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CHRISTMAS COMES FIRST: SLOW WEEK OF HOOPS
December 22, 2008

SCS.comThere isn’t a whole lot to get excited about this week. Christmas time must be reserved for family, the NBA and college football bowls. But as always, the SouthernCollegeSports.com Weekly Preview rolls on, starting with the week that was.

THE WEEK THAT WAS

Buzzer beater at the Carrier Dome: Surely you’ve seen the shot by now. Cleveland State’s Cedric Jackson nailed a 60 foot three-pointer to beat 13th ranked Syracuse on its home floor last Monday. Besides the once-in-a-lifetime buzzer beater, the win is notable for Cleveland State because it gives the Vikings, as well as the Horizon League, an impressive win on its resume. Cleveland State has four losses this year, but all of those defeats were by quality competition (Washington, Kansas State, Butler, West Virginia). The Vikings stayed within 10 points in all but one of those losses, and now that they have beaten Syracuse, a dominating performance in the Horizon League could put them in contention for an at-large bid.

Andy Kennedy arrested, Warren out for season: Already missing two contributors due to injury, Mississippi is reeling again. The Rebels coach, Andy Kennedy, was arrested on an assault charge on Thursday, the same day they learned their best player, Chris Warren, would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. Kennedy is still coaching, and details about his incident are sketchy. It’s possible he could be cleared of the charges, but the one thing we do know is Warren will not be back this year. That’s a killer blow to Ole Miss, and all chances of an NCAA tournament are now completely gone.

Super Saturday: Last week’s Weekly Preview featured four Games of the Week, all presented by CBS this Saturday. Two of the games lived up to the hype, and the two others stunk up the joint. Texas/Michigan State and Connecticut/Gonzaga were the two that gave us drama. The Spartans won by two points, thanks to a clutch three-pointer in the final minute by Durrell Summers. Jim Calhoun’s Huskies forced overtime on a wild three by A.J. Price and won in the extra period. Unfortunately, the Xavier/Duke and Davidson/Purdue games couldn’t have been less entertaining. Both games were over just a couple of minutes into the first half—Duke began the game on a 22-3 run, while Purdue began its game on a 25-2 run.

Big road wins for Syracuse, Clemson: After that heartbreaker on Monday, Syracuse made up for it on Saturday by beating Memphis at Fed Ex Forum. The Tigers shot 7-33 from three and turned the ball over 20 times, while Syracuse overcame a 12-26 mark from the free throw line. Clemson fell behind early at Miami but eventually opened up a comfortable lead on its way to a 19 point victory. That’s a statement win for the undefeated Tigers, who finally cracked the top 25 for the first time last week. Miami, on the other hand, has fallen out of the rankings and has missed several opportunities for quality wins in the non-conference. The Hurricanes were considered a lock for the NCAA tournament in the pre-season, but they will need a strong showing in the ACC to dance this March.

MUST-SEE MATCH-UPS

Butler at Xavier
Tuesday 6:00 PM ESPNU

Xavier looked like a different team on Saturday against Duke. I mean that in a bad way—the worst way possible, in fact. The Musketeers fell behind 22-3 and embarrassed themselves, and they made it look like that lofty top 10 ranking may be a bit premature. Butler has picked up right where it left off last year, even after losing almost its entire team. The Bulldogs have remade themselves, and they are still winning from three-point land. Sophomore Matt Howard isn’t a gunner from behind the arc, but he provides the paint scoring as the lone returner from last year’s squad. Shelvin Mack and Gordon Hayward are two freshmen that have impacted this team immediately, as they have teamed with Howard as Butler’s primary scorers.

Xavier couldn’t have looked worse against Duke, but that is just one game. The rest of the Musketeers’ season has been very strong, and this is a program not used to losing. Butler isn’t used to losing either, and the Bulldogs nearly knocked off Ohio State a couple weeks ago, but Xavier will rebound from Saturday’s loss with a home win.

Prediction: Xavier 62, Butler 56

Illinois vs. Missouri (in St. Louis)
Tuesday 6:30 PM ESPN2

I’ll be fortunate enough to attend this game at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The atmosphere is unrivaled by any other non-conference game. Half of the arena will be filled with orange, while the other half will be occupied by black and gold. It’s a unique college basketball experience, and even if you’re not interested in watching the game, you may want to flip to ESPN2 on Tuesday just to see the passion and emotion of the Braggin’ Rights Game.

