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February 16, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Saturday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Games of Saturday, February 17

Matchup: Georgetown (20-3, 10-2 Big East) at Syracuse (16-9, 6-6), 12:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Rankings: Georgetown, #6 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 16 in Big East); Syracuse, #45 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Georgetown, 69-65 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 31%
Prospectus: The Orange are the third youngest team in Division I, with a playing-time weighted average of 0.6 years of experience. Three of Syracuse's top five in minutes played are freshmen--the other two are sophomores. Coach Jim Boeheim relies heavily upon his young starters. The Orange sports just an eight-man rotation, and the team's bench plays just 21.6 percent of the minutes, the 14th-lowest figure in the country. This combination of a very young team dominated by its starters is an unusual one, and it brings to mind the 2003 Syracuse national title squad that was led by freshmen Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara. This year's youthful edition of the Orange nearly pulled off an upset of the Hoyas in Georgetown, falling 64-62 in overtime on January 21. That game was a remarkable display of the load placed on Syracuse's starters, as just two players came off the Orange bench, and they combined for just 13 minutes. Four Syracuse starters--guards Paul Harris and Jonny Flynn, and forwards Arinze Onuaku and Donte Greene--played more than 40 minutes, while the fifth, guard Scoop Jardine, played 39.

The Hoyas are a curious team in that they rank first in the nation in both two-point field goal percentage and eFG% defense, but aren't especially good in any other important category, besides blocks. Those are the right areas to be good in if you have to pick any two, of course, and the Hoyas stand alone atop the 16-team field in the Big East because of that. With Louisville and Connecticut charging, however, the question is: how long will that arrangement last?

Matchup: Louisville (19-6, 9-3 Big East) at Providence (13-11, 4-8), 2:00, ESPN
Rankings: Louisville, #7 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 16 in Big East); Providence, #75 (9th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville, 72-65 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: The Cardinals have elevated themselves into the Pomeroy Top 10, and have been identified as the best team in the Big East and a prime candidate for the Final Four. Two of the team's three conference losses have come by a combined three points, the other being a bizarre 10-point loss at Seton Hall. After a promising three-game winning streak in mid-January that culminated with a convincing road victory over Connecticut, the Friars have completely fallen apart, losing six of their next seven. Providence's defense has really let the team down, three times giving up more than 1.2 points per possession in the recent losing stretch. The Friars get a great deal of their punch from strong offensive rebounding, and conversely are particularly hurt on defense by weak board work, as per the team's Game Plan data. Providence could struggle to get its capable three-point attack going against a Cardinals defense that holds opponents to 31.1 percent long-range shooting.

Matchup: Florida (19-6, 6-4 Southeastern) at Vanderbilt (21-4, 6-4), 3:00
Rankings: Florida, #44 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in SEC); Vanderbilt, #54 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Vanderbilt, 79-76 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 39%
Prospectus: The Gators beat Vanderbilt by 26 points at home back on January 27, but now the two squads are moving in different directions. As outlined by Ken Pomeroy yesterday, Florida is the second youngest team in the country, and has struggled of late, having lost three of its last four--blowouts versus Arkansas and Tennessee and a 12-point loss to LSU at home. Vanderbilt has picked itself up after dropping four of five, and has now won four straight SEC contests. The last of those was the most impressive: a 41-point demolishing of Kentucky at home on Tuesday, which moved the Commodores way up the Pomeroy Ratings. Both of these teams have strong offenses, and the game will feature an excellent matchup between two highly-efficient 6'10" players--Vanderbilt freshman A.J. Ogilvy has a 115.4 offensive rating, which is the 15th-best mark for players having used 28.1 percent of possessions or more, while Florida sophomore Marreese Speights has a 118.9 offensive rating and has used 26.6 percent of possessions. Speights is also a demon on the boards and an excellent shot blocker, and despite his high usage of the ball he turns it over at a low rate.

