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WEST COAST CONFERENCE TITLE ON THE LINE
February 29, 2008

SCS.comThe weekendís best game isnít on television, but there are plenty of other games to watch over the next few days. Once the NCAA tournament starts, youíre not going to move from your couch much, so why not get a little early practice? This Saturday will feel like a tournament weekend. Out west, the West Coast Conference regular season title comes down to one game, and the Big East race will be greatly affected by this weekendís outcomes. Letís start with the game of the weekend, where Gonzaga will look to avoid getting swept by St. Maryís this season after dominating the WCC for so long.

GAME OF THE WEEKEND

St. Maryís at Gonzaga
Saturday 7:00 PM CST

The last time the two leaders of the West Coast Conference met at St. Maryís McKeon Pavilion, the home team came away with a victory and gained a critical advantage in the race for the regular season conference title. But while Gonzaga has not lost since that game, the Gaels tripped up against San Diego. That creates what is basically a regular season conference championship game on Saturday. If St. Maryís wins, the title is clinched, and if Gonzaga wins, the only way for it to not win the conference title would be to lose to Santa Clara on March 3.

Although both teams will easily make the NCAA tournament, seeding will undoubtedly be affected by this gameís outcome. St. Maryís has beaten Oregon and Gonzaga, and the Bulldogs have beaten St. Josephís and Connecticut, and both squads have competed well against some of the nationís elite teams, despite no wins to show for their solid efforts. Still, each team has something to prove on Saturday night to the NCAA tournament committee.

Tournament seeding is important, but the West Coast Conference championship is the line here. Thatís why itís a travesty that the game isnít on television somewhere, because it should be the most entertaining and most important game of the weekend. In early February, St. Maryís used a balanced team effort- four players scored in double figures- to narrowly edge Gonzaga in overtime. The two teams couldnít be more evenly matched. While the Gaelsí inside game does give them an advantage down low, especially since Josh Heytvelt is only seeing limited action, that didnít seem to bother the Bulldogs on the boards last time, as they actually outrebounded St. Maryís.

The last meeting between Gonzaga and St. Maryís couldnít have been any closer. I expect the same type of game in Spokane, and the exact same result- a narrow win by the home team.

Prediction: Gonzaga 76, St. Maryís 72

MUST-SEE MATCHUPS

Georgetown at Marquette
Saturday 1:00 PM CST CBS

How good is Georgetown? Ranked 11th in the country, it seems like a silly question. Itís not. Over the past month, the Hoyas have played an easy schedule, beating up on the Big East cellar teams. Other than that, Georgetown lost on the road to Louisville and Syracuse. It beat Villanova at home by two points, but not only did the Hoyas look terrible in that game, but they also benefited from a horrific call at the end of the game to win the game at the free throw line. Of course, February isnít the only month of the college basketball season, and Georgetown is tied in first place with a 13-3 conference record. Marquette is somewhat of a mystery as well. The Golden Eagles look like a dangerous team now with a five game winning streak, but Iím not going to forget about the several double digits losses they endured to the conferenceís top teams. I still see their explosiveness and athleticism getting them a win at home against Georgetown.

Prediction: Marquette 82, Georgetown 77

Washington State at Stanford
Saturday 3:00 PM CST

When you think of teams challenging for a Final Four, several teams come to mind. Stanford probably isnít one of them. But the Cardinals should be taken seriously as a threat for a deep run in March. The ďtwin towersĒ of Brook and Robin Lopez are the most recognizable players, and Stanfordís frontcourt is definitely its strength. However, the guard play is what has transformed this team from a fringe top 25 team to the eighth-ranked team in the nation. Anthony Goods is providing scoring and has been consistently knocking down outside shots, and Mitch Johnson is serving as the perfect point guard, controlling the offense and creating opportunities for others. Washington State has some guards of their own of course, and like last season, the duo of Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low is helping carry the Cougars into the NCAA tournament. Donít forget about Taylor Rochestie either, who has shown great improvement in his first year as a starting guard. Before a loss to Arizona this weekend, Washington State had been on a roll, but in a grind-it-out defensive game, Stanford will be victorious. Just barely.

Prediction: Stanford 68, Washington State 66

Kansas State at Kansas
Saturday 8:00 PM CST ESPN

I can run off a long list of reasons why Kansas will not only beat Kansas State on Saturday, but also win convincingly (possibly even in embarrassing fashion). First of all, College Gameday will be in Lawrence, and that should provide some motivation. Next, Kansas also always plays extremely well at Allen Fieldhouse, and Kansas State has played poor basketball lately and is currently enduring a three game losing streak. Plus, the Wildcats are an awful road team and have lost on the road to Missouri, Texas Tech, Nebraska and Baylor. But the main reason Kansas will win on Saturday is to avenge its loss in Manhattan earlier this season, where Kansas State acted like it won the National Championship that night. There are only two reasons- Bill Walker and Michael Beasley- I can think of why Kansas State might win this game.

