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February 14, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Thursday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Matchup: Sacred Heart (14-10, 11-2 Northeast) at Wagner (17-6, 10-2), 7:00 p.m. EST
Rankings: Sacred Heart, #201 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 11 in NEC); Wagner, #235 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Wagner, 74-73 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 44%
Prospectus: The Wagner Seahawks have been the luckiest team in Division I this year by a wide margin. Based on their points scored and points allowed totals, Wagner has won 5.5 more games than could be expected. The next luckiest team, NC Asheville, is only +2.7. In fact, the Seahawks are on pace to be far and away the luckiest squad of the 2006-08 period. Wagner has won three games in overtime, four more that were close (decided by three points or less), and three more by four points. The Seahawks have lost by an average of 19.7 points in their six defeats, and won by an average of 6.6 in their victories. Some of that discrepancy stems from a 42-point loss at Kansas on December 29. Wagner has put its luck to good use, as the Seahawks have pulled to within a half-game of the first-place Pioneers in the Northeast. Returning home to Staten Island after two straight overtime wins on the road, Wagner could claim at least a share of the top spot in the NEC with a victory over Sacred Heart. In the teams' first meeting, on January 5, the Seahawks beat Sacred Heart 70-63 on the Pioneers' home court.

Matchup: Belmont (17-8, 9-2 Atlantic Sun) at East Tennessee St. (14-10, 8-3), 7:00
Rankings: Belmont, #171 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in Atlantic Sun); East Tennessee St., #178 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: East Tennessee St., 86-82 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 36%
Prospectus: If you like a quick pace, than the Atlantic Sun might be a conference you'll want to adopt. The Sun's 12 teams average 70.5 possessions per 40 minutes, solidly above the national average of 67.5. Strangely, however, the first time these two teams played the game dragged at a 67-possession pace, with Belmont winning an 86-83 offensive slugfest at home. This rematch will be for first place, as the Bruins currently hold a one-game lead on the Buccaneers. There are only four games remaining for each team after this one, so the Buccaneers need to strike now in order to have a chance of grabbing at least a share of the title. These two squads have dominated the Atlantic Sun of late--East Tennessee St. won the regular-season crown last year with a 16-2 conference record, while Belmont tied for the lead in 2006 with Lipscomb and has taken the conference tournament each of the past two years.

Matchup: Texas Arlington (16-6, 5-4 Southland) at Lamar (13-8, 7-1), 8:00
Rankings: Texas Arlington, #178 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in Southland); Lamar, #161 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Lamar, 79-72 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: The Lamar Cardinals of Beaumont, Texas currently sit in first place in the Southland, having lost only one conference game, but with two fewer games played than the pair of squads behind them. Texas Arlington is tied for fifth. Lamar's lead is precarious--the Cardinals are at the top thanks to three overtime conference wins. Aptly named Lamar Sanders is the team's leader, ranking seventh in the nation in eFG%. The 6'6" forward has shot 70 percent on his two-pointers (103-of-147), extremely impressive for a player his size, and is tops on the team in block, steal and defensive rebounding percentages as well. The Mavericks have their own standout forward in 6'9" Jermaine Griffin, who bests his squad in rebounding and block percentage and has shot 66 percent on his 180 two-pointers. Texas Arlington is coming off a 99-81 win last Saturday over the most up-tempo team in the nation, Texas St., a game that saw a remarkably fast 91 possessions.

Matchup: California (14-8, 5-6 Pacific 10) at Arizona (15-8, 5-5), 8:30
Rankings: California, #48 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 10 in Pac 10); Arizona, #22 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Arizona, 80-71 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 19%
Prospectus: The Wildcats have lost two straight, including a home game against rival Arizona St., to fall into a tie for fifth place in the Pac 10. They're also playing through another injury, as guard Nic Wise is set to miss six weeks with following surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. The Golden Bears are coming off a bad loss of their own, at home by 22 points to Oregon. This matchup is between two teams with similar profiles (and problems): strong offense and shaky defense. California ranks second-to-last in the conference in defensive efficiency, behind even woeful Oregon St. (and ahead of only Oregon), but the Golden Bears' attack is 10th in the nation in adjusted efficiency. Arizona's offense is two spots ahead of California's, and the Wildcats' only weakness on offense--rebounding--has been broken down by Ken Pomeroy and revealed as being part of a strategy to improve the team's defense (which has worked, as Arizona's defense, while still not an elite unit, is improved from last year). The Wildcats won their first meeting with California this year, 79-75 in Berkeley on January 19, a game in which, predictably, not much defense was played.

