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MOUNTAIN WEST SHOWDOWN HEADLINES WEEK
February 21, 2011

GAME OF THE WEEKSCS.com

BYU at San Diego State
Saturday 1 p.m. CBS

Itís debatable whether or not BYU and San Diego State have actually played this season.

After all, the first meeting in January wasnít really on televisionóunless you consider the CBS College Sports Network real TV. I certainly donít receive that channel, and Iím not sure many fans do. So I saw exactly zero minutes of BYUís victory at the Marriot Center that night.

Weíre all in luck this Saturday, though. The real CBS channel is broadcasting the game from California, and itís the first nationally televised Mountain West game in conference history.

BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCH-UP: Jimmer Fredette (BYU) vs. D.J. Gay, Chase Tapley and whoever else guards the guy
Iím not very much into praising the Jimmer. I used to talk about him all the time, but then he went mainstream this season. If you know anything about me, Iím hardly one to align with the masses, so Iíve ceased mentioning Jimmerís name lately. Instead, Iíve acted as a basketball snob, praising the contributions of Jackson Emery and Brandon Davies. However, Iíve got a job to do in breaking down this game, and gosh darn it, Iím gonna do itóhow in the world will San Diego State guard Jimmer Fredette? Since I wasnít one of the four Americans that saw the first match-up, I donít have the slightest clue as to who tried to guard him. Itíll be a chess match to watch how Steve Fisher defends Fredette. UNLV had success doubling Fredette in the first half of a match-up at the Thomas and Mack Center in January, as he spent the first 15 minutes or so in frustration mode. However, Fredette eventually adjusted and torched UNLV in the second half, finding Emery as well for a career night.

BEST STORYLINE: The Other Guys
Jimmer Fredetteís the nationís best player, but BYUís a Final Four contender because of his teammates. Saturday is a chance for Emery, Davies and the rest of the crew to show America that the Cougars are more than just The Jimmer. If youíve watched BYU at all this season, youíd have noticed how well they share the ball and how cohesive they are as a unit. Fredetteís a huge part of that, of course, but heís got more help than most believe.

HOW THE WEST WILL BE WON:
Even though most of the nation probably hasnít seen San Diego State play, casual fans still know how they win: in the frontcourt. Thatís what defines Fisherís team. Kahwi Leonardís the star, but Malcolm Thomas, Billy White and even the monstrous Brian Carwell off the bench form one of the nationís most frightening front lines. BYU is, of course, a guard-oriented team, especially from an offensive standpoint. They excel getting in the lane and playing efficient basketball. BYU has more three-point shooting than San Diego State, but the Aztecs can throw to a number of players on the block and score in the paint. BYU has to control tempo, take good shots offensively and keep San Diego State from pounding the rock inside.

BOTTOM LINE: I said when San Diego State lost last month that things would be different at home. Nobody wins at the Marriot Center, and there was no reason to expect the Aztecs to win there either. Same goes for Saturday. In a battle of two even squads, the home crowd makes all the difference.

Prediction: San Diego State 76, BYU 69

MUST-SEE MATCHUPS

Syracuse at Villanova Monday 6 p.m.

Back in January, Villanova shot lights out at the Carrier Dome. The Wildcats missed just two free throws, made 11 three-pointers and knocked off Syracuse in a high-profile top-10 match-up. A month later, both teams have slid down the polls, and theyíre both trying to redefine themselves before heading to the Garden for the Big East Tournament.

Prediction: Villanova 72, Syracuse 70

Temple at Duke Wednesday 6 p.m.

That was fast. Thanks to a whirlwind weekend, Dukeís back atop the rankings, and itíll put that number one spot on the line when Temple visits Cameron Indoor Stadium for a mid-week tilt. Donít underestimate this Owls team. Itís easy to forget about them, especially after they played poorly in the Old Spice Classic in November. Theyíve run off eight straight wins, and more importantly, Fran Dunphyís getting more consistent production from forward Lavoy Allen, an NBA prospect whoís struggled to find his game.

Prediction: Duke 67, Temple 62

Gonzaga at St. Maryís Thursday 10 p.m.

Thereís a reason Gonzaga has won the West Coast Conference ten straight seasons. It was silly for all of us to dismiss the Zags after losing at home to St. Maryís last month on Mickey McConnellís buzzer-beater. At the time, the Bulldogs suffered their third WCC loss and needed a miracle to re-enter the league race. That miracle seems to have occurred: Gonzaga is just a game back from St. Maryís heading into Thursdayís contest. Iím not sure about you, but I donít think Mark Fewís program will lose to St. Maryís a second time with the league on the line, even on the road.

