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February 2, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Saturday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer


Matchup: Maryland (13-8, 3-3 Atlantic Coast) at Georgia Tech (10-9, 3-3), 12:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2
Rankings: Maryland, #39 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in ACC); Georgia Tech, #55 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Georgia Tech, 77-76 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 44%
Prospectus: After starting the conference schedule 0-3, the Yellowjackets have won three straight, and two in a row on the road, to climb back into the postseason picture. Both these teams are stuck in the great morass in the middle of the ACC standings, as six squads currently have three losses, with five sitting at 3-3. So much for all that talk of the Duke-UNC stranglehold on the ACC having been broken. The Terrapins do an outstanding job of making their opponent miss shots, but are prevented from possessing an elite defense by an inability to force turnovers or prevent offensive rebounds. Georgia Tech and Maryland are the two unluckiest teams in the ACC, which each having won more than a game less than would be expected by their point scored/allowed totals, but one team will turn that luck around in what should be a very close game.

Matchup: Pittsburgh (17-4, 5-3 Big East) at Connecticut (15-5, 5-3), 1:00, CBS
Rankings: Pittsburgh, #30 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 16 in Big East); Connecticut, #26 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Connecticut, 76-71 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 32%
Prospectus: This week's Team to Watch has surged while playing without its most prolific points-per-game scorer, sophomore guard Jerome Dyson, as Connecticut has beaten Indiana and Louisville in his absence. Now Dyson is out until March after failing a drug test. Pittsburgh certainly won't be weeping for the Huskies, however, considering the Panthers are missing junior guard Levance Fields, arguably their best offensive player, and senior Mike Cook, who is out for the year. The Pitt offense is still formidable, as forwards Sam Young and DeJuan Blair use most of the team's possessions, and use them well. On paper, however, it appears that the Panthers will be in deep trouble against the monstrous Huskies, which have four players taller than anyone Pittsburgh can throw in the mix, including the 7'3" Hasheem Thabeet.

Matchup: MD Baltimore County (13-7, 6-2 America East) at Vermont (11-9, 6-2), 1:00
Rankings: MD Baltimore County, #131 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 9 in America East); Vermont, #195 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: MD Baltimore County, 77-76 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 44%
Prospectus: These two teams are tied for first atop the America East standings along with Binghampton. The Retrievers of Baltimore County beat the Catamounts at home by 18 back on January 9, but now have to travel to the claustrophobic little gym in Burlington, where Vermont is 6-1 on the season. The Catamounts have won five straight conference games after starting 1-2. Maryland Baltimore County hasn't had a winning season since 2002, when the squad played in the Northeast Conference. This year, the Retrievers have a terrific offense--14th in the nation in raw efficiency, at 1.13 points per possession--but a very shaky defense. The Retrievers are also notable for the fact that they have just a seven man rotation, with four starters each receiving 80 percent or more of the playing time.

Matchup: Kansas St. (15-4, 5-0 Big 12) at Missouri (12-9, 2-4), 1:30
Rankings: Kansas St., #7 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in Big 12); Missouri, #31 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas St., 81-78 in 80 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 38%
Prospectus: The Wildcats play their first game as sole possessors of first place in the Big 12 after knocking off the undefeated Jayhawks at home. Kansas St. should have a tougher time than many would expect against the Tigers, however--Missouri has been the second most unlucky team in the nation, losing 3.2 more games than expected. Both teams are in the top-20 nationally in raw tempo, so this one should be a run-and-gun affair. Thanks to freshman Michael Beasley, the Wildcats are the best offensive rebounding team in the nation, and they could particularly kill a weak-rebounding Missouri team on the boards. The Tigers do a great job of shutting down the three-point attack, but Kansas St. gets a relatively low percentage of its offense from downtown.

Matchup: Baylor (16-3, 4-1 Big 12) at Texas (16-4, 3-2), 1:45
Rankings: Baylor, #44 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 12 in Big 12); Texas, #25 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Texas, 81-72 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: Coach Scott Drew has built the Bears back up after the terrible situation centered around the murder of team member Patrick Dennehy four and a half years ago. Baylor, profiled this week in Sports Illustrated, has cracked the AP Top 25 two years after the team played no non-conference games as punishment for its transgressions. The Bears are a team well balanced between offense and defense that plays at a fast pace yet doesn't turn the ball over. Texas plays at a deliberate pace, and runs a lethally-efficient offense--the best in the nation at protecting the basketball--which is led by sub-six-foot guards D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams. The Longhorns defense, however, struggles to force turnovers and defend the three-point line.

