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BIG EAST BATTLE, CURRY AT DUKE, AND A REMATCH
January 5, 2009

SCS.comIf the BCS bowls just aren’t doing it for you, college hoops has you covered. Though I am admittedly growing tired of writing about the Big East week after week, the Notre Dame/Georgetown game deserves “Game of the Week” honors with both teams hoping to avenge losses from last week. A few days later, Stephen Curry looks to light up Cameron Indoor Stadium and Tennessee gets to play Gonzaga again after losing to the Bulldogs in the Old Spice Classic.

With college football coming to end, SCS.com will now be publishing a Weekly Preview, covering games Monday through Thursday, as well as a Weekend Preview. Yours truly will be doing both of them, and on a side note, feel free to send me your comments by clicking the “Contact Daniel” link above. I need to know from you — the readers - how awful I write and how little I know about college basketball. So please, read on, find what you disagree with, and rip me to pieces. You won’t hurt my feelings, I promise.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Notre Dame at Georgetown
Monday 6:00 PM ESPN

Both teams are coming off losses, but at least Georgetown went down to an undefeated Pittsburgh team. Notre Dame, on the other hand, dropped a game at St. John’s, who is playing without its best player (Anthony Mason Jr.). In a league that offers so many challenging games, no title contender can afford to lose games to the bottom of the conference. That’s why tonight’s game may have even more importance for the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame lost on Saturday because it shot a dreadful percentage from three-point land and lost the rebounding battle. Kyle McAlarney, who normally shreds the nets with his unlimited range, made just one three, and the Red Storm outrebounded the Irish 40-27. Much like Notre Dame, Georgetown’s cold shooting and inability to rebound contributed to its loss to Pittsburgh. The Hoyas shot just 30 percent from three, but the Panthers 43-17 advantage on the boards was the difference. All season, Georgetown’s rebounding has been its main weakness, and after allowing Pittsburgh 18 offensive rebounds and endless second-chance opportunities, the Hoyas are obviously in desperate need of improvement in this area.

These two offenses play two completely different styles. Notre Dame wants to get up and down the floor and let its shooters work in transition, so Georgetown will need to slow the tempo in its favor to lull the Irish to sleep. One team has to win the rebounding battle, and Notre Dame has never been completely dominated with a 43-17 margin like Georgetown. That’s why I have more faith in the Irish to control the boards tonight. Luke Harangody did his part with 14 rebounds on Saturday and is near the top of the nation in offensive rebounds per game. Look for ‘Gody to clean up inside with put-backs and tip-ins, and as long as Notre Dame shoots reasonably well from the perimeter, the Irish can steal a road win. I was impressed with Georgetown’s whooping of Connecticut, and scoring isn’t a problem for Georgetown, with a balanced inside-outside game thanks to the Greg Monroe addition and the vast improvement of Chris Wright. Defense isn’t even an issue either, but no top 10 team should ever be outrebounded 43-17.

Prediction: Notre Dame 78, Georgetown 72

MUST-SEE MATCH-UPS

Texas at Arkansas
Tuesday 8:00 PM ESPN2

Arkansas made me do a double-take last Tuesday with its beat down of Oklahoma. Early in the second half, the Razorbacks opened up a 20 point lead, which prompted my jaw to drop as I wondered just what in the world had gotten into the boys from Fayetteville. Arkansas eventually won that game 96-88 against its first challenging opponent of the season. The Razorbacks’ first 10 games included no teams from any major conference and just three teams with winning records. One of those games, against Missouri State, even resulted in a home loss. Inexplicably, Arkansas came to play against the nation’s fourth ranked team, and it will get a chance to prove that wasn’t a fluke when another Big 12 power comes to town. Texas’ non-conference schedule has been a murderer’s row, and the Longhorns have rolled right along with wins against UCLA, Villanova and Wisconsin. Rick Barnes’ defense has been spectacular, but that’s what we thought about the Sooners until Arkansas nearly hung 100 on them. The Razorbacks love to run under John Pelphrey and have been held under 85 points just four times this year.

Texas has to keep this a half-court game, but that’s not an easy task with all of Arkansas’ scorers. Everyone seems to mention their youth, but two of the Razorbacks’ top scoring leaders are juniors (Michael Washington and Stefan Welsh). Sure, this is a team that is relying on a ton of youth, but two of its leaders are upperclassmen. Arkansas is off to a “fast” start in every sense of the word, but I’ve got a feeling that Barnes will be ready to slow down the Razorback attack. Texas is a much deeper team than Oklahoma, especially up front, and Arkansas will not be able to tire the Longhorns out. Texas just needs to control the tempo, free A.J. Abrams on the offensive end and use its depth to counter the Razorbacks’ high-flying attack.

Prediction: Texas 83, Arkansas 77

Davidson at Duke
Wednesday 6:00 PM ESPN

Two months into the season, I have concluded that this year’s Davidson doesn’t even come close to the 2007 version. Originally, in my pre-season previews, I claimed that the loss of point guard Jason Richards wouldn’t be a huge deal, arguing that his performance could largely be attributed to the presence of Stephen Curry. Well, turns out I was dead wrong. Boris Meno and Thomas Sander are also two blue collar players Davidson is missing right now, and the Wildcats just don’t have many scoring options after Curry and Andrew Lovedale.

