin at Penn State (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Big Ten Network): Penn State has developed into more than just a cakewalk for the conference contenders; Taylor Battle and the Nittany Lions are tough outs. Wisconsin is a difficult match-up for most teams – expect a defensive battle in this one. Prediction: Wisconsin 62, Penn State 58

Tennessee at Mississippi (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): This will be another interesting test to see if the SEC East can continue to assert its dominance. The Volunteers have played fairly well without Bruce Pearl, but Chris Warren and the Rebels are in need of a win. Prediction: Mississippi 76, Tennessee 73

No. 1 Ohio State at Northwestern (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN): Ohio State remains the final undefeated team in the country after San Diego State’s loss to BYU. The Buckeyes obliterated Purdue on Tuesday, but will face a desperate Northwestern team that is seeing its NCAA hopes fade away. Who will handle Jared Sullinger? Prediction: Ohio State 74, Northwestern 64

Miami (Fl.) at Virginia Tech (Sunday, 5:30 PM, FSN): Miami (Fl.) suffered yet another close loss this week, falling on a couple of Harrison Barnes jumpers in the final minute. Virginia Tech has slowly fought its way back into the at-large hunt, but it lost to Georgia Tech earlier this week. Prediction: Virginia Tech 67, Miami (Fl.) 60

No. 18 Washington at Washington State (Sunday, 10:00 PM, FSN): Two of the best players in the country will face-off in Washington’s Isaiah Thomas and Washington State’s Klay Thompson. Unfortunately, Thomas has far more weapons at his disposal – who else will step up for the Cougars? Prediction: Washington 86, Washington State 80

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