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SUPER BOWL MEANS LIGHT WEEKEND HOOPS MENU
January 30, 2009

SCS.comI’ll just be completely honest with you here. This isn’t a great weekend of college basketball. The Super Bowl isn’t until Sunday afternoon, but for some reason even Saturday’s slate is relatively boring. Sure, the Big East has some compelling games, and there are some critical bubble games. But there wasn’t a whole lot to work with this week, so I skipped the Game of the Week and got right into our must-see match-ups.

MIGHT AS WELL BE MARCH
Games you might see in the NCAA tournament

West Virginia at Louisville
Saturday 11:00 AM Big East Network

It’s surprising that Louisville is 7-0 in the Big East, especially after a mediocre non-conference performance. But what’s more surprising is who the Cardinals have beaten to start undefeated in league play. Louisville has won at Villanova and Syracuse, beat then-top ranked Pittsburgh and also knocked off Notre Dame. Remember, this is a team that lost by 14 points to Western Kentucky in November. Rick Pitino’s guys are stifling opponents on the defensive end and held high-scoring Syracuse to 57 points last weekend.

West Virginia won’t back down from the Cards. Bob Huggins won’t let his team do that. I hesitate to use the word “scrappy” to describe the Mountaineers, because that usually implies that a team is overachieving with lesser talent, but that’s the only word I can think of for this team. Oh, West Virginia’s got players all right—Alex Ruoff and Da’Sean Butler would be a welcome addition to any team in the Big East. The rest of the team just plays with a general toughness that allows them to be successful, even though many of them are relatively unknown players.

Toughness alone won’t get West Virginia a win. It’s almost impossible to beat Louisville these days, let alone at Freedom Hall, so Huggins will need a lot of luck to steal a road win here. The Mountaineers will need to rebound well and use their big, physical small forwards to defend Terrance Williams and Earl Clark.

Prediction: Louisville 75, West Virginia 66

Washington at Arizona State
Saturday 3:30 PM

This was going to be the “Game of the Week,” but after both teams suffered losses last night, I decided to move it down a level. Washington’s loss at Arizona is understandable, as the Wildcats are coming off an emotional comeback win over Houston and might be getting back on track. Allowing 69 second half points is definitely a discouraging sign, however. Arizona State’s loss was a little more surprising. The Sun Devils couldn’t stop Washington State’s Klay Thompson, who made eight threes, and nobody gave James Harden any help.

Washington and Arizona State had the opposite problems last night. ASU couldn’t score, and the Huskies couldn’t stop anyone from scoring. So something has to give tomorrow afternoon, right? Harden will get his points and Brockman will get his, but I think Washington’s little hot streak may turn into a slump.

Prediction: Arizona State 77, Washington 72

Florida at Tennessee
Saturday 8:00 PM EPSN

I nearly put this game in the “Bubble Bursters” category, because frankly I haven’t been overly impressed by either team. Florida has one notable win, against Washington, but at least the Gators haven’t lost seven games like Tennessee. I felt that calling this a “bubble game” might be a bit harsh, though, because it would take an epic collapse for either team to miss the NCAA tournament. First of all, the SEC is full of guaranteed wins and bottom-feeders this season, and there simply won’t be many opportunities for losses. Also, Tennessee and Florida both have top 30 RPIs (according to realtimerpi.com), and that statistic is now relevant as we approach February. And to top everything off, these are two pretty talented teams—I’m just not confident that either one can win many games in March.

So now that I’ve argued with myself about Tennessee and Florida’s tournament chances, I’ll talk about the actual game. With so many offensive threats on the floor and the fact that both coaches want to run, a score in the 90s wouldn’t surprise me. Defensively is where both of these teams struggle, so it may come down to who can get more stops. The Volunteers are no guarantee to win in Knoxville, as they’ve now lost four of their past five home games. The fans will go home happy in this one though, because Florida has been shaky on the road this season. I have to give them credit for that beat down at Memorial Gym against Vanderbilt, but the Gators have lost at Florida State, at South Carolina and barely escaped at Auburn with a three point victory.

Prediction: Tennessee 93, Florida 90

BUBBLE BURSTERS
Features teams that need to bolster their resumes

Michigan at Purdue
Saturday 12:00 PM CBS

Things were looking so promising for Michigan. Wins over historic programs like Duke and UCLA and a 3-1 Big Ten start had everyone penciling in John Beilein’s team into an NCAA tourney bid. The 1-4 skid the Wolverines are currently mired in changes things.

Prediction: Purdue 70, Michigan 59

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

These two teams have already played this year, and Oklahoma State won convincingly at Gallagher-Iba. It’s going to be a whole different game in College Station, though I still think the Cowboys’ speed will be too much for a slower A&M team.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 80, Texas A&M 72

South Carolina at Kentucky
Saturday 2:00 PM Raycom

With so many bubble teams from so many different leagues, it’s easy to forget about South Carolina. A strong SEC showing could vault Darrin Horn’s first team in Columbia into the Big Dance. The Gamecocks are better than the majority of the teams in their league, and they have already won at Baylor and beat Florida at home.

