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February 13, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Wednesday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: Notre Dame (18-4, 8-2 Big East) at Connecticut (18-5, 7-3), 7:00 p.m. EST, ESPNU
Rankings: Notre Dame, #21 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 16 in Big East); Connecticut, #22 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Connecticut, 79-75 in 74 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 35%
Prospectus: Two of the best Big East squads both come into this clash on a roll--Notre Dame enters Storrs having won five straight, while Connecticut has taken seven in a row. The key question will be whether the Huskies can get to the line against Notre Dame. Connecticut gets 26.4 percent of its offense from free throws, the fourth-highest percentage in the country, and is first in free throw rate (number of free throws shot per 100 field goal attempts) at 36.2. Its extreme size down low, in the form of 7'3" Hasheem Thabeet and the 6'9" bull of a power forward, Jeff Adrien, often leaves the opposition little choice but to foul. The Huskies also have a point guard in A.J. Price who is great at slashing to the hoop to draw contact. Notre Dame's defense, however, is extremely effective inside. The Fighting Irish hold their opponents to the second-lowest free throw rate in the country, at 20.7, and also allow just 43.1 percent shooting on two-pointers. On the other end, Notre Dame's three-point shooters, who launch from deep with a 41 percent success rate, would be wise to fire more often than usual against a suspect Huskies perimeter defense rather than straying inside to face Connecticut's tree trunks in the post, who allow opponents to shoot only 38 percent on two-pointers, the lowest rate in the nation.

Matchup: Maryland (16-8, 6-3 Atlantic Coast) at Duke (21-1, 9-0), 7:00, ESPN
Rankings: Maryland, #40 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in ACC); Duke, #3 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Duke, 89-71 in 79 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 7%
Prospectus: The Terrapins have come the closest of any ACC team to beating the Blue Devils this season, losing by nine at College Park on January 27. Duke has completely dominated the conference schedule thus far, and currently has a 40 percent chance, per the Pomeroy Ratings, to finish a perfect 16-0 in regular-season ACC play. Since the loss to the Blue Devils, Maryland has won four straight, and thanks to Clemson's wild double-overtime loss at North Carolina on Sunday, now stands in third place, behind the conference's two powers. Maryland point guard Greivis Vasquez has upped his game in the past two contests, totalling 23 assists against seven turnovers in wins over Boston College and N.C. State. Vasquez will have to consistently get the ball inside to 6'8" senior forwards Bambale Osby and James Gist--the latter coming off a career-high 30-point performance--as Duke's defense can be scored upon down low. If the Terrapins play a big lineup that includes Gist, Osby, 6'7" Landon Milbourne and the 6'5" Vasquez, Maryland could create serious matchup problems on defense for a smaller Blue Devils squad.

Matchup: Wisconsin (19-4, 9-2 Big 10) at Indiana (20-3, 9-1), 7:00
Rankings: Wisconsin, #6 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 11 in Big 10); Indiana, #17 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Indiana, 63-62 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 48%
Prospectus: The Hoosiers are beginning to earn some legitimate respect after a relatively soft earlier schedule. Faced with a five-game stretch against the five best teams in the Big 10 besides itself, Indiana has won the first two tests on the road, over Illinois in double overtime and over Ohio St. by six. Now the Hoosiers return home for the next three, starting with a rematch against the conference's toughest squad. The Badgers beat Indiana 62-49 in Madison on January 31, an ugly contest in which both teams had an eFG% under 40. Indiana's supporting cast outside of forward D.J. White and guard Eric Gordon was a collective 5-of-27 from the floor in that loss. The difference in the game was that Wisconsin didn't turn the ball over and got to the free throw line much more effectively. Gordon, who averages nearly eight free throw attempts per game, shot only twice at the line, while Wisconsin's Trevon Hughes, who averages five trips per, got to the stripe 10 times. Whichever team wins this game tonight will be in second place behind Purdue, which is now 11-1 in the conference after beating Michigan St. last night.

Matchup: Davidson (17-6, 15-0 Southern) at NC Greensboro (13-9, 7-6), 7:00
Rankings: Davidson, #56 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 11 in Southern); NC Greensboro, #157 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Davidson, 75-69 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 25%
Prospectus: Will this be the night that the Wildcats finally fall in Southern Conference play? Davidson currently has a 42 percent chance to finish a perfect 20-0 against the 10 other teams in the Southern, and this road game is the second-likeliest to trip them up of the five it has remaining, with the biggest potential roadblock being the last game of the season at Georgia Southern. Sophomore Stephen Curry is the Wildcats' scorer--he ranks 14th nationally in percentage of shots taken and 21st in possessions used, while putting up an excellent 59.9 eFG% and turning the ball over at a low 15.4 percentage. The 6'0" shooting guard has averaged 30 points over the last four games on 64 eFG% shooting. The Spartans also have a dominant player, but his profile is different from Curry's. A 6'6", 240-pound forward, senior Kyle Hines is an outstanding rebounder and shot-blocker in addition to being NC Greensboro's leading offensive option. Hines blocks 10.2 percent of opponents' shots while on the floor, the 24th-best figure in the nation, and the best of all players 6'6" and under. Hines will have a challenge in trying to collect blocks against Davidson, which gets rejected at a lower rate than all but 18 of the 341 other D-I squads.

