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February 14, 2011


Utah State at St. Maryís
Saturday 8 p.m.

I understand this particular Bracket Buster match-up will not decide a conference championship, and I also understand that there are games on this weekís schedule involving better teams. However, thereís another element to the Utah State/St. Maryís contest Saturday night thatís unlike no other game this week.

This game is about respect and a battle for national recognition in the West. Itís about proving the doubters wrong for Utah State, a team with 23 wins but no quality victories against NCAA Tournament competition. St. Maryís has played a tougher schedule and owns a home win over St. Johnís in November, but the Gaels could use another victory to feel safe about their at-large chances.

With such a weak bubble this season and an expanded field, neither team is in much danger right now of missing the Big Dance. Utah State and St. Maryís arenít safely in the field at this point either, though, and a late tailspin could easily ruin their at-large chances. This is the quintessential Bracket Buster: a match-up pitting two of the nationís non-BCS schools on a national stage to prove to America theyíre worthy of a spot in the NCAAs.

BEST INDIVIDUAL MATCH-UP: Tai Wesley (Utah State) vs. Rob Jones (St. Mary's): As the leading scorer for Utah State, Wesleyís the man who gets all the accolades. He deserves all the praise he getsóheís a skilled power forward and a productive college player. Still, heís been inconsistent at times this season, and needs to stay out of foul trouble. Heíll have his hands full with Jones, the former San Diego big man whoís helping replace the graduated Omar Samhan.

BEST STORYLINE: Fight for Attention
Letís not kid ourselves. Utah State needs this win more than St. Maryís. The Gaels beat St. Johnís, made a statement by finally winning at Gonzaga and played BYU to the final seconds at the South Padre Island Invitational. The Aggies, however, have lost to both quality teams theyíve faced in Georgetown and BYU. This is Stew Morrillís chance to showcase his program and show the nation his 2010-11 team is for real.

HOW THE GAME WILL BE WON: Stick on those guards
It has to be frustrating to defend the point guard tandem of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellevadova for St. Maryís. Theyíre playmakers in every sense of the word. They can shoot contested threes from NBA range, or make crisp passes into traffic. Sometimes, they appear unstoppableóso itís USUís job to make them human. 6 foot 4 senior Tyler Newbold is an experienced defender with good size, and he may be a decent match-up for either guard.

Itís very difficult to predict how Utah State will fare. The Aggies have a chance for a special road win this weekend, and theyíll need to take advantage of the opportunity. If they can contain St. Maryís guards and stay balanced offensively, theyíve got a shot.

Prediction: St. Maryís 72, Utah State 62


West Virginia at Syracuse Monday 6 p.m.

Itís a mystery of the world: Syracuse has lost four games in a row at the Carrier Dome. The sky is falling. The apocalypse is happening. I donít know what to thinkóall I know is thereís something wrong with the water in New York, and itís up to Jim Boeheim to fix it.

Prediction: Syracuse 72, West Virginia 70

Wisconsin at Purdue Wednesday 6 p.m.

Yeah, itís impressive and all that Wisconsin knocked off top-ranked Ohio State at the Kohl Center this weekend, but I told you last week that the upset would happen. Iím actually more impressed that Purdue went into Assembly Hall and knocked off Illinois by double-digits yesterday.

Prediction: Purdue 68, Wisconsin 62

Georgetown at Connecticut Wednesday 6 p.m.

Another day, another top-15 game in the Big East. Iím bored.

Prediction: Connecticut 77, Georgetown 71

Ohio State at Purdue Sunday 1 p.m.

Howís this for a week of basketball: two home games against Wisconsin and Ohio State? Iíd love to be a Purdue fan this weekÖ especially if Purdue wins both games, like I suspect it will.

Prediction: Purdue 70, Ohio State 66


Penn State at Wisconsin Sunday 1 p.m.

You know my spiel about how nobody wins in Madison? How the Grateful Red is so intimidating that itís impossible to even take the floor of the Kohl Center? Yeah, yeah, itís scary and all, but what Iím about to predict is typical college basketball. Expect the unexpected, thatís my motto. Expect that when a team beats Ohio State at home, itíll take a dangerous Penn State team for granted and lose on its home floor. If this happens, Iíll never let you hear the end of it.

Prediction: Penn State 62, Wisconsin 61


VCU at Wichita State Friday 6 p.m.

Wichita Stateís supposed to be invincible at Koch Arena. So why has it dropped three home games already, including a loss to a broken Southern Illinois program? WSUís undefeated on the road and despite already breaking the 20-win barrier, it lacks marquee victories. A home win against VCU wouldnít solve everything, but itíll help on Selection Sunday.

Prediction: Wichita State 70, VCU 60

Vermont at College of Charleston Saturday 5 p.m.

Iím not telling you to tune into this game because of Andrew Goudelock. So the guy scores a lot. Big deal. Iím telling you to tune into this game because Vermontís Evan Fjeld has the best facial hair in the history of college basketball. Unless heís shaved, youíll see it on TV this weekend.

Prediction: Charleston 75, Vermont 62

Cleveland State at Old Dominion Sunday 1 p.m.

Remember when Cleveland State was undefeated in December and there were small rumblings about Norris Cole? I even wrote about him and kidded sportswriters about just now noticing him. Well, after grabbing 20 rebounds from the guard position against Youngstown State last week, heís becoming a household name.

Prediction: Cleveland State 65, Old Dominion 62

Morehead State at Indiana State Saturday TBA

This game should be televised. Indiana Stateís fallen apart after a strong start in the Valley, but itís still a formidable opponent hosting the nationís top rebounder in Kenneth Faried. Look for an online stream of this one, because I expect it to be one of the more competitive match-ups of the weekend.

Prediction: Morehead State 67, Indiana State 62

Last weekís prediction record: 5-4
Overall record: 66-39

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