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February 7, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Thursday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: West Virginia (16-6, 5-4 Big East) at Pittsburgh (17-5, 5-4), 7:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Rankings: West Virginia, #16 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 16 in Big East); Pittsburgh, #31 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Pittsburgh, 65-64 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 48%
Prospectus: Bob Huggins has the Mountaineers playing better defense than they did in the last several years under John Beilein. The offense has slipped a little, but managed to retain its superb ability to hold on to the ball: the team's top five in minutes played all rank in the nation's best 300 at not turning it over. Junior forward Alex Ruoff has emerged this season as a dangerous shooter, posting an offensive rating of 128 and an eFG% of 64 thanks to 67-of-153 shooting from downtown. Despite Ruoff's three-point success, the team as a whole under Huggins has moved away from the three-point shot as the basis of its offense--while the Mountainers ranked in the top seven in 3PA/FGA over the past three years, this year they are 119th in that category, and are getting more than 10 percent less of their offense from three-pointers than they did over the past two years. The Panthers do a good job of defending the three on defense, and on offense are characterized by their offensive rebounding ability, which can be chiefly found in the form of 6'7" freshman DeJuan Blair.

Matchup: Clemson (16-5, 4-3 Atlantic Coast) at Virginia (11-9, 1-6), 7:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Clemson, #18 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in ACC); Virginia, #84 (10th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Clemson, 79-73 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: The Cavaliers are in last place in the ACC but could easily be much higher. Of their six conference losses, three have come in overtime and one other was by two points--par for the course in this year's ACC. Clemson has the best offense in the conference besides Duke and North Carolina, thanks to the skill with which it rebounds its own misses. Curiously, while the Tigers are a great team on the offensive glass, they are decidedly subpar in collecting defensive boards. The Cavaliers' effort at being the ACC's spoiler will be led by senior point guard Sean Singletary, who is tops on the team in minutes, offensive rating, possessions used, shots taken and assist rate.

Matchup: Jacksonville (12-9, 8-1 Atlantic Sun) at Belmont (15-8, 7-2), 8:00
Rankings: Jacksonville, #204 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in Atlantic Sun); Belmont, #179 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Belmont, 80-73 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: The Jacksonville Dolphins stand in first place in the Atlantic Sun, a game ahead of both East Tennessee St. and Belmont. This is the only game left on the schedule between the Dolphins and either of the two teams trying to catch them, so now is the time for the Bruins to make their move. Belmont has a strong offense that is keyed around the three-point shot--the Bruins launch the 11th largest percentage of long-range shots, and not coincidentally are also the 11th ranked team in percentage of offense derived from the three-pointer, at 40 percent. Belmont has three players who have taken 100 or more threes, with 6'8" junior Matthew Dotson the most dangerous, at 39.6 percent. Jacksonville relies much less heavily on the three, and is the best team in the Atlantic Sun in three-point field goal percentage defense.

Matchup: Portland St. (13-8, 6-2 Big Sky) at Northern Arizona (14-8, 6-3), 8:35
Rankings: Portland St., #158 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 9 in Big Sky); Northern Arizona, #152 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Northern Arizona, 74-69 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 32%
Prospectus: The Big Sky is bunched up at the top, with the Portland St. Vikings a half game ahead of Northern Arizona, Weber St. and Idaho St., all tied at 6-3 with seven games to play. The Vikings are looking to go to their first NCAA tournament ever, while the Lumberjacks last appeared in 2000. Portland St. shoots a large number of threes at a high percentage, led by 5'6" sophomore Jeremiah Dominguez, who has hit 49-of-115 (42.6 percent). The diminutive Dominguez also ranks in the top 200 in eFG% and assist rate, and in the top 100 in steal percentage. Northern Arizona has its own sharpshooter in Kyle Feuerbach, who has launched a whopping 183 trifectas, and connected on 77 of them (42.1 percent).

Matchup: Indiana (18-3, 7-1 Big 10) at Illinois (10-13, 2-8), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Indiana, #17 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 11 in Big 10); Illinois, #39 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Indiana, 64-63 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 45%
Prospectus: As Joe Sheehan pointed out in The List this week, Indiana will face a stiffer test in traveling to Champaign than might be expected. The luck of the Fighting Illini this season has been worse than any other team in the nation, as Illinois has played an extremely tough schedule and been handed a large number of close/overtime losses. The Hoosiers, still without a win over a team in the Pomeroy Top 30 after dropping games to Connecticut and Wisconsin, beat the Fighting Illini by just four at home on January 13. With games coming up against an underrated Ohio St. squad as well as Wisconsin and Michigan St., this is a game Indiana has to have. Whether it gets it will depend primarily on whether senior forward D.J. White can get the Hoosiers' excellent two-point offense going against a team that has a very big frontline, headed by 6'10" senior Shaun Pruitt, which holds its opponents to 44.5 percent shooting on twos.