Matchup: NC Asheville (18-5, 7-1 Big South) at High Point (13-10, 5-4), 7:00
Rankings: NC Asheville, #162 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 8 in Big South); High Point, #202 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: High Point, 67-66 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 49%
Prospectus: Speaking of shot-blocking...whither Kenny George? UNC-Asheville's 7'7" center who leads the nation with a 20.8 block percentage, has sat out the past two games, but the junior is not injured. Bulldogs coach Eddie Biedenbach rests George for games at a stretch, as the center, whose size might be explained by acromegaly (giantism), needs time for his knees and rest of his body to recover. This article from the Asheville Citizen-Times further explains:

Were using him to the best of his ability, said Biedenbach, adding that he likes people guessing if George will play because opponents must plan for both scenarios. Were not completely resting him. He goes out and warms up for us. Hes just in a position where weve played him a lot and I want us to be strong at the end of the season and the tournament.
High Point is one of the shortest teams in the nation, so if he plays, George is sure to have plenty of swatting opportunities (although at 7'7", every other team looks pretty short). The Panthers are led by 6'5" senior Arizona Reid, who is sixth in the nation in percentage of shots taken. Reid is an efficient scorer and excellent rebounder, and is also one of the most sure-handed players in the land, with an extremely low 11.9 turnover rate despite the fact that he uses a very healthy 30.8 percent of possessions.

Matchup: William and Mary (13-10, 9-4 Colonial) at NC Wilmington (15-10, 8-5), 7:00
Rankings: William and Mary, #190 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 12 in Colonial); NC Wilmington, #183 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: NC Wilmington, 70-66 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 32%
Prospectus: William and Mary, Viginia Commonwealth, George Mason, Old Dominion, James Madison...these are all schools that belong in a conference dubbed as colonial. But UNC-Wilmington? Well, I suppose it works, since Wilmington was settled in the 1720s and named after a British Earl. Furthermore, the Seahawks were one of the first members of the CAA, joining the conference in 1985. UNC-Wilmington has had plenty of success as a Colonial team, winning the conference and the conference tournament four times each. This year it sits in fourth place, a game behind the William and Mary Tribe, which is tied with George Mason at two back of Virginia Commonwealth. While the Seahawks had a successful non-conference season, going 8-5, the Tribe has turned it on in 2008, winning nine of its last 11 in CAA play after starting the season 4-8. William and Mary beat Wilmington at home on February 2 by just four points in the first meeting of the year between these two.

Matchup: Rhode Island (20-4, 6-3 Atlantic 10) at Temple (12-10, 5-3), 7:00
Rankings: Rhode Island, #60 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 14 in A-10); Temple, #85 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Temple, 76-74 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 44%
Prospectus: The Rams have put together a quality season, and have the potential to grab an NCAA Tournament berth by emerging as the second-best team in the A-10. A home game against first-place Xavier looms on Monday, but first Rhode Island must take care of the Owls. Temple has come back nicely from a 12-18 season in 2007, and would be looking even better if it weren't for some bad luck--a 68-67 loss at home to St. Joseph's and a 60-58 defeat at Charlotte stand out in the conference slate. Temple survives by being decent at almost everything on offense, except for rebounding, while Rhode Island is an odd team in that it crashes the offensive boards hard, grabbing 37.8 percent of its own misses, but is in the bottom third of the nation in defensive rebounding. The Rams play at a quick 72-possession pace, while Temple has gotten back to its usual plodding style after an aberrant 2007 season in which the Owls moved at a far quicker pace in their first season under Fran Dunphy. With a victory, Temple would move past Rhode Island and into third place in the A-10 (and second if St. Joseph's should lose).

Matchup: Xavier (20-4, 8-1 Atlantic 10) at Charlotte (14-8, 5-3), 7:30
Rankings: Xavier, #15 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 14 in A-10); Charlotte, #93 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Xavier, 74-66 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: Just like the Rams, the Musketeers must avoid falling in a tough trap game prior to their big game on Monday. The 49ers have some excellent wins on their ledger--Davidson and St. Joseph's at home, Clemson on the road--and should provide front-running Xavier with a good game. The Musketeers have struggled a bit of late, as they needed a last-second shot to beat St. Louis, and then squandered a 14-point lead over St. Joseph's before coming back to clip the Hawks. Point guard Drew Lavender and Co. will be tested by a Charlotte defense that does a good job of forcing turnovers. The game will also feature two of the most dynamic sub-6'0" players in the nation in the 5'7" Lavender and 5'11" 49ers guard Leemire Goldwire, who is an excellent ball handler and ball hawk.

