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IT'S A "BIG MONDAY" TONIGHT
January 18, 2010

SCS.comIím really upset with a certain former point guard from Oklahoma State.

His name is Doug Gottlieb, and heís my favorite analyst on ESPN. Sure, he comes across as condescending sometimes on the air. He couldnít make a free throw to save his life, he was kicked out of Notre Dame for stealing his roommateís credit cards and he once wore his shorts backwards. Still, Iím willing to overlook that because heís opinionated, passionate and most importantly, educated and knowledgeable about college basketball. Gottlieb is a refreshing exception to television analysts, but Iíve never been madder at him. Why? Well, I supposed youíll need to read on for the answer to that question.

OPENING THOUGHTS

Thought 1: America, Meet Virginia

On November 16th, 2009, a wise man said the following: ďIíve decided to tout Virginia as my sleeper pick for this season.Ē

At the time, that wise man ó which is me, by the way, in case you didnít quite figure that out yet - seemed insane. After all, the Cavaliers won 10 games last year and fired their coach, so my proclamation that UVA and first-year coach Tony Bennett would become a surprise team didnít seem so logical. On that fateful night of November 16th, 2009, Virginia lost to South Florida by 17 points, despite my confident prediction of a UVA six-point victory. Later that month, Bennettís crew lost to bottom-feeders Stanford and Penn State, and in December it dropped a game to Auburn.

Things were looking bleak for Virginia. Even more importantly, my reputation was in shambles. People were starting to talk.

But Iím on top of the world now, thanks to a seven-game winning streak by UVA that has included three top-25 victims. In fact, Virginia now sits atop the ACC with a 3-0 record after knocking off Georgia Tech and Miami at home last week. We knew the Cavaliers would be able to score with Sylven Landesberg and the crew, but who knew theyíd buy into Bennettís defense-first philosophy so quickly? Nobody could have seen it coming. Except for me, of course.

If it seems like Iím rubbing it in your face, I am. Iím not right about things very often. Just last week, my prediction record was 6-8. So I needed to boost my ego a little bit. And itís not like I didnít warn you. In my last column, I stated that ďwhen UVA beats Georgia Tech on Wednesday, Iím never going to let you hear the end of it in next weekís column.Ē I simply made good on a promise.

Thought 2: Boiler Down

In the last eight days, Purdue has slipped from top-five in the polls to desperation mode. It started with a loss at Wisconsin Jan. 9th. No biggie. Nobody wins at the Kohl Center. But after collapsing against Evan Turner and Ohio State at home last Tuesday and losing at Northwestern on Saturday, the Boilermakers have now lost three straight games for the first time since 2006. Purdue now visits the Big Tenís second-place team, Illinois, on Tuesday. A four-game losing streak early in the league schedule would be disastrous for the Boilermakers, who still play Michigan State twice and travel to Ohio State and Minnesota in February. A Big Ten title is out of the question at this point. Who thought Iíd be writing that in January? The loss of Lewis Jackson hurts because heís the only true point guard on the team, but he hasnít played all season. Purdueís losing streak can be partly attributed to JaJuan Johnsonís lackluster play. He hasnít scored in double-figures once during the past three games, and against Northwestern he played 18 minutes due to foul trouble. The Boilermakers have little depth in the frontcourt after Johnson, so they cannot afford for him to struggle. Whereís Nemanja Calasan when you need him?

Thought 3: How good is BYU?

Brigham Young has won 13 straight games and sits at 18-1 on the season, with a lone loss at Utah State. Star Jimmer Fredette is over his mono and the Cougars beat Colorado State by 44 points on Saturday. The Mountain West is a challenging conferenceóprobably better than the Pac-10óso it wonít be easy for BYU to roll through conference play. But I still donít expect this team to lose more than two games the rest of the way.