It helps that this year’s game features a match-up of two teams of similar caliber. The Braggin’ Rights series is always competitive, but Illinois has managed to win the past eight games against Missouri. Though I’m a biased Mizzou fan, this could finally be the year the Tigers leave St. Louis happy. The game will surely come down to the wire, but Illinois did not handle Clemson’s pressure defense well earlier this year, which bodes well for the Tigers’ defense. Plus, though the Illini have had the advantage in the paint the past few years with Shaun Pruitt, Mizzou’s duo of Leo Lyons and DeMarre Carroll will present a tough match-up for Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale of the Illini. I’m predicting a Missouri victory, mostly because I’m incredibly partial, but also because the Tigers seem like a different team this year. Mizzou’s newcomers may be rattled by the intimidating venue and Illinois has won eight straight games in this series, so this prediction could come back to bite me.

Prediction: Missouri 77, Illinois 75

Texas at Wisconsin
Tuesday 8:30 PM ESPN2

Texas has already knocked off UCLA and Villanova, and the Longhorns lost narrowly to Michigan State and Notre Dame. At 9-2, with some impressive wins and no bad losses, Texas looks like a frontrunner for the Big 12 race. Rick Barnes hasn’t taken his team on the road yet, however, and Tuesday’s trip to the Kohl Center isn’t an easy way to start the road schedule. Playing the Badgers in Madison is one of the toughest tasks in college basketball.

This game should be a defensive battle, as both teams have struggled scoring while thriving on the defensive end. I think Texas will have a little too much firepower for Wisconsin, even on the Badgers’ home floor. A.J. Abrams struggled in a loss to Michigan State on Saturday, but expect him to break out of that slump with a big game on Tuesday.

Prediction: Texas 70, Wisconsin 66

Kansas at Arizona
Tuesday 9:30 PM FSN

After notching a huge win over Gonzaga, Arizona laid an egg against UNLV on Saturday and got blown out of Vegas. Kansas did the opposite, rebounding from a bad loss to Massachusetts by beating Temple at Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks are still trying to figure out their roster, and the farthest they’ve traveled all year was to the Sprint Center in Kansas City, a mere 45 minute drive from Lawrence. That’s not a recipe for success for Bill Self’s young team.

Prediction: Arizona 75, Kansas 65

West Virginia at Ohio State
Saturday 3:00 PM CBS

Ohio State has quietly put together an 8-0 record with wins against Miami (on the road), Butler (home) and Notre Dame (neutral, in Indianapolis). West Virginia has lost to Kentucky and Davidson already, but Bob Huggins has some good players to work with and should be fine by season’s end. The Buckeyes’ aren’t getting great contributions from freshman B.J. Mullens, by Evan Turner is quickly becoming a star in Columbus.

Prediction: Ohio State 66, West Virginia 60

GAMES TO KEEP AN EYE ON

Marquette at North Carolina State
Monday 6:00 PM ESPNU

North Carolina State, coming off a rough 07-08 campaign, has started this year 7-1. Its only loss came to Davidson, but the Wolfpack also haven’t beaten anyone good yet. Marquette is stumbling after losing to Tennessee last week, but I’m not convinced N.C. State is for real.

Prediction: Marquette 82, North Carolina State 70

Georgia Tech at USC
Monday 9:30 PM FSN

USC can’t afford to lose this game. The Trojans already have three losses and barely beat San Francisco and North Dakota State. Georgia Tech’s not a good team, but the Yellow Jackets are good enough to beat USC if Tim Floyd doesn’t have his team ready to play. I don’t suspect that will be the case, however.

Prediction: USC 72, Georgia Tech 62

Portland State at Gonzaga
Tuesday 7:00 PM

The reigning Big Sky champs are 8-3 and lost by just a point to Washington earlier this month. Gonzaga shouldn’t have much trouble, but Portland State is one of the better low-major teams out there.

Prediction: Gonzaga 73, Portland State 62

Washington State at LSU
Saturday 1:00 PM ESPN2

LSU’s first challenge, at home against Texas A&M this Saturday, resulted in an 11 point loss. Another decent opponent will visit the Tigers this week, which will give us another chance to see if LSU will actually be a player in the SEC this year.

Prediction: Washington State 60, LSU 59

Last week’s prediction record: 6-10 (ouch!)
Overall prediction record: 37-27

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