By Seth Davis
January 15, 2010
Weekend Picks
Saturday, January 16
6 p.m. ET (ESPNU) Texas A&M (12-4) at No. 1 Texas (15-0)
Damion James continues to play like a first-team All-America. He put up 23 points and 14 rebounds in the Longhorns' win at Iowa State on Wednesday night, making him the Big 12's all-time leading rebounder. By contrast, the Aggies got pummeled on the boards in their loss at Kansas State and are ranked seventh in the league in rebound margin. Texas will lose eventually, but it won't be Saturday, and probably not in the Erwin Center.
Noon ET (ESPN) No. 5 Syracuse (15-1) at No. 10 West Virginia (12-2)
Syracuse has quietly won three straight since losing at home to Pittsburgh, so it seems the Orange have gotten their mojo back. The best news is that Andy Rautins broke out of his mini-slump to score a season-high 23 points in Wednesday's win at Rutgers. We think of the Mountaineers as a great defensive team, but in actuality they are ranked 13th in the Big East in defensive field goal percentage. They aren't a very good shooting team, either, and they are 11th in the conference in foul shooting. Syracuse's zone should make it hard for West Virginia's forwards to drive to the hoop, and the Mountaineers won't be able to push the Orange around inside like they do most of their opponents. I don't usually pick road teams in big conference tilts, but Syracuse is just that good.
3:30 p.m. ET (CBS) Illinois (12-5) at No. 7 Michigan State (13-3)
Tom Izzo has been shuffling his lineup over the last month, now bringing Durrell Summers off the bench, among other moves. Though Summers is still maddeningly inconsistent, the experimenting seems to have worked as the Spartans reeled off five straight wins following their loss at Texas. Now they face an Illinois team that is also scrambling to find an identity. Junior guard Demetri McCamey returned to the starting lineup on Tuesday night after being demoted for two games, and he scored 25 points in a one-point win over Penn State. Illinois' 4-0 start in the league includes wins over the Big Ten's worst teams (and they needed to go to overtime to beat Northwestern at home). They have skill, but Michigan State has skill and toughness, plus they're playing at home. Easy call.
1:30 p.m. ET No. 21 Mississippi (12-3) at No. 9 Tennessee (12-2)
I hope the scoreboard operator gets a good night's sleep. Ole Miss is ranked 12th nationally in scoring (83.4 ppg) and Tennessee is ranked 20th (81.5). What's remarkable about Ole Miss his how balanced their scoring has been; five players are averaging double figures and none of them are putting up more than 16.4 points a game. Tennessee is still playing long on emotion but with a short bench, and you have to wonder when the latter will catch up with the former (at least until the remaining suspended players come back). I think the Vols can sustain their high level of play a little longer, but unless those guys come back soon, this team is going to fall back to reality.
2 p.m. ET (ESPN) No. 20 Georgia Tech (12-3) at No. 12 North Carolina (12-5)
Beware the wounded warrior. I cannot remember the last time I saw a North Carolina team humiliated the way the Tar Heels were on Wednesday night at Clemson, and I'd be shocked if they didn't come out and play with purpose against a Yellow Jackets team that was also dealt an embarrassing setback last week at Virginia. These teams have the same problem: They can't take care of the ball. (Maybe they should say first one to 20 turnovers wins ...) I'll go with the Heels because they're a desperate team at home and the Jackets, having lost at Georgia last week, have proven they are vulnerable away from Alexander Memorial Coliseum.
11 a.m. ET (ESPN2) Dayton (13-3) at Xavier (11-5)
This is the No. 1 circle-the-date game in the Atlantic 10. The Flyers were the preseason favorites but the Musketeers are the defending champs, and they have to hold serve to seize the inside track to the regular season title. I think they will, primarily because they have one of the most underrated backcourts in the country in Jordan Crawford (19.3 ppg, best in the A-10) and Terrell Holloway (top 10 in the league in assists and assist-to-turnover ratio). Dayton has a reputation for being a strong defensive team, but the Flyers are actually ranked seventh in the league in defensive field goal percentage (40.5 percent), ninth in steals (6.1) and last in blocks (3.0). Dayton will try to win by turning this thing into a grind-fest, but at some point the Flyers will have to make shots, and it says here they'll come up a little bit short.
2:30 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Net) Cal (11-5) at Washington (11-5)
In this game between the two preseason favorites in the Pac-10, it's incumbent upon Washington to protect its home court. The Huskies broke their three-game skid by knocking off Stanford on Thursday night, but they are going to have to pay extra attention to Bears point guard Jerome Randle, who exploded for 39 points in Cal's win over Washington State. Normally I like to go with home teams in great need, but Cal has been playing pretty good basketball since Theo Robertson came back from his injury, and despite their vulnerabilities up front, the Bears actually lead the Pac-10 in rebound margin.
8 p.m. ET (Big Ten Network) No. 13 Wisconsin (13-3) at Ohio State (12-5)
Evan Turner's 32-point, nine-rebound masterpiece in Tuesday's upset win at Purdue goes right into the college hoops times capsule -- not just because of the performance, but because it was just Turner's third game back from a back injury. Imagine how the guy will play when he's not rusty! Wisconsin pulled out a solid win on Wednesday night at Northwestern after losing Jon Leuer indefinitely with a broken wrist, but pulling the same trick in Columbus is a much taller order. The Badgers may now be the only team in the Big Ten with a shorter bench than Ohio State's.
Sunday, January 17
Noon ET No. 11 Georgetown (12-2) at No. 4 Villanova (14-1)
It's time to stop wondering whether Scottie Reynolds can play in the NBA (he can) and start appreciating one of the great college players of the last 10 years. The 6-foot-2 senior put on one of his most magnificent performances of his career on Monday night, scoring 30 of his 36 points in the second half to lead the 'Cats to a 92-84 win at Louisville. Even though Villanova had to play a lot of small ball before Reggie Redding and Mouphtaou Yarou came back, they still own a +6.8 rebound margin for the season. That means they should be able to match up with the Hoyas inside better than the Hoyas can match up with them on the perimeter.
1:30 p.m. ET (CBS) No. 15 UConn (11-4) at Michigan (9-7)
These are two teams who badly need to turn their season around. The difference is, UConn is not playing well, whereas Michigan is simply not a good team. The Wolverines' struggles shooting the three have magnified their soft interior, and that is exactly what I'm sure Jim Calhoun is planning to expose. UConn's half-court offense remains borderline execrable, but the Huskies' frontcourt players have been formidable defensively all season, and they're starting to come around a little bit on the offensive end. UConn has several players who can lock up Manny Harris, but Michigan doesn't have anyone who can defend Stanley Robinson.
Record Last Week: 5-5               Overall: 27-13

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