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February 10, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Sunday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: Saint Joseph's (15-6, 6-2 Atlantic 10) at Xavier (19-4, 7-1), 12:00 p.m. EST
Rankings: Saint Joseph's, #64 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 14 in Atlantic 10); Xavier, #16 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Xavier, 77-64 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 11%
Prospectus: The first and second place A-10 teams hook up in the opener of two meetings between the Hawks and Musketeers. Xavier just barely hung onto its spot alone atop the conference Thursday by getting a Derrick Brown putback with a tenth of a second remaining to win at Saint Louis 70-68. The day before, Saint Joseph's had missed its chance to move into first place by losing at Duquesne 102-88. The Hawks are unique in that coach Phil Martelli plays his starters more than all but one other D-I team in the country. Saint Joseph's bench players see just 17.4 percent of the minutes, and Martelli regularly plays only three men off the pine. The Hawks have a strong offense that is keyed by excellent three-point shooting (39.6 percent) and the ability to get to the line. Six foot 10 senior Pat Calathes and 6'9 junior Ahmad Nivins have combined to make 178-of-238 free throws, and Calathes is also an outstanding three-point shooter, having hit 45-of-98 treys (46 percent). The Musketeers are also excellent from deep, with a team percentage of 39, and should be able to hurt a weak St. Joseph's perimeter defense. Xavier, which boasts the second ranked offense by raw efficiency (1.17 points per possession), also has a significant rebounding edge on both ends of the court, despite the Hawks being a far taller team.

Matchup: Indiana (19-3, 8-1 Big 10) at Ohio St. (16-7, 7-3), 1:00, CBS
Rankings: Indiana, #18 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 11 in Big 10); Ohio St., #26 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Ohio St., 66-64 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 42%
Prospectus: The Hoosiers just managed to pass the first part of a crucial four game Big 10 test on Thursday versus the Illini, as Indiana escaped an angry crowd in Champaign on hand to boo freshman guard Eric Gordon (who backed out of an oral commitment to Illinois) with a double-overtime victory. This game against the Buckeyes, however, doesn't promise to be any easier. The Hoosiers best offensive characteristic is their ability to get to the free throw line, with senior forward D.J. White and Gordon having combined for 288 attempts from the stripe, but Ohio St. is the best team in D-I at not giving away points at the line, having held opponents to a 19.6 free throw rate (less than 20 free throws attempted per 100 field goal attempts). Also worth keeping an eye on is how the crafty veteran White, who stands 6'9, deals with the Buckeyes' 7'0 rookie Kosta Koufos, and how Gordon handles an Ohio St. perimeter defense that allows only 30 percent shooting from three-point range, where the majority of the freshman's attempts have been launched. With a win, the Hoosiers would move to within a half game of first place Purdue in the Big 10.

Matchup: Arizona St. (14-7, 4-5 Pacific 10) at Arizona (15-7, 5-4), 2:30
Rankings: Arizona St., #48 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 10 in Pac 10); Arizona, #21 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Arizona, 69-60 in 60 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 16%
Prospectus: These two in-state rivals are hobbling into this game: after going 10-2 in their non-conference schedule and winning their first four Pac 10 games, the Sun Devils have lost five in a row, while Arizona is coming off a blowout loss to UCLA. The Wildcats have played against both the toughest offenses and the toughest defenses in the nation this year. Consequently, Arizona's efficiency looks a lot better after adjustment, jumping from 110.5 points per possession to 120.4 on offense, and 101.8 to 93.6 on defense. In these teams' first meeting of the year the Wildcats lost to Arizona St. 64-59 in overtime on January 9, which was only the Sun Devils' second victory in 26 games against Arizona. James Harden, Arizona St.'s 6'5 freshman, went to the line 13 times and scored 26 points in that win. Harden leads the Sun Devils in minutes, offensive rating, possessions used, shots, eFG%, and steal percentage. Arizona has its own standout freshman guard in Jerryd Bayless, who has the best offensive rating on the team while using the most possessions.

