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Around the Rim (02/08)
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Prospectus Preview (02/10)

February 9, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Saturday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: Marquette (16-5, 6-4 Big East) at Notre Dame (17-4, 7-2), 12:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Rankings: Marquette, #15 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 16 in Big East); Notre Dame, #23 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Notre Dame, 74-72 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 42%
Prospectus: The Fighting Irish will be looking to regain some pride after getting smoked by the Golden Eagles, 92-66, in the teams' first meeting of the year back on January 12. That win was Marquette's last against an opponent in the Pomeroy Top 80, as the team has since lost to Louisville twice and Connecticut. Notre Dame is led by sophomore forward Luke Harangody, who does the heavy lifting on offense--the 6'8, 250-pounder takes 36.1 percent of his team's shots when on the court, and has used a whopping 33.1 percent of possessions. Harangody has used them well, as his offensive rating of 114.2 is the best among players who have used at least that many possessions (there are only five others in D-I) and the fifth-best among players having used 28 percent of possessions or more. Marquette's offense isn't dominated by one player, but the Golden Eagles are distinguished in that every one of the 10 players that see minutes have an offensive rating that is average (100) or above.

Matchup: Boston College (12-9, 3-5 Atlantic Coast) at Duke (20-1, 8-0), 1:00, CBS
Rankings: Boston College, #88 in Pomeroy Ratings (11th of 12 in ACC); Duke, #3 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Duke, 87-64 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 3%
Prospectus: Pity the Eagles: Boston College will likely get blown out on national television for the second time in two weeks, having lost by 22 at North Carolina on January 31. The Blue Devils are playing their first game since a huge 11-point win at Chapel Hill, so there's a chance (say, three percent?) that the Eagles could clip a Duke team mid-hangover. Boston College has lost five in a row, and needs some sort of spirited effort to revive a conference season that started out 3-0. Hangover or none, the Eagles simply don't have the sort of defense that can stop Duke's fifth-rated attack, as Boston College is one of the worst teams at forcing turnovers. In addition, while the Eagles have a big edge in Effective Height on the Blue Devils, Boston College's big men aren't the type that can score in the post.

Matchup: Alabama (13-10, 2-6 Southeastern) at Kentucky (12-5, 4-0), 1:00
Rankings: Alabama, #78 in Pomeroy Ratings (9th of 12 in SEC); Kentucky, #52 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kentucky, 74-68 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 26%
Prospectus: Don't look now, but the Wildcats are quietly stalking the SEC leaders after a disappointing 6-7 non-conference start under new head coach Billy Gillespie. With wins in four straight games, including handing Tennessee its only conference loss, Kentucky has moved above .500 and stands just a game and a half behind the Volunteers in the SEC East. The Wildcats, a very well-balanced team, are led by a standout freshman in 6'9" Patrick Patterson, who has played the largest percentage of minutes and leads the squad in offensive rating (119.2), eFG% (58.9), rebounding and turnover rate. Richard Hendrix of Alabama has been even better than Patterson--the 6'8" junior leads his team in eight of 11 Pomeroy categories, including eFG% (64.2) and block percentage (7.7).

Matchup: Texas A&M (19-4, 5-3 Big 12) at Missouri (13-10, 3-5), 1:30
Rankings: Texas A&M, #13 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in Big 12); Missouri, #28 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Missouri, 73-72 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 50%
Prospectus: A toss-up battle in the Big 12, and one that Missouri needs to take if it hopes to stand a chance for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday. The Tigers will again be playing without their leading scorer, senior guard Stefhon Hannah, who is out a month or more after suffering a broken jaw in a recent nightclub altercation. Missouri will have seniors Jason Horton and Darryl Butterfield, who both returned from suspensions in the team's loss to Kansas Monday. Texas A&M has won four straight, including home defeats of Texas and Oklahoma, having recovered nicely from a three-game losing streak. The Aggies defense ranks 13th in the nation, and is fourth-best in two-point field goal percentage defense.

Matchup: Miami FL (15-7, 2-6 Atlantic Coast) at Virginia Tech (14-9, 5-4), 2:00
Rankings: Miami FL, #53 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 12 in ACC); Virginia Tech, #56 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Virginia Tech, 67-64 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 36%
Prospectus: The Hurricanes have lost three straight conference games for the second time this season, and it's now looking like the team's early-season success--Miami began the year 12-0, including a road win over Mississippi St.--was something of a fluke. The Hurricanes would have to win six of their eight remaining games to finish the year at .500, likely the level they'd need to reach in order to be in consideration for an at-large berth (not taking into consideration the ACC tournament), and, with games left versus Duke and at Clemson, it doesn't look like that will happen. The Hokies have also seen their tournament hopes take a hit recently, as they are coming off a road loss to North Carolina St. on Tuesday. To rebound, the excellent Virginia Tech defense will have to shut down a Hurricanes force whose top four in minutes played all have offensive ratings above 111. A key battle will take place on the Hokies' defensive glass, as Miami grabs 38.6 percent of their offensive boards, while Virginia Tech holds opponents to 28.6 percent.

