Friday January 28th, 2011

The Weekend Forecast
 
Saturday, January 29
 
9 p.m. ET (ESPNU)No. 11 Missouri (17-3, 3-2) at No. 7 Texas (17-3, 5-0)
If there's one hole in Missouri's resume, it is the team's lack of a marquee road win. The Tigers' biggest win of the season away from Columbia was the 75-64 victory over Illinois in the split-attendance Bragging Rights showdown in St. Louis. In their three true road games this season, the Tigers lost at Texas A&M and Colorado, and they beat a really bad Oregon team by a measly three points after leading by 20 at halftime. Suffice to say, the Erwin Center is not a great place to reverse this trend, especially with the way the Longhorns have been playing. If not for Kemba Walker's clutch late shooting on January 8, Texas would be riding a 12-game win streak following its hiccup at USC. Much has been said (rightly) about Texas' defensive prowess, but I think the biggest difference between this year and last is its ability to score in its half-court offense. Much of the credit for that goes to sophomore swingman Jordan Hamilton, who is one of the nation's most improved players. Besides going from scoring 10.0 points per game as a freshman to 19.2 this year, Hamilton's shooting percentages have improved across the board: from 41 to 46.9 on field goals; from 36.5 to 43.2 on threes; and from 57.8 to 75.0 on free throws.
 
Noon ET (Big East Network)No. 23 Louisville (16-4, 5-2 Big East) at No. 5 UConn (17-2, 5-2)
In case you haven't noticed, UConn is not Kemba and the Kembettes. Walker is in the midst of an unusually cool stretch by his standards; he has failed to reach the 20-point mark in his last two games, and he has made just 17 of his last 51 shot attempts. Yet, the Huskies haven't missed a beat. In their win at Marquette Tuesday night, 6-foot-6 freshman swingman Jeremy Lamb had a season-high 24 points. Also, sophomore center Alex Oriakhi is ranked in the top five of the Big East in blocks and rebounds. Walker's teammates have given him reason to trust them, which will make Louisville's task that much more difficult. Rick Pitino's Cardinals have been throttled by injuries this season, and though he has brilliantly done more with less, he's keeping this team together with bubble gum and duct tape -- and I think he knows it.
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 16 Minnesota (16-4, 5-3) at No. 12 Purdue (17-4, 6-2)
You have to wonder how badly Purdue's confidence was shaken by its blowout loss at Ohio State. We know the Boilermakers have two All-Big Ten-caliber players in JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore, but it's becoming painfully clearly that offensively speaking they don't have much else. For a while it looked like junior Ryne Smith might provide a huge lift, stringing together that four-game stretch where he averaged 17 points per game. But Smith has scored a total of 16 points in the five games since. Nor has Lewis Jackson been a dependable scorer at the point. (He had just five points against the Buckeyes.) Still, I'll go with the Boilers in this one because they're at home, and because Minnesota has major problems of its own, having to play without senior point guard Al Nolen, who might be lost for the season after breaking his foot. The Gophers did well to beat Northwestern at home without him on Wednesday, but it's a much different deal trying to beat a good team that's returning home looking to salve its wounded pride.
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS)Florida (16-4, 5-1) at Mississippi State (10-9, 2-3)
Mississippi State entered the season under the assumption that as soon as its roster was whole -- meaning as soon as it had Dee Bost and Renardo Sidney -- the team would take off. Rick Stansbury set up his kooky schedule with that mindset, but it hasn't worked out. The Bulldogs looked like they might be on the verge of a breakthrough win Thursday night when they built an eight-point lead at home against Vanderbilt with 11 minutes to play, but they blew it and lost by seven. Sidney was limited to 13 minutes because of foul trouble and finished with just six points. Florida, meanwhile, has won eight out of nine since losing at home to Jacksonville. I've often said that Gators guard Erving Walker keeps both teams in the game, but give the guy credit for nailing a Jimmeresque 30-footer at the end of the first overtime to allow Florida to knock off Georgia in double-OT in Athens on Tuesday night.
 
4 p.m. ET (ESPN)Georgia (14-5, 3-3) at No. 14 Kentucky (15-4, 3-2)
Georgia was crowned college basketball's new "It girl" after knocking off Kentucky in Athens on Jan. 8. Now look at her pimples: The Dawgs have since dropped three out of five, including that heartbreaking loss to Florida. Georgia has been pretty good at taking care of the basketball this season, but it couldn't overcome the 20 turnovers it committed against the Gators. I think Georgia can play competitively in Rupp Arena, but after what happened the last time these two teams played you can be sure the Dawgs will get UK's best shot. Speaking of which, Kentucky freshman guard Brandon Knight is coming off a brilliant 23-point performance (on 9-for-10 foul shooting) in last Saturday's win at South Carolina.
 