Matchup: Siena (15-8, 10-3 Metro Atlantic) at Rider (18-6, 11-2), 3:00
Rankings: Siena, #114 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 10 in MAAC); Rider, #109 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Rider, 81-76 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 32%
Prospectus: The Saints knocked off Marist in overtime on Friday on the road--their second straight win over the Red Foxes--to boost the significance of this game. Now, Siena can pull into a tie with Rider for first in the MAAC if it beats the Broncs on the road. By dispatching Niagara at home on Friday, Rider won its 10th straight conference game after dropping two of its first three. With only four MAAC contests left after this one, a win for the Broncs would effectively lock up the regular season title. In the first meeting between these teams, on February 2, Rider beat Siena in Albany 89-75. Rider 6'11 senior Jason Thompson came up with a huge game, notching 23 points on 11-of-17 shooting to go with 21 rebounds. The Broncs--which are +2.4 inches in Effective Height--outrebounded the Saints 44-18, revealing the chief weakness of a Siena squad that is among the bottom forty teams in D-I in Average Minutes-Weighted Height. Siena will likely need to shore up its shaky perimeter defense as well in order to upset the Broncs in the rematch, as Rider shot 9-of-20 from three-point range in its earlier win.

Matchup: UCLA (21-2, 9-1 Pacific 10) at Washington (12-11, 3-7), 4:30
Rankings: UCLA, #4 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 10 in Pacific 10); Washington, #75 (9th)
Pomeroy Prediction: UCLA, 77-65 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 12%
Prospectus: The slumping Huskies, losers of four straight, host a Bruins squad that has won five in a row and is undefeated on the road for the season (6-0). UCLA didn't seem to miss forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, out with an ankle injury, in its road win over Washington St. on Friday night. Mbah a Moute will be out again versus the Huskies, and the lack of his rebounding ability could be more of a problem this time, as Washington ranks third in the Pac 10 in both offensive and defensive rebounding (behind Stanford and UCLA). Bruins forward Kevin Love, fourth in the nation in grabbing boards at both ends of the floor, could be challenged by Huskies forward Jon Brockman, who also rates highly in both rebounding categories. If the Washington junior, who stands 6'7", can somehow manage to control the boards despite the presence of his 6'10 freshman counterpart, then the Huskies could well hang with the Bruins.

Matchup: Clemson (17-5, 5-3 Atlantic Coast) at North Carolina (21-2, 6-2), 6:30
Rankings: Clemson, #12 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in ACC); North Carolina, #8 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: North Carolina, 86-80 in 78 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: A rematch of the fantastic game on January 6 in which the Tar Heels beat Clemson 90-88 in overtime. If the Tigers manage to leave Chapel Hill with a victory tonight, they would be tied with North Carolina for second place behind Duke in the ACC. The big question for the Tar Heels is whether the team's best guard, sophomore point man Ty Lawson, will be able to return to the court after a sprained ankle. Without Lawson against Duke on Wednesday, North Carolina allowed the Blue Devils to hit 13-of-29 from deep, and the Tar Heels' three guards shot a combined 10-of-32 in the 89-78 loss. Needless to say, the chances for Clemson, which shoots an outstanding 40 percent from three-point range, will improve significantly if Lawson can't go. In the teams' first meeting the Tigers were able to grab more offensive boards than the best offensive rebounding team in the nation, but North Carolina won the game at the free throw line. Without the penetrating abilities of Lawson, such an advantage at the stripe would be harder to achieve for the Tar Heels.

Matchup: Southern Illinois (12-11, 7-5 Missouri Valley) at Creighton (16-6, 7-5), 7:00
Rankings: Southern Illinois, #70 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 10 in Missouri Valley); Creighton, #49 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Creighton, 64-59 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 27%
Prospectus: Picked to finish first in the Missouri Valley pre-season, the Salukis got off to a great start--they moved to 3-0 with a win over Mississippi St.--but since then have struggled badly, and haven't been able to put together anything more than a two-game winning streak. Southern Illinois ranked ninth in adjusted defensive efficiency each of the last two years, and was 19th in 2005, but this year has fallen to 46th, and its offense has regressed as well. The one aspect of the Salukis defense that has gotten better from last year is their ability to force turnovers, which could be pronounced against a Blue Jays team that coughs it up 22.3 percent of the time. Southern Illinois forced that figure up to 31 percent in its ugly 48-44 win over Creighton at home on January 26. The Blue Jays get 44.5 percent of their minutes off the bench, fourth-most in D-I, while the Salukis get only 25.8 percent. As is fitting for a squad that graduated sharpshooter Kyle Korver to the NBA, Creighton is a prodigious three-point shooting team with great balance to the attack: eight players have made at least ten threes, and the Blue Jays collectively shoot 37.8 percent from behind the arc.

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

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