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RIVALRY WEEK INCLUDES TOBACCO ROAD SHOWDOWN
February 4, 2008

SCS.comIf you have watched ESPN at all lately, you probably noticed the non-stop commercials for “Rivalry Week.” Even though a person can only handle so much ESPN propaganda, you have to be excited about what is on tap for this week. Duke/UNC is the most recognizable rivalry and a can’t miss matchup, but Missouri and Kansas also face off in Lawrence Monday night. Plus, throughout the week not only will rivalry games take place, but also some critical conference games. The fun begins with a great Big Monday lineup, and if you have nothing to do tonight you might as well watch basketball from 6 PM central to midnight. But that’s just the beginning of a great week of hoops.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Duke at North Carolina
Wednesday 8:00 PM CST ESPN

When Duke and North Carolina get together, it’s always a fun time. As one of the most heated rivalries not just in college basketball, but in all of sports, there is something special about Tobacco Road hoops. There is some extra incentive to watch this game this season, however, considering both programs find themselves ranked inside the top five in the nation. With basically no challengers from the rest of the ACC, the conference will come down to these two teams. It’s not just a rivalry game, and it’s not just a top five match-up. It will also be a factor in determining the ACC regular season champion.

Although North Carolina began the season ranked higher and spent a great deal of time as the top ranked team, the Blue Devils have been the superior team over the past several weeks. The Tar Heels were struggling but winning games, with close calls against Clemson and Georgia Tech. Maryland finally pulled an upset, winning in Chapel Hill and giving Duke an early advantage in the ACC race. Duke has been on a roll lately, and after losing to Pittsburgh in December, the Blue Devils have won nine games in a row. None of these wins, however, came against a foe as tough as North Carolina.

UNC point guard Ty Lawson’s status is in question after suffering an injury in the Heels’ overtime win against Florida State Sunday. That could play a huge role in who wins this game. But even if Lawson doesn’t play, North Carolina has the ability to pound Duke inside with Tyler Hansbrough and Deon Thompson, and it does not bode well for the Blue Devils that their frontcourt is their most glaring weakness. Duke’s athleticism at the guard position will keep it in the game. DeMarcus Nelson has taken his game to another level this season, and five players are scoring in double figures for Duke. This is an explosive scoring team that can score in a variety of ways, and North Carolina’s defense has been shaky lately.

In Chapel Hill, it’s tough to pick against the Tar Heels. Considering how even the game should be, going with the home team would make a lot of sense. But I’m going to pick Duke in this one, because not only have the Blue Devils impressed me lately, but I can’t say that North Carolina has wowed me at all this season. The Heels will have their way with Duke down low, but the Blue Devils will score at will on their rivals.

Prediction: Duke 87, North Carolina 85

MUST-SEE MATCHUPS

Louisville at Marquette
Monday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

Kicking off a fantastic Big Monday slate on ESPN are Louisville and Marquette, both looking to build on encouraging victories this weekend. Rutgers unfortunately suffered an embarrassing blowout at the hands of the Cardinals, and Cincinnati could not defend its home court against Marquette, who picked up its first Big East road win of the season. Although both teams have had their share of inconsistencies this season, nothing has been determined in the Big East. Monday’s game becomes an important game which will help break up the logjam that currently clutters the conference. The two teams strength’s are in different areas- Marquette boasts speed and athleticism in the backcourt, while Louisville’s powerful frontcourt is its difference-maker. It is hard to figure out if the Cardinals will ever become the Big East contender we expected them to be, but there is a reason Louisville got all that pre-season publicity. Padgett and company will overpower the Golden Eagles en route to a road victory.

Prediction: Louisville 70, Marquette 68

Missouri at Kansas
Monday 8:00 PM CST ESPN

Keep the television on ESPN after Louisville/Marquette, because you’ll want to tune into the latest edition of the Border War series between Missouri and Kansas. Despite a horrendous brawl at a nightclub last Saturday that left the Tigers’ best player, Stefhon Hannah, with a broken jaw, and several other teammates facing discipline, Missouri found a way to stun Kansas State on Saturday. The same Wildcats team, of course, that finally ended its home losing streak to Kansas last Wednesday. So while the Tigers are flying high right now and the Jayhawks are struggling a bit (by their standards, of course), I still believe Kansas is the best team in the country. Mizzou kept the game close on Columbia, and that might happen again. But an upset of KU is too much to ask.

