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FUN STARTS WITH FOUR MADE-FOR-CBS MATCHUPS
December 15, 2008

SCS.comIsn’t it a shame that college basketball players have schoolwork to do? Because of those pesky final exams, Monday through Friday of this week will be slow for hoops fans. Just be patient, because Saturday could be one of the best days of the year in college basketball. Before we get to that, let’s look at the week that was:

THE WEEK THAT WAS

Upset Saturday: Tennessee traveled to Philly for an early-morning clash with Temple and came away with a stunning 16 point loss. The Owls jumped out to a nine point halftime lead and ran away with the game in the second half, thanks to a dazzling 35 point performance by two-time Atlantic Ten scoring champ Dionte Christmas. Temple played like a team ready to make the NCAA tournament for a second consecutive year, and possibly challenge Xavier for the conference crown. Later that afternoon, Massachusetts knocked off the defending national champions by downing Kansas in Kansas City’s Sprint Center, 61-60. UMass entered the game just 2-6 and couldn’t have looked worse in the first few months of the season. It should have been an easy win for the Jayhawks, but Bill Self is really struggling with his new roster. Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich combined for 31 points and Kansas has no worries with those two. But Self doesn’t seem confident in his newcomers, seeing as he has elected to play veterans with limited skills—like Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed—over the promising newcomers.

Arizona has something to feel good about after beating Zags: Things have been going so horribly for Arizona lately. Last year was a disaster with Kevin O’Neill, and Lute Olson’s abrupt retirement caused all sorts of turmoil early on this season. Finally, the Wildcats have some positives to focus on after beating Gonzaga in Phoenix yesterday. Nic Wise, a lighting-quick point guard whose name is rarely mentioned, provided the perimeter scoring and finished with 21 points, while Jordan Hill scored 22 points in the post. Gonzaga fell behind by double digits in the second half but fought back to tie the game at 62—by finishing out the win, Arizona matured on Sunday and may have changed the course of its season.

Davidson, Texas notch wins in NYC: In the early match of the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday, Stephen Curry shook off a poor shooting night and hit two critical three-pointers in the final minutes to beat West Virginia. Though the win does not come as a surprise to anyone, this victory was important for Davidson, as it gives the Wildcats some insurance if they don’t win the SoCon tournament. In the nightcap, Texas gutted out a win against Villanova behind A.J. Abrams’ 26 points. Oklahoma is the talk of the Big 12 right now with Blake Griffin, but the Longhorns are my pick to win the conference title this winter.

Georgetown over Memphis in OT: This was one of my Games of the Week last week, and it didn’t disappoint. In fact, as I watched this back-and-forth tussle between top 25 teams, I decided that the game was one of the more entertaining non-conference basketball games I’ve ever seen. The game was close throughout, with neither team building a comfortable lead at any point. Not only that, but Memphis is a blast to sit down and watch. The Tigers, as usual, were throwing down high-flying dunks and alley-oops and forced Georgetown into an up-tempo pace. The Hoyas persevered and even after Robert Dozier sent the game to overtime with an improbable tip-in, they clamped down defensively and held Memphis to just four points in OT.

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Reserve your Saturday afternoon for college basketball and keep your television tuned to CBS. The home of the NCAA tournament will be presenting a March Madness-like day of hoops with four top 25 match-ups, all at neutral sites, beginning at 1 p.m. central. Since CBS’ coverage is regional, viewers will only see two of the four games, but every single one of them is worth watching. Here are your Games of the Week, thanks to CBS Sports.

Duke vs. Xavier (in East Rutherford, NJ)
Saturday 1:00 PM CBS

Duke has already played two non-conference games away from Cameron Indoor Stadium, and now the Blue Devils make a third trip to New Jersey to play Xavier. That has to be some sort of record for a program that loves to stay in Durham during November and December. When this game tips off, Duke will have played just one game since losing to Michigan two weeks prior. The long layoff may play a role in Saturday’s game. Xavier enters the game undefeated with an impressive resume. The Musketeers now find themselves in the top 10 after beginning the year outside of the top 25. Sean Miller is continuing this program’s success, and we are learning that Xavier just does not have down years anymore. Even with the loss of three key players from last year’s Elite Eight team, the Musketeers have moved on, and they look just as good in 2008.

Duke’s frontcourt problems looked to be improving after dominating Purdue in the paint a few weeks ago. Xavier’s powerful front line will look a lot different than the Boilermakers. The Musketeers will throw several big men at the Blue Devils, and all of them play a different role. Derrick Brown will step out and shoot from the perimeter, and as the leading scorer, he is the go-to option up front. He’s not a back-to-the-basket forward, but Jason Love and Kenny Frease are traditional big men that will overpower Duke on the block. Jamel McLean, a transfer from Tulsa, gives Xavier energy off the bench.

