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January 31, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Thursday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Schedule for Thursday, January 31

Matchup: Boston College (12-6, 3-2 Atlantic Coast) at North Carolina (19-1, 4-1), 7:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Rankings: Boston College, #68 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 12 in ACC); North Carolina, #6 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: North Carolina, 90-72 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 7%
Prospectus: Just because this game is nationally televised on ESPN doesn't mean it's not going to be a blowout. Only one game separates the Eagles and Tar Heels in the ACC standings, but they are much further apart in terms of overall quality. You might want to tune in anyway to see the nation's top offense--North Carolina ranks first in adjusted offensive efficiency, at 1.23 points per possession. The Tar Heels are murder on the offensive glass, and that means trouble for the Eagles, who are worst in the ACC at securing defensive boards despite being among the 50 tallest teams in D-I.

Matchup: Murray St. (13-7, 9-3 Ohio Valley) at Austin Peay (13-9, 9-3), 8:30
Rankings: Murray St., #170 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 11 in Ohio Valley); Austin Peay, #212 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Austin Peay, 71-70 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 47%
Prospectus: The two best teams in the Ohio Valley Conference hook up in what should be a tight, slow fight for first place. The Murray St. Racers beat the Governors by 12 at home back on January 10, and whoever wins this second contest will have a big leg up on taking the regular season title, with only seven games left after this one. These two teams rank in the bottom 25 of Division I in effective height, but such is life in the Ohio Valley. Both teams are driven by their offense--the Racers score efficiently on two-pointers and hit their free throws, while the Governors take good care of the ball and get to the line frequently.

Matchup: Indiana (17-2, 6-0 Big 10) at Wisconsin (16-3, 6-1), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Indiana, #12 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 11 in Big 10); Wisconsin, #5 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Wisconsin, 66-61 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: The first-place Hoosiers travel to Madison to play the Badgers, who are tied for second with Michigan St. and Purdue. It will be the first game for Indiana after losing to a Jerome Dyson-less Connecticut squad at home. Defense will be the word of the day in this one, as both squads hold opponents to under 0.9 points per possession. The Hoosiers have gotten a little lucky, with their opponents shooting a sub-par 62.1% from the free-throw line. On the offensive end for the Hoosiers, both freshman guard Eric Gordon--playing through an injured left wrist tonight--and senior forward D.J. White do an outstanding job of getting to the foul line, combining for 257 attempts (and 202 makes). It will be interesting to see if they can continue that success against a Badgers defense that is very good at keeping opponents off the line.

Matchup: Stanford (16-3, 5-2 Pacific 10) at Washington (12-8, 3-4), 10:00
Rankings: Stanford, #15 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 10 in Pac 10); Washinton, #67 (9th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Stanford, 69-64 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 31%
Prospectus: The quality of the Pac-10 runs nine deep, with the Huskies being the ninth (0-8 Oregon State is the outlier). The fantastic matchup in this game will be on the offensive glass--the Huskies offense revolves around grabbing its own misses (sixth best in offensive rebounding percentage in D-I), while the Cardinal's stingy defense is the third-best at hitting the defensive boards. Stanford's offense is also great at grabbing offensive rebounds, ranking seventh, but Washington does nearly as good a job as Stanford at preventing second chances. The Cardinal uses its 7'0" twins Brook and Robin Lopez to rebound so well, while the Huskies employ the services of 6'7" Jon Brockman, who averages a robust 11.5 rebounds a game. Whichever team wins the battle of the boards will likely take the war.

Matchup: California (11-7, 2-5 Pacific 10) at Washington St. (17-7, 5-2), 10:00
Rankings: California, #38 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 10 in Pac 10); Washington St., #10 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Washington St., 72-61 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 13%
Prospectus: The Golden Bears are the most underrated team--and most dangerous sleeper--in the deep Pac-10. They've played the 13th-toughest schedule in the nation, lost in double overtime to Arizona St. and by just four to Arizona, and at -1.4 wins have been the unluckiest team in the conference. The outstanding offense of the Golden Bears (1.18 points per possession after adjustment) will face a Cougars defense that allows less than 0.9 points per possession overall, but which has been significantly worse in conference play. Washington St.'s defense seems better than it is because the team plays achingly slow, at just 60 possessions per 40 minutes. That, folks, is Princeton territory.

Matchup: Arizona St. (14-5, 4-3 Pacific 10) at UCLA (18-2, 6-1), 10:00
Rankings: Arizona St., #33 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 10 in Pacific 10); UCLA, #4 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: UCLA, 69-58 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 12%
Prospectus: The Sun Devils take after Washington St. in terms of tempo and ability to make twos, with 6'9" junior Jeff Pendergraph and 6'5" freshman James Harden combining to connect on 60% of their 313 two-point attempts. The matchup between Pendergraph, Arizona St.'s leading rebounder, and the 6'10" Kevin Love, arguably the best rebounder in the nation, will be a fun one to watch. After starting the conference schedule 4-0, the Sun Devils have now lost three straight, the last two of which came at home. The schedule doesn't look kind, for after UCLA Arizona St. plays at USC and Arizona, and then home against Stanford, making a seven-game losing streak a possibility.

Matchup: Arizona (14-6, 4-3 Pacific 10) at Southern California (13-6, 4-3), 10:00
Rankings: Arizona, #16 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 10 in Pac 10); Southern California, #24 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Southern California, 67-64 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 39%
Prospectus: People have stopped talking so much about the greatness of O.J. Mayo, and the Trojans keep getting better. Southern California has been the anti-Arizona St.--after beginning 0-3, the Trojans have reeled off four straight in-conference, including three straight on the road (the first a huge win over UCLA). Southern California has been doing it with defense, holding opponents to just 41 percent shooting from two and 31 percent from three. Ranked seventh in adjusted defensive efficiency, the Trojans will go up against the squad ranked seventh in adjusted offensive efficiency in Arizona. Wildcats freshman point guard Jerryd Bayless has proven to be a much better offensive player than Mayo thus far. Bayless has a 58 eFG% and 116 offensive rating to Mayo's 52 and 100.

Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.

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