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February 12, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Tuesday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: Michigan St. (20-3, 8-2 Big 10) at Purdue (19-5, 10-1), 7:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Rankings: Michigan St., #19 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 11 in Big 10); Purdue, #25 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Purdue, 68-66 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 40%
Prospectus: You can make a strong case that the Boilermakers are the hottest team in the country, with them having won nine straight games in-conference. The latest was the most impressive, a 72-67 victory in Madison over the Badgers to break the tie with Wisconsin and vault into first place in the Big 10. The Spartans will now try to break Purdue's stride by beating the Boilermakers for the second time this season after winning at home 78-75 back on January 8--Purdue's only conference loss. Michigan St. is the third-best offensive rebounding team in the country, thanks to the work of 6'10" Goran Suton and 6'7" Raymar Morgan. Purdue wins with a defense that forces turnovers on more than one of four opponent possessions, which could cause problems for a Spartans team that is second-to-last in the Big 10 in turnover percentage on offense (although the team's point guard, senior Drew Neitzel, is excellent at protecting the ball), and has already seen that problem cost them one game in conference. The Boilermakers are the 12th-youngest team out of 341 in Division I, and have gotten excellent play from two freshmen, 6'3" guard E'Twaun Moore and 6'8" forward Robbie Hummel, who leads the team in offensive rating, eFG%, rebounding, free throw rate and assist rate.

Matchup: Princeton (5-14, 2-2 Ivy League) at Pennsylvania (7-14, 2-2), 7:00
Rankings: Princeton, #285 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 8 in Ivy); Pennsylvania, #311 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Pennsylvania, 60-59 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 48%
Prospectus: Not in recent memory has this meeting between the traditional Ivy powers seen both squads so down. A 2-0 start in league play for each raised hopes that the "Killer P's" could shake off terrible non-conference seasons and get an assist from the weight of history to rise to their customary spots at the top of the league, but a pair of losses for both squads at Cornell and Columbia on the New York road trip ended that wishful thinking. Pennsylvania, struggling to find a winning combination on the court after its two core players graduated last year, has gotten 43.9 percent of its minutes off the bench, the sixth-highest total in D-I. While the Quakers have been bad in almost every category this year, their performance on the perimeter has been particularly egregious, as the team has shot 28.2 percent from three-point range while allowing opponents to hit 41.1 percent of threes. Princeton's classic offense of course revolves around the three--which makes up 46.2 percent of the team's field goal attempts--but the Tigers have hit on just 32.8 percent of deep balls.

Matchup: Winthrop (15-9, 6-3 Big South) at Liberty (13-11, 5-4), 7:00
Rankings: Winthrop, #109 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 8 in Big South); Liberty, #179 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Winthrop, 60-57 in 60 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 36%
Prospectus: The Liberty Flames did Winthrop a big favor on Saturday with a surprising blowout win over first-place UNC-Asheville. The Eagles are now just 1.5 games back of Asheville and still have a game to play against the front-runners. The Flames play with a short rotation--only two players receive significant minutes off the bench--and have an outstanding offensive duo in 6'5" junior Anthony Smith and 6'8" senior Alex McLean. Smith has a 64.4 eFG%, and is the most effective three-point shooter on a Liberty team with a prodigious long-range attack, having hit on 62-of-145 triples. McLean does it all for the Flames, leading the squad in possessions used, percentage of shots taken, rebounding and turnover rate. Despite having one of the shortest frontcourts in the country, Liberty shoots an excellent 53.2 percent on its two-point shots. Winthrop conversely has a much stronger defense than offense, the latter unit being held down by the fifth-worst free-throw shooting percentage in the nation (58.6).

Matchup: Marquette (16-6, 6-5 Big East) at Seton Hall (15-9, 5-6), 7:30
Rankings: Marquette, #16 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 16 in Big East); Seton Hall, #87 (11th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Marquette, 81-74 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 24%
Prospectus: The Golden Eagles have dropped two in a row, to Louisville by 20 at home and Notre Dame by three on the road, and are no longer looking like an elite unit after losing four straight against teams in the Pomeroy Top 25. Marquette is now mired in the middle of the conference standings, but this contest against the Pirates kicks off a five-game stretch of very winnable games, so the Golden Eagles could be 11-5 in the Big East entering their showdown at home against Georgetown on March 1. Marquette's defense has sputtered badly in its last two losses, and will face another test in Seton Hall's effective offense, which is fifth-best in the nation at avoiding turnovers. The Pirates suffered a big blow when they found out that sophomore guard Paul Gause, whose 7.1 steal percentage would lead the nation if he had played enough minutes to qualify, will miss the remainder of the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament against Notre Dame last Wednesday.

Matchup: Kentucky (12-9, 6-2 Southeastern) at Vanderbilt (20-4, 5-4), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Kentucky, #51 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 12 in SEC); Vanderbilt, #71 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Vanderbilt, 71-70 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 44%
Prospectus: The Commodores are still ranked--#24 in the latest AP Top 25, and #19 in the USA Today/ESPN ranking--despite the fact that they haven't beaten a team in the Pomeroy Top 50 all season and have gotten pretty lucky to already be at 20 wins. They haven't had that much opportunity to knock off strong units while playing in the SEC, though, which is the weakest of the six power conferences this season. Both of these teams thus have much to prove, although the Wildcats can boast of a win over Tennessee. That victory was the first in a five-game winning streak Kentucky is currently riding, one that has pulled the team into second place in the SEC East behind the Volunteers. Kentucky and Vanderbilt met early in the conference season, with the Wildcats pulling off a double-overtime victory at home. Kentucky killed the Commodores on the glass, with a 15-4 advantage in offensive rebounds and 27-17 in defensive boards. (How a team could play 50 minutes and grab just four offensive rebounds is hard to fathom.) Vanderbilt shoots 41 percent from three and gets a large portion of its offense from perimeter shots (Shan Foster has shot a remarkable 46 percent on over 200 attempts), while the Wildcats are a team much more dependent on interior scoring.

Matchup: Illinois (10-14, 2-9 Big 10) at Minnesota (15-7, 5-5), 9:00
Rankings: Illinois, #38 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 11 in Big 10); Minnesota, #39 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Minnesota, 66-62 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 35%
Prospectus: The bad luck continued for the Fighting Illini last Thursday when they lost an 83-79 double overtime game to hated Indiana and Eric Gordon. That heartbreak dropped Illinois to dead last in the national luck rankings, 4.2 wins below expectation. The Golden Gophers are in the mix for an NCAA tournament spot--the team has no bad losses among its seven, falling to UNLV and Florida St. on the road in the non-conference, then Big 10 titans Michigan St. (twice), Indiana, Ohio St. and Wisconsin in the new year. This is a game that Minnesota absolutely has to have on its resume come Selection Sunday, though, because the seven conference games after this one include five against the top six, by Pomeroy Rating, in the Big 10. For their part, the Fighting Illini would certainly improve their luck in close games if they were able to better hit free throws: Illinois shoots just 59.5 percent as a team, which is down in Memphis territory.

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

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