Matchup: Western Michigan (13-9, 7-2 Mid American) at Ohio (15-7, 6-3), 2:30
Rankings: Western Michigan, #100 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 12 in MAC); Ohio, #98 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Ohio, 68-64 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 34%
Prospectus: The Broncos of Western Michigan sit in first place of the MAC's West division (ahead of who other than Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan), while the Bobcats are tied with Akron in second place in the East, one game behind Kent St. The game will feature a matchup of senior forwards who do everything for their team--6'7" Joe Reitz of Western Michigan, and 6'8" Leon Williams of Ohio, who leads the nation in offensive rebounding percentage (20.4) and has an eFG% of 60.8. The Bobcats have a significant edge in height on the Broncos, yet despite that fact and the presence of Williams, it is Western Michigan that is the better rebounding team on both ends of the court. Ohio, however, should be able to hurt the Broncos at the free throw line, as Williams has shot nearly 160 free throws and Western Michigan allows opponents to get to the stripe at a very high rate.

Matchup: Southern California (15-7, 6-4 Pacific 10) at Washington St. (17-5, 5-6), 3:30
Rankings: Southern California, #22 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 10 in Pac 10); Washington St., #14 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Washington St., 61-56 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: The Cougars have lost three straight games at home, the last two coming to Stanford in overtime and UCLA on Thursday. Having slipped behind the Cardinal in the conference standings, back down to .500, Washington St. badly needs a win against the other L.A. squad. The Trojans lost to the Cougars at home, 73-58, back on January 10, but that was back when Southern California was struggling--since that loss, the Trojans have won six of seven games to move into third place. Both of these squads rely heavily on their starters, with the Cougars using bench players for just 23.4 percent of minutes and the Trojans for just 22.8 percent. Based on the popular perceptions of the two teams--Washington St. as low-scoring with a grind-it-out mentality and Southern California as up-and-coming with a dynamic freshman scorer--one would think that the Cougars have the great defense and the Trojans the great offense, but the opposite is true: Southern California has the eighth-rated defense by adjusted efficiency, and Washington St. the 16th-rated offense. The last non-Oregon State Pac-10 foe that the Cougars held under a point per possession was the Trojans.

Matchup: Georgia Tech (11-10, 4-4 Atlantic Coast) at Connecticut (17-5, 7-3 Big East), 4:00, ESPN
Rankings: Georgia Tech, #59 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 12 in ACC); Connecticut, #24 (6th of 16 in Big East)
Pomeroy Prediction: Connecticut, 85-73 in 74 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 16%
Prospectus: The Yellowjackets and Huskies square off in Storrs in a rare non-conference game at this time of the year. The contest is a rematch of the 2004 National Championship game, won by Connecticut. This year's Georgia Tech squad likely won't even find its way into the NCAA tournament, but it is a dangerous team that lost by only a point against North Carolina in January. If the Yellowjackets had run into the Huskies in the middle of last month, they might have had a better shot at a win, but right now the Huskies are running smoothly, having won six straight Big East games, the last a two-point victory over a tough Syracuse squad on the road. Connecticut, which has a greater Effective Height than every team but Georgetown, should be able to score down low against a Yellowjackets defense that allows opponents to shoot 51.7 percent from two-point range. In addition, it is doubtful that Georgia Tech will be able to stop the Huskies from getting to the foul line, as Connecticut has the fourth-best offensive rate on offense, while the Yellowjackets have the 321st-worst opponent free throw rate in D-I.

Matchup: Murray St. (14-9, 10-5 Ohio Valley) at Morehead St. (12-10, 9-5), 4:15
Rankings: Murray St., #198 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 11 in Ohio Valley); Morehead St., #265 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Murray St., 66-65 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 46%
Prospectus: The second-place Racers travel to take on the Eagles, tied for third in the Ohio Valley with Eastern Kentucky. Morehead St. will be looking to avenge a 63-44 loss at Murray St. on December 8. Eagles freshman forward Kenneth Faried has dominated the boards thus far, as he ranks second nationally in both offensive and defensive rebounding. It is the Racers, however, that are the better rebounding team. With just five games left in the Ohio Valley Season, Murray St. needs to win out to have any chance of catching Austin Peay, which at 12-5 is two games ahead.

