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SLATE INCLUDES NON-CONFERENCE HEAVYWEIGHTS
January 16, 2009

SCS.comIt’s January 16th, and Georgetown and Duke have decided to put conference play on hold for each other.

What, do they think they’re better than everyone else?

Realistically, yes. Duke and Georgetown are two of the most historic programs in college basketball history, and Saturday’s nationally televised game on CBS will likely draw the highest ratings of the day. Of course, Wake Forest/Clemson—the battle of the unbeatens—might provide some competition as far as ratings are concerned. And just a couple of hours before Saturday’s early morning games tip-off, ESPN will have its inaugural on-site College Gameday in Chapel Hill. We’re all sick of the air time UNC gets—and the Tar Heels have lost two straight games, after all—but the return of College Gameday is always a fun time. Now, they just need to make Bob Knight a regular member.

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Georgetown at Duke
Saturday 12:30 PM CBS

Ahhh… It must be nice for Georgetown to get a break from that brutal Big East, except for the fact that now the Hoyas get to play Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium. So no, it doesn’t count toward Big East play, but you better believe that Saturday’s game is important for both teams. Georgetown and Duke are in contention for a top seed this March, and don’t underestimate how important that is.

Tomorrow’s match-up could be a defensive battle. You don’t often hear about Duke’s defense, but it’s probably the main reason the Blue Devils are winning right now. They rely so much on the three-point shot, so when that’s not falling, they have to be able to count on shutting their opponent down. Duke applies so much pressure and can rattle inexperienced or careless guards. Lately, for whatever reason, the Dukies have gone cold from the outside. That was the main headline from the Georgia Tech win, but the issue has lasted for awhile now. Duke has managed to beat Davidson, Florida State and Georgia Tech with subpar perimeter shooting, but that won’t happen against a team like Georgetown. Simply put, the Blue Devils have to make some shots. That seems like an oversimplification of basketball—of course you have to make shots to win—but in this case, Duke won’t be able to hold the Hoyas under 60 points. It needs to knock down open opportunities from outside.

Georgetown gave Syracuse 18 offensive rebounds last week, but fortunately for the Hoyas, Duke’s strength isn’t in the paint. John Thompson’s team was on fire from three-point land in that Syracuse win, making 12 threes and shooting nearly 60 percent overall from the floor. The Blue Devils defense won’t budge like that, though, and they won’t allow Georgetown so many open looks from three. The Hoyas have an impressive win at UConn under their belt, so they have proven they can win on the road, but Duke has shown marked improvement from last season. This is the Dukies game.

Prediction: Duke 69, Georgetown 66

Wake Forest at Clemson
Saturday 2:30 PM ABC

At around 5:00 PM central time tomorrow, we’ll have two undefeated teams left. That’s because, as you probably noticed, both Wake Forest and Clemson enter Saturday without a loss. Since the Tigers choked away a 17-0 start two years ago and finished in the NIT, they still haven’t seemed to have convinced everyone of how good they are. This isn’t the same schedule as 2006. Clemson won at Illinois, at Miami and at South Carolina, and it will be ready for ACC play this time.

Those same “soft schedule” criticisms were directed at Wake Forest this non-conference season, but the Demon Deacons did beat Baylor and won at BYU. Now, nobody’s questioning them after a win against North Carolina in Winston-Salem. Wake seems to really have everything—some tough role players, a loaded frontcourt and a star-in-the-making, Jeff Teague. Dino Gaudio has his team playing decently on defense, too, and if you watched the North Carolina game, you likely noticed how many times the Tar Heels turned the ball over and had shots blocked. That is partly a testament to Wake Forest’s defense; the high amount of points allowed can be attributed to the game’s fast pace.

