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BREAK FROM GRIDIRON GIVES HOOPS SPOTLIGHT
December 3, 2007

SCS.comFilled with twists and turns and wackiness all around, one of the zaniest college football regular seasons has finally come to an end. With the absence of football at least for a few more weeks, college basketball has a chance to grab the nation’s attention, starting this week. With a showdown between USC and Memphis highlighting the week, along with other intriguing matchups along the way, there is plenty of action to pay attention to. And while this Saturday may feel odd without any football, the entire day is filled with hoops action that promises to make you forget about your football cravings.

GAME OF THE WEEK

USC vs. Memphis (Madison Square Garden - Jimmy V Classic)
Tuesday 8:00 PM CST ESPN

Both O.J. Mayo and Derrick Rose possess extremely valuable skill sets and athletic ability at the point guard position, so the debate deciding which one is better is more of a personal preference. But we’ll find out a little bit more about how these freshmen stack up against each other when Southern Cal takes on Memphis in the Jimmy V Classic Tuesday night. Besides the natural talent and ability both players boast, the two are also extremely similar in that both are big for their position and create opportunities for their teammates.

So which team will provide their point guard with more to work with? Right now, the answer is undoubtedly Memphis. Rose might be getting more attention, but Chris Douglas-Roberts has been the man this year for the Tigers, and he is using a mix of his slashing prowess and an improved outside game to lead his undefeated team in scoring. With Douglas-Roberts, Rose, the rest of the Tigers’ fantastic backcourt, and Joey Dorsey, Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier banging inside, USC won’t have much room for mistakes if it wants to wake away victorious.

Don’t count out the Trojans, though, just because of Memphis’ lofty top 3 ranking. Tim Floyd’s team destroyed Southern Illinois to win the Anaheim Classic last week, and added a nice victory over Oklahoma as well, a game in which Mayo and fellow freshman Davon Jefferson combined to score 42 points. Oklahoma and Connecticut were nice opponents for Memphis, but this team will face its first elite test Tuesday night, and the game will not be a run-away victory for the Tigers. But there’s a reason for that high ranking, and there’s a reason Memphis is one of the favorites to win the National Championship. USC will put up a fight, but look for a Memphis victory in the end.

OTHER MUST-SEE MATCHUPS

Washington State at Gonzaga
Wednesday 10:00 PM CST ESPNU

A late-night battle in the West between Washington State and Gonzaga is a game you’ll want to stay up for. The Bulldogs’ are coming off two narrow victories over St. Joseph’s and Connecticut, while the Cougars escaped with a 3 point victory on the road against Baylor in their last game. McCarthey Athletic Center will be rocking, and this building hasn’t been kind to opponents. In fact, Gonzaga has lost just one home game since it opened in 2004. Washington State will look to make it two losses and has a pretty good shot at doing just that. In the Cougars’ comeback victory against Baylor, senior guard Derrick Low fought through an ugly shooting night to nail two critical three pointers at the end of the game to give his team the win. He and his backcourt mate Kyle Weaver may not always light up the scoreboard, but that’s the beauty of Washington State basketball. Big man Robbie Cowgill turned in an impressive performance against Baylor, going off for 18 points, and a similar game Wednesday night would help the Cougars. Gonzaga’s deep set of guards will match up well with Washington State, and super freshman Austin Daye will give the Cougars problems when they try to guard him.

Kentucky at Indiana
Saturday 3:00 PM CST CBS

It hasn’t been a great start for Billy Gillispie in Lexington, with a loss to Gardner-Webb and the failure to take out North Carolina at home. But the season is still young, and the Wildcats at least competed enough against the Tar Heels to prove they are better than what they showed against Gardner-Webb. Gillispie will have a chance to redeem himself if he can march into Bloomington and steal a victory against a ranked Indiana squad. A convincing win on Southern Illinois’ home court has the Hoosiers flying high, and they will be a tough task for Kentucky to topple. The inside-out combination of D.J. White and Eric Gordon will just be too much for the Wildcats.

Marquette at Wisconsin
Saturday 5:00 PM CST ESPN2

Bo Ryan’s team got off to a fast start, winning its first five games, two of which even included major-conference teams like Colorado and Georgia. That earned the Badgers a spot in the top 25, but Duke immediately took that away by shellacking Wisconsin at Cameron Indoor Stadium last week. Duke built a lead of more than 20 points at half time and never looked back, and Marquette will look to do the same thing this weekend. The Golden Eagles looked every bit as good as the Blue Devils even in their loss to them in the finals of the Maui Invitational, so Wisconsin better hope its fantastic home court advantage can help it play better than it did in Durham.

Arizona at Illinois
Saturday 11:00 AM CST ESPN

Lute Olsen still isn’t on the sidelines for Arizona, but interim head coach Kevin O’Neill is showing signs of turning his team around. Finally, this team may be shaking its recent label as a continuous underachiever. The Wildcats took Kansas to overtime and nearly won the game at Allen Field House, and then roared back to beat Texas A&M after falling into an early deficit. The Fighting Illini have a few major-conference victories over Arizona State and Oklahoma State, but they need to knock off some marquee opponents to improve their resume before Big 10 play. Illinois will need to find a way to stop Chase Budinger, but Arizona lacks bulk inside and could have trouble with Illini big man Shaun Pruitt. Arizona’s first half performance vs. Texas A&M was about as bad as it gets, but the 2nd half showed what this team is capable of doing.

