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DECEMBER HAS ARRIVED AND SO HAS COLLEGE HOOPS
November 30, 2009

SCS.comCan you believe it?

The first month of college basketball has concluded. Feast Week was a success, as pre-season tournaments swept the nation during Thanksgiving. Now, all of the exotic island trips are over, and itís time for the meat of the non-conference schedule to begin.

OPENING THOUGHTS

Thought 1: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

Most people have fun when they head to Vegas. Unless, of course, youíre on the Illinois basketball team. Sin City treated the 20th-ranked Illini disastrously this weekend. On Friday, Illinois blew a 16 point-lead against Utah to fall 60-58 at the buzzer. The Utes were a five-seed in the NCAA tournament last year but graduated their top three scorers and lost to Seattle earlier in the week. Roughly 24 hours later, Bradley knocked off Illinois 72-68. So much for a national ranking. It appears that the young Illini guards are having trouble transitioning to the collegiate level. Freshman D.J. Richardson shot just 3-14 this weekend in 48 minutes of action, and nobody on the Illini can help veterans Demetri McCamey, Mike Tisdale and Mike Davis shoulder the load offensively. Even Davis scored just two points against Utah, while former Kentucky guard Alex Legion was a non-factor in both games. With games against Clemson, Vanderbilt and Missouri looming in the non-conference, Illinois better figure out how to score. If not, Bruce Weberís promising squad will have a lot of work to do during Big Ten play just to make the field of 65.

Thought 2: Staying with VegasÖ

Las Vegasí hometown team, UNLV, is off to quite a start. Portlandís run in the Anaheim Classic is the talk of the West, but donít overlook the Runniní Rebelsí impressive 5-0 start. Lon Kruger followed up two straight NCAA tournament berths with a disappointing trip to the NIT last year, and UNLV entered this season without the services of leading scorer Wink Adams and do-it-all glue man Rene Rougeau. The absence of those two graduated seniors havenít stopped the Rebels from knocking off Nevada, Southern Illinois and, of course, 17th-ranked Louisville. Krugerís cast of transfers, including TreíVon Willis from Memphis, Chance Stanback from UCLA and Derrick Jasper from Kentucky, has helped form a scary core group of experienced veterans. UNLV isnít necessarily considered a favorite to win the Mountain West by many prognosticators, but itís great news that all the new faces for the Rebels are gelling so early in the season.

Thought 3: Colorado basketball: encouraged by two losses

Itís hard to believe that Iím about to praise a team that left the Maui Invitational with a 1-2 record last week. Still, I came away impressed by Coloradoís performance on the islands, a program with 28 wins in the past three seasons combined. Head coach Jeff Bzdelik didnít even coach, as he returned home to tend to an ailing family member. Instead, assistant coach Steve McClain, a dead-ringer for Dennis Hopperís character ďShooterĒ from Hoosiers, led the Buffaloes to two strong performances against Gonzaga and Arizona. On Monday, Colorado did its best impression of John Beileinís old West Virginia teams by raining threes on the Zags, building a 36-21 lead during the first half. The Bulldogs woke up in time to edge CU by four points, as they would eventually take home the Maui title. The next day, Colorado took Arizona to overtime, backed by Cory Higginsí 28 points in a losing effort. I know the Buffs wonít accept any moral victories, but this team looked night-and-day different than the past few years. Bzdelikís absence had nothing to do with Coloradoís strong play. Instead, the surprising performance has everything to do with the star-power of Higgins and the emergence of young guards such as Nate Tomlinson and Alec Burks. Tomlinson was especially spectacular in both games, dishing out eight assists against Gonzaga before scoring 20 points against Arizona. The Buffaloes looked like a machine at times during Monday and Tuesdayís games, and itís because this team is finally grasping Bzdelikís unique approach to basketball. This team still relies on a ton of youth, but I wouldnít be surprised to see Colorado crack the top eight of the Big 12.

WEEKLY PREVIEW

GAME OF THE WEEK

Michigan State at North Carolina
Tuesday 8 p.m. ESPN

Iím getting sick of Michigan State and North Carolina playing each other. Last year, the two teams met twice. In December, UNC embarrassed the Spartans. In April, it happened again as the Tar Heels put America to sleep with an easy victory in the National Championship. Things change, of course, and this off-season 80 percent of Roy Williamsí starting lineup left for the NBA while Michigan State still returned the bulk of its roster, excluding Travis Walton and Goran Suton. North Carolinaís new team already looks mortal, as the Tar Heels played putrid offensively in a 16-point loss to Syracuse in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic. Meanwhile, Michigan State turned the ball over a baffling 24 times in a loss to Florida last week. As hard as it is for me to pick against UNC at the Dean Dome, I donít anticipate the Spartans will commit 24 turnovers again. The loss to Florida was an anomaly. I canít say the same for North Carolinaís loss at Madison Square Garden.