Matchup: Ohio (16-8, 7-4 Mid American) at Kent St. (20-5, 9-2), 3:00
Rankings: Ohio, #102 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 12 in MAC); Kent St., #85 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kent St., 66-60 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 27%
Prospectus: It's never a bad time to talk about Kent St.'s 6'8" senior forward Haminn Quaintance, who ranks in the national top 60 in eFG, offensive rebounding, block, and steal percentage. While it's difficult to clearly identify defensive dominance in looking at a player's statistical footprint, about the closest one can get is examining his block and steal percentages. Last December, Ken Pomeroy laid out what he looks for to indicate defensive superiority--a block percentage of 6.0 or more and a steal percentage of 2.5 or more, which he termed the Renaldo Balkman Threshold. Only two players reached both those benchmarks in the past two years while playing 26 minutes or more per game in power conferences--Joakim Noah of Florida (who did it two years running) and Shelden Williams of Duke. This season, Quaintance has a block percentage of 9.4 and a steal percentage of 4.2. He's also not too shabby on the defensive glass. All in all, one can make a case that the unheralded senior is the best defensive forward in the nation.

Quaintance will face a worthy adversary in Ohio's 6'8" forward Leon Williams, who leads Division I in offensive rebounding percentage and who has put up a 119.7 offensive rating while using 28 percent of his team's possessions, one of the best offense/high usage combinations in the country. Williams and his Bobacts got the better of Quaintance and his Golden Flashes on January 19 in a 71-59 decision. Kent St., however, is currently in first place in the Mid-American's East division, two games ahead of Ohio with five conference contests left to play.

Matchup: Stanford (20-4, 9-3 Pacific 10) at Arizona (16-8, 6-5), 3:30
Rankings: Stanford, #11 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 10 in Pacific 10); Arizona, #22 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Arizona, 63-62 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 46%
Prospectus: The first time these teams met this year, neither topped a point per possession, with the Cardinal winning 56-52 in 62 possessions. The game should have been even closer than that, as the Wildcats, normally a strong free-throw shooting team at 73 percent on the season, hit only 6-of-13 from the stripe. Before Thursday night, Stanford had won eight in a row beginning with that victory over Arizona, but the Cardinal fell in overtime to Arizona St. a day after it was touted as a strong Final Four candidate. If the Cardinal can get going on the offensive glass tonight, it could be very hard to beat: Stanford is third in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage, and gets a large portion of its offense from second-chance shots, while Arizona is a weak defensive boarding team. The Wildcats are at a huge disadvantage in terms of height, because the Cardinal has the second tallest frontline in the country by Effective Height.

Matchup: Arkansas (17-6, 6-3 Southeastern) at Mississippi St. (16-7, 7-2), 4:00, ESPN
Rankings: Arkansas, #34 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in SEC); Mississippi St., #30 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Mississippi St., 69-64 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 32%
Prospectus: The top two teams in the SEC West hook up in this one, with Arkansas having the chance to move into a first place tie. The Razorbacks beat the Bulldogs by 20 points at home on January 30. Mississippi St. actually shot for a slightly higher eFG% in that game, but committed 11 more turnovers than Arkansas, allowed the Razorbacks to get to the line 13 more times, and were held down on the offensive glass. Offensive rebounding has been a big key for the Bulldogs--in fact, the correlations section of the team's Game Plan reveals that offensive rebounding has been even more significant than eFG% in explaining the team's offensive efficiency so far this year. Arkansas' defensive efficiency has been badly hurt by teams able to grab a high percentage of their own misses, so if Bulldogs forwards Jarvis Varnado and Charles Rhodes can hit the offensive boards hard, it would go a long way towards helping Mississippi St. get even in the season series. This game should be a particularly entertaining one to watch, because both teams are excellent shot-blocking units: the Bulldogs, thanks to Varnado's abilities, are first in the nation in block percentage, while the Razorbacks, thanks to 7'0" Steven Hill and 6'10" Darian Townes, rank 14th.

