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BIG TEN BATTLE ONCE AGAIN THE WEEK'S HIGHLIGHT
February 18, 2008

SCS.comLast weekend, Michigan State and Indiana played to see who could stay in the race for the Big Ten crown. Luckily for us, the Hoosiers won and gave themselves a chance to win the Big Ten, and now we get to see Indiana continue this quest at Assembly Hall against the hated Purdue Boilermakers. Besides that, the Big 12 and Big East are beginning to heat up, especially at the top but also in the middle of the conferences. And perhaps the weekís most important game, other than Purdue and Indiana, wonít even be seen on television.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Purdue at Indiana
Tuesday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

A rough week for the Hoosiers ended on a bright note, as Indiana spanked Michigan State on Saturday night to keep its Big Ten title hopes alive for now. But those dreams of capturing a conference regular season championship could be dashed on Tuesday if the Hoosiers fall to their hated rival Purdue, which currently leads the Big Ten at 12-1. Iíve been extremely critical of Indiana, but on Saturday it proved me wrong, and if it could beat the Boilermakers in this game, Iíd keep quiet for the rest of the season.

There isnít a team in the country hotter than Purdue, which hasnít lost in well over a month. And as impressive as Indiana was on Saturday, shaking off Kelvin Sampsonís problems and getting a win over Michigan State, Purdue has shown it is the better team recently. If D.J. White still cannot play, I donít see the Hoosiers overcoming his loss like they did on Saturday- not against a team playing as well as the Boilermakers. They may not have that star- that Eric Gordon or D.J. White- but Purdue doesnít need one. Every game, a different player steps up, whether that be EíTwaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, Chris Kramer, or somebody else. Take your pick. This is a young but incredibly deep team that plays as well together as any team in the country.

Purdue has done it all lately. It has blasted Michigan State at home. It beat Wisconsin at the Kohl Center, a place where opposing teams rarely win. So why canít the Boilermakers get a win at Assembly Hall? I donít see any reason why they canít. Looking at Purdueís schedule, Indiana is the last tough test for this team besides a road game at Ohio State (a very beatable team though), so the Boilermakers may win the rest of their regular season games and grab a top 10-15 ranking heading into the NCAA tournament. After they lost to Wofford and Iowa State in December, who would have thought that was possible? This team just doesnít lose anymore, and that trend wonít stop on Tuesday.

Prediction: Purdue 70, Indiana 66

MUST-SEE MATCHUPS

Syracuse at Louisville
Monday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

It was beginning to look like Jim Boeheim may miss a second straight NCAA tournament. But his team stayed in the hunt by soundly beating Georgetown on Saturday, and with four of its last five games against teams in the top 25, Syracuse has a chance to play itself into the field and leave no doubt for the NCAA tournament selection committee. Despite the big win on Saturday, finishing out the season strong will not be easy for the Orange, considering the competition they will be facing. Everything begins with Louisville on Big Monday at Freedom Hall. Since a loss at Cincinnati in the Big East opener, Louisville has won 11 of its last 13 games. After it seemed the Cardinals would be one of the seasonís biggest disappointments, Rick Pitino has his team in position to challenge for the Big East title. Syracuse needs this one badly for its NCAA tournament resume, and Louisville needs this one to keep itself in contention for a conference championship. One of these teams has to lose, but it wonít be the Cardinals, who look just as good as they were supposed to before the season began.

Prediction: Louisville 76, Syracuse 69

Texas A&M at Texas
Monday 8:00 PM CST ESPN

Last time these teams met, it wasnít pretty for the Longhorns. Texas A&M wiped the floor with Rick Barnesí team in College Station. But itís a whole different game now that the game will be played in Austin. And while the Aggies looked fantastic in their win against Texas a few weeks ago, they looked equally unimpressive losing to Oklahoma State this weekend at home. Somehow, Sean Sutton gained his first road victory as head coach at Oklahoma State by beating the Aggies on their home floor. So what will happen on Monday? Texas A&Mís frontcourt will be a load for the Longhorns, but Texas seems to have improved lately. A win over Kansas and a hard-fought road victory at Baylor, a game I picked the Bears in, has me thinking Barnes may have a team that could actually advance farther in the tournament than last year.

Prediction: Texas 79, Texas A&M 75

Baylor at Oklahoma
Tuesday 7:00 PM CST ESPN Plus

The top three teams in the Big 12 are firmly set with Kansas, Texas, and Kansas State battling for first place. After that, Texas A&M has the advantage in holding down the fourth spot. But after that, the conference is wide open. Baylor and Oklahoma both sit at 5-5 in the conference, with OU having the tiebreaker due to its earlier win over the Bears in Waco. Now, Baylor will look to get even in Norman and more importantly, the Bears will look to rebound from a recent losing skid. After that dramatic five-overtime victory over Texas A&M, Baylor has lost 5 of 6 and is in danger of falling even farther. Oklahoma is trending the other way with a two game winning streak, but it will need a strong finish to solidify its position in the Big 12 and in the NCAA tournament. This game has major conference implications, and I see the Sooners coming away with the victory. They will be too strong inside and the Bears wonít be able to stop their losing ways.

