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TILT OUT WEST HIGHLIGHTS START OF LEAGUE PLAY
January 4, 2011

SCS.comGAME OF THE WEEK

BYU at UNLV
Wednesday 9 p.m.

When UNLV has won this season, it’s looked unstoppable. At their best, the Runnin’ Rebels share the ball well, create chaos with their up-tempo style and have scoring options at every position. The problem, though, has been consistency. UC Santa Barbara exposed them at home last month; and four days earlier, UNLV blew a modest lead at Louisville during a second-half collapse. UNLV has now won three straight and is back in the top-25, but it’ll have its hands full with BYU.

Prediction: BYU 71, UNLV 70

OTHER GAMES OF NOTE

Connecticut at Notre Dame
Tuesday 6 p.m.

Connecticut became America’s favorite surprise story by winning its first 10 games, but Big East play has been a different story. Pittsburgh exposed the Huskies’ supporting cast last week in an easy win at the Pete, and although Kemba Walker kept up his torrid scoring streak, he needed 27 shots to score 31 points. And this weekend, UConn needed overtime to beat lowly South Florida at home. As one of the only upperclassman in the rotation, Walker’s as fine a leader as you could ask for, but he can’t be relied upon to take 18 shots a game. As the year goes on, youngsters like Jeremy Lamb and Alex Oriakhi may grow into reliable scorers, but right now I won’t bet against a hot Notre Dame team at home.

Prediction: Notre Dame 73, Connecticut 66

Cleveland State at Butler
Friday 6 p.m.

With a loss to West Virginia a few weeks ago, Cleveland State’s undefeated streak ended. And naturally, that means the national media has completely stopped talking about Gary Waters’ 15-1 team. At 4-0 in the Horizon, the Vikings can win our hearts again with an upset of Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse—but I wouldn’t count on it. Much like last season, the Bulldogs look like a different team here in January as opposed to the November version. You’ll count Butler out again in March because it won’t have many quality wins, but after watching this team play in the Diamond Head Classic, I’d be surprised to see anything less than a trip to the Sweet 16.

Prediction: Butler 77, Cleveland State 59

Austin Peay at Murray State
Saturday 11 a.m.

All summer long, Murray State and Morehead State were the talk of the OVC. Could Murray get back to the NCAA Tournament? Or would NBA prospect Kenneth Faried carry Morehead State to a title? Well, it’s January and neither team is undefeated or in first place. Nope, that team would be Austin Peay, which hasn’t lost a league game yet and already won at Morehead State in overtime. If the Governors can find a way to win in Murray, they’ll be the frontrunner in the OVC race. Who would have thought that would happen?

Prediction: Murray State 66, Austin Peay 62

Connecticut at Texas
Saturday 3:30 p.m.

We’re already trying to figure out if Connecticut is real. But what about Texas? The Longhorns played well in the 2k Sports Classic and were edged by Pittsburgh, and they won at North Carolina and Michigan State. But UT also collapsed on the road against USC and starts a freshman point guard. I’m inclined to think that Rick Barnes’ fresh new talent will result in a much different Big 12 experience than last year, but we’ll see how Cory Joseph fares against Kemba Walker.

Prediction: Texas 68, Connecticut 60

Minnesota at Ohio State
1 p.m. Sunday

This weekend affair will provide the toughest test for Ohio State, which has looked impressive against a rather weak schedule. Yes, the Buckeyes were dominant in Gainesville, but Florida’s clearly not an elite team. And they’ve got another quality win at Florida State, as well as wins over South Carolina and Indiana. But OSU hasn’t faced a team as good as Minnesota, and Jared Sullinger in particular hasn’t faced a frontline as large and powerful as the Gophers’. The freshman big man is widely considered one of college basketball’s best players already, and he’ll have a chance to prove his worth on Sunday.

Prediction: Ohio State 70, Minnesota 65

Missouri State at Wichita State
Sunday 7:35 p.m.

Koch Arena will be rocking Sunday night for this heavyweight MVC battle. Wichita State is the consensus pick to win the league this year, but Missouri State is 2-0 in the Valley, including a thrilling win at Northern Iowa last week. When Kyle Weems’ deep three-pointer fell to give MSU that win in Cedar Falls, everything changed. It knocked off the two-time defending champs and proved that it’s hear to stay. Now, Cuonzo Martin’s crew can really send a message by upsetting the Shockers in one of the nation’s most hostile environments.

Prediction: Wichita State 62, Missouri State 60

Last week’s prediction record: 5-4
Overall prediction record: 44-22

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