Matchup: Arkansas (17-5, 6-2 Southeastern) at Tennessee (21-2, 8-1), 8:00
Rankings: Arkansas, #31 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in SEC); Tennessee, #15 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Tennessee, 78-70 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: The Razorbacks are playing like it's 1994, having won four straight SEC contests, the last three of which all over squads in the Pomeroy Top 50. Arkansas has won big--blowouts over Mississippi St. and Florida--but its last three victories have come at home. Beating Tennessee on the road would make the college hoops national audience take notice. Arkansas faces a big problem against the Volunteers, in that the Razorbacks turn it over at a higher rate than any team but Kentucky in the SEC, while Tennessee is the third-best team in the nation at forcing squads to turn it over. Arkansas has an edge in height on Tennessee, however, and the Volunteers two-point field goal defense can be exploited. The Razorbacks also have a strong three-point field goal defense, which should have a full night of work trying to contain senior guards Chris Lofton (79-of-202 from three) and JaJuan Smith (59-of-163).

Matchup: Drake (22-1, 13-0 Missouri Valley) at Southern Illinois (12-12, 7-6), 8:05
Rankings: Drake, #28 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 10 in Missouri Valley); Southern Illinois, #78 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Drake, 63-60 in 60 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 36%
Prospectus: Will this be the game that the Bulldogs go down for the first time in Missouri Valley play? Drake has won 21 straight since falling to St. Mary's in Moraga, and currently the team sports a 29.5 percent chance of winning their final five conference games. Tonight's game represents the greatest individual chance for the in-conference streak to end (the Bulldogs also play Horizon league leader Butler on February 23). The Salukis sure didn't look like a squad that could beat Drake on Sunday, when they lost by 19 to Creighton. Southern Illinois does have the second-best defense in the Valley (after Creighton's) by adjusted efficiency, however, so if anybody is going to slow down Drake's excellent offense--which hasn't scored less than a point per possession since December 29--it could be the Salukis at home. Southern Illinois' defensive bugaboo is letting opponents get to the line frequently, and the Bulldogs shot 17 more free throws than the Salukis in Drake's 61-51 home win January 2.

Matchup: Houston (18-4, 7-1 Conference USA) at Memphis (23-0, 9-0), 9:00
Rankings: Houston, #68 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in CUSA); Memphis, #2 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Memphis, 86-65 in 77 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 4%
Prospectus: It's not everyday you see a game between a first- and second-place team in which the former is projected to win by 21, but, well, welcome to Conference USA. The Tigers' chance at a perfect season in the conference has grown to 71.5 percent. The Cougars, however, didn't embarrass themselves in their first game against the team ranked number one in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls, losing by 12 at home. Houston's best characteristics are that the team doesn't turn the ball over--an aggregate 15.9 turnover percentage--and hits its free throws, ranking ninth with a 76.4 percentage. That's nearly 20 percentage points better than Memphis: perhaps the Cougars should simply hack Joey Dorsey (33 percent from the line) whenever he touches the ball. This game should be very fast paced, with both squads running to the tune of 72 possessions/40 minutes, and the first game being played in 80 possessions.

Matchup: New Mexico (18-6, 5-4 Mountain West) at San Diego St. (16-7, 6-3), 11:00
Rankings: New Mexico, #33 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 9 in Mountain West); San Diego St., #83 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: New Mexico, 66-63 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 39%
Prospectus: The Mountain West doesn't seem to get much play in the media, despite the fact that it's in the same class as the Missouri Valley and Atlantic 10. Drake and Butler are undoubtedly good teams, but how about some propers for BYU and UNLV? You can throw New Mexico in that mix as well. The Lobos are as dangerous as any Mountain West team, despite their being in fourth place. New Mexico has the second best three-point percentage of any team in the nation, thanks primarily to the precision of 6'6" junior Chad Toppert, who has knocked down 50 percent of his triple tries--67-of-133. The team's leader in minutes played is 6'5" senior J.R. Giddens, a transfer from Kansas who is playing much better in his second season out west. Giddens is 23rd overall in defensive rebounding percentage, and first among players 6'5 or shorter. San Diego St. ranks a game ahead of the Lobos in the standings, one and a half in back of BYU. The Aztecs took the first meeting against New Mexico, winning at home 72-67 on January 12.

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

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