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February 6, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Wednesday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: Connecticut (16-5, 6-3 Big East) at Syracuse (16-7, 6-4), 7 p.m. EST, ESPN
Rankings: Connecticut, #23 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 16 in Big East); Syracuse, #41 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Syracuse, 79-78 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 49%
Prospectus: The Huskies have hit their stride, winning five straight games, including three over Pomeroy Top 20 squads. Syracuse has won three straight after an overtime road loss to Georgetown, setting up what projects to be the tightest game of the day. Both teams play fast and have stronger offenses than defenses, so this one should be up-tempo with a good amount of scoring. It will be very interesting to watch the matchup between the Orange's stellar sophomore 6'9" forward Arinze Onuaku and Connecticut's huge front line. Onuaku has hit two-thirds of his shots (all twos), good for the fourth-highest eFG% in the nation, while the Huskies sport the best two-point defense in the land and second-best block percentage. The game also features two outstanding Big East point guards, junior A.J. Price of Connecticut and Syracuse freshman Jonny Flynn.

Matchup: Texas (17-4, 4-2 Big 12) at Oklahoma (15-6, 3-3), 7, ESPN2
Rankings: Texas, #21 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in Big 12); Oklahoma, #28 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Oklahoma, 70-68 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 40%
Prospectus: A glance at the Pomeroy Ratings reveals that the Longhorns are the most unbalanced team in the top 25, and possibly in all of Division I, with an offense that ranks second in adjusted efficiency and a defense that is just 89th. Texas allows a high percentage of its opponents' field goal attempts to come from three-point range, and that has spelled trouble for them, as their perimeter defense lets enemy shooters fire from downtown at a healthy 36 percent clip. With the 6'10" Blake Griffin and 6'11" Longar Longar, the Sooners' offense is built more around interior play, but Oklahoma does have long-range shooters who should be able to hurt Texas, primarily sophomore Tony Crocker. With the quality of these two offenses, this game should allow the Red River Shootout rivalry to live up to its name, although the slow pace both teams play at will likely serve to obscure the contest's offensive efficiency.

Matchup: Georgia Tech (10-10, 3-4 Atlantic Coast) at Wake Forest (13-7, 3-4), 7 p.m. EST
Rankings: Georgia Tech, #63 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 12 in ACC); Wake Forest, #80 (9th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Wake Forest, 78-76 in 74 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 42%
Prospectus: Both of these teams have played three straight close games (decided by overtime or fewer than four points), in keeping with this season's ACC trend, and this affair promises to be no different. Three of the Yellowjackets' four conference losses have been decided by a combined five points, as they have dropped over two games more than would be expected based upon their points scored/allowed totals. The Yellowjackets boast a solid offense and weak defense--the worst in the conference by raw efficiency--while the Demon Deacons have the opposite profile.

Matchup: Maryland (14-8, 4-3 Atlantic Coast) at Boston College (12-8, 3-4), 7
Rankings: Maryland, #42 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in ACC); Boston College, #90 (11th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Maryland, 71-70 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 45%
Prospectus: The Terrapins have come on strong after beginning the conference slate 0-2, winning four out of five including at North Carolina, with the only blemish a home loss to the ACC's best team. The Eagles dealt Maryland its first loss, 81-78 at Maryland back on December 9, so the Terrapins will be looking to deal out some vengeance while also continuing to make a case for being the third-best team in the conference. Maryland wins with a strong defense that is outstanding at rejecting shots and making opponents miss, with a 41.5 two-point field goal percentage defense and 29.9 three-point FG% defense. Boston College is once again struggling with its defense this season, but the difference this year is the team's offense has not been as efficient as it usually is. Some of that could be due to the fact that the Eagles are one of the youngest teams in the country, with an average experience level of 1.2 years. They're still learning how to run coach Al Skinner's flex offense.

Matchup: Vermont (11-10, 6-3 America East) at Binghamton (10-11, 6-3), 7
Rankings: Vermont, #197 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 9 in America East); Binghamton, #199 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Binghamton, 70-66 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 35%
Prospectus: The Bearcats of Binghamton and the Catamounts of Montpelier are tied for second place in the America East conference, a game back of Maryland-Baltimore County. The front-running Retrievers have only one really tough game left amongst their remaining seven--against Albany on the road--so this is a critical battle to stay within striking distance of first place. It will also be a struggle between two contrasting tempos, as Vermont plays the fastest of any America East team, while the Bearcats play the second slowest. The Catamounts won the first meeting of the year between these two, 71-60 at home on January 3.

