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NUMBER ONE IN FOR A BATTLE ONCE AGAIN
February 2, 2009

SCS.comDid you enjoy your Super Bowl? Talk about drama. Iíd love to see a college basketball game with that type of finish over the next few days. No, I donít mean with a blown call and a refusal to review an obvious incomplete pass. I mean a thrilling ending with spectacular plays on both sides. Tonightís Game of the Week has that potential. It could be Super Bowl Part IIóyou know, without all of the unnecessary roughness penalties.

GAME OF THE WEEK

Connecticut at Louisville
Monday 6:00 PM ESPN

The nationís new top ranked team is Connecticut, but Louisville is playing like a team deserving of that number one spot. With a win, perhaps the Cardinals will claim that ranking next week. The outcome of this game will depend a lot on how well Louisville shoots from three-point land, while the key for Connecticut will be to protect the ball. UConn doesnít turn the ball over very much and its guard play is good enough to break the press. A.J. Price has exactly two turnovers in the last three games. Things could be different at Freedom Hall, however. The Huskies havenít faced a defense of Louisvilleís caliber in awhile, and the reason they suffered their only loss to Georgetown was because they turned the ball over 17 times. The Cards have made people look silly lately on offense; Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia are some of the victims over the past month. In those three notable wins, Louisville held its opponent to less than 36 percent shooting, and only Syracuse managed to turn the ball over less than 17 times.

Connecticut plays stifling defense as well. It all starts with Hasheem Thabeet, of course, who had 10 blocks against Providence on Saturday. That forces teams to shoot from the perimeter, where the Huskiesí guards are athletic enough to close out on shooters. Terrance Williams struggled against West Virginia this weekend, scoring just eight points. While itís encouraging that Louisville found a way to win with a subpar effort from its top offensive threat, Williams has to get going against Connecticut. The Cardinals have to knock down threes, and more importantly they have to make sure not to settle for bad shots from the perimeter. Jerry Smith exploded against the Mountaineers for 20 points, so thatís a good sign for Rick Pitino.

It doesnít get much bigger than tonightís game. The contest has major implications concerning the league title, and with the number one team involved, all eyes will be on Louisville, Kentucky at 6 p.m. central. As well as the Huskies have been playing, Louisville is starting to look like an unstoppable force. The Cardinals are winning with defense, and theyíre shutting down some of the top teams in the country. Tonight will be no different.

Prediction: Louisville 70, Connecticut 66

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

Purdue at Ohio State
Tuesday 6:00 PM ESPN

So David Lighty still isnít playing. Who cares? B.J. Mullens is starting to play betteróweíll just forget about the 0 point outing against Indiana on Saturdayóand Evan Turner has put this team on his back. Purdue is on fire, and now that the Boilermakers are healthy, they might be able to challenge Michigan State for a league title.

Prediction: Purdue 73, Ohio State 69

West Virginia at Syracuse
Wednesday 6:00 PM ESPN

West Virginia has managed to do something many other teams in college basketball cannot do. Bob Hugginsí team does not have a single bad loss this year. The Mountaineers have lost several games, but all of those defeats came at the hands of NCAA tournament caliber teams. In the Big East, all you have to do to survive is beat up on the bad teams and steal a couple of marquee victories. I donít think West Virginia will march out of the Carrier Dome with a win, but Syracuse is reeling, having lost four of five. The Orange got back on track offensively against Providence, but gave up 100 points and lost the game. They need to get spectacular efforts from both sides of the floor in this game.

Prediction: Syracuse 82, West Virginia 77

Minnesota at Michigan State
Wednesday 7:30 PM Big Ten Network

Every time I watch Michigan State play at home in front of the Izzone, I wonder how anyone could ever win there. I guess Northwestern and Penn State donít share my fears, because both of those teams have now beaten the Spartans on their home floor. Minnesota is coming off an outing in which it held Illinois to 36 pointsónot just in the first half, but for the entire game. These two teams have already played this year, with MSU winning by dominating the rebounding margin. Penn State played the Spartans evenly on the boards, and thatís what Minnesota will have to do to avoid a sweep.

