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NEW NUMBER ONE AND AN EYE-OPENER OUT WEST
January 11, 2010

SCS.comNumber-one Kansas lost to a team missing one-third of its players. A Pac-10 team lost on Wednesday by 51 points to a team I didn’t even know existed. And did you know there’s a team from the state of Louisiana in the Western Athletic Conference? Me neither. That’s what my Opening Thoughts are for:

OPENING THOUGHTS

Thought 1: There’ll be a new number one…

I’m not going to spend a lot of time analyzing top-ranked Kansas’ loss to Tennessee, which dismissed Tyler Smith this week and is still without the suspended Melvin Goins, Cameron Tatum and Brian Williams. A fired-up home team welcomed the number one team to its arena in the midst of adversity. It’s not surprising that the Volunteers pulled the upset. However, after KU escaped with a win over Cornell at the Phog on Wednesday, the Jayhawks suddenly appear mortal. Remember when Kansas rolled Temple in Philly and looked unstoppable? Those days are over. Maybe that will keep Bill Self’s squad hungry and humble.

Thought 2: Keeps getting worse in Corvallis

I ragged on Oregon State in this column a few weeks ago for its poor non-conference start, so I hate to take up space with more Beaver bashing. Unfortunately, a 51-point home loss to Seattle on Wednesday forces me to bring the heat again. Similar to Thought 1, I’m not going to write an essay analyzing Oregon State’s personnel and game plan. And no, I’m not going to make a lame political joke involving Craig Robinson and brother-in-law Barack Obama. Instead, I’m simply going to exclaim that I have never, ever been more surprised by a sports score than when I saw Seattle 99, Oregon State 48 on my computer screen on Wednesday. The only possible explanation for that score is if the Seattle SuperSonics made a comeback with Shawn Kemp and Gary Payton. Other than those extenuating circumstances, a Pac-10 team should never lose to a 6-9 Division-I transitional school.

Thought 3: A storyline emerging in the WAC

Louisiana Tech is 15-2 and just improved to 3-0 in the Western Athletic Conference with a win at Idaho on Saturday. I didn’t realize until a few days ago that the high-scoring Bulldogs, who haven’t had a winning season since 2006, were rolling along so well in the WAC. Their two losses came at New Mexico and Arizona by an average of 22.5 points, but they’ve actually got some pretty decent wins: at Houston, at TCU and vs. Nevada. Louisiana Tech finished 15-18 last season and 6-24 in 2007-08. It’s still very early, but I don’t think anyone expected this team to have 15 wins already.

WEEKLY PREVIEW

GAME OF THE WEEK

Syracuse at West Virginia
Saturday 11 a.m.

West Virginia needed a huge comeback just to lose by two points at Notre Dame on Saturday, and remember the New Year’s Day debacle at Purdue? The Mountaineers have a lot to prove against the ‘Cuse.

Prediction: West Virginia 68, Syracuse 62

OTHERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

Villanova at Louisville
Monday 6 p.m. ESPN

Louisville is perfect in the Big East, going 3-0 against South Florida, Providence and St. John’s. Something tells me Villanova might pose a bit more of a challenge.

Prediction: Villanova 76, Louisville 66

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
Monday 8 p.m.

Oklahoma lost by 31 points to Baylor this weekend. So logic would say that Oklahoma State should have no trouble tonight, even with the game in Norman. But this is the Bedlam Series—one of my favorite college sports rivalries— so I expect something crazy to go down.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 86, Oklahoma 77

Kentucky at Florida
Tuesday 8 p.m.

Kentucky had a heck of a time with Georgia at Rupp Arena on Saturday, as the Bulldogs nearly ruined the Wildcats’ undefeated record by taking them to the wire. That 16-0 record is in even more jeopardy tomorrow night.

Prediction: Kentucky 79, Florida 72

Pittsburgh at Connecticut
Wednesday 6 p.m.

Connecticut blew a golden opportunity on the road against Georgetown, making Wednesday’s home date with rising Pittsburgh even more important.

Prediction: Connecticut 73, Pittsburgh 72

Georgia Tech at Virginia
Wednesday 6 p.m.

Don’t look now, but my pre-season sleeper team, Virginia, has won five straight games after starting 4-4. The winning streak has included wins against 24th-ranked UAB and N.C. State. When UVA beats Georgia Tech on Wednesday, I’m never going to let you hear the end of it in next week’s column.

Prediction: Virginia 83, Georgia Tech 77

Missouri at Texas Tech
Wednesday 8 p.m.

MU survived a physical battle with Kansas State on Saturday to win its conference opener in dramatic fashion. I know because I was there. My voice has not yet recovered from a) cheering on my Tigers and b) verbally abusing the Kansas State fans who snuck into our student section. But the last time the Tigers went on the road, they lost to Oral Roberts. So we’ll see what happens in Lubbock on Wednesday.

Prediction: Texas Tech 77, Missouri 73

North Carolina at Clemson
Wednesday 8 p.m.

North Carolina hasn’t won a road game this season, and Clemson ain’t College of Charleston.

Prediction: North Carolina 86, Clemson 78

Gonzaga at St. Mary’s
Thursday 10 p.m.

Deprive yourself of sleep for this game. Gonzaga/St. Mary’s is always worth sleep deprivation.

Prediction: St. Mary’s 76, Gonzaga 73

Mississippi at Tennessee
Saturday 12:30 p.m.

It won’t be number-one in the house at Boiler, so how will the devastated Vols react against Ole Miss?

Prediction: Mississippi 80, Tennessee 77

Illinois at Michigan State
Saturday 2:30 p.m.

Illinois experienced its share of ups and downs during non-conference play, but it’s off to a 3-0 Big Ten start.

Prediction: Michigan State 72, Illinois 59

Wichita State at Creighton
Saturday 4 p.m.

I thought Creighton would compete for a Missouri Valley title earlier this year. That was before the Bluejays tanked. Now, they’re 7-9 and 2-3 in the Valley, which makes Saturday’s game with the second-place Shockers as close to “must-win” as it gets in January.

Prediction: Wichita State 73, Creighton 70

Georgetown at Villanova
Sunday 11 a.m.

After tonight’s trip to Louisville, the week won’t get easier as Villanova welcomes G’Town to the Wachovia Center.

Prediction: Villanova 78, Georgetown 76

Wake Forest at Duke
Sunday 7 p.m.

Wake will only play Duke once this season, so it’ll have to make Sunday’s game really count.

Prediction: Duke 81, Wake Forest 68

Last week’s prediction record: 8-3
Overall: 62-34

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