Matchup: Akron (16-5, 6-2 Mid American) at Western Michigan (12-9, 6-2), 7
Rankings: Akron, #67 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in Mid American); Western Michigan, #108 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Akron, 68-67 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 46%
Prospectus: The Akron Zips, tied for first in the Mid American's East division, travel to play the Broncos, who are alone at the top of the West division. Akron has the best offense and defense in the conference by raw efficiency, but the Broncos have 6'7" senior Joe Reitz, who leads his team in offensive rating, possessions used, eFG%, and offensive and defensive rebounding. Reitz also has the second-highest free throw rate in all of Division I, at 107, which means he has shot 107 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts this season, a remarkable figure. Reitz has attempted 184 free throws this year and converted a solid 72 percent from the line, while hitting on 56 percent of his 172 two-point attempts. While Reitz will likely hurt the Zips in the paint, a very opportunistic Akron defense should be able to take advantage of its matchup against Broncos point guard Michael Redell, who has turned the ball over on 38 percent of his possessions used.

Matchup: Florida St. (13-10, 2-6 Atlantic Coast) at Miami FL (15-6, 2-5), 7:30
Rankings: Florida St., #69 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 12 in ACC); Miami FL, #47 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Miami FL, 74-68 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 27%
Prospectus: A battle for state supremacy in the ACC that features two reeling teams--the Seminoles have lost three straight games, including an overtime decision in Tallahassee on Sunday, and the Hurricanes have dropped two straight, both on the road. While Miami is statistically in the ACC's upper tier, the Hurricanes need to start racking up wins if they hope to be in the running for an at-large bid on Selection Sunday, for the committee is loathe to hand out spots to teams with sub-.500 conference records. Miami's best trait is its offensive rebounding and its ability to defend the two-point shot, while Florida St.'s best trait is its free-throw shooting. The Seminoles do a good job of getting to the line, and are the second-best in the nation at converting once there, as four of five starters shoot 82 percent or better.

Matchup: Notre Dame (16-4, 6-2 Big East) at Seton Hall (15-7, 5-4), 7:30
Rankings: Notre Dame, #24 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 16 in Big East); Seton Hall, #78 (10th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Notre Dame, 84-80 in 76 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 35%
Prospectus: The Pirates launched something of a raid on the rest of the Big East, winning five straight to climb up the standings before being stopped by Georgetown in D.C. on Saturday. Seton Hall is unremarkable in most aspects of the game except when it comes to taking care of the ball, as they have turned it over at the fourth-lowest rate of any D-I school. Interestingly, while the Pirates are 11th nationally in steals, they rank only 166th in turnover percentage, suggesting they do a bad job at drawing offensive fouls and pressuring offenses in ways that lead to out-of-bounds turnovers. The Fighting Irish have a big edge on the Pirates in effective height, meaning that sophomore forward Luke Harangody could have a big game in the paint against a team that allows opponents to shoot nearly 50 percent from two-point range.

Matchup: Nevada Las Vegas (17-4, 6-1 Mountain West) at Utah (12-8, 3-4), 8:30
Rankings: Nevada Las Vegas, #37 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 9 in Mountain West); Utah, #61 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Utah, 61-60 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 45%
Prospectus: The first edition of a classic rivalry sees the Runnin' Rebels, tied for the conference lead with BYU, travel to play a dangerous Utes team. Utah is underrated due to its bad luck this season--of the Utes' four conference losses, two have come in overtime, one by three points, and one by five. The question of the game is how UNLV will defend 7'1" Utah junior center Luke Nevill, as the Runnin' Rebels have no one taller than 6'7" among their top five in minutes played, and no player taller than 6'8" in their rotation. Another key matchup will be on the perimeter when Utah is on offense: the Utes shoot 40 percent from long range and take a good number of threes, but UNLV holds opponents to just 27.5 percent shooting from deep. A curious corollary to that statistic is that 39 percent of the field goals opponents have attempted against the Runnin' Rebels have been from three, a very high figure, despite the fact that the team allows such a low percentage on threes and is undersized on the interior.

Matchup: Duke (19-1, 7-0 Atlantic Coast) at North Carolina (21-1, 6-1), 9
Rankings: Duke, #4 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in ACC); North Carolina, #7 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: North Carolina, 89-88 in 84 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 48%
Prospectus: This game has the potential to be a memorable one in the history of these two formidable rivals, as the Blue Devils and Tar Heels, ranked #2/#3 respectively in the polls, both have outstanding offenses that like to get up and down the floor in a hurry. In fact, one or both teams breaking the century mark might not be out of the question, given their quick tempos and efficient attacks. Ty Lawson, North Carolina's superb sophomore point guard, sprained his ankle in the team's overtime win over Florida St. on Sunday, and it is doubtful that he will play. That would seem to swing the advantage over to the Blue Devils, who also have a significant edge in defense over the Tar Heels. It is unclear, however, whether Duke has anybody that can stop 6'9" junior forward Tyler Hansbrough, who is bigger and stronger than the Blue Devils' post players. Hansbrough and Co. could particularly hurt Duke on the offensive glass. The Tar Heels offense seems particularly well set up to attack this Duke defense, as North Carolina doesn't rely at all on the long-range shot (Duke's traditional area of defensive expertise), shooting a lower percentage of threes than all but one other D-I school. Of course, with Lawson out, Duke would also have a huge mismatch of its own in the backcourt, as Joe Sheehan points out.

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

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An Era Ends (02/05)
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Game Reax (02/06)

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