That doesn’t mean Curry isn’t capable of putting on a show in the spotlight of Cameron Indoor Stadium. Still, Duke has done the opposite of Davidson and taken a step forward this season, and after watching what the Blue Devils did to Purdue in early December and most recently Xavier, it’d be hard for me to argue that Davidson will even put a scare into the Dukies at home.

Prediction: Duke 83, Davidson 66

Gonzaga at Tennessee
Wednesday 8:00 PM ESPN2

During Thanksgiving weekend, Gonzaga knocked off this same Tennessee team to capture the Old Spice Classic crown, and at the time the Bulldogs looked like a team destined for the Final Four. They had scorers at all positions, a blend of finesse and toughness and an improved defense. So now that Gonzaga has lost four of its last five games, what in the world is the problem? The easy answer is that the Bulldogs lack toughness. That’s an intangible statement and there’s really no way to prove that, but how else can you explain four close losses, including two to inferior opponents? I think the Zags will be just fine, but they are not rebounding well, they are not shooting well and their “improved” defense doesn’t look so improved anymore.

It wouldn’t be fair to pile on Gonzaga without mentioning Tennessee’s struggles since the Old Spice Classic. It’s been a roller-coaster ride of sorts for the Volunteers, who have lost road games at Temple and Kansas. Defense has been a huge problem, as Tennessee allowed both those teams to shoot a blistering percentage from the field. Bruce Pearl’s pressing style has been very successful, but something has gone haywire with this particular team. I still like Tennessee’s chances at home, which would mean a fourth straight loss for Gonzaga.

Prediction: Tennessee 90, Gonzaga 82

GAMES TO KEEP AN EYE ON

Connecticut at West Virginia
Tuesday 6:00 PM ESPNU

A couple of early losses are in the past for West Virginia, who hasn’t lost in a month and has defeated its past two opponents (Ohio State and Seton Hall) by an average of 27 points. I would expect nothing less of Bob Huggins, and his team has really started to come together on the offensive end. Alex Ruoff and De’Sean Butler are filling the void of Joe Alexander and have stepped up as the primary scorers on this team. As much as I like what I’ve seen from the Mountaineers, they won’t have enough to fend off an angry Connecticut team that just beat Rutgers by 31 points.

Prediction: Connecticut 72, West Virginia 66

Ohio State at Michigan State
Tuesday 6:00 PM ESPN2

Wins against Miami, Notre Dame and Butler were impressive enough to vault Ohio State into the top 15. Then, Thad Matta lost David Lighty to an injury, and the Buckeyes pulled a 180. They lost by 28 at home against West Virginia, barely beat Iowa at home in Columbus and now dropped another game at Minnesota. Ohio State really needs this one, but Michigan State looks like the Big Ten’s best team. I’m afraid this one might be a blowout, with the Izzone revved up and ready to intimidate.

Prediction: Michigan State 79, Ohio State 62

Alabama at Clemson
Tuesday 8:00 PM

Two years ago, Clemson didn’t lose a game until the middle of January, but the Tigers eventually wound up in the NIT. That has created the perception that Clemson starts hot and finishes cold, so there are still some critics of Oliver Purnell’s squad this year. I don’t know how anyone could doubt a 14-0 team with road wins at Illinois, Miami and South Carolina. The bulk of last year’s NCAA tournament team is back, and this team looks like more than just a middle-of-the-pack ACC team. The Tigers will win handily at home over an average Alabama team, who has played well lately but has not looked like an SEC West contender in the early months.

Prediction: Clemson 82, Alabama 70

Purdue at Penn State
Tuesday 8:00 PM Big Ten Network

Penn State hasn’t beaten any notable opponents yet, but there is something about the Nittany Lions that screams “sleeper” to me. Talor Battle might be the most underrated player in America as the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer, and Penn State just had an impressive showing at Wisconsin this weekend. I’ll pick Purdue here to be safe, but I really do think that if Penn State plays disciplined on offense and takes good shots, it may have a chance for the upset.

Prediction: Purdue 68, Penn State 62

Wright State at Butler
Thursday 6:00 PM

Butler has dominated the Horizon League over the past few years, but Wright State has been able to knock off the Bulldogs a couple of times. The Raiders started 2-7 and have since won six games in a row, which means they do have the momentum on their side. Realistically, Butler rolls in this one though.

Prediction: Butler 59, Wright State 44

Minnesota at Iowa
Thursday 6:00 PM ESPN2

The bottom of the Big Ten is no pushover. Iowa is one of those teams that might not win many conference games, but will still scare the heck out of the top-tier teams. This league will give us few surprising upsets throughout the year, but I’m not picking this as one of them. I’m not that bold yet—I have to wait for the right opportunity.

Prediction: Minnesota 69, Iowa 63

California at Washington State
Thursday 9:00 PM FSN

I’m impressed by this California team. Mike Montgomery has his team playing very sound basketball, and the Golden Bears are now 2-0 in the Pac-10 after sweeping Arizona and Arizona State last week. Washington State got run out of its own gym against Washington and is having trouble replacing Derek Low and Kyle Weaver’s scoring production. California will improve to 3-0 on National Championship Thursday.

Prediction: California 73, Washington State 59

Last week’s prediction record: 14-7
Overall prediction record: 55-39

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