Matchup: Rider (16-6, 9-2 Metro Atlantic) at Siena (13-7, 8-2), 2:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Rider, #113 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 10 in MAAC); Siena, #110 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Siena, 80-75 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 33%
Prospectus: The Rider Broncs knocked off Marist on Wednesday to move to the top of the MAAC standings and set up this showdown with the Saints, who stand only a half-game back. The Broncs ride into Albany having won eight straight games, all in conference play. They have feasted on a light schedule, however, and things now get tougher, as Rider plays Siena in a home-and-home series with fourth-place Niagra sandwiched in between. The Saints will look to create enough takeaways on defense (fifth nationally in steal percentage) to throw the MAAC's best offense off balance and take over first place.

Matchup: Stanford (17-3, 6-2 Pacific 10) at Washington St. (17-3, 5-3), 3:00
Rankings: Stanford, #13 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 10 in Pac 10); Washington St., #10 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Washington St., 57-54 in 57 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 33%
Prospectus: Winners of four straight, the Cardinal will try to complete a Washington road sweep when it takes on the Cougars in what should be an "every possession counts" game between two very slow teams with stalwart defenses. Some of the shine has come off Washington St.'s season of late, as the team has lost two of its last three, and had its previously-stout defense exposed in the process. Stanford's limited offense does not match up all that well against Washington St., however, as the Cougars can nearly match the size of the Lopez twins inside with 6'10" big men Robbie Cowgill and Aron Baynes. No one is talking about the Cardinal, but the team sports the fifth best defense by adjusted efficiency in D-I.

Matchup: Florida (18-3, 5-1 Southeastern) at Arkansas (15-5, 4-2), 3:05
Rankings: Florida, #29 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in SEC); Arkansas, #34 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Arkansas, 70-68 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 42%
Prospectus: The Gators are young, but they sure can shoot, with a raw efficiency that's second-to-none in D-I. Florida smoked Vanderbilt last Sunday, running out to a 34-6 lead before cruising to victory, and hasn't put up less than 1.14 points per possession in its last eight games. The Gators, however, will now go up against a Razorbacks defense which is the best they have faced since playing Ohio St. on December 22, a loss in which they scored only 0.78 points per possession. Arkansas is in many ways the opposite of Florida, as the Razorbacks have a much stronger defense than offense, and are one of the oldest squads in the country, with four of their top five in minutes played being seniors. Those contrasts should make for an outstanding game at Bud Walton Arena.

Matchup: Oklahoma (15-5, 3-2 Big 12) at Texas A&M (17-4, 3-3), 4:00
Rankings: Oklahoma, #28 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 12 in Big 12); Texas A&M, #17 (2rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Texas A&M, 69-63 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 26%
Prospectus: The Sooners had a brutal beginning to their conference schedule, playing Kansas St. and Kansas, but since those two losses have won three straight heading into this matchup in College Station against an Aggies squad coming off a big home blowout win over Texas. Oklahoma boasts one of the best frontcourts in the nation in the 6'11" Longar Longar and 6'10" Blake Griffin. The freshman Griffin has a terrificly well-rounded game, as he ranks in the top-500 nationally in every Pomeroy statistic except assist rate. Griffin will have a tough task scoring down low against 7'0" freshman DeAndre Jordan and company, who help hold Texas A&M opponents to 40 percent shooting on twos.

Matchup: Winthrop (14-7, 5-1 Big South) at NC Asheville (17-4, 6-0), 4:30
Rankings: Winthrop, #91 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 8 in Big South); NC Asheville, #145 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Winthrop, 64-62 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 38%
Prospectus: The top two teams in the Big South hook up in a pivotal battle for this one-bid conference. The Eagles of Winthrop cannot afford to fall two games behind the Bulldogs, as there are just seven games left for each team to play after this one. NC Asheville employs the services of the 7'7", 360 lb. Kenny George, he of the size 26 feet. George leads all of Division I in block percentage, as he sends back more than one out of every five of his opponents' shots when standing on the court. Despite being a force on both ends, George has only been able to play 45 percent of his team's minutes. Asheville will need him to penetrate Winthrop's tough defense, which is the best in the Big South.