Duke shot 7-33 from three against Michigan, and that statistic could have looked even worse had the Blue Devils not made several threes at the very end of the game. They need to hit their outside shots and avoid a catastrophic rebounding margin, and use their pressure half-court defense to turn over Xavier’s young guards. The Musketeers look like the complete team so far, and I expect them to notch their biggest win yet on Saturday.

Prediction: Xavier 75, Duke 72

Michigan State vs. Texas (in Houston)
Saturday 1:00 PM CBS

Michigan State may be in trouble. The Spartans only have two losses (to Maryland and North Carolina), but they have struggled in almost all of their wins against inferior opponents. Goran Suton is still out with an injury, and since he’s the one true center on the team, Raymar Morgan is forced to play more inside. Texas, on the other hand, has beaten UCLA and Villanova in its past two games and looks like a definite contender for the Big 12 crown.

There are two main concerns for Michigan State on Saturday. First, can the Spartans stop A.J. Abrams, who is on a tear right now? And how can they cope with Texas’ strong frontcourt, especially if Suton still cannot play? All of these question marks will result in another loss for Tom Izzo’s team.

Prediction: Texas 78, Michigan State 66

Davidson vs. Purdue (in Indianapolis)
Saturday 3:00 PM CBS

I’m not sure what Matt Painter will draw up to stop Stephen Curry, but I would imagine he’ll try something similar to Bob Huggins’ strategy. West Virginia used all kinds of players—guards and forwards— to defend Curry, and Purdue has that same capability with so many wing players. Chris Kramer is also one of the best defenders in the nation, and he will get his shot to stop one of the best scorers in the nation.

Purdue looked overwhelmed at home against Duke a couple of weeks ago, but don’t judge this team just from that game. The Boilermakers play some of the best defense around, and their scrappy play resembles West Virginia, who was able to limit Curry’s production until the end of the game. Close to home in Indianapolis, I like Purdue to pull out a close win. No matter what happens, Curry will probably do something to amaze us, as he does every week.

Prediction: Purdue 66, Davidson 65

Connecticut vs. Gonzaga (in Seattle)
Saturday 3:00 PM CBS

This was going to be a match-up of two undefeated, top five teams, but then Arizona ruined everything by beating Gonzaga yesterday. Oh well. This should still be one of the banner games of this non-conference season. Despite the loss to Arizona, Gonzaga has still looked like a Final Four team early on. The Bulldogs have scorers at all five positions on the court and it’s tough to slow them down. Connecticut’s rough Big East style may bother the Zags, who are not used to that type of physicality.

Gonzaga may have trouble attacking the rim with Hasheem Thabeet ruling the paint, but luckily the Bulldogs can shoot the ball from the perimeter. Knocking down threes is the way to beat Connecticut. The Huskies can score themselves, with five players averaging double figures in scoring this season. Their game is not as focused on the three-pointer, as Jim Calhoun’s teams are always looking to drive to the basket and get to the free throw line. Gonzaga’s defensive effort against Arizona was outstanding, but it made just six of 20 threes. If the Zags go cold from the outside, Connecticut should roll. I like what I’ve seen from the Huskies this season. Despite the game’s location in Seattle, Thabeet’s presence down low and their high-scoring attack are why I’m picking them to win.

Prediction: Connecticut 76, Gonzaga 69

MUST-SEE MATCH-UPS

Marquette at Tennessee
Tuesday 8:30 PM ESPN

Not interested in watching half-court basketball with big men plodding all over the court? This is the game for you. Both teams’ guards are their strengths, and both teams’ frontcourts are their weaknesses. The Atlantic Ten has not treated either team nicely, with Marquette losing to Dayton a few weeks back and Tennessee falling to Temple just two days ago. The Golden Eagles rebounded with a win against Wisconsin, and their defensive effort has kept them afloat the first few months. Tennessee will look to pressure Marquette’s guards, but Wesley Matthews, Dominic James and Jerel McNeal are too good to get rattled. As long as the Marquette team that beat Wisconsin shows up, I think Buzz Williams will notch his first important road win as head coach.

Prediction: Marquette 83, Tennessee 79

Syracuse at Memphis
Saturday 5:00 PM ESPN

After staying undefeated until February last season, Memphis has already dropped two games this year. Syracuse is playing well enough to make that number three on Saturday. The Orange are a bit unproven still, as their two main wins—against Florida and Kansas—came against teams that look questionable right now. Memphis obviously has taken a step back from last year, but the Tigers have looked fine, even in close losses to Xavier and Georgetown. Back at the Fed Ex Forum, John Calipari’s program will return to its winning ways and hand Jim Boeheim his first loss this season.