Prediction: Oklahoma 65, Baylor 61

Xavier at Rhode Island
Monday 6:00 PM CST

The Musketeers are a virtual lock to win the Atlantic Ten and make the NCAA tournament. After that, there are several teams fighting for supremacy and looking to impress the selection committee. Rhode Island is one of these teams. If the Rams could pull off the upset at home on Monday, they could help their tournament resume immensely. Right now, they donít have a lot of impressive victories, and they sit right on the bubble, neither solidly in nor solidly out. But Rhode Island is fading a little, having lost two of three games, and Xavier, riding a seven game winning streak, could add to that. I wouldnít say this is a must-win situation for Rhode Island, as there is a lot of time remaining in this season, but a victory here would allow them to breathe a little easier the rest of the way. Unfortunately, with the way Xavier is playing, the Rams will be overpowered.

Prediction: Xavier 81, Rhode Island 77

Pittsburgh at Notre Dame
Thursday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

Jamie Dixonís squad is at a critical juncture of the season. With Notre Dame and Louisville coming up, this could be the two game stretch that shows us whether or not Pittsburgh will be enjoying a five seed or higher in the NCAA tournament, or if it will be stuck with a low seed and an opportunity to get bounced in the first weekend. Itís starting to look like the Panthers may be the latter. At 7-5, if Pitt were to lose these next two games- not an outrageous thought- it would be at .500 in the league, fighting teams like West Virginia and Syracuse for a spot in the upper-half of the Big East. Notre Dame, on the other hand, doesnít have these problems. Actually, the Irish are competing for a conference title, and at 8-3, they are just a game behind the conference leaders, Georgetown and Louisville. A close call at Rutgers almost turned out to be disastrous on Sunday, but the Irish escaped with a victory. They may not ďescapeĒ on Thursday, but I do expect Notre Dame to take care of Pittsburgh at home, where it has won 34 straight games.

Prediction: Notre Dame 75, Pittsburgh 68

South Alabama at Western Kentucky
Thursday 7:00 PM CST

If only the country cared about teams not from the six power conferences. If it did, this game would be all over ESPN. Sportscenter would be previewing it. The game would actually be on television for America to see. College Gameday analysts would discuss the game and its implications. Thatís the life of two teams from the Sun Belt conference, but it doesnít make this game any less important. South Alabama trails Western Kentucky by just a half game in the Sun Belt standings, but donít think that this game is only important to the regular season conference title. Both teams are vying for at-large consideration, because unfortunately, only one team can win the Sun Belt conference tournament. Whichever team wins on Thursday will have to simply not slip up for the rest of the season, and the Sun Belt title is theirs. Plus, the winner of this game boasts another quality win for the selection committee. This game is so even and will be so close that I will go with the home team in this one. South Alabama has lost to North Texas and Middle Tennessee on the road this year, so Iíll give the nod to Western Kentucky. Should be a blast though- if only it were on television.

Prediction: Western Kentucky 78, South Alabama 76

OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST

Mississippi State at Mississippi
Wednesday 7:00 PM CST

After beating Arkansas this weekend, Mississippi State is in great position to win the SEC West. Mississippi, on the other hand, may be playing its way out of the NCAA tournament field after such a hot start. The Bulldogs donít need this one nearly as bad as UM, who would fall to 3-8 in the SEC. Mississippi State may not have the same sense of urgency, but the Bulldogs are simply much better than their rivals.

Prediction: Mississippi State 86, Mississippi 77

Massachusetts at Rhode Island
Thursday 6:00 PM CST ESPN2

If the Minutemen donít find a way to win at Rhode Island, their already slim tournament hopes will be gone for good. Massachusetts has really struggled lately and this will continue against a very strong Rams team.

Prediction: Rhode Island 80, Massachusetts 72

Oregon at USC
Thursday 10:00 PM CST Fox Sports Net

The Ducks need to get a big road victory here to avoid falling out of the NCAA tournament picture. USC seems to be solidly in, but you never know. Especially in the Pac-10.

Prediction: USC 65, Oregon 64

Arizona State at Washington State
Thursday 8:00 PM CST

The Sun Devils have enough good wins to merit at-large consideration, but a recent five game losing streak and a loss to California on Saturday kills them. Even though Arizona Stateís RPI is very weak and most will have it out of the NCAA tournament field at this point, I donít buy into that. This is a team that has not lost to any bad teams, but is just a victim of an extremely strong conference. Thursdayís game in Pullman is a big one for Herb Sendek, but I donít see Washington State losing this one at home.

Prediction: Washington State 66, Arizona State 59

Danielís overall prediction record: 121-46
Last weekend: 8-6

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