Saturday February 16th, 2008

The First Five
Talk about a circus. With all the drama swirling around Bloomington right now, the last thing Kelvin Sampson needs right now is ESPN's GameDay crew to come to town to ratchet up the spotlight. By that standard, he might even welcome the Michigan State Spartans. (Though I'm sure he'd rather welcome Northwestern.) These Spartans are not as scary as their 20-4 record might indicate. Much has been made about Drew Neitzel's shooting woes (he scored six points on 1 for 7 shooting in a loss at Purdue earlier this week), but the fact is, he is not getting enough help from his teammates. Right now, freshman guard Kailin Lucas is Michigan State's only dependable reserve, which means coach Tom Izzo, who has hinted at yet another lineup change, has not been able to deploy the up-tempo style he hoped to play this year. As for the Hoosiers, it's hard to imagine how they can stay focused with all that is going on, but I'm sure they are happy for the chance just to play a basketball game. In the wake of the heartbreaking loss to Wisconsin on Wednesday night, I expect them to play like their season depends on it.
Indiana 74, Michigan State 68
No. 22 Pittsburgh (19-5) at Marquette (17-6)
It's fitting that this game is played in an unusual Friday night time slot, because it is the day that many Pittsburgh fans have been waiting to see for a long time. Levance Fields, the 5-foot-10 junior point guard from Brooklyn who nailed the game-winner against Duke at Madison Square Garden and then broke his foot the following game in a loss at Dayton, is expected to make his return. It's not like the Panthers fell off the map without him; they won eight of 12 games, including three of their last four. Still, Fields will be far from top shape, and Pitt is playing a road game against a Marquette team that is badly in need of a marquee win. As Dominic James has stumbled through illness and injury (only two double-digit scoring outings in his last eight games), 6-6 sophomore Lazar Hayward has emerged as the Golden Eagles' go-to scorer. His scoring average has jumped from 6.6 points as a freshman to 14.0 this year, and his three-point percentage has gone from 20.0 percent to 51.0.
Marquette 74, Pittsburgh 71
Arkansas (17-6) at Mississippi St. (16-7)
Both teams are probably headed for the NCAA tournament, but both still could use a significant victory to bolster their case. Arkansas throttled the Bulldogs by 20 in Fayetteville on Jan. 30, so now it's on Mississippi State to return the favor. Arkansas is not a very good shooting team (they're ranked last in the SEC in threes made per game and they're 10th in three-point percentage), yet they made a respectable 9 for 24 behind the arc against a Mississippi State team that is ranked second nationally in field goal percentage defense. It's doubtful the Hogs can repeat that type of shooting performance in Starkville. Meanwhile, Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State's 6-4 junior guard, is proving to be arguably the best player in the SEC. He is averaging 20.5 points in his last four games, had 10 assists in a win over Alabama on Feb. 9, and pulled down 13 rebounds in the Bulldogs' victory at Auburn last week.
Mississippi State 84, Arkansas 78
No. 7 Stanford (20-4) at Arizona (16-8)
Arizona freshman point guard Jerryd Bayless has only failed to reach double-digits twice this season. The Wildcats' 56-52 loss at Maples Pavilion on Jan. 17 was one of those times. Now, however, he is coming off back-to-back 30-plus games, which bodes well for the Wildcats' prospects of getting revenge in Tucson. Stanford might have the best player in the Pac-10 in 7-foot sophomore Brook Lopez, but the Cardinal's lack of perimeter scoring caught up with them in an overtime at loss Arizona State on Thursday. Lopez had 30 in the defeat, but Anthony Goods, the 6-3 junior who has been slowed the last few weeks by a tender ankle, had just five points on 2 for 10 shooting. Arizona might not have a bench in the wake of Nic Wise's knee injury, but Stanford is not the type of team to push the tempo. If anything, Arizona will try to run more.
Arizona 78, Stanford 71
No. 11 Texas (19-4) at Baylor (17-6)
Texas is fortunate that its game against Kansas was on Monday. With D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams going the full 40 minutes in the draining win, the Longhorns would have been primed for a letdown on just two days' rest. Baylor used to be the flavor of the month, but now the Bears are reeling after losing four of their last five, including one by eight points at Texas on Feb. 2. Texas is vulnerable against teams that have more size and more depth, but Baylor has neither. While the Bears can score points with anyone, they have too many lapses on defense. (They're ranked last in the Big 12 in scoring defense and eighth in field goal defense.) Baylor desperately needs a win to right the ship, and I usually go with desperate home teams. But even if Texas comes out a little flat off the Kansas upset, I still think they'll find a way to win.
Texas 85, Baylor 82
The Second Five
No. 8 Georgetown (20-3) at Syracuse (16-9)
Syracuse's diminishing NCAA prospects could be extinguished if it doesn't win here. And remember, the Hoyas, who have been living on the edge the last month, needed OT to win the first game in D.C.
Syracuse 64, Georgetown 63
Cleveland State (17-10) at No. 9 Butler (23-2)
After upsetting Butler at home on Jan. 17, the Vikings followed a five-game losing streak by winning three straight. The Bulldogs will help them start another streak.
Butler 72, Cleveland State 62
Florida (19-6) at No. 24 Vanderbilt (21-4)
The Gators' young legs appear to be getting tired. They have lost three of their last four, including an embarrassing home loss to LSU on Wednesday night.
Vanderbilt 77, Florida 68
No. 21 Washington State (19-5) at Oregon (15-9)
The Ducks are not out of the NCAA hunt yet. A win at McArthur Court would bolster their hopes significantly.
Oregon 72, Washington State 70
UNLV (19-5) at BYU (19-5)
UNLV won the first matchup by 29 points in Vegas. BYU, however, has won seven straight since, mostly by riding the hot hand of 6-6 junior Lee Cummard.
BYU 79, UNLV 70

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