Prediction: Gonzaga 75, St. Maryís 72

Missouri at Kansas State Saturday 11 a.m.

Jacob Pullen may play in the post-season after all. The guard pledged not to play in the NIT if Kansas State did not qualify for the NCAA tournament, but he may not have a decision to make anymore after his team knocked off Kansas on Big Monday last week. Missouri handled KSU at home in mid-January, but it just won its first road game in six tries on Saturday in Ames. And the Tigers havenít won in Manhattan since the middle of Quin Snyderís tenure. Like always, itíll be a battle at Bramlage on Saturday, and the winner will emerge with a critical resume victoryóand probably a little blood, too.

Prediction: Missouri 70, Kansas State 69

Wichita State at Missouri State Saturday 12 p.m.

As long as Wichita State and Missouri State take care of business this week against inferior opponents, Saturdayís contest is effectively a Missouri Valley regular season championship game. Does it get any better than that? Logic would assume that the Bears would hold an enormous advantage at the Q in Springfield, especially because the two teams are quite even and MSU already won at Wichita. However, this season has been anything but logical for Wichita State. The Shockers historically dominate competition at Koch Arena, but theyíve lost four home games. And the only road game theyíve lost was at San Diego State. WSU hasnít just avoided road lossesóitís excelled in those atmospheres. The big question for Saturday is whether or not Missouri State can keep a ferocious and athletic WSU team off the boards. Thatís how VCU won last Friday night at Koch. The play of the fiery Will Creekmore and POY candidate Kyle Weems is critical against Wichita Stateís bigs.

Prediction: Wichita State 56, Missouri State 52

Pittsburgh at Louisville Sunday 1 p.m.

Even with 34 minutes and 26 points from Ashton Gibbs on Saturday after returning from injury, Pitt still could not avoid a loss at the Garden to St. Johnís. Apparently, his teammates took his return for granted. No other Panther scored in double figures and the team turned the ball over 16 times as a whole. I still believe in Pittís national title hopes, but this team needs to find balanced scoring in the frontcourt and take the pressure off Gibbs somehow. .

Prediction: Pittsburgh 68, Louisville 62

UPSET WATCH

Georgia at Florida Thursday 6 p.m.

The Rematch. Thatís what Iím calling this game after that wild, chaotic double-overtime finish in Athens last month. Georgia staged a late comeback in the second half and appeared to have stolen a win in the overtime period before Earving Walkerís bomb in the final seconds sent the game to double-overtime, where the Gators prevailed. With just a few weeks before the post-season, Floridaís in a comfortable position in the top-15 of the polls, but UGA has work to do. I smell an air of desperation from a tough Bulldogs team with the physicality to bother Florida. If Georgia pulls the upset, itíll need better play from point guard Gerald Robinson. Heís one of the SECís more underrated guards with his lightning speed and playmaking ability. He turned the ball over six times in the first meeting against Florida.

Prediction: Georgia 78, Florida 72

UNDER THE RADAR

Mississippi Valley State at Texas Southern Monday 8 p.m.

You better believe Iím promoting the SWAC here. Texas Southern, coached by former Missouri assistant Tony Harvey, may have one of the best squads the league has seen since Jackson Stateís run a handful of years ago. Like most SWAC teams, Texas Southern played a murdererís row in the non-conference, but it lost to Wichita State, Iowa State, Arkansas and Baylor by 12 points or less. Thatís a modest accomplishment, I know, but this team is 12-1 in league play and would wrap up a title with a win tonight.

Prediction: Texas Southern 65, Mississippi Valley State 60

Morehead State at Murary State Thursday 8 p.m.

At the end of the day, all is right with the world. Both Morehead State and Murray State, the two consensus favorites to compete for the OVC title, struggled early in league play. However, with the fall of Austin Peay, these two squads are now tied atop the standings and will meet in a monster match-up Thursday night. Morehead State prevailed in the first meeting Dec 4 at home, but itís difficult to judge the results of that game because of how early the game occurred. Murray State coach Billy Kennedy publicly blasted the league for scheduling such an important game in early December. Two months later, itís going to be an entirely different ball game. You know all about Kenneth Faried, but Demonte Harperís his right-hand man in the backcourt. Harper will play professionally somewhere, and heís a great compliment to Faried.

Prediction: Murray State 58, Morehead State 54

Last weekís prediction record: 5-5
Overall record: 71-44

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