4 p.m. ET (Versus)No. 9 BYU (20-1, 6-0) at New Mexico (14-7, 2-4)
It must have been odd for New Mexico fans to see all the hype surrounding BYU's win at San Diego State on Wednesday night. Wasn't it just a year ago that the Lobos were the Mountain West darlings high in the rankings? New Mexico is less experienced and less talented now, as it has showed in dropping six of its last ten. That's why even though The Jimmers should be primed for a monumental letdown in a tough road environment, I still don't think the Lobos will pull off the upset. New Mexico has gotten some pretty steady production in the paint from UCLA transfer Drew Gordon, who has four double-doubles in his last five games. But defensively, New Mexico has nobody who can guard The Jimmer. Then again, who does?
 
3 p.m. ET (ESPNU)No. 9 Syracuse (18-3, 5-3) at Marquette (13-8, 4-4)
It was one thing when the Orange lost on the road to Pittsburgh or at home to Villanova, but that 22-point spanking in the Dome by Seton Hall was positively stunning. It's also a sign that this team's problems run much deeper than we thought. Jeremy Hazell shredded Syracuse' zone for 28 points (it was so bad Jim Boeheim actually switched to man-to-man), but the Orange's bigger problems are at the offensive end. A lack of a dependable post scorer like Arinze Onuaku has forced the perimeter guys to take more difficult shots. Kris Joseph had 17 against the Pirates, but almost all of them were scored after the game was pretty much decided. To be sure, Marquette has been no great shakes, either, losing three of its last four. But those losses were to Louisville, Notre Dame and UConn, and the Eagles were close in all of them. Marquette is not overly talented, but it's scrappy as heck. It's also playing at home and desperate for a win against a team whose confidence is in freefall.
 
Noon ET (ESPN2)Xavier (14-5, 6-0) at Richmond (16-5, 5-1)
Xavier has done well to win most of the games it should win, but the Musketeers have yet to score a really eye-popping victory. This wouldn't exactly be a seismic win in the grand scheme of things, but it would pop my eyes a little. Unfortunately, I don't see it happening. The Spiders are very efficient on both ends of the court, leading the league in offensive field-goal percentage (48.3) and defensive field-goal percentage (39.5). (Not to mention ranking first in offensive three-point field-goal percentage and fourth in defensive three-point field-goal percentage.) The Musketeers should have the advantage on the glass, but Richmond still has arguably the most versatile frontcourt player in the Atlantic 10 in Justin Harper. The 6-10 senior forward is tailor made for Chris Mooney's Princeton offense. He's ranked second in the conference (and 14th in the country) in three-point percentage (49.5), and he's fourth in the league in scoring. When picking a game between evenly matched teams, I typically go with the home team.
 
Sunday, January 30
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 3 Duke (19-1, 6-1) at St. John's (11-8, 4-5)
A lot of people are expecting a Duke blowout in this one, but I'm not one of them. Since losing at Florida State on January 12, the Blue Devils have won three straight by an average of 18 points, but all three games were against bad teams, and they were much closer than those scores would indicate. (In the case of the 16-point win at home over Virginia, Duke spotted the Cavaliers a 10-point lead.) St. John's is positively reeling, having lost five of its last six, including a 25-point thrashing at Georgetown on Wednesday night. To me that means this proud, veteran team will scrap and fight with all it has. It's a nationally televised game against a marquee opponent, and the Garden is going to be rocking. In the end, St. John's simply doesn't have enough offensive firepower to pull out the win, but Steve Lavin's players are still going to leave with plenty of skin under their fingernails.
 
10 p.m. ET (Fox Sports National)No. 18 Washington (15-4, 7-1) at Washington State (14-6, 4-4)
The Huskies are off to their best conference start in nearly a quarter century. That means they're due for a letdown, but I don't think it will happen here. The Cougars are the team Washington loves to beat more than any other, and I love the way the Huskies match up. We know the sensational season that Isaiah Thomas is having (16.9 points, 5.8 assists per game), but since the Huskies are getting production from a variety of places, they can survive against a good opponent if he's having an off night. The same can't be said for Washington State, which had a chance to beat Arizona at home last week but couldn't do it because the Cougars only got nine points from Klay Thompson.
 
Record Last Week: 6-4               Overall: 47-23
 

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