Friday January 18th, 2008

The First Five
To borrow a line from Dennis Miller, Kansas has been treating opponents like a narc at a biker rally. Only three of the Jayhawks' 17 wins have been by single digits, and they've won their last six games by an average of 27.2 points. About the only bad thing you can say about KU is it's ranked 11th in the Big 12 in free throw shooting (66.1 percent), but that hardly matters if you're not playing close games. Bill Self's teams have defended well wherever he has been, but the difference now is he's able to run his offense through the post. In Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun and Cole Aldrich, Kansas has a quartet of big men who can all rebound, score inside and run the floor. That's bad news for a Missouri team that's been outrebounded by opponents this season. The Tigers do have a solid scorer up front in DeMarre Carroll, a 6-8 transfer from Vanderbilt, but he will be overmatched against KU's four-headed monster.
Kansas 85, Missouri 67
USC (10-6) at No. 4 UCLA (16-1)
A game with UCLA is the last thing USC needs right now. The Trojans' starting lineup consists of three freshmen and two sophomores. UCLA's starting lineup consists of four juniors and one freshman, Kevin Love, who has the maturity of a senior. You can talk all you want about how USC's young guns are older than their classmates age-wise, but they're still grossly inexperienced and woefully immature. Exhibit A is Davon Jefferson, the 6-8 freshman forward whom USC coach Tim Floyd sat out of last week's loss at home to Washington State. ("He didn't make the cut tonight," Floyd explained. "It was a coach's decision.") O.J. Mayo is ranked second in the Pac-10 in scoring (19.9 ppg), but he's only making 44.3 percent from the floor and is committing nearly four turnovers per game. The Trojans finally got their first Pac-10 win last Saturday by beating Washington (thanks largely to a 20-of-24 effort from the foul line), but asking them to win in Pauley Pavilion is like asking a high school freshman to pass a graduate-school calculus exam. The Bruins play suffocating defense, and against their intracity rival you know they're not going to come out flat.
UCLA 72, USC 61
I don't often wish for college basketball to be more like the NBA, but it's a shame the sport doesn't have a national sixth man award like the pros. If it did, Duke's Jon Scheyer would certainly be on the short list. The 6-5 sophomore hasn't started a game this season, but he is fourth on this team in minutes (28.1) and scoring (11.4 ppg). Scheyer gave the Blue Devils a much-needed jolt on Wednesday night, scoring a game-high 21 points in a win at Florida State. Scheyer rescued Duke on a night when Greg Paulus was faltering, but that's exactly what makes Duke so tough to beat. In the Devils' 15 games, six different players have led them in scoring, and nobody has done it more than four times. And despite a lack of a big man (Duke's only serviceable center, Brian Zoubek, is out for several more weeks with a hairline fracture in his foot), the Devils outrebounded Florida State by 13. Clemson has the athleticism and physical toughness to hang with Duke, but to win in Cameron you have to play defense and make free throws. The Tigers don't do either well.
Duke 84, Clemson 72
Illinois State (14-3) at Drake (15-1)
It's safe to say nobody circled this matchup on their calendar back in October. Though Illinois State and Drake were picked fifth and ninth, respectively, in the preseason Missouri Valley Conference poll, the winner of this game will grab sole possession of first place in the MVC with a 7-0 record. Though freshmen tend to grab the headlines in the so-called power conferences, it's worth nothing that neither of these teams starts a freshman. They do, however, start six seniors between them. Illinois State is getting terrific leadership from senior point guard Boo Richardson, who has adjusted from being the primary scorer last season to a point guard; he's ranked third in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. The Redbirds have another senior, sixth man Levi Dyer, a 6-11 center who is second in the Valley in three-point percentage (.494 percent). Drake, meanwhile, also has a high-powered offense (second in the Valley in scoring at 74.1 ppg), but the Bulldogs also suffered a serious setback last week when they lost the Valley's leading scorer, sophomore guard Josh Young, to a sprained right ankle. Still, these are two evenly-matched conference rivals playing with a lot at stake. In those situations, you always go with the home team.
Drake 78, Illinois State 74
Ohio State (12-5) at No. 6 Tennessee (15-1)
Tennessee got all hyped up and won an important game at home Thursday night against in-state conference rival Vanderbilt. Now, less than 48 hours later the Volunteers have to battle a team from outside the league that played its last game on Tuesday. If that isn't a formula for an upset, I don't know what is -- especially considering the Volunteers also have to play at Kentucky on Tuesday. Even though Ohio State lost at Michigan State on Tuesday night, the Buckeyes gained a measure of confidence in coming back from a 21-point deficit. If these teams played 10 times, Tennessee would win nine of them. I've got a hunch this is the one the Vols don't.
Ohio State 81, Tennessee 80 (OT)
The Second Five
No. 25 Villanova (12-3) at Syracuse (13-5)
Two young teams that score a ton of points at home and are totally ineffective on the road. Advantage: Carrier Dome.
Syracuse 84, Villanova 79
Notre Dame (13-3) at No. 5 Georgetown (13-2)
Notre Dame lost by 26 points at Marquette last Saturday in the Irish's first true road contest of the season. And don't be too quick to jump off the Georgetown bandwagon. The Hoyas are still way ahead of where they were this time last year.
Georgetown 74, Notre Dame 66
No. 10 Texas A&M (15-2) at Kansas State (11-4)
The Aggies are another team that can't win on the road -- sensing a theme here? -- but I'm guessing their guards won't play as poorly as they did in Wednesday night's loss at Texas Tech.
Texas A&M 74, Kansas State 69
No. 22 Arizona State (14-2) at Stanford (14-3)
I tip my hat to the Sun Devils for scoring their first road win at Cal in double OT to improve to 4-0 in the Pac-10. But this is still a young team. Repeating the feat at Maples Pavilion two days later is a little too much to ask.
Stanford 68, Arizona State 62
No. 13 Marquette (13-4) at UConn (11-5)
For a team that badly needed a Big East win, it's hard to believe UConn lost at home to a mediocre Providence team in Hartford on Thursday night. Marquette isn't mediocre, and you can be sure the Golden Eagles will be plenty ticked off after getting embarrassed at Louisville.
Marquette 79, UConn 70
LAST WEEK: 7-3 | SEASON RECORD: 37-13

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