Prediction: Michigan State 76, North Carolina 74

GAMES TO KEEP AN EYE ON

Wake Forest at Purdue
Tuesday 6 p.m. ESPN

So Wake Forest lost to William and Mary last week. Big deal. Iíll give the Demon Deacons a pass for having to play against two teams at once.

Prediction: Purdue 70, Wake Forest 66

Siena at Georgia Tech
Wednesday 6 p.m.

Having already lost at Temple and St. Johnís, Siena probably has the most important game this week with regards to NCAA tournament at-large chances. The Saints do not play another major conference team after Georgia Tech, though they will travel to Northern Iowa later this month.

Prediction: Siena 77, Georgia Tech 73

Western Kentucky at South Carolina
Wednesday 6 p.m. SS

Iím a sucker for storylines. Hereís a cute one featuring Darrin Horn facing his former team.

Prediction: South Carolina 80, Western Kentucky 73

Illinois at Clemson
Wednesday 6:15 p.m. ESPN

Like I mentioned above, Illinois is struggling. A win at Clemson might make up for the Las Vegas debacle.

Prediction: Clemson 83, Illinois 71

Rhode Island at VCU
Wednesday 6:30 p.m.

URIís 85-75 win over Davidson on Saturday was its slimmest margin of victory this season. VCU will provide a stiffer test.

Prediction: Rhode Island 72, VCU 68

Northern Iowa at Iowa State
Wednesday 7 p.m.

Itís the battle for supremacy in the state of Iowa. Northern Iowa would be my pick at a neutral site, but Iowa Stateís Hilton Magic will carry it to an in-state win.

Prediction: Iowa State 66, Northern Iowa 65

Oklahoma State at Tulsa
Wednesday 7 p.m.

I give all the credit in the world to Oklahoma State for scheduling a road game at Tulsa. This is exactly the type of game almost every major program in America avoids at all costs.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 77, Tulsa 76

Cal at New Mexico
Wednesday 8 p.m.

Perhaps a trip East to New Mexico will help the fading California Bears rebound from a horrific performance in New York City a few weeks ago. The Lobosí 6-0 start and the unrivaled fierceness of The Pit doesnít help the Bears chances.

Prediction: New Mexico 70, California 68

Missouri at Vanderbilt
Wednesday 8:30 p.m. ESPNU

The Tigers simply couldnít score in a loss to Richmond at South Padre Island on Saturday. Theyíll defend Vandy as usual, but can they put the ball in the basket this time in the Commodoresí intimidating and oddly-arranged arena?

Prediction: Vanderbilt 67, Missouri 62

Florida State at Ohio State
Wednesday 8:30 p.m. ESPN2

Forget about Toney Douglas. Derwin Kitchen is doing just fine at point guard, and Florida Stateís size is still overpowering.

Prediction: Ohio State 69, Florida State 66

Washington at Texas Tech
Thursday 6 p.m. ESPN2

Hey, Texas Tech is 7-0. The Red Raiders banner win came against the reeling Oregon State, but I repeat, Texas Tech is 7-0. The real season starts Thursday with Washington marching to Lubbock.

Prediction: Washington 78, Texas Tech 63

North Carolina at Kentucky
Saturday 11:30 a.m. CBS

This contest could have also been the ďGame of the Week.Ē With all of the pro talent on the floor, it may look like an NBA summer-league game at times.

Prediction: Kentucky 85, North Carolina 81

Wake Forest at Gonzaga
Saturday 4:30 p.m. ESPN2

Gonzaga won the Maui Invitational by knocking off Cincinnati in overtime, partly due to the officialsí refusal to call a foul on the final play of the regulation. But enough of my sour grapes. Gonzaga still proved that 2009-2010 wonít be any type of rebuilding year.

Prediction: Gonzaga 78, Wake Forest 72

Iowa State at California
Saturday 10 p.m. ESPNU

Late night basketball! A win in Berkeley could be a program-changer for the Cyclones.

Prediction: California 75, Iowa State 65

South Carolina at Clemson
Sunday 12 p.m. FSS

Clemson will be looking for blood after the ĎOl Ball Coach at USC put a whooping on the Tigersí football squad this weekend.

Prediction: Clemson 82, South Carolina 75

St. Josephís at Cornell
Sunday 2 p.m.

Cornell needs all the quality wins it can get in the non-conference. The Big Red have the look of a dangerous NCAA tournament team after losing in the first round the past two seasons.

Prediction: Cornell 67, St. Josephís 55

Villanova at Maryland
Sunday 6:30 p.m. FSN

Greivis Vazquez is a frustrating character off the court, thatís for sure. But his battle with Scottie Reynolds on the court Sunday may be epic.

Prediction: Villanova 73, Maryland 68

Last weekís prediction record: 4-2
Overall prediction record: 9-6

Remember, I encourage reader emails. In fact, Iím so desperate for someone to talk to me that Iíve actually mentioned in my bio (located in ďThe Work ForceĒ section) that I will respond to every message I receive. Try me. Just press Contact Daniel in the upper right corner. Itís easy. And please, bring the heat!

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