Prediction: Michigan State 72, Minnesota 71

Duke at Clemson
Wednesday 8:00 PM ESPN

Iím not sure why, but I have grown fond of this Clemson team. The Tigers are inconsistent throughout games and are sometimes prone to fall behind, but you can bet your life that theyíll come storming back. Against Wake Forest, Clemson cut a large deficit to one point but couldnít grab the lead. Against Virginia Tech last week, the Tigers whittled away a 15 point Hokies lead and won in Blacksburg. I love watching Clemsonís guards attack the basket on offense, and this team has just enough outside shooting and inside play to outscore opponents. Defensively, the Tigers will give up easy buckets at times, but their pressure defense causes problems for opponents with weak guards. Dukeís ball-handlers are going to be good enough to shred Clemsonís defense, so itíd be wise for Oliver Purnell to call off the press, as he did in the second half against Virginia Tech.

Prediction: Duke 79, Clemson 77

Missouri at Texas
Wednesday 8:30 PM ESPN2

I was fortunate enough to witness by beloved Tigers beat Baylor on Saturday at Mizzou Arena, and in my biased opinion this team will be a force in February and March. Iím happy with the defensive progress Mizzou has made, evidenced by the 18 forced turnovers this team had against the Bears. Texas is coming off a surprising loss to Kansas State in overtime, though the Wildcats led by double digits for much of the second half. Missouri has dropped two conference road games already, but this Texas team appears to be a bit vulnerable. A.J. Abrams shot just 5-21 from the field on Saturday, which is inexcusable for the Longhornsí star. Defensively, Texas doesnít have any problems whatsoever, which is the main difference between UT and Baylor, who allowed Mizzou to score almost at will. As long as nobody on the Tigers does a Denis Clemente impression, Texas will grind out a victory on Wednesday.

Prediction: Texas 75, Missouri 66

BUBBLE BURSTERS
Features teams that need to bolster their resumes

Kansas at Baylor
Monday 8:00 ESPN

Itís Big Monday and the native Waco residents will be rioting in the streets out of excitement (or, at least the Baylor students will be). I cannot express how much Baylor needs a win here. If the Bears lose, any hope at an NCAA tournament would severely diminish. This team is struggling, having lost three straight, but Kansas isnít a great road team. Baylor will get back on track.

Prediction: Baylor 78, Kansas 73

Iowa State at Kansas State
Tuesday 7:00 PM

Surprised to see this game here? Me too. I thought Kansas State was dead at 0-4 in the Big 12, but its recent win at Texas has the Wildcats at 3-4 in the conference. This team is still a long shot to make the tourney, but if KSU keeps winning, you might have to start taking notice.

Prediction: Kansas State 70, Iowa State 53

South Carolina at Florida
Tuesday 8:00 PM ESPN

There isnít a team in America as overlooked as South Carolina. Of course, ESPN.com just came out with a lengthy article about how the Gamecocks are underrated, but I was the one who thought of it first! I just canít prove it. South Carolina already beat Florida this year on a buzzer beater, and this team seems to thrive under pressure at the end of games. If the Gamecocks keep it close, the Gators might go down.

Prediction: South Carolina 83, Florida 82

Wake Forest at Miami
Tuesday 6:30 PM ESPN2

Miami is suddenly in trouble. And the Hurricanes might be in even more trouble with Wake Forest coming to town. Itís hard to envision Wake losing another road game to a team not named North Carolina or Duke.

Prediction: Wake Forest 83, Miami 70

Villanova at Providence
Wednesday 7:00 PM

There are a lot of at-large bids to be had, and Providenceís impressive Big East record might help it sneak into the Dance. The Friars got their statement win against Syracuse. Now, another one against Villanova would put them in great shape.

Prediction: Providence 79, Villanova 77

Texas A&M at Oklahoma
Wednesday 8:00 PM Big 12 Network

Texas A&M started 1-4 in conference play but has now won two straight Big 12 games, putting itself right back into tournament consideration. Oklahoma will handle the Aggies at home, but an upset would really shake up the Big 12.

Prediction: Oklahoma 83, Texas A&M 60

Washington at Cal
Thursday 9:30 PM FSN

After opening the Pac-10 season with four straight victories, Cal has fallen back to earth. Mike Montgomerey has this team vastly improved, and as of today Iíd probably have the Bears in the field of 65. They have to get more production from their big men, instead of relying just on Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher to shoot jump shots.

Prediction: California 79, Washington 72

MID-MAJOR GLORY
Please, no hate mail about the term ďmid-majors,Ē just be happy Iím writing about your team

Butler at Wisconsin Green Bay
Monday 7:00 PM

Upset alert! Butler hasnít blown many Horizon teams out this year, and all of the close calls are bound to catch up with the Bulldogs. Against one of the better teams in the league, Butler better be ready to play on the road.

