Somehow, the weekendís only game featuring two ranked opponents is Clemson/Duke, and even Clemson is barely in the polls at 24th. For this reason, there is no Game of the Weekend, but there is still plenty to look forward to. From a freshman battle of Jordan vs. Beasley in Texas A&M and Kansas State, to one of the nationís oldest rivalries, as well as a great deal of Big East and Pac-10 action, this weekend offers a lot of options. And oh yeah, donít forget about one of the weekendís most critical games, which takes place in the Missouri Valley Conference between two unlikely squads.
Texas A&M at Kansas State
Texas A&M inexplicably found itself on the wrong side of a blowout loss against an inferior Texas Tech team Wednesday night, and Mark Turgeonís Aggies will be looking to take their anger our on Kansas State. Coming off a big road victory against OU, the Wildcats may finally be starting to use Michael Beasleyís presence as effectively as possible. The win in Norman was surprising, given that Kansas State lost by 26 points on the road against Xavier prior to that. Although the Wildcats certainly are not lacking down low with Beasleyís presence, they do not have a true center to match up with Texas A&Mís DeAndre Jordan. Guard play will make the difference in this one, and the Aggies will need to obviously score the basketball better than they did against Texas Tech, a game they scored just 53 points in. Kansas Stateís encouraging win over OU leads me to believe it wonít roll over, but Texas A&Mís performance on Wednesday was an anomaly.
Prediction: Texas A&M 66, Kansas State 63
Clemson at Duke
After failing to knock off North Carolina in overtime, Clemson has a chance to take out another top ACC team in Duke. The Blue Devils have teamed with North Carolina to create the top tier of the conference, but nothing has been decided after the top two teams. The Tigers certainly have the ability to finish third in this conference, and they certainly have the ability to upset Duke on the road. Clemson narrowly lost in Durham last year and a clock controversy led many to believe the Tigers unrightfully lost the game, so itís not out of the question that Oliver Purnellís team could spurn the upset. Give me Duke in this one, though, as I believe the Blue Devils would beat Clemson no matter where they played.
Prediction: Duke 81, Clemson 73
Notre Dame at Geeorgetown
As hard as it is to win on the road at Pittsburgh, Georgetown showed just how wide open the Big East race is after losing to the Panthers 69-60 Monday night. Although John Thompson figured before the season that he would be coaching the heavy favorite in the conference, the gap between the Hoyas and the rest of the league is not nearly as wide as originally believed. Marquette and Pittsburgh have positioned themselves as legitimate contenders for a Big East title, and several other teams seem to be ready to make a push toward the top of the league. Included in this group is Notre Dame, which avoided a home loss to scorching-hot Cincinnati after trailing at half time. At 3-1 in the Big East with wins over West Virginia and Connecticut, the Irish have begun the conference season on the right note. But to elevate their Big East status, they have to get a win against one of the leagueís powers. Georgetown has not been all that impressive, but it will be good enough to take out Notre Dame at home.
Prediction: Georgetown 68, Notre Dame 60
Marquette at Connecticut
Pretty much every time a Big East game is previewed in this column, the same description is given of the conference. ďItís up for grabs,Ē Iíll say. And while itís repetitive, it is also completely true. 1-16, nothing is a given in this conference. Thatís why every single game is a struggle, and itís also why the Big East is one of the nationís most compelling leagues. In Storrs, the Huskies will not bow down to Marquette, even if the Golden Eagles are the better team. Connecticutís performance against Georgetown shows me it can not only compete with the big boys, but should be able to beat them as well. We just havenít seen it yet. I expect to see it at home against Marquette in an upset.
Prediction: Connecticut 72, Marquette 70
Kansas at Missouri
Missouri followed up its home win over Texas with a loss at Iowa State, but the Tigersí performance against the Longhorns should scare the Jayhawks just a little bit. That said, Kansas may just be the best team in the entire country. Seriously, can you find a weakness with this team? Theyíre deep. They can run. They can slow it down in the half court. They play great defense. They rebound. They have great guards. They have great big men. I hate to make it a Kansas love-fest, but this Jayhawk team has been unbelievably impressive so far. Despite the poor performance against Iowa State, Kansas should at least respect the fact that its fiercest rival will need to be tamed with one of the Jayhawkís better efforts. They canít cakewalk through Columbia, but if they show up it should be a fairly easy victory.
Prediction: Kansas 85, Missouri 72
USC at UCLA
O.J. Mayo could have gone to any school in the nation, but he decided to choose USC to make a name for himself at a school without traditional basketball success. Mayo has lived up to expectations, but the rest of his team has faltered. Granted, the competition has been tough, and besides the Mercer debacle to open the season, USC has lost only to good teams. Itís beginning to look like the Trojans will need a lot of work to reach the NCAA tournament, and it would be a colossal failure for Mayoís one year (presumably) to end without an appearance in March. Beating UCLA at Pauley wonít be easy by any means, and itís not a true ďmust-win,Ē but USC could really use this one. I see them missing out and falling to 1-4 in the conference, a hole the Trojans might not recover from.
