Friday January 8th, 2010

Weekend Picks
 
Saturday, January 9
 
1:30 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network)No. 4 Purdue (14-0) at No. 17 Wisconsin (12-3)
Even though the Kohl Center is one of the toughest places to win (just ask Duke), the Boilermakers have come out on top in their last two visits. Even so, I'll stick with my original prediction that this is where Purdue's undefeated season ends. Some of it is just the law of averages; at some point, Purdue will play a bad game. But much of is because of my high opinion of Wisconsin, which is more comfortable playing Purdue's slug-it-out style than any other team in the conference. (Wisconsin and Purdue are ranked first and second, respectively, in the league in points allowed.) It's also time for Badgers forward Jon Leuer to get a little more love. He is ranked in the top 10 in the Big Ten in points (16.1), rebounds (5.9) and free throw percentage (75.8), and he leads the league in field goal percentage (56.4).
 
2 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 5 Duke (13-1) at No. 20 Georgia Tech (11-3)
I realize Iowa State is probably not going to make the NCAA tournament, but it was still impressive to watch Duke surgically and methodically carve up the Cyclones en route to a 21-point win on Wednesday night. This is not your older brother's Duke. Rather than blowing teams out through pressure and explosive spurts, these Devils defend from the three-point line and in, dominate the glass (+7.8 rebound margin) and execute their half-court offense with precision. Plus, the 6-11 Plumlee brothers, Miles (sophomore) and Mason (freshman), are really coming into their own. All of that spells trouble for a Georgia Tech team that is still smarting from its loss at Georgia on Tuesday, when the Yellow Jackets committed 20 turnovers and shot just 38.3 percent from the floor.
 
8 p.m. ET (ESPNU)No. 8 West Virginia (12-1) at Notre Dame (13-3)
The Irish are usually tough to beat in the Joyce Center (last month's pratfall against Loyola Marymount aside), but the Mountaineers are too tough a matchup. Notre Dame doesn't like to be defended by tough, physical teams, and Bob Huggins has a plethora of big men he can send at Luke Harangody. Moreover, the Irish, which are ranked 14th in the Big East in steals, don't pressure the ball well enough to take advantage of West Virginia's weakness at the point.
 
2 p.m. ET (ESPN2)No. 11 Kansas State (13-1) at Missouri (12-3)
You all know about my man-crush on K-State, but Missouri has quietly won seven straight, and since this game is in Columbia, I believe the Tigers are ready to make a major statement. The matchup of K-State guards Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen versus Mizzou's perimeter D will be something to behold. The Tigers lead the Big 12 in steals (13.1), turnover margin (+1.3) and three-point defense (27.0 percent), while Pullen leads the league in three-point shooting (45.8 percent).
 
Noon ET (ESPN)No. 13 UConn (11-3) at No. 12 Georgetown (11-2)
We don't normally think of Georgetown as a high-scoring team, but the Hoyas are actually putting up 70.5 points per game. UConn is scoring 74.7, but the Huskies are ranked behind the Hoyas nationally in both defensive and offensive efficiency. I like Georgetown to win partly because the Hoyas are at home, but also because UConn is so ill-equipped to take advantage of Georgetown's problems guarding the three. In losing to Marquette on Wednesday night, the Hoyas allowed the Golden Eagles to go 12-for-26 from behind the arc, but the Huskies rank last in the Big East in three-pointers per game (3.9).
 
1 p.m. ET (Versus)UNLV (12-3) at No. 15 New Mexico (14-2)
If you only picked one league to watch the rest of the season, you could do a lot worse than the Mountain West, which could send at least three teams to the NCAA tournament. These are two of them (BYU is the other), which is why it's so surprising that both dropped their league openers. UNLV had no scoring balance during its loss at BYU (Tre'Von Willis was the only Rebel in double figures), while the Lobos did not display their usual stinginess with the ball at San Diego State on Wednesday night. They committed 14 turnovers (nearly four above their average) in a 10-point loss. New Mexico also got beat on the boards by nine, but that shouldn't be a concern against a UNLV team that is ranked eighth in the Mountain West in rebound margin.
 
12:30 p.m. ET (SEC Network)Mississippi State (12-3) at No. 14 Mississippi (12-2)
Mississippi State is playing terrific interior defense, thanks once again to glass-eating eraser Jarvis Varnado, who is in the top 11 nationally in both rebounds (10.9) and blocks (4.93). The problem is the Bulldogs are having a tough time scoring, as evidenced by their 55-52 loss at Western Kentucky on Monday night. It's hard to imagine they could go on the road and score enough points to win against Terrico White, Chris Warren and company, who are putting up an SEC-best 84.2 points per game.
 
4 p.m. ET (ESPN2)Northern Iowa (13-1) at Illinois State (12-3)
Northern Iowa has won 12 straight and is looking like a strong favorite to win the Missouri Valley. We'll find out just how strong they really are in Normal, where the Redbirds are led by senior guard Osiris Eldridge, who leads the league in scoring (18.3 ppg) and is ranked in the top 10 in assists (3.0), steals (1.6) and three-point percentage (41.9). This is a classic game of contrasts: Illinois State wants to run (it leads the Valley in scoring with 74.2 ppg) and the Panthers want to crawl (tops in scoring D with 57.1 ppg). Usually, the home team is more effective at asserting its style, and I think the Redbirds' ability to score in quick bursts will be the difference.
 
10:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Net)USC (10-5) at Cal (9-5)
The odds were pretty long that both of these teams would enter this game coming off of a loss, but that's exactly what happened. Cal went down in overtime at home to UCLA, and the Trojans lost by one at Stanford. In both cases there were extenuating circumstances. Cal was playing without its best defender and glue guy, sophomore guard Jorge Gutierrez, who has a sprained right knee that will also cause him to miss this game. And the Trojans, of course, must still be devastated by the announcement that they will not be eligible for postseason play because of the O.J. Mayo violations. Though USC has notched some surprising wins since point guard Mike Gerrity became eligible last month, the Trojans still struggle to score, especially in the half court. (They're ranked last in the Pac-10 in scoring, field goal percentage and three-point percentage.) That's going to be a problem on the road against a Bears team that, if nothing else, can score lots of points in a hurry.
 
Sunday, January 10
 
4:30 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 1 Kansas (14-0) at No. 16 Tennessee (11-2)
This was one of those circle-the-date nonconference games that caught everybody's eye in the preseason, but the arrest of four Tennessee players for misdemeanor drug and gun offenses obviously changes the dynamics. (On Friday, star Tyler Smith was dismissed from the team.) Tennessee did well to defeat Charlotte on Wednesday night, despite having just six scholarship players. Those remaining six are still very good players -- most notably senior Wayne Chism, who scored a game-high 18 points in the win over the 49ers -- but the lack of depth will really hurt them against the Jayhawks, whose bench could probably finish at least third in the SEC East. Considering Kansas is also coming off a major scare at home against Cornell, there's not much chance of a letdown.
 
Record Last Week: 7-3               Overall: 22-8
 

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