Matchup: Mississippi (16-4, 3-4 Southeastern) at Arkansas (16-5, 5-2), 5:05
Rankings: Mississippi, #36 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 12 in SEC); Arkansas, #32 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Arkansas, 78-72 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 29%
Prospectus: The Razorbacks have caused serious damage the last two games, thrashing good Mississippi St. and Florida squads at home, and are now looking like an NCAA tournament squad. The Rebels, on the other hand, have had their 13-0 non-league start to the season turn sour thanks to three losses in the past four games, two of which came to SEC underlings Auburn and South Carolina (to be fair, each loss was by just three points). The Razorbacks have a top-20 defense in terms of adjusted efficiency, but Mississippi senior forward Dwayne Curtis is the type of player that can score against any squad: he ranks second nationally in offensive rating (136.7) and third in eFG% (67.8). Those numbers aren't just a product of being efficient in a small role, either--Curtis has played the second-most minutes on the team and taken the most two-point shots. Ole Miss would be smart to eschew the three-pointer and pound it inside to Curtis as much as possible, because Arkansas, a very tall team, holds opponents to under 30 percent shooting from long range.

Matchup: Oklahoma St. (11-11, 2-6 Big 12) at Kansas St. (16-5, 6-1), 6:00, ESPN
Rankings: Oklahoma St., #72 in Pomeroy Ratings (10th of 12 in Big 12); Kansas St., #7 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas State, 79-63 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 7%
Prospectus: The roles have been reversed in this Big 12 showdown, for it is the Cowboys looking far up at the Wildcats in the standings. Oklahoma St. has lost three close games (defined as decided by three points or less or in overtime) in conference play to three of the Big 12's toughest--Texas, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma. The Cowboys will now try to get over the hump on the road against a better team than even those three. To pull off the huge upset, Oklahoma St. will need its defense, which forces turnovers on 25 percent of opponent possessions, to be especially opportunistic against a Kansas St. offense that is not particularly adept at taking care of the ball. The focus will be on the freshmen in this one, as Wildcats first-year forwards Michael Beasley and Bill Walker will go against a Cowboys team that features six rookies among its 11 players who see time.

Matchup: Oregon (13-9, 4-6 Pacific 10) at California (14-7, 5-5), 7:00
Rankings: Oregon, #50 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 10 in Pac 10); California, #40 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: California, 86-80 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: The Golden Bears have won three straight, including a big defeat of Washington St., to climb back to .500 in the Pac-10. The Ducks are going in the opposite direction, having been beat down by 29 points at Stanford on Thursday, their fifth loss in six games after starting the conference schedule 3-1. This game is essential for both teams in terms of NCAA tournament positioning, for a team with a sub-.500 record in its league will struggle to get a bid, even despite the overall high quality of the Pac-10. California and Oregon both have excellent offenses and sub-par defenses, but the Golden Bears are a little better in each department. The top four players for California in minutes played are all sophomores, with the two standouts being 6'5" Patrick Christopher (115.1 offensive rating, 55.3 eFG%) and 6'10" Ryan Anderson (123.1 offensive rating, 60.7 eFG%, 23.2 defensive rebounding percentage).

Matchup: Boise St. (17-5, 8-2 Western Athletic) at New Mexico St. (13-12, 7-3), 7:00
Rankings: Boise St., #122 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 9 in WAC); New Mexico St., #106 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: New Mexico St., 86-79 in 77 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 27%
Prospectus: The Broncos of Boise St. are just a half game behind Utah St. in the WAC, while the Aggies are a game back. In the first meeting between the two this year, New Mexico St. beat the Broncos 76-73 on the road January 10. The Aggies' record is not that impressive, but the team played a rough non-conference slate, losing to Duke, Texas, West Virginia and Louisville. Boise St. only played one game against a Pomeroy Top 20 opponent--a loss to Washington St. The Broncos' easy schedule has helped their offense a great deal, although Boise St. certainly deserves a good deal of credit for ranking first in eFG% with a 58.1 mark. The Broncos have three senior starters that all rank in the top 10 in eFG%. Boise St.'s efficiency comes mostly from inside the arc: the team ranks first in two-point field goal percentage, which is a remarkable statistic considering Boise St. plays no one taller than 6'9". Now, if that group could only figure out how to stop somebody...

Matchup: Chattanooga (15-9, 10-4 Southern) at Georgia Southern (16-8, 9-5), 7:30
Rankings: Chattanooga, #134 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 11 in Southern); Georgia Southern, #150 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Georgia Southern, 79-76 in 76 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 39%
Prospectus: The Chattanooga Mocs sit in first place in the Southern Conference's North division, a half-game up on Appalachian St. (whose basketball program lags a bit behind its football team), while the Eagles are in second place in the South division, with no realistic hope of catching 14-0 Davidson. The Mocs have a significant frontcourt height advantage on Georgia Southern, which they should be able to turn into points in the paint (Chattanooga shoots a healthy 55 percent on two-pointers). The Mocs downed the Eagles on January 31 at home, 96-91, a game in which 5'9" senior guard Kevin Bridgewaters torched Georgia Southern for 24 points and Chattanooga put up a 64.3 eFG% overall. That game played out in a very quick 79 possessions--the up-tempo Mocs average 72.5 possessions/40 minutes--and Chattanooga won despite turning it over 20 times, a recurring problem for at team which coughs it up on just about one out of every four trips. The Eagles, on the other hand, give it away on a more respectable one in five.

