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TOBACCO ROAD RIVALRY AND TOURNEY TIME
February 28, 2011

GAME OF THE WEEKSCS.com

Duke at North Carolina
Saturday 8 p.m.

Three weeks ago, I said North Carolina would lose at Cameron Indoor Stadium by 30 points. Remember that?

I certainly do. I couldnít have been more wrong, as Duke needed a late comeback in that game to avoid the upset. Iíd like to take this opportunity to admit I was wrong about North Carolina. Roy Williamsí team didnít benefit from a weak ACC schedule, and itís not overrated. Instead, the team has simply improved over the course of the season, and now itís got a chance to win an ACC title by beating Duke at the Dean Dome. I hate to promote the East Coast on this website, but youíve got to admit thereís some serious drama on Tobacco Road this weekend.

BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCH-UP-- Kendall Marshall (UNC) vs. Nolan Smith (Duke): In Durham, Nolan Smith stole the show with 34 points and a brilliant second-half performance. Marshall hardly scored and made just three field goals, but he did dish out six assists and looked comfortable controlling the team in a difficult environment. Itís hard to ask a rather inexperienced Marshall to stick on Smith, one of the nationís top point guards and a Player of the Year candidate. But itís not too much to ask of Marshall to run this team the way a great point guard should in Roy Williamsí system. Heís clearly got the potential, and since taking over the starting job from Larry Drew, the team has obviously benefited.

BEST STORYLINEóRivalry Game for the Title: Is it possible we could witness a classic Duke/North Carolina clash this weekend? Perhaps. Itís a game that could determine the ACC title, which automatically makes for big-time drama.

HOW THE GAME WILL BE WON: North Carolina controlled the paint in the first match-up, thanks to double-doubles from John Henson and Tyler Zeller. Thatís where UNCís strength lies against Duke, and the Tar Heels have to explot that advantage. The Blue Devils, on the other hand, need to find another option besides Smith. Kyle Singlerís been a bit of a disappointment, but heíll have a chance to redeem himself Saturday. Seth Curry played a big role in the first game earlier this month, so heís another candidate to break out.

BOTTOM LINE: Thereís not much to say about this contest. Duke and North Carolina are battling for a title, and for the most part, the squads are fairly even. Again, although Iím not always one to tout the ACC bandwagon, Iím always up for great basketball, and thatís what Saturday will provide. I know one thing: North Carolinaís not losing by 30 points. No sir, I wonít predict that again.

Prediction: North Carolina 85, Duke 82

MUST-SEE MATCHUPS

Kansas State at Texas Monday 8 p.m.

Texasí road loss in Lincoln last week was nothing worry about. After all, Nebraskaís always been a pest under Doc Sadler, and the Longhorns were bound to lose eventually. After blowing a 22-point lead at Colorado this weekend, though, Texas is now banking on a Kansas loss to win an outright Big 12 title. Weíve been talking about Rick Barnesí stifling defense all season, but Alec Burks and the Buffs had no trouble ripping it for 58 points in the second half Saturday. Hosting a red-hot Jacob Pullen-led Kansas State team, thatís not a recipe for a win on Big Monday.

Prediction: Texas 68, Kansas State 62

Alabama at Florida Tuesday 6 p.m.

Yeah, yeah, we get it: how can Alabama be on the bubble with an 11-3 record in the SEC? That question has been asked a million times this week, and commentators will ask it dozens of times during the next two weeks. Fact is, Alabamaís overall resume isnít very impressive. The improvement in Anthony Grantís program is a nice story, sure, but letís talk about an at-large only if the Crimson Tide knock off UF tomorrow night.

Prediction: Florida 70, Alabama 60

Kansas at Missouri Saturday 11 a.m.

Mike Anderson owns just one victory over Kansas in his five years at Missouri, and that victory came at Mizzou Arena on a buzzer-beater two years ago. In Lawrence, his team executed offensively and played well initially, but defensively the energy and patented chaos was not there. In fact, Anderson barely employed any full court pressure in that first meeting. At home, however, Missouriís a different defensive team with a different mindset. Theyíll get after KU all afternoon, but theyíll need to find a way to slow Kansasí size and turn over its guards to get a victory.