Matchup: Oregon (13-8, 4-5 Pacific 10) at Stanford (18-3, 7-2), 9:00
Rankings: Oregon, #43 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 10 Pac 10); Stanford, #14 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Stanford, 75-65 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 15%
Prospectus: The Cardinal, coming off a big road win over Washington St., will look for vengeance against the Ducks, who beat Stanford 71-66 in Eugene on Jan 13. The Ducks have perhaps the most overlooked offense in the country, sporting two players in the top 50 in both offensive rating and eFG% in seniors Maarty Leunen and Malik Hairston. Oregon, however, doesn't play much defense--it has the worst in the conference by both raw and adjusted efficiency. In the teams' first meeting, Stanford shot a horrible 3-of-19 from three-point range; this time around, the perimeter-challenged Cardinal should probably stick to pounding it inside to 7'0" Brook Lopez and his twin, Robin.

Matchup: Xavier (18-4, 6-1 Atlantic 10) at St. Louis (12-9, 3-4), 9:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Xavier, #10 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 14 in A-10); St. Louis, #162 (12th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Xavier, 64-50 in 58 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 6%
Prospectus: At first glance this game would seem to be a poor choice for national television, but it's actually quite a bit more interesting than St. Louis' sub-par ranking would suggest. Since the historic 49-20 loss at George Washington, which was the first game of the Atlantic 10 season for the Billikens, St. Louis has pulled off home upsets of two of the Atlantic 10's best, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Two of its other three losses in the conference have come in overtime. The Musketeers, therefore, will have to be careful to avoid a big upset at the hands of Rick Majerus' new team, which is 9-3 at home. You'll also want to tune in to get a good look at Xavier, which boasts the nation's second-best offense in terms of raw efficiency, with 5'7" senior point guard Drew Lavender running a very well balanced attack. St. Louis plays extremely slow, as evidenced by some of its absurdly low scoring totals this season, so despite the offensive prowess of the Musketeers, there will likely not be many points put on the board in this one.

Matchup: Southern California (14-7, 5-4 Pacific 10) at Washington (12-10, 3-6), 10:00
Rankings: Southern California, #22 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 10 in Pac 10); Washington, #72 (9th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Southern California, 71-67 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 36%
Prospectus: The Huskies have lost three in a row, and their three conference wins have come against the three weakest teams in the Pac-10 besides themselves. The Trojans got back on track Saturday with a win over Arizona St. at home after falling to Arizona, and the fourth-youngest team in the country has won four out of its last five overall, a streak which began with a 66-51 home defeat of Washington. While the Trojans have a much better defense than the Huskies, USC should beware of Washington's excellent ability to hit the offensive glass, as the two areas of weakness for USC's otherwise-excellent defense are rebounding and steal percentage. The leading menace to the Trojans' chances is Huskies junior forward Jon Brockman, who collects 14.5 percent of offensive boards and 27.7 percent of defensive.

Matchup: Cal St. Northridge (15-5, 7-1 Big West) at Pacific (15-6, 6-2), 10:00
Rankings: Cal St. Northridge, #122 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 9 in Big West); Pacific, #156 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Pacific, 74-73 in 74 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 48%
Prospectus: The Matadors of Cal State-Northridge are currently clinging to a half-game lead over Cal State-Fullerton in the Big West, and are looking to advance to their first NCAA Tournament since 2001, and just their second overall. The Pacific Tigers lurk a game back in the standings. The Matadors average 76 possessions per 40 minutes, the eighth-fastest pace in the nation, thanks partly to the ability of their strong defense to force turnovers. Pacific turns the ball over at a very high percentage, so this should be a good chance for Northridge to fire up its transition offense and get points on the break. In the halfcourt set, however, the Tigers will be tough to handle, as they have an offense that ranks seventh in free throw rate while also being in the top 25 in both three-point and two-point field goal percentage. The Matadors' Josh Jenkins, a 5'10" junior, has assisted on just over half the field goals his teammates have made while he is on the court, the highest assist rate in the nation.

Matchup: UCLA (20-2, 8-1 Pacific 10) at Washington St. (17-4, 5-4), 10:30
Rankings: UCLA, #3 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 10 in Pac 10); Washington St., #13 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: UCLA, 61-60 in 59 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 43%
Prospectus: The best matchup of the night features the top two teams in the Pac 10, statistically. The Bruins have won each of their last three conference games by at least 22 points, but the team will be without forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute for the next two games after the 6'7" junior injured his ankle in the blowout win over Arizona on Saturday. The absence of Mbah a Moute, who was fourth on the squad in percentage of minutes played, will provide more opportunity for the Cougars' defense to tighten the clamps upon the nation's third best attack in adjusted efficiency. This would be a huge win for Washington St., which has lost two straight conference games at home, to Cal and Stanford. The biggest task for the Cougars will be to stop Kevin Love, who scored 27 points on 9-of-12 shooting and grabbed 14 rebounds in the two teams' first meeting of the year, an 81-74 Bruins' win in Westwood.

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

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<< Previous Article
On the ACC Bubble (02/06)
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Ken's Mailbag (02/07)

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