Kansas State vs. Notre Dame (Madison Sqaure Garden - Jimmy V Classic)
Tuesday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

Sensational freshman Michael Beasley should be enough alone to beat Notre Dame, who lost closely to the two decent squads it has played this season in Baylor and Georgia Tech. After a rough showing at the Old Spice Classic, losing to George Mason and needing overtime to beat Central Florida, Kansas State’s performance at home against Oregon, even in a loss, was more encouraging. The Wildcats battled a good Ducks team to overtime, but still came away without a win due to poor execution and free throw shooting. Beasley’s been every bit as good as expected, but Kansas State needs to find a way to mesh their star with the rest of the team.

Davidson at UCLA
Saturday 4:30 PM CST (Local coverage)

Close losses to North Carolina and Duke on neutral courts show that Davidson at least is competitive enough to compete with the big boys. Eventually, the Wildcats will need to win one of these games though to prove they are not just a cute mid-major darling. After strong showings against two premier ACC programs, UCLA is smart enough not to sleep on Davidson, but the Bruins still have too much firepower for the Wildcats. It will be impressive if Davidson can yet again make a game out of this.

Michigan State at BYU
Saturday 3:00 PM CST Versus

Even though the Cougars reached the NCAA tournament last season, they still entered the 2007-2008 season relatively obscurely. That all changed after a victory over Louisville and a near win over North Carolina in the Las Vegas Invitational. Now, BYU is ranked in the top 25 and set to take on Michigan State, who quieted all doubters with an absolute spanking of North Carolina State last week. BYU does a lot of their work inside with big man Trent Plaisted. Michigan State is attempting to implement a more up-tempo style due to its depth and skill at the guard position, and the Spartans’ athleticism may be able to bother BYU. But North Carolina, even without Ty Lawson, is one of the most explosive teams in the country, and the Cougars nearly knocked them off.

OTHER GAMES OF INTEREST

Providence at Rhode Island
Saturday 6:00 PM CST (Local coverage)

Here are two teams that don’t get a lot of national attention, but are good enough to make a serious push at the NCAA tournament this season. The Friars will be mired in the middle of the Big East standings, and the Rams will most likely be near the top of the Atlantic 10, hoping for either Xavier to falter or the conference to gain an at-large bid. It’s early, but this is an important game for both teams to pick up a quality win outside of the conference.

Syracuse at Virginia
Wednesday 6:30 PM CST ESPN2

Coming off a disappointing home loss against Massachusetts, the Orange can make up for it by winning on the road over Virginia. It has already been an up and down season for Virginia, beating Arizona in Tucson but dropping a game at home to Seton Hall. Sean Singletary is as steady as he was last year, leading the team in scoring with over 20 points per game, and Syracuse is getting valuable contributions from several freshmen including Donte Green, who is also averaging over 20 points a contest. Offense hasn’t been a problem for the Orange, with five players averaging double figures in scoring, but this game will be won with defense and they will need to contain Singletary.

Dayton at Louisville
Saturday 2:00 PM CST ESPN2

Louisville officially needs to be put on upset watch. The Cardinals should have been on it earlier, but BYU beat them in Las Vegas. Now, the Flyers, whose lone loss came at the hands of George Mason, will give Rick Pitino’s banged-up team all kinds of problems. Dayton relies on two players- Brian Roberts and freshman Chris Wright- and the duo gives the Flyers a great inside-outside game. If you’re at all interested in the transitive property of equality, both Dayton and Louisville played Miami (OH) already, Dayton on the road, and Louisville at home. The Flyers won by a point, and the Cardinals won by three points. Does it mean anything? Probably not, but this could be a close game regardless.

Pittsburgh at Washington
Saturday 2:00 PM CST FSN

Washington missed out on a few opportunities early in the year by losing to both Texas A&M and Syracuse, but after Oklahoma State, a team that has looked very mediocre so far, blasted the Huskies by 25 points, a critical blow was dealt to Lorenzo Romar’s tournament hopes. Beating Pittsburgh isn’t a must win this early, but Washington needs something to show for its non-conference schedule. After the discouraging performance in Stillwater, the Huskies will need to make some major adjustments to prepare for the Panthers, who haven’t lost yet this season.

Creighton at Xavier
Wednesday 7:00 PM CST

It took a surprising win over Indiana to get Xavier some national recognition. The Musketeers will face some quality competition in Creighton, who did not enter the season with many expectations after graduating the bulk of last year’s talented roster. Yet the Bluejays have started strong, winning games over a Big East opponent in DePaul and a Big 12 opponent in Nebraska, and a win over Xavier would give off the impression that these Bluejays are ready to compete in the Missouri Valley Conference this season. Xavier’s extremely deep roster with several scoring options makes it one of the most interesting teams to keep an eye on this year, but Creighton has been led by senior forward Dane Watts, the lone returning starter from last year’s team. On paper, Xavier should win at home, but this game is an interesting mid-major match-up.

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