BYU will present the NCAA Tournament committee with an interesting dilemma if it keeps winning, however (in terms of seeding: thereís no way it misses the tournament altogether barring a major collapse). The Cougars played a soft non-conference schedule thanks to down years from Arizona, Arizona State, Nevada and Nebraska. UNLV is probably the only opponent to date that has a chance at an at-large bid, and even the Runniní Rebels donít look like a lock anymore after losing at home to Utah on Saturday. I watched a bit of BYUís trouncing of Arizona, but other than that, I havenít seen much of this team. BYU isnít exactly coveted by ESPN. Thatís why the Cougars, to me, are one of the biggest question marks in America right now. Iíll find out a little more about this team as it continues in the tough Mountain West, and games at New Mexico and UNLV should help me gauge this team. Still, BYU will enter the NCAA Tournament this year having played zero elite teams. We all wanted to know how good this team would be without Lee Cummard, but that question probably wonít be answered until March.

UPDATE: This column will now appear twice each week: once on Monday, and once on Friday. That way, I can write a Weekly Preview and a Weekend Preview, and you can enjoy my fabulous writing twice a week. Everybody wins!

WEEKLY PREVIEW

GAME OF THE WEEK

Texas at Kansas State
Monday 8 p.m. ESPN

Want to know why I hate Doug Gottlieb right now? Itís because he totally stole my thunder on Saturday night by predicting a Kansas State victory over top-ranked Texas tonight. Iíve been waiting to call this upset for weeks now, and that jerk just had to beat me to it.

Iím going to take it even further than Gottlieb, though. Kansas State isnít just going to beat Texas. The Wildcats are going to annihilate Texas. There isnít a tougher environment in the Big 12 than Bramlage Coliseum. The KSU student section is as fierce as Iíve ever seen as a college basketball fan. The place is dark, gloomy and unbelievably loud. Remember when Michael Beasley and Bill Walker welcomed Kansas to Bramlage in 2008 and finally broke a 24-year home losing streak to the Jayhawks? KU won the National Championship that year, but the Wildcats controlled that game for 40 minutes. Tonight, expect an atmosphere similar to that KU game two years ago. Kansas State is physical enough at forward to match-up with the Longhornsí deep frontcourt, and I think the Wildcatsí guards are better than UTís. Thereís not a chance in hell Kansas State walks off the court without a double-digit victory.

Prediction: Kansas State 87, Texas 66

OTHERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

Syracuse at Notre Dame
Monday 6 p.m. ESPN

The first part of the Big Monday double-header features a Notre Dame team whose last three games have been decided by two points or fewer. Tonightís contest with Syracuse will probably go right down to the wire as well. The Irish only have one quality win right now, which came against West Virginia at home last weekend.

Prediction: Notre Dame 72, Syracuse 68

Tennessee at Alabama
Tuesday 6 p.m.

Tennessee fooled me last week. After the personal love-fest I had for myself earlier in this column due to Virginiaís emergence, I feel I should admit my mistake with the Vols. I thought the suspensions and euphoric win over Kansas would result in a letdown against Auburn and Mississippi. Instead, Bruce Pearlís team once again fought adversity to gain two critical home wins. Now, with Melvin Goins and Cameron Tatum reinstated, Tennessee hits the road this week. Alabama led for most of the way at home against Vanderbilt last week but ended up losing by one point. Anthony Grant is showing signs of a turnaround at ĎBama, but I expect another competitive loss tomorrow night.

Prediction: Tennessee 73, Alabama 67

Northwestern at Ohio State
Tuesday 6 p.m.

Itís remarkable what Northwestern has done without Kevin Coble this season. The improvement of point guard Michael Thompson has done wonders for this team, which has renewed hope for an NCAA Tournament bid after upsetting Purdue on Saturday. I still donít expect Northwestern to win tomorrow night at Ohio State, who looks like the second-best team in the Big Ten after Michigan State with Evan Turner back in the lineup.

Prediction: Ohio State 67, Northwestern 55

Clemson at Georgia Tech
Tuesday 6 p.m.

Clemson and Georgia Techóincidentally the last two teams to beat North Carolinaóboth experienced similar letdowns on Saturday. They both blew huge leads to North Carolina State and North Carolina respectively, before escaping with close road wins. Georgia Techís young guards will need to take care of the ball against a relentless Clemson defense.

Prediction: Georgia Tech 80, Clemson 72

Oklahoma at Texas A&M
Tuesday 7p.m.

