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February 17, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Sunday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Games of Sunday, February 17

Matchup: Ohio St. (17-8, 8-4 Big 10) at Michigan (7-17, 3-9), 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS
Rankings: Ohio St., #24 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 11 in Big 10); Michigan, #113 (10th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Ohio St., 68-60 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 20%
Prospectus: The Wolverines have tempered a bad season with back-to-back wins over Penn St. and Iowa, the first time Michigan has won two straight games since opening the season by beating Radford and Brown. The game before its recent (and very modest) string of success for the Wolverines was at Columbus. Michigan led by one at halftime and by two with eight minutes to play before Ohio St. pulled away. The major difference in the Buckeyes' 10-point win was that Ohio St. was able to do a strong job on the offensive glass--despite the fact that they are a relatively tall team, the Wolverines are weak on the defensive boards. These two teams are similar in that they don't make many trips to the line, with both averaging only 19.5 free throw attempts per 100 field goal attempts. Whereas Michigan is also good at keeping opponents off the stripe, Ohio St. is great at it, holding opponents to a national-low 19.1 trips per 100 field goal attempts. They did even better than that against the Wolverines, allowing them only seven free throws against 50 shots from the field. Buckeyes senior Othello Hunter had game-highs of 15 points and 12 rebounds in the win. The 6'8 forward leads Ohio St. in eFG% (57.9) and offensive rebounding percentage (16.2).

Matchup: Miami (16-7, 3-6 Atlantic Coast) at Georgia Tech (11-12, 4-5), 1:00
Rankings: Miami, #53 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 12 in ACC); Georgia Tech, #63 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Georgia Tech, 78-75 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 39%
Prospectus: Miami's season, once so promising, now appears to be on track for an NIT berth rather than a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Hurricanes, who started the year 14-1, might still get to 20 wins, but they have very little shot of getting to even .500 in ACC play. The culprit for Miami is its defense, which has been the third worst in ACC games thus far. The Hurricanes have struggled to force turnovers all season, especially in conference play. When Miami has been able to create turnovers, however, its defense has been especially effective. That includes the team's 78-68 win over the Yellowjackets on January 12, when the Hurricanes forced Georgia Tech into turning it over on 24.4 percent of possessions, and held the Yellowjackets to 0.92 points per possession.

Matchup: St. Louis (14-10, 5-5 Atlantic 10) at Massachusetts (15-9, 4-6), 2:00
Rankings: Saint Louis, #122 in Pomeroy Ratings (9th of 14 in A-10); Massachusetts, #85 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Massachusetts, 71-62 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 19%
Prospectus: Coach Rick Majerus has done an admirable job in his first year leading the Billikens, and his charges have improved as the season has progressed. Of course, it's hard to not show improvement after an NCAA record-low 20-point performance. But consider that since dropping its first league game 49-20 at George Washington, St. Louis has won five of nine, with two of its losses coming in overtime, and one by two points on a last-second put-back to the best team in the conference, Xavier. After that tough defeat, the Billikens went on the road and beat Richmond by nine, and then got revenge on George Washington in a 63-38 crushing at home this past Wednesday. The team's offense, sporadic at best all season, has been clicking in the past three games, and will now go up against a Massachusetts team coming off a bad home loss to Fordham on Thursday. St. Louis beat the Minutemen at home by 12 on February 2, a game in which the Billikens held Massachusetts to 0.79 points per possession and a 31.8 eFG%. The Minutemen have a serious height advantage on St. Louis, as the Billikens don't have anyone taller than 6'7 among their top six in minutes played. Despite that fact, however, St. Louis has a stout interior defense, which allows opponents to shoot only 44.3 percent on two-pointers.

Matchup: Duke (22-1, 10-0 Atlantic Coast) at Wake Forest (15-8, 5-5), 7:30
Rankings: Duke, #3 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in ACC); Wake Forest, #64 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Duke, 84-72 in 78 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 14%
Prospectus: Duke's chance of going undefeated in the ACC is up to 44.4 percent, with the greatest potential tripping point of course being the last game of the season, when the Blue Devils host North Carolina (Duke is "only" an 80 percent favorite to win that one). Duke's dominance this season has been remarkable--the Blue Devils have played exactly one close game all year, by the definition of the term (decided by three points or less or in overtime), and that was the team's only loss, 65-64 in overtime to Pittsburgh. Duke hasn't played a game that was decided by less than nine points since that loss, which came on December 20. The Blue Devils, in other words, have earned their gaudy record. This will be Duke's first and only meeting this season with the Demon Deacons, who are the ACC's youngest team. While Blue Devils' freshman Kyle Singler has gotten a great deal of attention, for good reason, Singler isn't the only 6'8 first-year forward in the conference who has played very well: Wake Forest's James Johnson leads his team in possessions used, percentage of shots taken, eFG%, and rebounding.

Matchup: UCLA (21-3, 9-2 Pacific 10) at Southern California (15-8, 6-5), 10:00
Rankings: UCLA, #4 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 10 in Pac 10); Southern California, #27 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: UCLA, 68-63 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 33%
Prospectus: This is the rematch that everyone in Los Angeles has been waiting for, as Kevin Love will try to get even with his friend O.J. Mayo at the Galen Center after Mayo and Southern California handed the Bruins their second loss of the season, 72-63, on January 19 at Pauley Pavilion. It wasn't Mayo who led the Trojans to that upset, but fellow-freshman Davon Jefferson, a 6'8 forward who exploded for 25 points on 10-of-15 shooting and nine rebounds. The Trojans obviously won't again put up the 65 eFG% they did in that game against a hearty Bruins defense, but Southern California also won't likely turn it over on 29 percent of its possessions again, either. Both these teams have great defenses that do an excellent job of keeping opponents off the free-throw line, but while UCLA is a very good defensive rebounding team that is only middle-of-the-pack at making opponents miss, the Trojans hold their foes to a very low eFG% but struggle on the boards. UCLA's offensive rebounding skill could therefore be a killer for the Trojans if USC's shooting comes back down to Earth, as it most likely will.

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

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