Matchup: Texas (19-5, 7-4 Big 12) at Baylor (17-6, 7-5), 6:00, ESPN
Rankings: Texas, #18 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in Big 12); Baylor, #43 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Texas, 78-76 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 42%
Prospectus: The Longhorns take the court for the first time since beating Kansas, the #1 team in the Pomeroy Ratings. Texas is now even in the loss column with both the Jayhawks and Kansas St. at the top of the Big 12. While Texas has won four in a row, Baylor has lost four of five. The Bears have a similar profile to the Longhorns, but just aren't quite as good. Whereas Texas has an elite offense, ranked second in adjusted efficiency, Baylor's is ranked 28th, and both squads have sub-standard defenses--the Longhorns are 10th in the Big 12 in adjusted defensive efficiency, and Baylor is one spot behind them. Just like Texas, Baylor's greatest strength on offense is the ability to protect the ball, but the Longhorns are in a league of their own in that category, having coughed it up on less than 14 percent of their possessions. Every one of Texas's major players has a turnover rate under 20 percent, with A.J. Abrams (8.5 percent with a usage rate of 20.6 percent) most impressive. The Longhorns won their first meeting with Baylor this year, 80-72 at home on February 2.

Matchup: Missouri (14-11, 4-6 Big 12) at Kansas St. (17-6, 7-2), 6:00
Rankings: Missouri, #29 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 11 in Big 12); Kansas St., #8 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas St., 84-74 in 78 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 19%
Prospectus: Just when you think the Wildcats are ready to jump into truly elite territory, the squad loses a winnable road game in conference play. On February 2 it was a loss to an undermanned Missouri team, and this past Wednesday it was at Texas Tech, giving Bobby Knight's son Pat his first victory as a head coach. In the case of the game with the Tigers, Kansas St. lost a tight 77-74 decision mainly because it committed four more turnovers, as the squads played to a draw in most of the game's other areas. Kansas St.'s defensive efficiency has been strongly linked to opponents' turnover percentage this year, and the Tigers don't turn the ball over very often, ranking 21st-best with a 17.9 percentage. The first game took place in 69 possessions, which is well below would would have been expected given the profiles of these two teams--Mike Anderson's up-tempo attack is right where it was in his first season coaching Missouri last year, at 73 possessions per 40 minutes, while Frank Martin has also pushed the tempo with his young Wildcats in his first season as coach, as Kansas St. also averages 73 possessions per 40.

Matchup: Oral Roberts (18-5, 13-0 Summit) at IUPUI (20-5, 12-2), 7:00
Rankings: Oral Roberts, #77 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 10 in Summit); IUPUI, #72 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: IUPUI, 65-61 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 33%
Prospectus: This one is a battle between the two teams at the--ahem--summit of the conference, with IUPUI sitting one and half games in back of Oral Roberts. The first time these two teams hooked up this year, the Golden Eagles of Oral Roberts came away with a 64-63 home victory over the Jaguars. You may remember IUPUI--that's Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, if you're scoring at home--from the school's only NCAA tournament appearance, which came in 2003. Oral Roberts has gone to the dance four times, including the last two seasons. The Golden Eagles have climbed to the Summit in the regular season the last three years--sharing the title with IUPUI in 2006--and won the past two conference tournaments. If the Jaguars break either of those streaks, it will be because of the squad's offense, which is second in the country in raw efficiency, at 1.175 points per possession. IUPUI is perhaps the best pure shooting team in the country, ranking first in free throw percentage (79.1), second in three-point percentage (42.9), and ninth in two-point percentage (54.6). The Jaguars are powered by stellar junior guard George Hill, who is third in the country in offensive rating among players using at least 24 percent of their team's possessions. Hill does it all. He has excellent percentages from two and three-point range, he is a good defensive rebounder, and dishes assists and grabs steals, all while playing over 90 percent of his team's minutes. The Golden Eagles will try and stop Hill with the Summit League's best defense, which does an excellent job of lowering two-point field goal percentage and preventing three-point attempts.