Iím looking forward to this game because Iím eager to find out if Oklahomaís recent surge is for real. The Sooners struggled in non-conference play, dropping games to San Diego, Houston, VCU and UTEP, but theyíve now won two straight games over quality teams in Oklahoma State and Missouri. Jeff Capel has plenty of young talent to work with, and though itís an uphill battle, an NCAA Tournament berth isnít out of reach just yet.

Prediction: Texas A&M 69, Oklahoma 67

Purdue at Illinois
Tuesday 8 p.m.

As I mentioned in the Opening Thoughts, tomorrow nightís game has reached must-win territory for Purdue. The Boilermakers donít have any excuses anymore. Robbie Hummel has been banged up a bit this year, but heís healthy for the most part after missing significant time last season. This team starts all juniors and seniors. A four-game losing streak should not happen, even in a difficult conference such as the Big Ten. Illinois, which lost at Michigan State on Saturday, is in second-place at 4-1 after beating up on the bottom of the league.

Prediction: Purdue 72, Illinois 70

Northern Iowa at Wichita State
Tuesday 7:05 p.m.

Wichita State played poorly on Saturday at Creighton, losing by a point after inexplicably failing to foul the Bluejays with less than 10 seconds remaining in the game. Still, though the Shockers hardly played to their capabilities in a tough Qwest Center environment, I came away impressed by Gregg Marshallís tenacity. Creighton isnít an easy place to play, and I was surprised that Wichita State overcame a disappointing second half performance to take the Bluejays to the wire. Now, the Shockers return home to a place they almost never lose to host Northern Iowa, the first-place team in the Valley with an undefeated league record. The Panthers are a senior-laden squad who might not lose a game in the MVC if they slip by Wichita State tomorrow night. Iím not going to bet against the Shockers at Koch Arena, however.

Prediction: Wichita State 68, Northern Iowa 66

Xavier at Temple
Wednesday 6 p.m.

Thereís no reason why Xavier should have won against rival Dayton on Saturday. The Flyers havenít won at Xavier since 1981, but they outrebounded the Musketeers by 19 and contained Jordan Crawford, who picked up three fouls in the first half. Xavier showed why itís the class of the Atlantic Ten, however, and found a way to win an extremely physical basketball game that contained 45 personal fouls. Temple has the better team on paper, but Iím still taking the Musketeers on the road. Much like Pittsburgh and Wisconsin, Xavier has shredded the ďrebuildingĒ label this season to prove its consistency as a league power.

Prediction: Xavier 68, Temple 62

Georgetown at Pittsburgh
Wednesday 6 p.m.

This game has early Big East title implications. Undefeated Pittsburgh looks like the league favorite right now, having already won at Syracuse. The Panthers also face Villanova at home this year, which helps their chances. Georgetown is 1-2 on the road in Big East playówith the sole win coming at DePaulóand it doesnít get much tougher than playing at The Pete.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 68, Georgetown 59

Michigan at Wisconsin
Wednesday 7:30 p.m.

Michiganís start to the 2009-10 season was disappointing to say the least. The Wolverines havenít shot or defended well, but they stifled Connecticut yesterday at home to pick up a key non-conference victory. Michigan held UConn to 1-11 from three-point land and pulled away late after leading comfortably for much of the game. If Michigan wins at Wisconsin on Wednesday, Iíll be convinced that its early-season swoon is over.

Prediction: Wisconsin 62, Michigan 52

Marshall at West Virginia
Wednesday 8 p.m.

You probably missed this game when glossing over this weekís schedule, but itís an interesting in-state rivalry game. Led by former Florida assistant Donnie Jones, Marshall is off to a 15-2 start and has won its first four Conference USA games. The Thundering Herdís two losses came to good teams: Old Dominion and North Carolina. Of course, Marshall hasnít beaten a single quality team this season and lost to UNC by 31 points. So Iím not saying Wednesday nightís match-up will be close with West Virginia. Iím just saying itís interesting.

Prediction: West Virginia 83, Marshall 68

Last weekís prediction record: 6-8
Overall: 68-42

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