The road was not kind to some of the countryís top teams last week. Washington State didnít have any fun in Los Angeles as they fell behind early and could not recover against UCLA. Vanderbilt kept some pressure off Billy Gillispie for a few days at least, losing at Rupp Arena, and that wasnít all. Texas rolled over in Columbia, Missouri after the Tigersí hot-shooting second half, and Michigan State pulled a ďSaint LouisĒ against Iowa. Just more of the same in college basketball. Expect some more of it this week.
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Vanderbilt at Tennessee
Head coach Kevin Stallings even admitted his Vanderbilt team was one of the more overrated teams in the country. Most pundits and analysts assumed the Commodoresí fast start would end rather quickly. But Vandy continued to win. And win. And keep winning until it reached 16-0. There were decent victories over Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, and Massachusetts, and there was a stunning comeback against DePaul that quieted the doubters. The pollsters voted the Commodores into the top 15, and everything seemed to be setting up for a showdown with Tennessee as one of the countryís remaining unbeaten teams.
Then, Billy Gillispieís Kentucky Wildcats decided to actually play real basketball and upset Vanderbilt at Rupp Arena. Despite the double overtime loss in Lexington, Thursdayís game in Knoxville between Vanderbilt and Tennessee still features two of the SECís best teams. The Volunteers enter the game riding a nine game winning streak, including impressive wins over Xavier, Gonzaga, and Mississippi. Arizona transfer J.P. Prince has provided a lift off the bench, averaging more than 12 points per game in his first six games. With Prince, the Smith trio (JuJuan, Ramar, and Tyler), All-American Chris Lofton, and a horde of contributors helping Bruce Pearl run his up-tempo style, the Volunteers are shaking off an early loss to Texas.
It would seem this game is more important to Vanderbilt for validation purposes. In reality, the game is just as important to both teams. While we will find out whether or not Vandy is for real, Tennessee needs this one to solidify itself atop the SEC. As far as individual performances go, the Commodoresí Shan Foster, A.J. Ogilvy, and Alex Gordon have enjoyed fine starts to the season. But the way Vanderbilt trailed by 16 to Kentucky in the second half and eventually lost in overtime is far from encouraging. In Knoxville, I donít see how there is any way Vandy can keep up with the Volunteers.
Prediction: Tennessee 86, Vanderbilt 75
Georgetown at Pittsburgh
Adjusting to life without Mike Cook and Levance Fields has not been easy for Pittsburgh. Unfortunately, the Panthers must deal with these injuries on a long-term basis, as Fields could be out for two months or more, and Cook will miss the rest of the season. That means players such as Keith Benjamin and Gilbert Brown, thrust into starting roles, will need to help out stars Sam Young and DeJuan Blair in their increased playing time. Even at home, a win over Georgetown would be considered a substantial upset. The Hoyas enter Monday having lost just one game (to Memphis), although not one win on their schedule is particularly eye-opening. Both teams need to grab a win in this nationally televised Big East match-up; Pittsburgh must gain some confidence playing without Cook and Fields, and Georgetown needs to beat a notable opponent. Roy Hibbert vs. DeJuan Blair should be an epic battle down low, but I actually like Pittsburgh to win at home, a place it rarely loses, against a team that has not been especially impressive this year.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 71, Georgetown 70
Oklahoma at Kansas
A disappointing home loss to Kansas State this Saturday hurts the Sooners immensely, as it now puts them in position to drop to 0-2 in the Big 12 unless they can spring a huge upset against the Jayhawks in Allen Field House. Thatís not looking very likely, considering how dominant Kansas has been this year. Oklahoma performed well in the non-conference, however, and still poses a threat to Bill Selfís team. But just for purposes of comparison, a pretty solid Nebraska team tried its best to compete with Kansas on Saturday in front of what may have been the Huskersí most raucous basketball crowd in program history. Like they have done to so many other teams this year, the Jayhawks blew Nebraska out of the building. Oklahoma is better than Nebraska, but still not good enough to win this game.
Prediction: Kansas 77, Oklahoma 68
Ohio State at Michigan State
36 points? Thatís REALLY how many points the Spartans scored on Saturday? Thatís terrible against any opponent, but against one of the Big 10ís worst teams in Iowa, it is downright inexcusable. Tom Izzo now has to get his team back on track to take on Ohio State, which is looking for a win to push itself closer to an NCAA tournament bid. Take away Saturdayís game, though, and Michigan State had been looking as good as its ranking would suggest. The Iowa game was rough, but the Spartans are too good for a repeat performance.
