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WEEK'S TOP GAME IS AN ATLANTIC 10 SHOWDOWN
January 21, 2008

SCS.comThis past weekend lacked that marquee matchup that hoops fans attempt to plan their days around. Unfortunately, this week is not a whole lot better, even though we are well into the conference schedule. There is, however, one big game to keep an eye on in the Atlantic 10 conference, that contest pitting Dayton against Xavier. And of course, within each major conference there are some moderately important games and a great deal of “bubble bursters,” which are always fun to keep an eye on. Here's a complete look at the week ahead.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Dayton at Xavier
Thursday 7:00 PM CST CSTV

Barring a surprise run by a team such as Rhode Island, Massachusetts, St. Joseph’s, or even Charlotte, these will most likely be the two teams fighting for the Atlantic Ten title. A month from now, Dayton will welcome Xavier to its place, but on Thursday night, it will be Xavier hosting what should be one of the A-10’s biggest games of the season.

Due to blowout wins over Kansas State, Virginia, and Auburn, the Musketeers suddenly began to garner more and more attention from the national media. After the pollsters voted Xavier into the top 25, however, this team has been struggling. Two ugly wins over St. Bonaventure and Fordham had coach Sean Miller worried, and his worst dreams were realized in a loss to Temple. Even Saturday’s win over George Washington did not come easily.

Dayton’s 13 game winning streak was snapped by UMass, but the Flyers still enter Thursday’s contest at 14-2, with wins against Louisville, Pittsburgh, and Rhode Island. Although he was an unknown to many before the season, point guard Brian Roberts has captured the attention of hoops junkies everywhere as he has led his team to a surprisingly fast start. Both teams have slowed a bit recently, but does one team have an edge in this one?

The answer seems to be “no.” Not much separates these two teams, which is why the outcome should be extremely close. Xavier’s at home, but as stated earlier, the Musketeers have not been overly impressive over the past few weeks. But before Dayton’s loss on Wednesday, SLU took it to overtime before the Flyers eventually prevailed. The Flyers also lost to George Mason on the road earlier in the year, which may be a sign that road games are still an obstacle for Dayton. Give me Xavier in a close one due to the home court advantage.

Prediction: Xavier 74, Dayton 72

MUST-SEE MATCHUPS

UCLA at Oregon
Thursday 9:30 PM CST FSN

I’m sure Ernie Kent doesn’t care for moral victories, but his Oregon team came very close to knocking off Washington State in Pullman Sunday night. UCLA showed it can be beat after USC took care of them at Pauley Pavilion, and there is no reason why the Ducks can’t win this game. The Bruins looked human against the Trojans on Saturday, but I’d look for a better effort Thursday night- an effort that results in a road victory.

Prediction: UCLA 69, Oregon 65

Washington State at Arizona
Thursday 7:30 PM CST

Arizona picked up a victory over Cal on Saturday, a game it really needed to avoid falling behind in the Pac-10. Now, the task gets even tougher with a date with Washington State at home. Finally, after four straight road games, the Wildcats will head back to Tuscon. A 2-2 split during that stretch was not bad, but now with 5 of the next 7 games at home Arizona must capitalize. The Cougars squeaked by Oregon on Sunday night, and since they rarely blow anybody out, expect this one to be tight as well, with Wazzu prevailing.

Prediction: Washington State 59, Arizona 55

Baylor at Texas A&M
Wednesday 7:00 PM CST

Texas A&M is reeling thanks to two road losses to Texas Tech and Kansas State. The worst part about the two game skid is the Aggies were not even close in either game. It is tough for me to believe this team is as bad as these last two games would indicate, however, and we will find out a lot more about Texas A&M when it takes on a very good Baylor squad. The advantage in the backcourt goes to Baylor, but I do not see how the Bears will be able to tame the Aggies’ inside game. If the game were in Waco I’d go with Baylor, but at home Texas A&M will prevail.

Prediction: Texas A&M 78, Baylor 75

Drake at Creighton
Tuesday 7:05 PM CST

After picking up a humungous victory against Illinois State to run its record to a perfect 7-0 in the conference, Drake is now in control of the Missouri Valley. That sets up another big game in Omaha against Creighton, who has won five games in a row. Drake has had a number of close calls recently, and this game will be a battle as well. What many do not realize is the Bulldogs are playing without their best player, Josh Young, who is out with an injury. They have survived without him, though, and they have won everywhere- on the road, at home, anywhere. Drake has just continued winning, and Creighton won’t stop it this week.

Prediction: Drake 85, Creighton 77

Syracuse at Georgetown
Monday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

Backed by Roy Hibbert’s outstanding performance, Georgetown dominated Notre Dame at home Saturday, avenging an earlier loss on the road to Pittsburgh that same week. Now, the Hoyas will try to do the same thing to Syracuse, whose loss to Villanova on Saturday dropped it to 3-3 in the Big East. Without much to boast about in the non-conference, the Orange are in danger of once again missing the NCAA tournament. Georgetown will overwhelm Syracuse and push them into an even deeper hole.

