Friday February 18th, 2011

The Weekend Forecast
 
Friday, February 18
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 13 Connecticut (20-5, 8-5 Big East) at No. 16 Louisville (19-7, 8-5)
Most of the headlines following UConn's win over Georgetown centered on Kemba Walker's 31-point, 10-assist, seven-rebound performance. To me, the bigger news was the play of sophomore Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, who followed up his 25-point outing in a win over Providence by chipping in 23 off the bench against the Hoyas. Alex Oriakhi also scored in double figures for just the second time in seven games. UConn is always better when Walker gets a little help from his friends, and I think the momentum will carry over to this game. Louisville has been one of the season's real surprises, and even though the Cardinals just got their best rebounder, Rakeem Buckles, back from injury, he is a long way from being in top form. Louisville has lost three of its last five and I think it will have a hard time matching up with UConn in the paint.
 
Saturday, February 19
 
Noon ET (ESPN)No. 4 Pittsburgh (24-2, 12-1) at St. John's (16-9, 8-5)
The Panthers finally looked a little mortal Wednesday night as they had a hard time shaking off South Florida at home. Pitt led the Bulls by just two points with eight minutes to play before pulling away for a 67-55 win. It is a form of high praise when you nitpick a team for not winning by enough, but I have a feeling Pitt is ready to get tripped up for real this time. Not only will the Red Storm be playing at home, but their nine seniors have also played with great poise and confidence while winning five of their last six, including a gutsy 12-point road win at Marquette on Tuesday. Pitt guard Ashton Gibbs will make his return after missing two weeks because of a knee injury, but it's hard to imagine he'll be in top form. Aside from Gibbs, the best player on the court will be St. John's guard Dwight Hardy. The 6-foot-2 senior has been on a tear ever since he hung 26 points on Duke, averaging 26.3 points over his last six games.
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 8 Notre Dame (21-4, 10-3) at West Virginia (16-9, 7-6)
This is the time of year when good teams lose games they shouldn't. The Fighting Irish have been flying high during their seven-game winning streak, and though the desire to chase a Big East regular season title and a No. 1 seed presents an incentive, that can only take a team so far during the dog days of February. West Virginia really needs this game, and it's playing at home. The Mountaineers have lost three of their last four, and things won't get easier for them as they play at Pitt next week. I wouldn't be surprised to see Bob Huggins reinsert his best player, senior guard Casey Mitchell, into the starting lineup. Mitchell has come off the bench in all four games since returning from a three-game suspension, and he had in 23 points in Monday night's loss at Syracuse.
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS)Georgia (17-8, 6-5) at Tennessee (16-10, 6-5)
Both of these teams had a little house money a few weeks ago, but they've been spending it fast. Georgia suffered a devastating loss in Athens Wednesday when it blew a 14-point second-half lead to lose by eight to Vanderbilt. Tennessee has lost three of its last four, including in overtime at home against Alabama and a one-point crusher at Florida last weekend. Bruce Pearl has been threatening to shake up his lineup (mostly due to sloppy play by point guard Melvin Goins), but he kept things intact for the Vols' win at home over South Carolina on Wednesday. When these two teams played in Athens on Jan. 18, Georgia did well to limit possessions before losing 59-57, but that's going to be a lot harder to do in Knoxville.
 
6 p.m. ET (ESPN)Washington (18-7, 10-4) at No. 12 Arizona (22-4, 11-2)
I sure hope the scoreboard operator in Tucson gets a good night's sleep. Washington is the second-highest-scoring team in the nation at 85.9 points per game, while Arizona scores 78.0 and ranks first in the Pac-10 in field-goal percentage, three-point percentage and free-throw percentage. The question is whether Arizona will defend better than it did during a 17-point loss in Seattle on Jan. 20. The Huskies outrebounded Arizona by eight in the game, they shot 48 percent from the floor and attempted 31 free throws. I think the Wildcats have grown up since then, at least enough to pull this one off at home.
 