Prediction: Kansas 82, Missouri 70

Gonzaga at St. Mary’s
Monday 10:00 PM CST ESPN2

For the first two Big Monday games, you get to see some Big East and Big 12 action, but the last game may just be the best one you’ll get to see all night. And for probably the first time in a while, St. Mary’s holds the advantage against West Coast Conference power Gonzaga. The Gaels are traditionally a strong team but Gonzaga, of course, takes it to another level, having shaken its level as a mid-major and stormed onto the national scene. While St. Mary’s program could be given a boost from a win on Monday, the game will be more important to the WCC standings. At this point, neither St. Mary’s nor Gonzaga are a lock for the NCAA tournament, so this game is huge for more than just one reason. Especially when Gonzaga is in town, McKeon Pavilion is a great basketball venue and the home court advantage will push St. Mary’s to victory.

Prediction: St. Mary’s 77, Gonzaga 70

Florida at Tennessee
Tuesday 8:00 PM CST ESPN

I’m wrong about a lot of things, but for some reason I haven’t been impressed by the young Gators this season. That’s to be expected, with a lot of growing pains from a young team, but Florida’s recent surge in the SEC had a lot of people excited. I never bought into it and I was proven right for at least one game, as Arkansas demolished Florida at home on Saturday. Tuesday’s game will tell us a lot about the Gators. Tennessee will easily be the best team Florida has played this season, and just looking at how much it struggled in Fayetteville, Knoxville likely will not be kind to the Gators either.

Prediction: Tennessee 91, Florida 79

UCLA at Washington State
Thursday 9:30 PM CST FSN

Losing two straight home games is bad enough, but Washington State could actually lose three straight after UCLA makes its trip to Pullman. Both California and Stanford were able to win on the road against Wazzu, and the Bruins should be the next team to do it. Coming off a drubbing of Arizona, UCLA is back in the conversation as one of the nation’s top teams. The Cougars seem to be quickly falling in the Pac-10 and may no longer be a part of the top tier of the conference. We know Washington State will battle for 40 minutes, and the game will be close. But UCLA will be too much for the Cougars.

Prediction: UCLA 76, Washington State 69

OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST

Drake at Illinois State
Tuesday 7:05 PM CST

Drake might not play anybody, but as the rest of the top 25 keeps losing, the Bulldogs continue to win. Illinois State is Drake’s most dangerous challenger in the Valley but Drake is beginning to pull away. A win on Tuesday should wrap up the conference’s regular season title.

Prediction: Drake 70, Illinois State 60

Connecticut at Syracuse
Wednesday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

The Orange are quietly hanging around in the Big East, while Connecticut’s recent five game winning streak has been anything but quiet. The Huskies have beaten up on some good competition lately and can win in the Carrier Dome.

Prediction: Connecticut 72, Syracuse 66

Texas at Oklahoma
Wednesday 7:00 PM CST ESPN2

It’s not quite the same rivalry as in football, but the basketball version of Texas and Oklahoma should be just as fun. Still fighting in the middle of the Big 12, the Sooners saw from Missouri and Texas A&M that beating the Longhorns at home is possible. I see Blake Griffin giving Texas all kinds of trouble on Wednesday.

Prediction: Oklahoma 68, Texas 66

Texas Tech at Baylor
Tuesday 8:00 PM CST ESPNU

Having lost two games in a row, Baylor needs to get back on track against its in-state rival Tuesday night. Texas Tech is simply an awful road team and will not be able to hang with Baylor.

Prediction: Baylor 82, Texas Tech 67

Notre Dame at Seton Hall
Wednesday 6:30 PM CST ESPN

Technically, Notre Dame is in second place in the Big East. But with a loss to Seton Hall, not only could the Pirates climb to within a half game of the Irish, but Notre Dame could fall several spots. It’s just an insane year in the Big East, and winning on the road is nearly impossible.

Prediction: Seton Hall 76, Notre Dame 72

West Virginia at Pittsburgh
Thursday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

Backyard brawl, basketball style. Again, this would probably be a better game if it was played on the gridiron, but Huggins vs. Dixon will be fun regardless. Both teams have been struggling lately, but I’ll give the nod to Pitt as it is normally unbeatable at home (except Rutgers somehow did the unthinkable a few weeks ago).

Prediction: Pittsburgh 66, West Virginia 55

Oregon at Stanford
Thursday 9:00 PM CST

Even though Oregon may not be that bad, it is in danger of falling to the depths of the Pac-10. Stanford on the other hand is beginning to make a run in the conference and just picked up a huge win on the road against Washington State.

Prediction: Stanford 70, Oregon 65

Daniel’s overall prediction record: 91-36
This weekend’s record: 12-2

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