Prediction: Kentucky 74, South Carolina 69

Providence at Connecticut
Saturday 3:00 PM

After a home win against Syracuse, it’s time to take Providence seriously. I don’t give them much of a shot in this game, but an upset win would put the Friars in unchartered Big East territory.

Prediction: Connecticut 77, Providence 66

Baylor at Missouri
Saturday 5:00 PM Big 12 Network

I won’t use the term “must-win” here, but both Baylor and Missouri really need a victory here. Whichever team loses will still have plenty of time to overcome the loss, but the Bears need to stop their two game losing streak, while the Tigers are searching for a marquee Big 12 victory. Mizzou hasn’t lost at home this year and despite the baffling road loss to Kansas State on Wednesday, the Tigers are a different team at Mizzou Arena.

Prediction: Missouri 88, Baylor 84

California at USC
Saturday 10:30 PM FSN

California briefly cracked the top 25 a couple of weeks ago and USC began the season in the polls, but this is a critical game to solidify NCAA tournament hopes. Both teams have what it takes to make the Dance, now they just need to execute.

Prediction: USC 67, California 63

St. Joseph’s at Dayton
Sunday 11:00 AM

St. Joseph’s fell off the map early on, but the Hawks are 5-0 in the A-10 and have won seven straight games. The streak hasn’t come against especially good competition, but St. Joe’s is at least close to NCAA tournament consideration.

Prediction: Dayton 73, St. Joseph’s 67

MID-MAJOR GLORY
Please, no hate mail about the term “mid-majors,” just be happy I’m writing about your team

FRIDAY NIGHT SPOTLIGHT: East Tennessee State at Jacksonville
Friday 6:00 PM

Jacksonville isn’t just for Jaguars football anymore. Tonight, it will be the site of the biggest Atlantic Sun game of the season. East Tennessee State and Jacksonville are tied for first place in the league at 9-1, with 8-2 Belmont barely behind. What the Dolphins have done is pretty remarkable, rebounding from a 3-8 start to win eight straight games. I predicted Belmont to win this league in the pre-season and will stand by that, but ETSU has the experience necessary to take home the Atlantic Sun title.

Prediction: East Tennessee State 85, Jacksonville 79

Texas A&M Corpus Christi at Sam Houston State
Saturday 12:00 PM CBS

You probably remember Texas A&M CC as the team that scared the heck out of Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament a few years ago. And if you really pay attention to college hoops, you might remember Sam Houston State as the team that won 19 games. The winner of this game will have the lead in the Southland West Division.

Prediction: Sam Houston State 73, Texas A&M CC 70

Bradley at Illinois State
Saturday 7:05 PM

Northern Iowa might be running away with the Missouri Valley. That doesn’t mean the rest of the league should quit, and Bradley is still just two games behind the Panthers. Illinois State’s undefeated streak has come to an abrupt end with four losses in the past seven games. The Bears already won the first game of this series.

Prediction: Bradley 74, Illinois State 72

North Texas at Western Kentucky
Saturday 7:00 PM

Western Kentucky has Troy and Middle Tennessee State ready to snatch first place in the Sun Belt East Division, and North Texas is just trying to catch up to Arkansas Little Rock in the West.

Prediction: Western Kentucky 70, North Texas 66

THE RIVALRY GAMES
Hatred that dates back centuries

Mississippi at Mississippi State
Saturday 12:00 PM

Mississippi State has started SEC play with a 4-1 mark and though LSU has the upper hand, the SEC West Title isn’t out of reach here. Ole Miss has been ravaged by injuries and doesn’t have its best player, Chris Warren, but that didn’t stop Andy Kennedy’s squad from beating Kentucky. MSU still won’t trip up at home in this one—Ole Miss is dreadful on the road.

Prediction: Mississippi State 74, Mississippi 67

Oregon at Oregon State
Saturday 6:30 PM

This might be the worst game in series history. The embarrassing part for Oregon is that it will take a heroic effort to knock off its rival on the road tomorrow, a team that did not win a Pac-10 game last year. That’s a credit to Craig Robinson’s turnaround, and also a reason why Ernie Kent might be in danger of losing his job.

Prediction: Oregon State 66, Oregon 60

DESPERATION GAME
Someone who really needs a win

Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
Saturday 11:00 AM ESPN

I never would have thought Notre Dame would make this category. How does a pre-season top 10 team play a “Desperation Game” on January 31? I’ll tell you how: by losing four games in a row and having an RPI of 78. The Big East is a beast to play in, I know, but Notre Dame has to start beating good teams eventually. It’s almost unbelievable to say this, but with a loss the Irish will be firmly outside the bubble.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 76, Notre Dame 72

Georgetown at Marquette
Saturday 1:00 PM

The good news for John Thompson is his team isn’t in as much danger as Notre Dame. That’s the only good news right now for Georgetown, who has lost four in a row as well and will surely fall out of the top 25 next week. The Hoyas do have wins over Syracuse, Connecticut and Memphis and a nice RPI of 21, but like Notre Dame, the losses are starting to pile up.

Prediction: Marquette 73, Georgetown 67

Last week’s prediction record: 15-11
Overall prediction record: 135-77

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