7 p.m. ET (ESPN2)George Mason (22-5, 14-2) at Northern Iowa (19-9, 10-6)
Haven't we seen this movie before? The Patriots are the hottest team in America right now, stringing together a nation's-best 12 straight wins while claiming a two-game hold on first place in the CAA. And they're still getting better, as evidenced by the 20-point pasting they laid on second-place VCU on the road earlier this week. George Mason is paced by 6-4 senior guard Cam Long, but he is one of three double-figure scorers on a team which maximizes offensive efficiency. (The Patriots are ranked 21st nationally in that category, and they're 12th in the country in three-point percentage.) Northern Iowa will do its level best to slow down the pace (the Panthers rank second in the country in turnovers and 295th in points per game), but the Patriots have already showed they can beat a good team badly on the road. I expect them to take care of a Northern Iowa team that is coming in limping, having lost three of its last four.
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN2)No. 25 Utah State (24-3, 12-1) at Saint Mary's (22-5, 10-2)
Saint Mary's suffered a shocking loss Wednesday night, coughing up an 11-point lead early in the second half to fall at San Diego, which came into the game in last pace in the WCC with a 1-10 record. Utah State also stubbed its toe in conference play last week at Idaho, so both of these teams need this win to bolster their at-large credentials. When teams are evenly matched, I usually go with the homeboys, but I'll take the Aggies in this one. Utah State has long been a precise offensive unit, but this might be Stew Morrill's best defensive team is years. Utah State is ranked 10th nationally in field-goal percentage defense and 27th in three-point defense. This old, poised, tough team is well-suited to collar the Gaels' superb guard tandem of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova.
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPN)Illinois (17-9, 7-6) at Michigan State (14-11, 6-7)
Even while they suffered their sixth loss in their last eight games, the Spartans could take some hopeful signs from their 61-51 defeat at Ohio State Tuesday night. Freshmen Keith Appling (six assists) and Adreian Payne (10 points in 11 minutes) showed they are prepared to contribute. Derrick Nix demonstrated some surprisingly nifty footwork and good post defense on Jared Sullinger. Best of all, Kalin Lucas looks like Kalin Lucas again following a long road back from his ruptured Achilles tendon. I think this team is ready to make its push to get back to the NCAA tournament. There's no better way to kick-start it than playing at home against an Illinois team that has been fighting its own demons. The Illini were fortunate to beat Michigan by two points at home Wednesday night.
 
Sunday, February 20
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 2 Ohio State (25-1, 12-1) at No. 11 Purdue (21-5, 10-3)
You'd have to be crazy to pick a team to upset a squad that just throttled it by 23 points. Then again, nobody ever accused me of being a paragon of sanity. The Boilermakers have been building their defensive identity all season long, and they just played their best two games of the season while beating Illinois on the road and Wisconsin at home. We know JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore have been solid throughout the season, but junior point guard Lewis Jackson is playing his best basketball right now. He has scored in double figures in five of his last seven games, including a season-high 18 against the Badgers. Or course I'm troubled by Purdue's lack of size inside to counter Jared Sullinger, but I'm banking on the gremlins in Mackey to knock a few of Big Sully's shot attempts off the rim. Besides, Ohio State's dream of an undefeated season is gone, and I suspect the Buckeyes are emotionally spent.
 
1 p.m. ET (ESPN2)Cleveland State (23-5, 12-4) at Old Dominion (21-6, 12-4)
Cleveland State guard Norris Cole raised lots of eyebrows with his 41-point, 20-rebound, nine-assist, time-capsule performance against Youngstown State last weekend. Unfortunately, the Vikings, who were coming off a two-game losing streak in that game, nearly lost at a mediocre Wright State team Wednesday night before escaping by two. Cole will be the best player in this game, but Old Dominion is the better team. The Monarchs have won seven of their last eight games and are ranked 31st in the RPI. I think they'll unsettle the runnin' Vikings by slowing this game to an inexorable crawl. Old Dominion's tempo is ranked 331st in the country this season, and the Monarchs own the nation's second-biggest rebound margin at plus-11.1 per game.
 
Record Last Week: 6-4               Overall: 65-35
 

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