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NO NFL MEANS MORE COLLEGE HOOPS THIS WEEK
January 19, 2009

SCS.comI love NFL football just as much as the next guy, and yesterdayís conference championship games were quality entertainment. Iím still not sure if Willis McGahee is alive or not. Itís hard to tell after such a gruesome hit, something you will never see in a college hoops game. So even though itís a little upsetting that weíve still got two weeks until the Super Bowlótwo weeks without any football at allóthat just means that college basketball is all we have to talk about, unless youíre into the NHL, NBA or some other sport Iím not aware of. Personally, I love all the attention on college hoops, and Iíve been waiting for someone to start talking about it since November. You know I love to talk basketball, so without further ado, hereís your Weekly Preview for January 19th. And by the way, happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Inauguration Eve. The first oneís a holiday. The latter is something I made up.

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Syracuse at Pittsburgh
Monday 6:00 PM ESPN

Down goes Pitt. The number one team in the land blew a late lead and fell 69-63 to Louisville on Saturday. How does Syracuse sound as a rebound game? The Orange just blasted Notre Dame at the Carrier Dome, holding Luke Harangody to 9-28 shooting (he did score 25 points) and had six players score in double figures. Such is life in the Big East, I guess.

Pittsburgh struggled offensively against Louisville, shooting just 35 percent from the floor. DeJuan Blair inexplicably took just four shots and battled foul trouble, while Sam Young went cold from the outside. The Panthers built a comfortable ten point second half lead and blew it because they couldnít hit a thing at the end of the game. Despite this horrid offensive performance and the late game meltdown (which can be partly attributed to Louisvilleís defensive effort), Pittsburgh nearly won this gameóand probably should have. That should tell you something about this team.

Syracuseís win against Notre Dame should tell you something about Jim Boeheimís team as well. Its bench isnít a strength, but the starting five may be as good as any. With so many scorers on the court at any given time, itís impossible to defend the Orange, and their low post game with Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku compliments Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf on the outside. When Syracuse runs into Pittsburgh, though, shots wonít come as easily as they did against Notre Dame. The Panthers will be able to slow down the Orange, and they are not going to play nearly as bad as they did against Louisville.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 75, Syracuse 69

Clemson at North Carolina
Wednesday 8:00 PM ESPN

These two teams had some epic battles last season. Both regular season games went into overtime, and North Carolina edged Clemson by five in the ACC tournament. The first game at Littlejohn Coliseum was decided on a buzzer beater by Wayne Ellington. The second game in Chapel Hill went to double overtime. The ACC tournament game was a bit less exciting, but Clemson led at halftime and kept battling the second half. As we all know, the Tar Heels have basically the same team back, and the Tigers might even be better this season. Anything less than an overtime thriller will be a bust for me.

It should be noted that Clemson has never won at the Dean Dome. Ever. The Tigers came really, really close last year in that double overtime loss, but couldnít break the streak. Theyíll be ready to play on Wednesday, though North Carolina is starting to look better after that early season crisis. Roy Williams took his share of criticism, and then guided his team to a drilling of Virginia and a sound victory at home over Miami.

Wake Forest shredded Clemsonís press last Saturday, as the Demon Deacons came out of the weekend as the only undefeated team left in the nation. And since North Carolina has so much speed and such an effective transition game, you might think that the Tar Heels will have a field day against Clemson. That wasnít the case at all last season, though. UNC turned the ball over 20 times in two of those games, and 19 times in the other contest. Turnovers were a huge issue the loss to Wake Forestóthe Tar Heels committed 18 in that game. If they canít hold on to the ball, they may let Clemson earn its first victory in Chapel Hill. I donít have the courage to pick the Tigers in this one, though. Iím just hoping for a close game. In the end, North Carolinaís not going to overlook Clemson, and it will not drop another game at the Dean Dome.

Prediction: North Carolina 86, Clemson 84

MUST SEE MATCH-UPS

Ohio State at Illinois
Tuesday 6:00 PM ESPN

When David Lighty was first injured, Ohio State went into panic mode. First, it was the embarrassing blowout to West Virginia on its home floor. Then, the Buckeyes barely beat Iowa in Columbus and couldnít win road contests at Minnesota or Michigan State. Something may have changed, however, now that Ohio State just won at Michigan on Saturdayóstill without Lighty. Perhaps the Buckeyes are heading the advice of their leader, Evan Turner, who said after the Minnesota loss that ďWeíve got to grow up. Donít even mention Lighty.Ē

Illinois hasnít endured any slumps this season. Despite a tough loss at Michigan State this weekend, the Illini actually led for almost the entire game. This team is scary good, especially at home. B.J. Mullens is starting to improve and heíll be a load for Illinois, and Ohio Stateís road win at Michigan proves it can win in tough environments. I am still too impressed by the Fighting Illini, whose only home loss came by two points to Clemson.

Prediction: Illinois 72, Ohio State 66

Villanova at Connecticut
Wednesday 6:00 PM ESPN

Villanovaís 14-3 record is a bit misleading. The only win on its schedule of note came against Temple, and the Wildcats are off to 2-2 start in the Big East with losses to Marquette and Louisville. A notable win is going to have to come sometime, but Iím not sure it will happen on Wednesday. Connecticut is just too strong on the inside with Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, and the Huskies are athletic enough to keep up with that fast Villanova attack. The Wildcats can win if they avoid Thabeet in the paint and hit shots from the perimeter, and they also need to continue getting to the free throw line like they have.

