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CONFERENCE PLAY BEGINS AS NEW YEAR APPROACHES
December 29, 2008

SCS.comWith conference play getting underway, Iíve decided to destroy "The Week That Was" segment, which was fun while it lasted but served no purpose other than to remind you of all the things you watched on ESPN. So, if you can get over the fact that "The Week That Was" is now gone forever, here is the Weekly Preview for the first week of conference play.

GAMES OF THE WEEK

Georgetown at Connecticut
Monday 6:00 PM ESPN2

The Big East Conference couldnít have picked a better game to kick off its season. After racking up nine wins in non-conference play, Georgetown has rolled this year after replacing Roy Hibbert and Jonathan Wallace. Now ranked in the top 15, the Hoyas will face their toughest challenge yet against one of the nationís top teams in Connecticut. The Huskies are still undefeated and have beaten three top 25 teams already. The battle between Greg Monroe and Hasheem Thabeet will be interesting to watchóthat is, if Thabeet can stay on the court. Due to foul trouble, the big man played just 19 minutes against Gonzaga and fouled out in the overtime period. As expected, Thabeet has been a block machine and will force Georgetown to shoot from the perimeter more than usual. The Hoyas arenít a great outside shooting team, and Connecticut will be too much for them to handle in Storrs.

Prediction: Connecticut 75, Georgetown 66

Pittsburgh at Georgetown
Saturday 11:00 AM ESPN

Look who it is again! For the first time in Weekly Preview history, a team will appear in more than one Game of the Week. Just five days after traveling to UConn, Georgetown will take on Pittsburgh, another Big East frontrunner, on Saturday morning. The Hoyas wonít catch a break after that, either, as their next five games consists of Notre Dame, Providence, Syracuse, Duke and West Virginia. Howís that for a murdererís row? Pittsburgh hasnít lost yet this season, but the Panthers havenít played the stiffest competition. Georgetown will be their first top 25 opponent, and away from home, Pittsburgh may have trouble putting the Hoyas away. Despite the Panthersí experienced roster, the Hoyas can match Pittís physical style of play and will get a defining Big East victory against one of the favorites to win the league.

Prediction: Georgetown 70, Pittsburgh 66

MUST-SEE MATCH-UPS

Illinois at Purdue
Tuesday 6:00 PM ESPN2

Illinois began the season just hoping to make the NIT. This was supposed to be the rebuilding yearóa bridge to the future, which includes some stellar recruiting classes. Bruce Weber seems to have accelerated the process, and after blowing out Missouri, the Illini donít look anything like a rebuilding program. Illinoisí offense seems to be clicking with Demetri McCamey and Trent Meachemís shooting abilities, coupled with Mike Davis and Mike Tisdaleís encouraging play in the post. Purdue is my pick here, however, because the Boilermakers will defend Illinois much better than Missouri did, specifically in the half-court. The Illini shot 57 percent from the field against the Tigers, and that wonít happen against Matt Painterís team.

Prediction: Purdue 66, Illinois 60

Michigan State at Minnesota
Wednesday 11:00 AM Big Ten Network

Though I marvel at the job Tubby Smith has done after losing his top three scorers from last year, I still donít think Minnesota can keep up this hot start. The Gophers deserve to be in the top 25 after beating Louisville, but the Cardinals have had their share of struggles this year. Michigan State is starting to hit its stride and Goran Suton, back from an injury, is better than any big man Minnesota has.

Prediction: Michigan State 70, Minnesota 60

Wisconsin at Michigan
Wednesday 1:00 PM ESPN

Along with Minnesota, Michigan has come out of nowhere to enter the top 25. Most assumed the Wolverines would be better, but nobody could have seen this coming. Expect it to continue at home against Wisconsin, who has lost to all three ranked teams it has played this season.

Prediction: Michigan 67, Wisconsin 66

Villanova at Marquette
Thursday 1:30 PM ESPN

Villanova has only played one good team this season (Texas), and it lost that game. Marquette has been somewhat unimpressive as well, losing to both Dayton and Tennessee, although the Golden Eagles did beat Wisconsin at home. The key to this game will be the Wildcatsí big man Dante Cunningham. Marquette has some of the best guards in college basketball, but Buzz Williams has no post play to work with. Cunningham will have a field day on New Yearsí Day.

Prediction: Villanova 75, Marquette 67

Ohio State at Minnesota
Saturday 11:00 AM BTN

Yet another Big Ten game makes the Must-See Match-Ups section, and this time itís Ohio State and Minnesota. I tabbed this conference as the worst of the six BCS leagues, and I was dead wrong. The Big Ten has been the most surprising conference so far, which makes for some great competition. Ohio State had a shocking blowout defeat at the hands of West Virginia last week, which was surprising considering the Buckeyeís impressive early season play. Despite what I said about Minnesota earlier, I do think theyíll get this game against Ohio State. I just canít get the image of West Virginiaís beat down out of my head.