It’s really hard for me to find a weakness with this Wake Forest team. Of course, it’s hard to find a weakness for Clemson too. The Tigers are a bit less star-driven, but have a couple of reliable scorers in big man Trevor Booker and wing K.C. Rivers. Terrance Oglesby gives Clemson a perimeter threat, and the Tigers will be fine offensively as long as Demontez Stitt can manage the game as point guard. That’s what he’s done all year, so there is no reason to doubt him. One of the advantages Oliver Purnell also has in this game is depth in the post to match Wake. The Demon Deacons often overwhelm teams will their bigs, but that won’t be the case here. Teague also has a tendency to turn the ball over, which is not a good thing against Clemson’s vicious press. As much as I liked Wake Forest against North Carolina on Saturday, I am also extremely impressed with this Clemson team. The Tigers’ big wins have all come on the road, so the home crowd will be as fired up as ever for Saturday.

Prediction: Clemson 83, Wake Forest 81

MUST SEE MATCH-UPS

Notre Dame at Syracuse
Saturday 11:00 AM ESPN

Every Big East game is the same. Two top 15 teams, packed arena, important game, etc. I’ve heard it already! I guess we’ll just have to live with watching Notre Dame and Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Poor us. Syracuse may have been exposed a little bit in a road loss to Georgetown on Wednesday, especially on the defensive end, where the Hoyas ran wild and shot 59 percent from the floor. Notre Dame’s high-powered offense is even better than Georgetown’s, so things better get fixed, or this could get ugly. I’m talking Kyle McAlarney knocking down 10 threes ugly. Jodie Meeks ugly, perhaps.

Prediction: Notre Dame 80, Syracuse 73

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

I’m not sure what the Big 12’s identity is. The Big East is rough and physical, the Big Ten emphasizes defense and the ACC has the flash. I like to think of the Big 12 as a combination of everything. Saturday’s game should be a bruising battle, with two physical, defensive-minded teams—and, by the way, Blake Griffin is playing. See how I rolled all of that into one game? Texas A&M looked like a different team at home against Baylor on Wednesday, defeating the Bears after getting blown out in Stillwater. This will be a substantial upset, but A&M has the toughness to match Griffin and the Sooners. Forwards Junior Elonu, who has been a big surprise for the Aggies this year, and Bryan Davis can handle the Griffin brothers, and as long as Josh Carter shows up, Texas A&M can win at home against a ranked team for the second time in a row.

Prediction: Texas A&M 70, Oklahoma 66

Arizona State at UCLA
Saturday 2:45 CBS

Coming off a road loss at USC, Arizona State learned that it can’t win without James Harden. The Sun Devils’ star, and one of the Pac-10’s top players, scored four points and had zero field goals last night. I did not catch the game, but apparently 6 foot 5 guard Daniel Hackett completely shut down Harden. So he is human. Jrue Holiday or Josh Shipp will probably draw the Harden assignment for Saturday, and they better be ready. Harden doesn’t play that awful very often, and another poor performance isn’t likely. I do think the Bruins will win this one, in the friendly confines of Pauley Pavilion. They are starting to gel as a team after a couple of early season losses.

Prediction: Louisville 75, Notre Dame 71

Illinois at Michigan State
Saturday 3:00 PM ESPN

Can someone please tell me why Illinois isn’t ranked? How can this be? The latest victim is Michigan, who the Illini beat at home two nights ago to improve to 15-2. A win at Michigan State will surely get them in the top 25. I’m not going to bet on that, though. The Spartans have rebounded from that whooping against North Carolina in a big way, and they actually have not lost since that game. They have now won 10 straight games, and during this span, they have beaten Texas in Houston, won at Minnesota and beaten Ohio State and Kansas at home. Michigan State has so many good guards, and Goran Suton’s return from injury has really helped. Point guard Kalin Lucas may be the most underrated player in the whole conference.

Prediction: Michigan State 70, Illinois 62

Pittsburgh at Louisville
Saturday 5:00 PM ESPN

Like I said, every Big East game is the exact same. There is no difference between this game, or Notre Dame/Syracuse, or any other top 25 match-up within the conference. That doesn’t mean I’m not enjoying them though. Louisville’s season is officially back on track, with four consecutive victories, the last two coming against Villanova and Notre Dame. I still think Louisville jacks up way too-many ill-advised threes, considering the Cardinals aren’t a great three-point shooting team. Rick Pitino finally has this team playing tougher and more confidently, however, so despite a few flaws, Louisville has what it takes to destroy Pittsburgh’s undefeated streak. That’s right, I’m going with the Cardinals, for the win!