Prediction: Connecticut 71, Villanova 63

West Virginia at Georgetown
Thursday 6:00 PM

Coming off a loss at Duke, itís right back into Big East play for Georgetown. The Hoyas donít play a ranked team until Jan. 31, so thatís a nice break in the Big East schedule, but West Virginia is certainly no slouch. The Mountaineers have been blown out in their past two games against good competition, losing by double digits against Georgetown and Marquette. The main concern is West Virginiaís rebounding problems, which is unbelievable considering thatís Bob Hugginsí forte. Georgetown isnít the best team on the boards either, but the Hoyas should win this game handily.

Prediction: Georgetown 66, West Virginia 59

Purdue at Minnesota
Thursday 6:00 PM ESPN

Good thing Minnesota isnít playing in Evanston on Thursday. Yesterdayís game at Northwestern was a disaster for Tubby Smith, and things arenít getting any easier with Purdue coming to town. This game begins a brutal stretch for the Boilermakers, who are already behind in the Big Ten at 3-2. The next give games for Purdue are at Minnesota, at Wisconsin, vs. Michigan, at Ohio State and at Illinois. And they say the Big East is difficult! The good news for the Boilermakers is they are finally getting healthy, with Chris Kramer and Robbie Hummel back.

Prediction: Purdue 67, Minnesota 62

OTHER NOTABLE GAMES

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

A&M laid an egg on the road against Oklahoma State a few weeks ago, and Kansas has played outstanding at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks are young and still a work in progress, but the Aggies wonít hang around in Lawrence.

Prediction: Kansas 77, Texas A&M 69

Tennessee at Vanderbilt
Tuesday 8:00 PM ESPN

Tennessee might be in trouble as far as NCAA tournament seeding and national exposure goes, and now the SEC East is in question. Vanderbilt is never easy to beat at Memorial Gym, but the Commodores arenít a strong team this year.

Prediction: Tennessee 83, Vanderbilt 71

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

Penn State has already beaten Purdue at home, so Michigan will have a fight on its hands. I still like this Wolverines team, and Iím not sure if the Nittany Lions are for real or not.

Prediction: Michigan 76, Penn State 66

George Mason at Northeastern
Wednesday 6:00 PM

Big-time game in the CAA here. 7-0 George Mason visits 6-1 Notheastern, who is tied with VCU for second place in the conference.

Prediction: Northeastern 70, George Mason 66

Florida State at Miami
Wednesday 6:30 PM

Florida State is quietly flying under the radar, but this is probably an NCAA tournament team right now. Miami couldnít stick with North Carolina on Saturday and will also be in the Dance come March. In this important, middle-of-the-pack ACC game, I think Florida Stateís power in the paint will be the difference.

Prediction: Florida State 70, Miami 68

Mississippi State at LSU
Wednesday 7:00 PM

This game is going to get lost in the shuffle, but donít underestimate just how huge this contest is for both SEC West teams. The outcome of the Mississippi State/LSU series might just decide the division, as these are clearly the two frontrunners with Arkansas at 0-3 in the conference. LSU has been very inconsistent and I think the Bulldogs will ride their winning streak to a 4-0 SEC record.

Prediction: Mississippi State 74, LSU 69

Missouri at Oklahoma State
Wednesday 8:00 PM Big 12 Network

Stillwater is a daunting task for any team, and Missouri still needs to prove it can win on the road after falling to Nebraska in Lincoln earlier this month. This will be a high-flying, up-tempo game with a score probably in the 90s, and though Mizzou does have the advantage against an undersize Oklahoma State team, Gallagher-Iba will be too overwhelming.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 92, Missouri 85

Arizona State at Arizona
Wednesday 8:30 PM FSN

Arizona is coming off an absolute heartbreaker against USC, while Arizona State just knocked off UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. When these two rivals get together, itís always fun, and I like Arizona State to edge the Wildcats, building off that road win in Los Angeles.

Prediction: Arizona State 79, Arizona 77

UNLV at BYU
Wednesday 9:00 PM

Two favorites to win the Mountain West will square off at one of the most intimidating home courts in the nation. UNLV has struggled lately after a nice start in non-conference play, and a win here would be monumental.

Prediction: BYU 68, UNLV 66

Wisconsin-Green Bay at Butler
Thursday 8:00 PM

Butler had a heck of a time with Illinois-Chicago this weekend, so weíll see how the Bulldogs fare against an even better Horizon League team in Wisconsin-Green Bay. As far and away the best program in the conference, Butler will always have a target on its back, so itís important for this team to bring its best game every night.

Prediction: Butler 66, Wisc-Green Bay 60

UCLA at Washington
Thursday 10:00 PM FSN

Washington is in the mix in the Pac-10 and wonít back down to UCLA, who just lost a home game to Arizona State. Jon Brockman will be a huge mismatch for the Bruins, who are a perimeter-oriented team. I think that Ben Howlandís team will have the toughness to avoid a second straight loss, however.

Prediction: UCLA 69, Washington 63

Last weekís prediction record: 9-5 (if youíre paying attention, I forgot to predict two of the games from last week. Though Iím fairly confident not a single person ever gets to the bottom of one of my columns, so this will probably never be read).
Overall prediction record: 100-56

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