Matchup: Memphis (24-0, 10-0 Conference USA) at UAB (17-7, 7-2), 8:00
Rankings: Memphis, #2 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in C-USA); UAB, #65 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Memphis, 73-62 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 12%
Prospectus: This game holds within it the greatest remaining possibility of a Memphis loss in Conference USA play. The Blazers suffered a big setback early in the season when senior point guard Paul Delaney was lost for the year with a knee injury in the team's fourth game, but UAB has fought back to have a good campaign. UAB has also yet to lose this season on its home court, Bartow Arena in Birmingham, posting an 11-0 record there to this point. The team's offensive leader is 6'5" junior Robert Vaden, a transfer from Indiana who chose to follow coach Mike Davis to Birmingham. Vaden likes to shoot threes, to say the least--he has fired a remarkable 241 on the season, more than 10 per game, and has connected on 41.5 percent. The high-volume shooter will have a big challenge finding open looks against Memphis, which holds opponents to 29.6 percent shooting on three's, but then again there isn't any category in which UAB's offense won't be challenged by the Tigers, who undisputably sport the best defense in the land.

Matchup: Nevada Las Vegas (19-5, 8-2 Mountain West) at Brigham Young (19-5, 8-1), 9:00
Rankings: Nevada Las Vegas, #40 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 9 in Mountain West); Brigham Young, #49 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Brigham Young, 67-65 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 39%
Prospectus: This one has the potential to be a classic. In addition to the game being for first place in the Mountain West, Brigham Young will be looking to avenge its worst loss of the season, a 29-point pasting at the hands of the Runnin' Rebels on January 15. Since that embarrassing defeat, the Cougars have reeled off seven straight conference wins. In its recent history Brigham Young was known for a strong offense and weaker defense, but this year the opposite is the case. The Cougars are the fourth best defensive rebounding team in the country, and hold opponents to the 11th lowest eFG%. Nevada Las Vegas also has a very strong defense and an offense that lags behind, with the Rebels making their hay by holding opponents to just 28.5 percent from behind the three-point arc (in the first meeting, the Cougars were just 3-of-21 on three-pointers). On offense, the saving grace of Nevada Las Vegas is that it is very efficient with the ball and shoots free throws well. These two squads met in the Mountain West tournament title game last year, with the Rebels taking that game as well by a score of 78-70.

Matchup: Michigan St. (20-4, 8-3 Big 10) at Indiana (20-4, 9-2), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Michigan St., #23 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 11 in Big Ten); Indiana, #16 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Indiana, 70-64 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 29%
Prospectus: The Spartans nearly came back after being down 17 at Purdue Tuesday night, pulling to within a point in the second half before the Boilermakers took charge. Now Michigan St. will play its second tough conference road game in a row. Turnovers could be the key in this one--the Spartans' tendency to cough the ball up has been especially harmful to their offensive efficiency, while Indiana's defense has been helped more than most by opponents' turnovers when the team has been able to force them. The Hoosiers, however, haven't been able to force them very often, which should be quite helpful to the Spartans' offense. Indiana has tall guards and a smaller frontcourt, while Michigan St. has the opposite profile, and therefore interesting mismatches in height might be seen across the board. Of course, all the individual matchups--and the game, too, for that matter--will be overshadowed by the developing situation surrounding Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson's alleged major recruiting violations, which are currently being investigated by the university.

Matchup: Washington St. (19-5, 7-5 Pacific 10) at Oregon (15-9, 6-6), 9:00
Rankings: Washington St., #9 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 10 in Pac 10); Oregon, #39 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Washington St., 68-65 in 60 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: Oregon has won two straight over Pac-10 also-rans California and Washington to climb back to .500 in the conference, but the Ducks are still in danger of not making the NCAA tournament. Oregon is a definite underdog in its next three games, against the Cougars, USC, and UCLA, and after two potential wins the squad's last game of the year is a toss-up at home versus Arizona. If the Ducks lose four of those final six they will finish with a 7-9 record in the conference, likely not good enough for the selection committee unless the team makes some noise in the Pac-10 tournament. That makes this a very big game for Oregon. Washington St. has also won two in a row, recovering after three consecutive defeats to pound USC at home before beating hapless Oregon St. on the road. The Cougars defense bounced back to good form in the win over the Trojans, but it will be tested by an underrated Ducks offense, which ranks sixth in the country by adjusted efficiency and second in the Pac 10 behind UCLA. In the first meeting of the year between these two, Washington St. committed only six turnovers and shot 61 percent from two-point range in beating Oregon 69-60 at home January 20.

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

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