Matchup: Georgia Tech (11-11, 4-4 Atlantic Coast) at Clemson (17-6, 5-5), 9:00
Rankings: Georgia Tech, #62 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 12 in ACC); Clemson, #14 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Clemson, 85-71 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 11%
Prospectus: The Tigers will try to recover from another heartbreaking loss to North Carolina. This last one came on Chapel Hill in double OT last Sunday, after Clemson had fallen in a single extra session to the Tar Heels at home on January 22. If Clemson can overcome the aftereffects of one more losing fight against its personal demon, the Tigers will still be in good shape, as they have a relatively clean path towards locking up an NCAA tournament bid in the regular season. Clemson doesn't play Duke again, and their toughest remaining game is at Maryland on March 2. The Tigers will have to start the healing process by stopping Georgia Tech senior Anthony Morrow, who leads the Yellowjackets in offensive rating, percentage of shots taken and eFG%, and has the 12th-lowest turnover rate in the nation.

Matchup: Nevada (16-8, 8-3 Western Athletic) at Boise St. (17-6, 8-3), 9:00
Rankings: Nevada, #99 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 9 in WAC); Boise St., #129 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Boise St., 82-81 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 49%
Prospectus: The Wolf Pack and the Broncos are two of the three teams tied for second in the WAC--New Mexico St. is the other--at a half-game behind Utah St. Nevada beat Utah St. on Monday to pull to within striking range. Boise St. defeated the Wolf Pack by 15 points on the road January 19, a game in which Nevada's defense was shredded to the tune of a 65.8 Broncos' eFG%. Boise St. can do that to teams, as it has the number-one offense in the country by eFG%, shooting 57.3 percent from two-point range and 39.6 percent from three. It is curious that the Broncos can shoot that well from the floor--especially from three-point range--and have such a bad free-throw percentage, but Boise St. hits only 65.9 percent of its free throws. Especially hard to explain is the performance of 6'2" senior Matt Bauscher (45 percent on 92 attempts from three, 19-of-37 from the line) and 6'6" junior Reggie Larry (27-of-62 from three, 63 percent on 128 free throws). Bauscher and Larry have combined to make 60 percent of their two-point shots, the same percentage as the two combined shoot from the line.

Matchup: Pacific (17-6, 8-2 Big West) at UC Irvine (10-13, 5-5), 10:05
Rankings: Pacific, #154 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 9 in Big West); UC Irvine, #167 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: UC Irvine, 68-65 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 41%
Prospectus: Pacific is tied with Cal St. Northridge atop the Big West, a half game ahead of Cal St. Fullerton. The Tigers run the second best offense in the conference, which is powered by strong percentage shooting and a marked ability to make trips to the line. Junior forward Anthony Brown has shot 141 free throws to his 140 field goal attempts, the fourth highest rate in the country. Pacific is looking to get back to the NCAA tournament after having its three-year streak of regular season Big West titles and tourney appearances snapped last year by Long Beach St. The Anteaters of UC Irvine have won two Big West regular season crowns, back-to-back in 2001 and '02, but have yet to capture the conference tournament or go to the big dance.

Matchup: Stanford (20-3, 9-2 Pacific 10) at Arizona St. (15-7, 5-5), 10:30
Rankings: Stanford, #10 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 10 in Pac 10); Arizona St., #47 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Stanford, 60-56 in 59 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 33%
Prospectus: Ken Pomeroy detailed yesterday why Stanford is a good candidate to make a run to the Final Four come March. It's because of the Cardinal's defense, which despite not generating any steals, grabs nearly every rebound and holds opponents to a remarkably low two-point shooting percentage (40.3) thanks mostly to the presence of 7'0" twins Brook and Robin Lopez down low. How much fun would it be to see a matchup between the Cardinal and Connecticut--the teams which rank second and third in Effective Height, respectively--in the tournament? Future speculation aside, Stanford faces an interesting test at Arizona St. tonight. The Sun Devils, despite ranking in the bottom third in the nation in Effective Height, shoot 54.8 percent on two's, as 6'9" junior Jeff Pendergraph has a 61.3 eFG% and 6'5" freshman James Harden is at 60.2. If the game plays out anything like the first meeting between the two teams, however, the immovable object will stop the irrisistable force: Arizona St. shot just 9-of-31 (29 percent) from inside the arc in a 67-52 loss at Maples Pavilion January 19.

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

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