Prediction: Missouri 72, Kansas 69

Notre Dame at ConnecticutSaturday 1 p.m.

In the jumbled Big East standings, Notre Dameís still got an outside chance to win this league. Since winning at Pittsburgh, the Irish have elevated their game on the road this winter, but theyíre going to have a tough task in Hartford this weekend. Kemba Walker is starting to get more from teammates Alex Oriakhi and Jeremy Lamb, and that means trouble for Big East opponents.

Prediction: Notre Dame 76, Connecticut 69

Wisconsin at Ohio StateSunday 1 p.m.

Itís a rematch of our Game of the Week earlier this month, a game in which I correctly predicted Wisconsin to win, of course (itís not as though the Badgers were actually favored to win, right?). Something tells me the result may be different this time around.

Prediction: Ohio State 60, Wisconsin 52

UPSET WATCH

New Mexico at BYUWednesday 9 p.m.

If thereís one thing I love to do, itís make crazy predictions and pray theyíll come true. Hereís another example of that. Will New Mexico sweep the season series by winning at BYU, which opponents rarely do? Probably not. But New Mexicoís an under-the-radar team with a lot of athleticism, and it already beat BYU once. So why not again?

Prediction: New Mexico 70, BYU 66

CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT OUTLOOK

A preview of leagues with championship games this weekend

Atlantic Sun

Belmontís the favorite hereóby a wide margin. Trust me, youíll be hearing a lot about Belmont during the next few weeks. The Bearsí program is as consistent as they come under Rick Byrd, and theyíre starting to receive national attention after ripping through the Atlantic Sun with just one loss. The next three seedsóEast Tennessee State, Jacksonville and rival Belmontóare all capable of knocking off Belmont. Personally, Iíd like to see Belmont and Lipscomb battle for all the marbles this weekend.

Big South

Suddenly, this leagueís wide open. After winning the first 14 games of league play, Coastal Carolina leading scorer and star Desmond Holloway was suspended, and there are NCAA allegations surrounding the program now. Since that news, Cliff Ellisí team has lost two of four Big South games to stumble into the conference tournament. Itís anyoneís guess as to who will qualify for the NCAA Tournament out of this bunch.

Horizon

After a tumultuous season and a string of bad losses, Butlerís tied at the top of the Horizon with Cleveland State and Wisconsin-Milwaukee. And Iím not about to bet against a team that has several starters back from a national runner-up. Butler dominated Cleveland State in both meetings, but the Panthers swept Brad Stevensí squad. And donít forget about a sneaky Valparaiso team. This may be of the more intriguing conference tournaments this season.

Missouri Valley

For the fourth straight season, Iíll cover this tournament live on the scene for SCS.com. And Iím excited to see whatís looking like a do-or-die tournament. Wichita Stateís at-large hopes were dashed in a loss to Missouri State this weekend, as the Bears captured the MVC regular season title with the victory in Springfield. MSUís got a slim chance, but even though a regular season champ from the Valley hasnít been left out of the field since 1992, that may happen if the Bears donít win three games in St. Louis. Simply put, itís desperation mode at the Scottrade Center this weekendófor all 10 teams involved.

Ohio Valley

Murray State lost four league games this yearóthatís three more than last yearóbut itís still in position to advance to the NCAAs with a top seed in the OVC tournament. Chances are, itíll meet new-found rival Morehead State and Kenneth Faried in the title game, but Austin Peay led this conference for much of January and shouldnít be counted out.

Southern Conference

Talk about wide open. Woffordís the defending champ and may be a trendy upset pick in the NCAAs, but Charleston earned the one seed and has a big-time name in Andrew Goudelock. Over in the weaker North division, Appalachian State is a decent sleeper pick, having won seven of eight games.

Last weekís prediction record: 4-6
Overall record: 70-45

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