Matchup: Tennessee (18-2, 5-1 Southeastern) at Mississippi St. (14-6, 5-1), 7:00
Rankings: Tennessee, #12 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in SEC); Mississippi St., #32 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Tennessee, 74-73 in 76 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 48%
Prospectus: The Volunteers, tied for first with Florida in the East division of the SEC, travel to take on the Bulldogs, who are alone in first in the West. Mississippi St. is coming off a spanking at the hands of Arkansas last Wednesday, a 20-point loss which snapped its string of five-straight wins to begin conference play. Tennessee, which sports the fourth best defense at creating turnovers, forced a sure-handed Alabama offense into a high percentage of miscues in Tuesday's victory, and will look to do the same against a Bulldogs team that is not adept at protecting the ball. On the other side of the court, which will give way--Tennessee's highly-efficient shooting (53 eFG%) or Mississippi St.'s impenetrable defense (41 eFG% allowed)?

Matchup: Davidson (14-6, 12-0 Southern) at Chattanooga (14-7, 9-2), 7:00
Rankings: Davidson, #57 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 11 in Southern); Chattanooga, #119 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Davidson, 79-76 in 76 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 39%
Prospectus: The first place team in the South division of the Southern Conference travels to take on the first place team in the North division of the Southern Conference. Got it? The Wildcats of Davidson have won 10 games in a row after getting off to a slow start brought on by losses to North Carolina, Duke, and UCLA--all games in which the Wildcats were competitive. The Mocs represent the biggest challenge to Davidson's reign in the Southern, and Chattanooga will have a chance on its home court to avenge a 27-point loss to the Wildcats two weeks ago. Davidson is led by stellar sophomore guard Stephen Curry, son of former NBA player Dell. The younger Curry is using even more possessions than he did last season, and doing a great job with them, shooting 57 percent from two-point range and 41 percent from three.

Matchup: Arizona (15-6, 5-3 Pacific 10) at UCLA (19-2, 7-1), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Arizona, #15 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 10 in Pac 10); UCLA, #4 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: UCLA, 73-64 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 18%
Prospectus: The Wildcats are prowling, having won four straight Pac 10 games, including an impressive 80-69 beating of Southern California on the road Thursday. Taking down both LA schools in the City of Angels is a tall task, but Arizona's offense is absolutely humming, with efficiency's ranging from 121 to 137 during the winning streak. UCLA has the type of defense that could slow them down, and on the other end of the court the Bruins' potent offense should give an Arizona team that can't force turnovers fits. If 6'9" sophomore Jordan Hill can manage to limit Kevin Love's exposure to the offensive boards, the Wildcats will give the Bruins a good fight.

Matchup: Nevada (13-7, 5-2 Western Athletic) at Utah St. (15-6, 5-1), 9:05
Rankings: Nevada, #103 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 9 in WAC); Utah St., #130 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Utah St., 75-73 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 45%
Prospectus: The Aggies of Utah St. are an overrated first-place team, as they have had the eighth-best luck in the country, leading to about two extra wins. Utah St. is a squad of extremes--it shoots exceptionally well from both two- and three-point range, thanks mostly to the sublime guardplay of 6'2" senior Jaycee Carroll, but the team's offense is prevented from being an elite unit by a propensity to turn it over, while the Aggies defense is poor up and down the board. The Wolfpack, contrastingly, are well balanced between offense and defense, and solid-if-unspectacular in both regards. Nevada is fourth nationally in average minutes-weighted height, thanks primarily to 6'11" JaVale McGee as well as 7'1" David Ellis, which the team should be able to take advantage of against a Utah St. squad that is not vertically gifted.

Matchup: Cal St. Fullerton (13-6, 6-2 Big West) at Cal St. Northridge (15-4, 7-0), 10:05
Rankings: Cal St. Fullerton, #120 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 9 in Big West); Cal St. Northridge, #111 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Cal St. Northridge, 88-82 in 83 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 32%
Prospectus: A matchup between the first and second place teams in the Big West. Both squads love to push the tempo, as the Titans of Fullerton and the Matadors rank 10/11 in D-I, respectively, in adjusted tempo. Fullerton is second-to-last in the nation in average minutes-weighted height, with no player taller than 6'6" and three shorter than 6'0". As might be expected from such a disparity, the Titans get a large proportion of their offense from long range, shooting an outstanding 42.2 percent on three-pointers, the third best rate in D-I. The Matadors, however, have the best defense in the Big West, and hold opponents to just 31 percent from long range.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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Around the Rim (02/01)
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Game Reax (02/02)

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