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January 28, 2008

SCS.comIt’s a big week in the Big 12, as the schedule features two intra-state matchups, one in Kansas (KU and KSU) and the other taking place in Texas (UT and A&M), but there’s also a big game to keep an eye on in the Colonial Athletic Conference between VCU and George Mason. Indiana and Wisconsin face off in the Big 10, and a lot will be decided in the Pac-10 conference this week as well. Just what any hoops fan would ask for heading into the month of February and looking down the line towards the month of March.


Kansas at Kansas State
Wednesday 7:00 PM CST ESPN Plus

A quest for a perfect season and the Jayhawks’ 20-0 start is not the main issue in Wednesday’s game between Kansas and Kansas State in Manhattan. Instead, take a look at just how long it has been since Kansas State last defeated Kansas on its home floor. Ronald Reagan was in office. And it was during his first term. KU will be looking to extend its streak to a quarter century, having won 24 straight games in Manhattan. Bob Huggins’ resurrection of the Wildcats’ basketball program nearly resulted in the snapping of the streak last season, but Kansas State could only claim to have played the Jayhawks tough at home- nothing more. The streak lives on, and it’s starting to look like it may never end.

But Wednesday could be the night the Jayhawks lose “the streak” and their undefeated record. Michael Beasley and the Wildcats have started to live up to expectations and have now won five straight games since the 26 point debacle at Xavier. There was never any question Kansas State had talent, with college basketball’s best player in Beasley and another NBA prospect in Bill Walker. Losing a key player in David Hoskins hurt the Wildcats but with their young tandem of Beasley and Walker, as well as a supporting cast at the guard spot that have especially shined lately, Kansas State may finally push itself toward the top of the Big 12.

Kansas has looked unbeatable for most of the season. Demolishing opponents left and right, the Jayhawks, along with Memphis, have a shot at making it through the regular season undefeated. Kansas State could prove to be a roadblock and this should actually be the Jayhawks stiffest test of the season so far. Whenever you’ve got a player like Beasley on your side, you will have a chance to win, no matter the opponent. But while Kansas State relies on star power, Kansas has arguably the deepest and most balanced team in the country. That’s what will win the Jayhawks this game. In a year where Mayo, Beasley, Rose, Love and other freshmen have dominated the headlines, Kansas does not have that star. And that is the biggest knock against KU- there’s no “go-to” guy. But I would say that’s not a knock at all, because in reality Kansas has about 5 different “go-to” guys.

Beasley may go off for 30 or more points on Wednesday, and Kansas State may stick around until the end. Bramlage Colisieum will be rocking with fans that believe this is the year the Wildcats break the streak. Unfortunately, this is not the year it finally happens in Manhattan. Kansas is too balanced, too disciplined, too tough defensively, and just simply too good.

Prediction: Kansas 81, Kansas State 70


Indiana at Wisconsin
Thursday 8:00 PM CST ESPN2

Since I often make myself look like a fool with predictions and need to boost my self-confidence, allow me to boast after predicting Wisconsin and Indiana losses last Friday. My words for Indiana were harsh, calling the Hoosier’s “over hyped” and referring to their recent performance as “sluggish and sloppy.” I was much more kind to the Badgers, but did say that Purdue would “upset Wisconsin and send Mackey Arena into a frenzy.” Well, Connecticut did show why Indiana could be considered “over hyped,” and Purdue did send its home crowd into a frenzy.

Both losses set up Thursday’s match-up perfectly. With as wide open as the top of the Big 10 is- and there really is no clear favorite at this point- this game becomes much more important. Whichever team notches a victory here gains an advantage on its competition at the top of the league, because in the end the conference race should come down to the wire. Bo Ryan rarely loses at the Kohl Center, and the Grateful Red will be out in full force. Indiana will be exposed even more and Wisconsin will get its much-needed victory.

Prediction: Wisconsin 63, Indiana 56

Texas at Texas A&M
Wednesday 8:00 PM CST ESPN2

For Mark Turgeon and his Aggies, this could be the game that defines Texas A&M. Borderline NCAA tournament team or Big 12 contender? During the non-conference Texas A&M sure seemed like the latter, destroying its competition in the Pre-Season NIT on its way to rolling to a 14-1 record. But after beating Colorado to begin the Big 12, Texas Tech and Kansas State drubbed the Aggies, and Baylor stole a win in College Station in five overtimes. At 2-3 in conference play, this is a critical game for Texas A&M. Texas comes into Wednesday’s game playing decent basketball, and although there is room for improvement, Rick Barnes has to be pleased with the way the season has gone.

The Aggies did get a road win in Stillwater over Oklahoma State on Saturday, but it wasn’t easy and Texas A&M has looked awful over the past few weeks. Texas seems to be hitting its stride and should be able to get a win in College Station over an in-state rival.

Prediction: Texas 83, Texas A&M 72

Arizona State at UCLA
Thursday 9:30 PM CST

A promising season may be headed downhill after three straight Pac-10 losses to Stanford, Washington, and Washington State. Of course, none of these were bad losses, but that is life in the Pac-10, and the Sun Devils have now dropped to 4-3 in the conference. Arizona State’s streak may continue unless it can take out UCLA at Pauley Pavilion. It’s definitely a possibility, given the way Herb Sendek’s team has played this year. Even during its three game funk, Arizona State has still performed well and can take solace in already exceeding expectations. The injury bug has hit UCLA, who now has a few more key players out with injuries, but the Bruins showed me a lot in a hard-fought road win over Oregon. I expect this to be the same kind of game, and with the same result- a UCLA win.