Matchup: North Carolina St. (15-7, 4-4 Atlantic Coast) at Maryland (15-8, 5-3), 8:00
Rankings: North Carolina St., #81 in Pomeroy Ratings (10th of 12 in ACC); Maryland, #42 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Maryland, 71-63 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 20%
Prospectus: The Terrapins have won three in a row in ACC play and have things set up well to finish in third place in the conference, with only one game left against the Duke/UNC duo (at Duke next Wednesday) and a home game against Clemson, the team Maryland is battling for third place. Maryland's foe Saturday night, the Wolfpack, is coming off two home wins over Wake Forest and Virginia Tech. North Carolina St. is probably the best team in the nation when it comes to fouls, ranking first in free-throw rate and fourth in free throw rate defense, but the team is terrible in the turnover department, handing it over on 23 percent of offensive possessions while only forcing the opponent to do the same on 17.2 percent. Maryland wins with a defense that blocks shots and lowers opponents' shooting percentage.

Matchup: Baylor (17-4, 5-2 Big 12) at Kansas (22-1, 7-1), 8:00
Rankings: Baylor, #44 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 12 in Big 12); Kansas, #1 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas, 88-66 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 96%
Prospectus: The Bears and head coach Scott Drew, who were profiled by John Perrotto in this week's Around the Rim, broke a two-game league losing streak with a win over Texas Tech on Wednesday. Baylor stands tied with Texas for third place in the Big 12, a game and a half behind the Jayhawks heading into its toughest game of the year. The Bears have been a great story this season, but due to the hellacious nature of the Big 12--the conference is currently best in the land in overall quality according to the Pomeroy Statistics, ahead of even the Pac 10--Baylor is currently favored to win in only two of its nine games to close out the regular season. The best hope for Baylor in this one might be to catch the Jayhawks--ranked first in adjusted offense and second in adjusted defense in D-I--looking ahead to Monday's big game at Texas.

Matchup: Georgetown (19-2, 9-1 Big East) at Louisville (17-6, 7-3), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Georgetown, #6 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 16 in Big East); Louisville, #11 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville, 61-60 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 42%
Prospectus: The premier game of the day features the best teams in the Big East in a battle at Freedom Hall. The matchup to watch will be down low, where two of the greatest post players in the nation square off--Cardinals 6'10" senior David Padgett going against Hoyas 7'2" senior Roy Hibbert. Hibbert and 6'8" forwards DaJuan Summers and Patrick Ewing give the Hoyas the biggest frontline in the nation, as Georgetown has an Effective Height of +5.6 inches. That height pays off on offense, in the form of a 57.4 percentage on two-pointers (2nd best in D-I), as well as on defense--the Hoyas hold opponents to 39.2 percent on twos. Georgetown also has strong perimeter defense as well, leading to the lowest opponent eFG% (40.8) in the nation. The Hoyas' weakness on defense, however, is that the team cannot force turnovers, a trend that has grown worse each year since 2004. In addition, despite its height Georgetown is not a strong defensive rebounding team. The Cardinals defense isn't quite as good at forcing missed shots, but is a better unit overall thanks to better rebounding and a greater ability to block shots and force turnovers.

Matchup: Purdue (18-5, 9-1 Big 10) at Wisconsin (19-3, 9-1), 9:00
Rankings: Purdue, #30 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 11 in Big 10); Wisconsin, #5 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Wisconsin, 66-56 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 13%
Prospectus: The Boilermakers handed the Badgers their only loss in Big 10 play on January 26, with a 60-56 home win. Whichever team takes the rematch in Madison will be alone atop the Big 10. Both these squads play excellent defense, and Wisconsin averages less than 64 possessions per 40 minutes, so this game, like the first, will be a low-scoring affair. The tall Badgers (+3.2 inches in Effective Height) get their strong defense (ranked second in raw efficiency) primarily from an ability to stop the two-point shot and keep opponents off the line, while Purdue's able unit is characterized by its ability to force turnovers. Brian Butch, Wisconsin's senior center, scored 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds in the first meeting, while freshman guard E'Twaun Moore led Purdue with 16 points on 7-of-14 from the floor.

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

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