Prediction: Louisville 75, Pittsburgh 74

Miami at North Carolina
Saturday 8:00 PM ESPN

The College Gameday crew will be in attendance for this one, which at least a little bit significant. The aura of this game has faded a bit with UNC’s two losses, but this should still be a competitive match-up. Miami has flown a bit under the radar but just picked up an emotional, comeback victory at home against Maryland this week. I even thought the Hurricanes were a bit overrated coming into the season, but they are proving their worth as an NCAA tournament team. Miami is miles better than Boston College, but I don’t think North Carolina will lose again. It just doesn’t seem possible.

Prediction: North Carolina 82, Miami 75

OTHER GAMES OF NOTE

Northern Iowa at Drake
Saturday 11:05 AM

Who’s on top of the Missouri Valley Conference right now? Nope, it’s not Illinois State, Creighton, Drake or Evansville, the four teams that looked like the favorites a couple of weeks ago. It’s Northern Iowa, tied with Bradley, atop the conference at 5-1. Drake is just a game behind at 4-2, and the Panthers’ early conference schedule has been favorable.

Prediction: Drake 66, Northern Iowa 62

Oklahoma State at Baylor
Saturday 12:45 PM Big 12 Network

I know one thing about this game. There’s going to be a lot of scoring, a lot of three-point attempts and not much time to catch your breath. Should be a blast. I’ll take Baylor in Waco, mostly because I don’t think Oklahoma State will be able to stop Kevin Rogers.

Prediction: Baylor 88, Oklahoma State 80

Arkansas at Florida
Saturday 1:00 PM Raycom

What are we supposed to think about Arkansas? First, the Razorbacks beat Oklahoma and Texas, and then start 0-2 in the SEC with losses to Mississippi State and at Ole Miss. Saturday’s game is almost a must-win situation. I guess that’s what happens when you’re a young team like Arkansas.

Prediction: Florida 82, Arkansas 77

Ohio State at Michigan
Saturday 7:00 PM Big Ten Network

The fun is back in the basketball rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan. In past years, this game has been completely overlooked on the hardwood. As long as David Lighty’s not playing, I can’t pick Ohio State to beat a decent team, especially on the road.

Prediction: Michigan 67, Ohio State 56

Arizona at USC
Saturday 7:00 PM

I’ve continued to say that USC is better than its record would indicate. Finally, Tim Floyd proved me right when his Trojans beat Arizona State last night. Arizona could really use a win on Saturday, but USC is starting to look better and better.

Prediction: USC 68, Arizona 63

Vanderbilt at Mississippi State
Saturday 7:00 PM FSN

Look who’s 2-0 in the SEC: Mississippi State, which was left for dead after a disappointing non-conference season. In any other conference, this is a rebuilding year for the Bulldogs. The SEC will give Mississippi State a chance, and the Bulldogs are a surprisingly deep team with the recognizable Jarvis Varnado leading the way.

Prediction: Louisville 75, Notre Dame 71

Marquette at Providence
Saturday 8:00 PM ESPN2

Providence has taken care of the lesser teams in the Big East, so now it needs to beat somebody good. Marquette certainly fits that bill. The Eagles are going to be too good, in fact, for the Friars to handle.

Prediction: Marquette 78, Providence 69

Boise State at Utah State
Saturday 8:05 PM

Nevada is still right in the mix, but Boise State and Utah State are both 3-0 and favorites to win the WAC. I bet you didn’t know that Utah State is 16-1, an inexplicable record after losing Jaycee Carroll, one of the top players in program history, to graduation.

Prediction: Utah State 73, Boise State 65

Last week’s prediction record: 11-5
Overall prediction record: 81-51

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