Prediction: Memphis 79, Syracuse 70

Clemson at Miami
Sunday 6:45 PM FSN

These two teams will take a break from non-conference mode and play a critical ACC game on Sunday. For some reason, the ACC likes to play a couple of conference games in late December, and Clemson and Miami drew the short straw this year. As fans, it will be entertaining to watch the first important conference game of the year. The Tigers are currently undefeated, but Miami will be their toughest opponent thus far. The Hurricanes have played good competition, but lost to both Connecticut and Ohio State. They did hold off a Kentucky comeback last week, and looked dominant in the first half of that game. Playing at home, against an untested Clemson team, Miami has what it takes to improve to 1-0 in the ACC.

Prediction: Miami 76, Clemson 70

GAMES TO KEEP AN EYE ON

Siena at Pittsburgh
Wednesday 8:30 PM ESPN2

After a disappointing showing at the Old Spice Classic, Siena has now won three straight games and could challenge Pittsburgh. The Panthers will probably roll, but they may be underestimating the Saints after they played poorly in Orlando. This is a chance for Siena to right the ship.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 80, Siena 66

Louisville at Minnesota
Saturday 1:00 PM FSN

Since this game will be played at the same time as Michigan State/Texas and Duke/Xavier, this is not the game you’ll want to watch on TV. Still, I’ll be checking in on this score on Saturday, because I’m interested to see how Minnesota plays. The Gophers are undefeated but have played a soft non-conference schedule, and their only win of note came against a weak Virginia team. Let’s see if they are for real this Saturday. My guess is that their 9-0 record is probably inflated, and Louisville, despite its recent struggles, will win this one.

Prediction: Louisville 69, Minnesota 59

Temple at Kansas
Saturday 1:30 PM ESPN2

Before Saturday, I probably would have predicted Kansas to win this game somewhat easily. Then, Tennessee ripped Temple and Kansas lost to UMass, which means I’m changing my prediction. The Jayhawks rarely lose at Allen Field House, but I did not like what I saw on Saturday from them.

Prediction: Temple 80, Kansas 76

Arizona at UNLV
Saturday 2:00 PM Versus

UNLV could be an NCAA tournament team, and winning in Vegas is a tough task for Arizona. After taking down Gonzaga, however, I think they are up to it.

Prediction: Arizona 76, UNLV 65

LSU at Texas A&M
Saturday 3:30 PM

Like Minnesota, LSU is undefeated because of a weak schedule. The Tigers entered the year on many experts’ sleeper lists, and we’ll get to see their first challenge against Texas A&M. Though the Aggies have lost to Tulsa, they did win at Alabama this weekend.

Prediction: Texas A&M 62, LSU 59

BYU at Arizona State
Saturday 3:30 PM FSN

Like Minnesota and LSU, BYU is also undefeated due to playing no competition. How many times will I have to say that in this column? Arizona State needed a huge comeback just to beat IUPUI yesterday, and if the Sun Devils play like that again they’ll get killed. That’s because unlike Minnesota and LSU, BYU has proven itself as an NCAA tournament team and its 10-0 record is not a smoke screen.

Prediction: BYU 73, Arizona State 66

Virginia Commonwealth at Oklahoma
Saturday 9:00 PM ESPN2

Oklahoma will win big in this one, but I’ve included this game because of the interesting storyline of Jeff Capel facing his old school.

Prediction: Oklahoma 75, VCU 60

Stanford at Northwestern
Saturday 9:00 PM

No, I’m not talking about a math competition or a write-off here. Stanford and Northwestern are playing good basketball right now. It’s a little surprising to see Stanford undefeated after losing the Lopez twins, but it’s really surprising to see Northwestern having basketball success. I’m actually going to pick the Wildcats in this one, as I think Bill Carmody may finally have something going in Evanston.

Prediction: Northwestern 60, Stanford 53

Pittsburgh at Florida State
Sunday 5:30 PM FSN

I can’t understand this Florida State team. In some games, the Seminoles have barely edged the likes of Jacksonville, La Salle, Stetson and Georgia State, teams they should have no trouble with. Then, they turn around and beat Cincinnati and California, before losing to Northwestern, and eventually beating Florida! Maybe I’ll get a better idea about this team when I see them play Pitt- then again, maybe not.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 78, Florida State 65

Last week’s prediction record: 7-3
Overall prediction record: 31-17

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