Prediction: Wisconsin Green Bay 66, Butler 65

Hofstra at George Mason
Tuesday 6:00 PM

Hofsra beat CAA contender Northeastern a few weeks back, so George Mason needs to take this team seriously. The Patriots have to keep winning to keep pace with the top of the league.

Prediction: George Mason 68, Hofstra 60

Northern Iowa at Bradley
Tuesday 7:00 PM

Somebody stop Kurt Warnerís alma matter. Northern Iowa is three games ahead of the rest of the Missouri Valley, and this success comes after losing its best player, Eric Coleman, to graduation. Iím too lazy to look up where the Panthers were picked to finish, but I can assure you it wasnít first.

Prediction: Northern Iowa 78, Bradley 72

San Diego State at UNLV
Tuesday 9:30 PM The Mountain

Can anyone tell me what ďThe MountainĒ is? If you know what this obscure television channel is, please email me. I would love to watch this game, between two teams that are fighting for an at-large bid out of the Mountain West.

Prediction: UNLV 73, San Diego State 66

Vermont at Binghamton
Wednesday 6:00 PM

Tom Brennan would be proud of me for writing about his team. Vermont had a lot of success under the current ESPN analyst, but Binghamton is still hanging around in the America East race.

Prediction: Vermont 72, Binghamton 60

Stephen F. Austin at Nicholls State
Wednesday 6:30 PM

The Southland East title might come down to this game between first place Stephen F. Austin and second place Nicholls State. Sam Houston State looks like the team to beat in the West, but these teams donít have to worry about that until conference tournament time.

Prediction: Nicholls State 70, Stephen F. Austin 66

Tennessee-Martin at Austin Peay
Thursday 8:00 PM ESPNU

I saw a lot of people pick Tennessee-Martin to win the Ohio Valley, and I figured thatís because the Skyhawks have not only the best nickname in college sports, but also an NBA prospect in Lester Hudson. Austin Peay, the reigning OVC champs, is a game above Tennessee-Martin in second place, and the team I picked to win the league (Morehead State) has sole possession of first place. Excuse me while I pat myself on the back for this meaningful prediction.

Prediction: Austin Peay 75, Tennessee-Martin 66

Gonzaga at Portland
Thursday 10:00 ESPN2

Itís great what ESPN is doing with the West Coast Conference. The 11 p.m. eastern time slot wonít be claimed by any other conference, so the WCC gets a little late-night national exposure. Everyone gives Gonzaga their best shot, regardless of their teamís talent, but Portland is one of the better teams in the league.

Prediction: Gonzaga 69, Portland 60

THE RIVALRY GAMES
Hatred that dates back centuries

USC at UCLA
Wednesday 9:30 PM FSN

The first game of this series was competitive at Galen Arena, so across town at Pauley Pavilion I expect another entertaining match-up. Taj Gibson might be too much for UCLA to handle. He continues to impress me every time I watch him, and DeMar DeRozan is starting to get comfortable. A lot of people have forgotten about this USC team, but Iím warning you not to. Tim Floyd is continually one of the most underrated coaches around.

Prediction: USC 73, UCLA 72

DESPERATION GAME
Someone who really needs a win

Notre Dame at Cincinnati
Wednesday 6:30 PM

I donít have to write much about this game. Notre Dameís season has gone South. Even a win on Wednesday wonít fix much, but a loss would completely destroy the Irish.

Prediction: Purdue 73, Ohio State 69

Illinois at Wisconsin
Tuesday 8:00 PM ESPN

Wisconsin has now lost six straight conference games, which is something I never thought Iíd see this year. It could be seven with a good Illinois team visiting Kohl Center, a venue that isnít too intimidating right now. Luckily for the Badgers, the Illini have forgotten how to score recently.

Prediction: Wisconsin 66, Illinois 63

Penn State at Michigan
Thursday 6:00 PM Big Ten Network

Michiganís wins over UCLA and Duke has really helped, but the Big Ten has been a bit of a struggle for John Beilein. Penn State is one of the more surprising teams around; by the way, it just won in East Lansing yesterday.

Prediction: Michigan 76, Penn State 69

Last weekís prediction record: 12-6
Overall prediction record: 147-83

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