Prediction: Georgetown 71, Syracuse 60

North Carolina at Miami
Wednesday 8:00 PM CST

Finally, we get to find out how the Heels will respond after a loss. Maryland’s stunning upset in Chapel Hill leaves just Memphis and Kansas undefeated. North Carolina is still the front runner in the ACC, however, but Miami is a team that has surprisingly ascended near the top half of the conference. After a fast start, the Hurricanes have faded a bit, now having dropped two straight heading into this duel with North Carolina. If Miami loses to UNC, it then has to face Clemson, which could be another loss. Miami does not want to start 1-4, which means springing an upset here could turn around its season. Although there is still a lot of basketball left, teams are beginning to expose Miami, who may end up being just an NIT team, resembling last year’s Clemson team.

Prediction: North Carolina 91, Miami 79

Connecticut at Cincinnati
Wednesday 6:30 PM CST FSN

Cincinnati is good. Deal with it. Forget about the losses to Belmont and Bowling Green, because this team has played out of its mind to start Big East play. At home, Cincy has already knocked off Syracuse, Villanova, and Pittsburgh. Now, at home against Connecticut, the Bearcats should actually be the favorite in this game, as hard as that is to imagine. It is still hard to tell how this team will play on the road, as their only road victory came against at Freedom Hall against a battered Louisville team. Luckily for Cincy, Wednesday’s game is not on the road, so for that reason you just have to think this team will get it done once again.

Prediction: Cincinnati 74, Connecticut 68

OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST

Texas at Oklahoma State
Monday 8:00 PM CST ESPN

After losing to Missouri and struggling past Colorado, the Longhorns have not been impressive in Big 12 play to say the least. Gallagher-Iba Arena really gets rocking for big games, especially big games against Texas, and it is easily one of the top venues in college basketball. The problem is Oklahoma State simply isn’t very good. Texas should be able to overwhelm them despite the sluggish start in conference play.

Prediction: Texas 81, Oklahoma State 68

Tennessee at Kentucky
Tuesday 8:00 PM CST ESPN

Well what do you know? Billy G’s has his kids playing some basketball now! First, the Wildcats took out Vanderbilt. Then, they went on the road to Florida and forced the game into overtime. It may not be enough to turn the season around, and although Tennessee will walk all over them in Lexington on Tuesday, at least Kentucky fans can take a little more pride in this team.

Prediction: Tennessee 89, Kentucky 68

Massachusetts at St. Joseph’s
Wednesday 5:00 PM CST

Unnoticed due to the massive attention on the top of the conference, both Massachusetts and St. Joseph’s are quietly right in the race for the Atlantic 10 title. Although Dayton and Xavier are ranked in the top 25, those teams are not too far ahead of the rest of the conference. This game becomes critical as it will help to the several teams in the middle of the conference.

Prediction: Massachusetts 86, St. Joseph’s 81

Virginia at Florida State
Wednesday 6:00 PM CST

The great things about games like these is you know they will always be competitive. Sure, we love Duke/UNC on ESPN in the middle of the week, but a Virginia/FSU game provides the same type of entertainment. Plus, you could even argue the stakes are higher, with both teams desperately needing as many ACC victories as possible. It’s a toss-up game, but I give the edge to Florida State, as I was impressed with the way it battled back against Duke to scare the Blue Devils a bit.

Prediction: Florida State 74, Virginia 70

Georgia Tech at North Carolina State
Wednesday 6:00 PM CST

Just like the Virginia/Florida State game above, both Georgia Tech and North Carolina State are almost exactly even. And again, both teams could really use a win, and that sense of urgency will be evident. Georgia Tech’s performance against North Carolina was nice but not enough, but even with as well as it played in that game, I don’t see a road victory here. Look for the Wolfpack to get back on track in the ACC.

Prediction: North Carolina State 80, Georgia Tech 70

Western Kentucky at New Orleans
Wednesday 7:00 PM CST

Keep an eye on the Hilltoppers and Courtney Lee, both of whom you will be seeing again most likely in March. They have some competition for their conference, mainly from South Alabama, but New Orleans could pose a threat in the conference tournament as well. The Privateers have put together a solid season and could really elevate their status in the Atlantic Sun with a win here at home.

Prediction: Western Kentucky 82, New Orleans 68

Seton Hall at Providence
Thursday 6:00 PM CST ESPN2

It seems like we play the same games over and over again in the Big East. The names on the jerseys change, but there is an endless supply of middling games between teams looking to do anything to separate from the pack. That’s part of what makes the Big East such a great conference to watch, though. With a 16 team league and no clear favorite, this is shaping up to be a fantastic season of basketball for the conference. Providence picked up a huge road win at Connecticut recently and I see it continuing its success at home this time.

Prediction: Providence 78, Seton Hall 75

Daniel’s overall prediction record: 41-16

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