Prediction: Kansas 88, Kansas State 72

Indiana at Michigan State
Sunday 1:00 PM CST CBS

Now we can finally stop talking about a Big Ten title for Michigan State. Scoring 42 points against Wisconsin ended all hopes. Now at 10-5 in the Big Ten, the Spartans should be worried about where they will be seeded in the tournament. Indiana has done a good job forgetting about Kelvin Sampson, having beaten Northwestern and Ohio State without him. Beating Michigan State without him may be a challenge, and I have to say I donít think the Hoosiers are up for it. They have not played particularly well in the past two games, despite winning both. Tom Izzo will find a way for his team to win this one.

Prediction: Michigan State 73, Indiana 70

Villanova at Louisville
Sunday 3:00 PM CST CBS

With the tiebreaker over Georgetown, Louisville is now the Big Eastís first place team. Beware of Villanova though, who is trying to play its way into the NCAA tournament field. If the Wildcats win this one at Freedom Hall, you have to think they will be in great position for an at-large bid. A loss wonít kill Villanova, but it may require the Wildcats to win two or three games in the Big East tournament to solidify a bid. On the road, against the nationís hottest team, Villanova will need some real luck to pull this one off. Louisville just does not lose these days.

Prediction: Louisville 78, Villanova 67

UCLA at Arizona
Sunday 3:00 PM CST CBS

In Los Angeles, UCLA got up on Arizona early and ended up whooping the Wildcats on ESPNís Saturday Primetime game. The Wildcatsí season hasnít been fantastic, but has been good enough to all but assure them an at-large bid. Their seed is rapidly falling though, and they may be approaching 10-11 seed territory. UCLA is in the hunt for a top seed and is in a race with Stanford for the Pac-10 title, and with no clear #1 this year, the Bruins can make a case for the nationís best team. I love the way this team is playing and a third straight Final Four is an extremely realistic goal.

Prediction: UCLA 79, Arizona 68

OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST

Vanderbilt at Arkansas
Saturday 3:05 PM CST

I have ripped Vanderbilt ruthlessly this season. The Commodores shut me up with their latest win against Tennessee, but Vandy still needs to prove it can win on the road, because Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee beat up on Vanderbilt by double digits when it had to leave Nashville.

Prediction: Arkansas 86, Vanderbilt 85

USC at Arizona State
Saturday 3:00 PM CST

Arizona State cannot lose this game. USC is in fine shape for an at-large bid, but the Sun Devils are hovering around .500 in the conference and must do something to separate themselves from the pack. USC impressed me at Arizona on Thursday, and I think the Trojans can get another road win on Saturday.

Prediction: USC 75, Arizona State 72

Clemson at Maryland
Sunday 7:30 PM CST FSN

Maryland is still on the bubble but helped itself immensely with a win at Wake Forest on Thursday. If the Terps win this game and the season finale over Virginia, they would basically be a lock. Dropping this game wouldnít be a good idea though.

Prediction: Clemson 83, Maryland 77

West Virginia at Connecticut
Saturday 11:00 AM CST ESPN360

We donít really hear much from West Virginia. I expect the Mountaineers to make the NCAA tournament as long as it doesnít completely collapse down the stretch. They donít need to beat Connecticut, but they would become a complete lock with a win.

Prediction: Connecticut 76, West Virginia 68

Oklahoma at Texas A&M
Saturday 1:00 PM CST ESPN

Why is the Big 12 so confusing? How did a struggling Texas A&M team beat Texas Tech by 40, and who in the world out of this conference is going to make the NCAA tournament? The Aggies could put its recent struggles behind them with a win on Saturday, and I think that just a few more conference wins will put them into the NCAA tournament.

Prediction: Texas A&M 68, Oklahoma 62

Pittsburgh at Syracuse
Saturday 11:00 AM CST ESPN

Jim Boeheimís team better win this game. The Orange have already blown chances to impress the committee against Louisville and Notre Dame. Lose this one and the NIT begins to look like a reality. Luckily for Syracuse, Pittsburgh has been average over the past month or so.

Prediction: Syracuse 73, Pittsburgh 70

Mississippi State at Florida
Saturday 3:00 PM CST CBS

Nobody in Starkville needs to worry about Mississippi State missing the NCAA tournament. They can worry about how far the Bulldogs will go, but Gatorsí fans are the ones that should be worried. Those people are spoiled anyway with two straight national championships and a recent title in college football. I say they deserve the NIT for just this year! I didnít say that out of jealously though or anything.

Prediction: Mississippi St 80, Florida 76

Kentucky at Tennessee
Sunday 11:00 AM CST CBS

Kentucky has already beaten Tennessee this season. Why canít it happen again? It wonít happen because the Volunteers will be ready to spend their last day as the nationís top ranked team getting revenge on the Wildcats.

Prediction: Tennessee 89, Kentucky 77

North Carolina-Asheville at Winthrop
Saturday 3:00 PM CST

I got a chance to watch Winthrop play Davidson last week in the BracketBusters series. The Eagles sure play ugly, and UNC-Asheville won by double digits in the last meeting. Things will be different on Winthropís home court.

Prediction: Winthrop 65, UNC-Asheville 60

Danielís overall prediction record: 134-57
Last week: 6-7: my worst week to date!

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