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EARLY-SEASON SURPRISES MEET IN TAMPA
December 8, 2009

SCS.comIn my column two weeks ago, I let the online world know that I had privately predicted Texas Tech to finish last in the Big 12 this season.

Now the Red Raiders are 8-0, ranked in the top 25 and own a win over Pac-10 favorite Washington.

Tech could still finish last in the conference for all we know. If that happens, I’ll take that information and dance all the way to the grave with it. For now, if you’ll excuse me, I have more bold and outrageous predictions to make.

OPENING THOUGHTS

Thought 1: Congratulations, Big Ten!

It took 10 years, but it finally happened: the Big Ten defeated the ACC in the conference’s annual December challenge by a slim 6-5 margin. If only Clemson hadn’t blown a 23-point lead in the second half to Illinois, I’d probably be writing about how the Big Ten missed its best opportunity in years to finally win the challenge. But Illinois did complete the comeback, and the Big Ten did knock off the ACC for the first time in 11 years. So while I’ll rag on the Big Ten occasionally this year for its painfully boring style of play (who can resist?), today I must give my congratulations. You earned it, Big Ten.

Thought 2: December is For Non-Conference

There are some things in this world I’ll never understand. Like why Miami and Boston College played an ACC conference game yesterday on December 6th. The Eagles won on a couple clutch free throws by Reggie Jackson, and now they’ll wait 33 days until their next conference game at Clemson Jan. 9. Every year, the ACC holds some type of odd opener in early December, and every year I’ve turned to Google to try and find the answer. Like every year, Google gave me nothing today. The search continues.

Thought 3: John Wall is the Man

You already knew this. I did too, but I hadn’t actually seen John Wall with my own two eyes until his Kentucky Wildcats hosted North Carolina on Saturday. Before the first media timeout, Mr. Wall dazzled me with two inhuman transition baskets, leading the Cats to a 28-2 first-half run and eventual 68-66 win at Rupp Arena. John Calipari says that Wall is farther along than Derrick Rose was at this point in his career, and I believe him. Whoever wins the NBA Draft lottery is getting one heck of a player next June.

WEEKLY PREVIEW

GAME OF THE WEEK

Syracuse at Florida
Thursday 8 p.m. in Tampa

As two of the early surprises in college basketball, both Syracuse and Florida have relied on newcomers to lead the way. Gators’ freshman Kenny Boynton has displayed his breakout scoring ability, although interestingly he shot just 2-12 from the field with six points in Florida’s shocking 77-74 victory over Michigan State. For Jim Boeheim, transfer forward Wesley Johnson, formerly of Iowa State, leads the Orange in scoring and provides a stiff match-up for opponents with his versatility. The Gators have been most impressive this year on the defensive end, where they’ve made huge strides from the past two years.

Prediction: Florida 76, Syracuse 72

GAMES TO KEEP AN EYE ON

Butler at Georgetown
Tuesday 6 p.m.

Georgetown hasn’t played a quality opponent yet. Let’s see if the Hoyas are better than last year’s disappointment.

Prediction: Georgetown 72, Butler 66

Vanderbilt at Illinois
Tuesday 6:30 p.m.

If the Illini can handle Vandy at home, we can go ahead and forget about those losses in Las Vegas to Utah and Bradley.

Prediction: Illinois 79, Vanderbilt 76

Xavier at Kansas State
Tuesday 8 p.m.

Two years ago, Xavier beat Michael Beasley and Kansas State 103-77. That has nothing to do with Tuesday’s game, but I thought I’d throw it at you anyway.

Prediction: Kansas State 67, Xavier 61

Kentucky at Connecticut
Wednesday 8:30 p.m.

Patrick Patterson vs. Stanley Robinson. I like it.

Prediction: Kentucky 83, Connecticut 78

Ohio State at Butler
Saturday 11 a.m.

Thad Matta takes on his former school, without Evan Turner of course, who’s been sidelined for eight weeks.

Prediction: Butler 63, Ohio State 62

Georgetown at Washington
Saturday 1 p.m.

You have to think Washington will at some point secede from the Pac-10. In these times, it’s just the right thing to do.

Prediction: Georgetown 69, Washington 62

Marquette at Wisconsin
Saturday 4 p.m.

Here’s an underrated in-state rivalry between two non-league opponents that simply don’t like each other.

Prediction: Marquette 77, Wisconsin 71

Texas A&M at New Mexico
Saturday 5 p.m.

Did you know Steve Alford’s Lobos are undefeated? Not too many opponents win at The Pit, but Texas A&M has what it takes.

Prediction: Texas A&M 72, New Mexico 67

Kansas State at UNLV
Saturday 6 p.m.

UNLV won’t play a major-conference team for the rest of the season after Saturday’s game against Kansas State. The Runnin’ Rebels must make the most of these opportunities.

Prediction: Kansas State 73, UNLV 72

Richmond at VCU
Saturday 6:30 p.m.

Richmond has already beaten Missouri and Mississippi State, but road wins at places like VCU are what really help at-large resumes.

Prediction: Richmond 67, VCU 62

Siena at Northern Iowa
Saturday 7:05 p.m.

Just as Richmond is looking to build an at-large resume, so are Siena and Northern Iowa. P>

Prediction: Northern Iowa 73, Siena 66

Niagara at Illinois State
Sunday 2:05 p.m.

Yet another early Bracket Buster between the MAAC and Missouri Valley. If this game were on television, I’d watch this game just to watch the individual performances of Tyrone Lewis and Osiris Eldridge.

Prediction: Illinois State 76, Niagara 67

Cincinnati at Xavier
Sunday 6 p.m.

Xavier has owned Cincinnati lately in this series, but this year is Cincy’s turn to strike back.

Prediction: Cincinnati 70, Xavier 67

Last week’s prediction record: 10-8
Overall prediction record: 19-14

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