Prediction: UCLA 69, USC 58
Arizona State at Stanford
Arizona StateÖ ranked? In basketball? When did this happen? For a team that was nothing but an afterthought in a very deep conference during the pre-season, the Sun Devils are progressing under Herb Sendek better than anyone could have imagined. In Palo Alto, it wonít be enough, however. The Sun Devils are a nice story and have not lost since Dec. 2, but Stanfordís frontcourt will prove too powerful for Arizona State.
Prediction: Stanford 68, Arizona State 64
Oregon at Washington State
Just when it looks like Oregon is turning the corner, the Ducks failed to take care of business on the road against Washington. While itís hardly a bad loss, it does serve as a blow to Oregon, who was looking to finally break through after a rough start to the season. Washington State, still one of the nationís top teams even considering last weekís loss to UCLA, can knock Oregon back to .500 in Pac-10 play with a win Sunday night. At home, on national television, the Cougars will get this one.
Prediction: Washington State 58, Oregon 50
Illinois State at Drake
Letís see. Itís the biggest game to date in the Missouri Valley Conference. Both teams enter the game with an undefeated 6-0 conference record. But the game isnít being played in Carbondale? Omaha? Instead, itís being played in Des Moines, Iowa, where the Drake Bulldogs will somehow be taking on the Illinois State Redbirds to decide who will take first place in the Missouri Valley Conference. At 14-3 overall, Illinois State has been a pleasant surprise, but the 15-1 Bulldogs take it to another level. A school record 14 straight victories have Drake, whoís only loss was to St. Maryís, on the verge of the top 25. Josh Young, the Bulldogsí leading scorer, probably will not be back for this game, which is a huge blow to his team. But Drake was able to beat both Missouri State and Bradley without him, and it should be able to beat Illinois State without him as well.
Prediction: Drake 81, Illinois State 77
Villanova at Syracuse
Despite recent losses to DePaul and Cincinnati, Villanova still finds itself just barely inside the top 25, while the Orange have since dropped out after beginning the season with nothing more than just an average performance. Syracuse, with a 3-2 record in the conference, is at a critical juncture of its season. Boeheimís young squad has been up and down this season, and two recent road losses to Cincinnati (who is beating just about everybody these days) and West Virginia, the Orange are in danger of falling to the dreaded middle-of-the-pack of the Big East. With Villanova and Georgetown coming up, Syracuse cannot afford to drop below .500 in the conference.
Prediction: Villanova 77, Syracuse 75
OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
Injuries are no longer an excuse for the Panthers, who defended their home court and notched a huge victory over Georgetown Monday night. But while Pittís Big East success has not come as a surprise, Cincinnatiís certainly has. Once thought of as one of the conferenceís worst teams, the Bearcats welcome Pittsburgh to town in a game that may present problems for Jamie Dixonís club. Cincy might not get it done, but the Bearcats should be taken seriously.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 72, Cincinnati 61
Maryland at North Carolina
Finally, the Terps picked up a much needed ACC win by beating Wake Forest this week, but Maryland is in danger of embarrassing itself at Chapel Hill. North Carolina has struggled at times with quality squads, but Marylandís season has been a disaster so far. If Gary Williams can find a way to make this team more competitive than North Carolina State was at North Carolina, it will be considered a success.
Prediction: North Carolina 93, Maryland 76
Arizona at California
With both teams looking to gain some ground in the Pac-10, Saturdayís game become important to the league standings. Neither Arizona nor California will be competing at the top of the conference, most likely, so these games between similar opponents are always important. Neither team is a top-flight Pac-10 squad, which actually makes the game even more compelling, because of how even the match-up is.
Prediction: California 76, Arizona 75
Ohio State at Tennessee
Last seasonís meeting between these two teams ended in Tennessee just falling short of upsetting highly ranked Ohio State. The tables are turned this year in a late non-conference match-up, with Ohio State now looking to stun the Volunteers. Ohio State has been shaky at times this season, and Tennessee will make them look even shakier on Saturday.
Prediction: Tennessee 86, Ohio State 69
Illinois at Purdue
Saturdayís game at Mackey Arena will be a game featuring two teams moving in completely different directions. Illinoisí win at Michigan marked the end of a brutal five game losing streak, while Purdue is now 3-1 in the Big East with a close loss to Michigan State and a win over Ohio State. In West Lafayette, Purdueís young team will continue to grow up with a win over once-mighty Illinois.
Prediction: Purdue 78, Illinois 65
Kentucky at Florida
The only reason this game is listed is because ESPN is taking the Gameday Crew to Gainesville. By the way, itís possible College Gameday, for football and basketball, is the best show on television. Hopefully Kentucky at least makes it a game, but on the road Florida should win by double digits.
Prediction: Florida 79, Kentucky 61
Miami at North Carolina State
Itís time for Sidney Lowe to panic. With an 0-2 ACC record, this game becomes an early must-win for the Wolfpack. Miami desperately needs a win as well after falling to Boston College earlier this week.
Prediction: Miami 76, North Carolina State 69
Danielís overall prediction record: 30-10