Prediction: Minnesota 72, Ohio State 66

Wake Forest at BYU
Saturday 7:00 PM

Did anyone else notice that Wake Forest is ranked sixth in the nation? The Demon Deacons have beaten Baylor already on a neutral court, but other than that their non-conference slate has been soft. BYU is not a team Dino Gaudioís team can afford to take lightly. After losing by a point to Arizona State after its buzzer beater was waved off, BYU will be fired up to take on another ranked opponentóthis time on its home floor. I think Wake will squeak by due to its monstrous frontcourt, but this game will serve as a nice test before it plays North Carolina to open the ACC.

Prediction: Wake Forest 80, BYU 77

GAMES TO KEEP AN EYE ON

Temple at Villanova
Monday 6:00 PM ESPNU

When the Philadelphia teams get together, itís always fun. Templeís double digit loss at Kansas showed that its performance against Tennessee may have been an anomaly, but the Owls should still be competitive against its cross-town rival.

Prediction: Villanova 83, Temple 80

Davidson at Charleston
Monday 8:00 PM ESPNU

I bet you didnít have this one circled on your calendar. Coming off a horrendous game against Purdue, Davidson now has to face a 10-1 Charleston team, who has beaten South Carolina and only lost to Temple by five points. This is a scary game for the Wildcats, and if they drop this game their Southern Conference title is in jeopardy.

Prediction: Davidson 79, Charleston 72

Clemson at South Carolina
Tuesday 6:00 PM

South Carolina hasnít beaten anyone, but it has dropped just one game this year (to the aforementioned Charleston). Clemson is still undefeated and finally cracked the top 25, and the Tigers should roll in this one.

Prediction: Clemson 87, South Carolina 73

George Mason at Dayton
Tuesday 6:00 PM

Consider this an early Bracket Busters game. Dayton opened everyoneís eyes with a convincing win at Marquette last month, while George Mason looks like it may challenge VCU for the CAA title.

Prediction: Dayton 82, George Mason 71

UNLV at Louisville
Wednesday 5:00 PM ESPN2

After losing consecutive games at home in November, UNLV has rattled off six straight wins, including victories against Nevada and Arizona. Louisville just doesnít look comfortable right now, though the Cardinals will probably figure things out by Big East play.

Prediction: UNLV 75, Louisville 74

Arizona at California
Friday 7:30 PM

Arizona has been inconsistent this year and has lost both its road games. California looks strong under Mike Montgomery and should handle the Wildcats at home.

Prediction: California 80, Arizona 72

Tennessee at Kansas
Saturday 1:00 PM ESPN

These two teams have had their share of struggles so far this season. Itís tough to win at Allen Field House, but this not your typical Kansas team.

Prediction: Tennessee 88, Kansas 77

North Carolina State at Florida
Saturday 3:00 PM CBS

After last yearís disaster, North Carolina State has actually played pretty well in the early going. Florida, on the other hand, has done nothing to impress me, but I still like the Gators in this one.

Prediction: Florida 89, N.C. State 85

Creighton at Illinois State
Saturday 7:05 PM

Illinois State is 12-0. Thatís great. Congratulations on beating up on the nationís 307th hardest schedule. At least the Redbirds got a signature victory over powerhouse Illinois-Chicago. Creightonís schedule isnít a whole lot better than Illinois State, but the Bluejays have beaten St. Josephís and Dayton and will give the Redbirds a reality check.

Prediction: Creighton 82, Illinois State 73

Illinois at Michigan
Sunday 11:00 AM BTN

Iíve already talked at length about these two teams, so Iíll keep it short. I like Michigan because I think it will be tough for Illinois to play a second straight road game after taking on Purdue a few days prior.

Prediction: Michigan 65, Illinois 63

Kentucky at Louisville
Sunday 3:30 PM CBS

This rivalry is in a downswing, but itís not like Kentucky and Louisville are pushovers. I said I thought Louisville didnít look comfortable earlier in this column, but the Cardinals look like their lounging in a La-Z-Boy compared to Kentucky.

Prediction: Louisville 82, Kentucky 69

Virginia Tech at Duke
Sunday 6:45 PM FSN

Whenever these two teams play each other, Iíll always remember Sean Dockeryís half-court shot at the buzzer at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Thatís not relevant to this game by any means, but I couldnít think of anything else to write about this game.

Prediction: Duke 83, Virginia Tech 77

Arizona State at California
Sunday 7:00 PM

Californiaís first two conference games against the Arizona schools will give it some perspective on its season. The Bears are still largely unknown, with a nice win at UNLV and a crushing 26 point loss at Missouri. I still like what Iíve seen from Cal, and Montgomery has a proven track record.

Prediction: California 73, Arizona State 66

Last weekís prediction record: 4-5
Overall prediction record: 41-32

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