Prediction: Michigan State 72, Ohio State 65
Florida at Mississippi
Going on the road to beat Alabama was a nice SEC win for the young Gators. Now, if they want to get to that next level, they need to take out nationally-ranked Mississippi on its home floor. I donít see it happening. I wasnít sure that the Rebels were for real, but after beating Clemson and almost beating Tennessee in Knoxville, I am convinced that Andy Kennedy has very tough squad in Oxford. This should be a competitive game, and even though I see UM winning, it probably will not be by much. Florida may be growing up, but that maturation process is still at a very early stage. Billy Donovan has a lot of work left to do with this team.
Prediction: Mississippi 81, Florida 78
North Carolina at Georgia Tech
Nobody thought North Carolina State could go into Chapel Hill and come away with a victory on Saturday. Most even assumed the Wolfpack would get blown out. But nobody could have imagined they could get beat as bad as they did. After a 27-0 run in the first half, the game was over. A team that once was expected to finish very high in the ACC could not even hang with North Carolina for one half. Is it that the Tar Heels are just that good? Itís definitely possible. On the road, North Carolina probably will not put on the same show it did this weekend against Georgia Tech. This one probably wonít be very close, however.
Prediction: North Carolina 85, Georgia Tech 70
Duke at Florida State
For whatever reason, Florida State has played Duke extremely tough recently. Last year, the Seminoles went into Cameron Indoor and won. Two years ago, they beat Duke at home and lost in overtime in Durham. So even though the Blue Devils are clearly superior this season, do not count out Florida State. It has not been a bad year for Florida State, who looks to have an outside shot at an NCAA tournament berth, but is probably headed to the NIT. With the recent success Florida State has had against Duke, and the fact it is not a pushover by any means, this could be an upset in the making. You wonít see me making that pick, though. Iím not that bold, but I am bold enough to say I think this will be a competitive game.
Prediction: Duke 78, Florida State 75
Marquette at Louisville
For Rick Pitino and his Louisville team, the 2007-2008 campaign has seemed like a disaster. In reality, despite four early losses and unbelievable decimation from injuries, the Cardinals are still alive. Just how alive are they, though? Marquette is certainly alive and well in the Big East, and it will be looking to put the Cardinals back on life support at Freedom Hall Thursday. Finally, with injuries healing and disciplinary issues being taken care of, Louisville is starting to assemble the team we all thought would be taking on Georgetown for the league title. There is still time left, but Louisville has to notch this win against Marquette to be taken seriously. I think the Cardinals make it happen on their home floor.
Prediction: Louisville 79, Marquette 78
Arizona at Stanford
Itís been an up and down year for the Wildcats. In November, it was a loss at home to Virginia. In December, it was a come-from-behind victory over Texas A&M, and a win against Illinois in similar fashion. Then, when star guard Jerryd Bayless went down with an injury, Arizona lost games to Memphis, Oregon, and Arizona State. None of these losses are devastating or embarrassing by any means, but the Wildcats now need to rebound after a 1-2 Pac-10 start. Stanford sits at 2-2 in league play and is tough in Palo Alto, where it stayed close with UCLA and beat USC. Arizona is struggling a bit right now, and Stanfordís powerful inside game will be just enough for a victory, especially if the Wildcatsí big men find themselves in foul trouble.
Prediction: Stanford 68, Arizona 66
OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST
Notre Dame at Cincinnati
Way to make me look good, Fighting Irish! After predicting an upset over Marquette, the Golden Eagles promptly destroyed Notre Dame by 26 points. Now, the Irish come home to face a streaking Cincinnati team, who recently has won games against Syracuse and Villanova. Notre Dame will get this one, but it wonít be easy.
Prediction: Notre Dame 67, Cincinnati 65
Miami at Boston College
A drubbing from Kansas and a loss to Robert Morris sure seemed to get Boston College angry. Unfortunately for Wake Forest, that meant a 50 point victory for the Eagles against the Demon Deacons. Now, Miami just has to hope the same thing does not happen to them.
Prediction: Miami 81, Boston College 70
Massachusetts at Dayton
So how does a team that has beaten Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Rhode Island, won 13 games in a row, ranked 17th in the nation, go to overtime with Saint Louis? The same Rick Majerus-coached team that scored 20 points in 40 minutes against George Washington took Dayton to overtime? At least its game against Massachusetts will be played at home, a place the Flyers play very well most of the time. Give me a one point victory for Dayton in a fast paced, high-scoring game.
Prediction: Dayton 85, Massachusetts 84
Danielís overall prediction record (updated each preview) 20-8