Prediction: UCLA 75, Arizona State 69

Arizona at USC
Thursday 9:30 PM CST FSN

Look who’s good again! The Arizona Wildcats! A three game winning streak has vaulted the Wildcats to 4-3 in the conference, but now Arizona faces an unbelievably tough schedule, starting with a trip to LA to take on USC. After the Trojans, UCLA, Arizona State, Cal, and Stanford are on tap, so Arizona needs every win it can get in the Pac-10. USC is in the same position as the Wildcats at 4-3, so this game will sort out the Pac-10 standings a bit. After starting slow, both USC and Arizona have put themselves in position to wreak havoc in the Pac-10. Arizona’s complete domination of Washington State has me convinced the Wildcats will steal one on the road.

Prediction: Arizona 79, USC 75

Louisville at Connecticut
Monday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

Louisville was supposed to be a Big East power before the season. Connecticut’s starting to look like one. Who’s the contender and who’s the pretender? Monday night should help us find out where both teams stand. The Cardinals are getting healthy and Connecticut is simply starting to play very well, and both teams are definitely on the up-swing. The Huskies overpowered Indiana in the paint on Saturday, but they will not be able to overpower Louisville inside, and it should make for an interesting battle inside. This game could go either way, but while Louisville has been improving lately, Connecticut has been even better.

Prediction: Connecticut 69, Louisville 67

Virginia Commonwealth at George Mason
Tuesday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

I’m sure you remember Jim Larranaga and George Mason from a few years ago. But since that Final Four run, the media and the fans have lost sight of the Patriots, who slipped back into anonymity in the CAA. They’re back now, this time for a critical conference match-up with VCU, who is directly competing with George Mason for the CAA title. VCU had its own tournament success last season after beating Duke and nearly knocking off Pittsburgh. The Rams have not lost since December and Eric Maynor, who briefly captured the nation with his winning shot against Duke, is leading the way. Maynor and fellow guard Jamel Shuler fit perfectly in Anthony Grant’s hellacious up-and-down style and I see VCU wearing down George Mason in this game.

Prediction: VCU 89, George Mason 80

Villanova at Pittsburgh
Wednesday 6:00 PM CST ESPNU

How far have the Wildcats fallen? Rutgers and Notre Dame beat up on Villanova and now it may be Pittsburgh’s turn. Except the Panthers inexplicably lost to Rutgers too this weekend, and the fact that the Scarlet Knight’s beat two ranked opponents in a row is astounding. This is the same team I nominated as one of the worst teams of any power conference team in the entire country. The Big East is so unpredictable at this point, but I would like to predict Pitt to rebound from a rough showing against Rutgers and beat Villanova. Pitt’s loss seems like an anomaly, but Villanova looks like it’s in big trouble.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 73, Villanova 59


Creighton at Drake
Wednesday 7:00 PM CST

Drake never stops winning. Ever. Every time I check scores from around the nation, I come across Drake, and the Bulldogs always win. I’m starting to think maybe we should just put them up there with Memphis and Kansas and see if they lose.

Prediction: Drake 66, Creighton 60

Cincinnati at West Virginia
Wednesday 6:00 PM CST ESPN2

After controlling Georgetown for the majority of the game, West Virginia lost a heartbreaker to the Hoyas. The Mountaineers play great at home and will take care of a surprisingly tough Cincinnati team.

Prediction: West Virginia 77, Cincinnati 71

Memphis at Houston
Wednesday 7:00 PM CST CSTV

Upset alert? Nah. Not gonna happen. Could be close- maybe- but I don’t think there’s any reason for Memphis fans to be worried. That’s scary for the CUSA considering Houston has the best chance of any team in the conference team to win against the Tigers.

Mississippi State at Arkansas
Wednesday 7:00 PM CST

Back from the dead, Mississippi State won a huge game against Mississippi and will look to carry its momentum to Fayetteville. Arkansas is hanging around in the SEC West and it needs this game to stay in contention. I like what I see from the Bulldogs though.

Prediction: Mississippi State 82, Arkansas 77

Providence at Notre Dame
Thursday 8:00 PM CST ESPN2

Another Big East game. The names change, the game doesn’t. Should be a close game, will make a difference in the Big East standings, yada yada yada. Turn to the “deuce” (ESPN2, that is) if you want to see some good Big East action. I’ll leave it at that.

California at Washington State
Wednesday 9:00 PM CST

California is on life support. It’s pretty unfair that a team good enough to at least compete for an NCAA tournament will be mired in the bottom of the Pac-10 just because of how good the league is. Oh well. Win this one and the Bears might have something going. Washington State won’t let that happen though.

Prediction: Washington State 65, California 56

Oklahoma State at Oklahoma
Monday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

Nice little rivalry here. I said California was on life support above, but Sean Sutton is really on life support. Dude looks like he’s gonna keel over and die every time he paces frantically on Oklahoma State’s sideline. But as far as the game goes, Oklahoma will make him sweat even more on Monday, especially with Blake Griffin back.

Prediction: Oklahoma 76, Oklahoma State 61

Virginia at Maryland
Wednesday 6:00 PM CST ESPN

The Cavaliers find themselves in last place in the ACC, and Maryland seems to be improving after beating UNC and playing Duke tough. Virginia will fall even farther in the conference after visiting the Terps.

Prediction: Maryland 73, Virginia 66

North Carolina State at Duke
Thursday 8:00 PM CST ESPN

Still barely hanging on, the Wolfpack could turn their season around with a win in Cameron Indoor. But after seeing how they played against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, it does not seem likely.

Prediction: Duke 89, North Carolina State 73

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