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February 18, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Monday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Games of Monday, February 18

Matchup: Georgetown (20-4, 10-3 Big East) at Providence (13-12, 4-9), 4:00 p.m. EST, ESPN2
Rankings: Georgetown, #11 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 16 in Big East); Providence, #72 (9th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Georgetown, 68-62 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 24%
Prospectus: Thanks to Saturday afternoon's loss at Syracuse, for the first time this year the Hoyas have fallen out of the Pomeroy Top 10, and now rank behind Louisville, with whom they are tied atop the Big East. Georgetown's offense has struggled in conference play, and the unit hasn't been as effective as it was last season, or even the year before that. Georgetown's 7'2" center Roy Hibbert shot just six times against the Orange, the 17th time this season in 24 games he has attempted less than 10 shots. One has to figure that the Hoyas' offense would be more effective if Hibbert, who has a 61 eFG%, could more consistently be the focal point of the attack. Georgetown has improved its defense this season, however, which has been the second-best in conference games thus far behind only Louisville's (although Georgetown did give up 1.19 points per possession in its loss Saturday). What has prevented the Hoyas from being an elite defense is an inability to turn opponents over and collect enough defensive boards, and both problems were in evidence against Syracuse Saturday. On the offensive boards could be where Providence is able to hurt Georgetown today, as the Friars are a good offensive rebounding team whose offensive efficiency is strongly correlated to their second-chance opportunities.

Matchup: Syracuse (17-9, 7-6 Big East) at Louisville (20-6, 10-3), 7:00, ESPN
Rankings: Syracuse, #39 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 16 in Big East); Louisville, #8 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville, 79-67 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 13%
Prospectus: A very young Orange squad picked up its biggest win of the year on Saturday over Georgetown, a win that firmly pushed Syracuse into the NCAA tournament bubble picture. If the Orange could find a way to take this game at Louisville as well, they'd virtually guarantee an at-large berth for themselves. The Cardinals moved into a tie for first place in the Big East with their win at Providence Saturday and Georgetown's loss, and continued their steady climb up the Pomeroy Rankings since senior center David Padgett's return from a knee injury at the beginning of the conference schedule. The best matchup in this game will be Syracuse's potent two-point offense (54.3 percent shooting) against Louisville's stiff interior defense (40.9 two-point field goal percentage allowed). The Orange doesn't have much of a three-point attack--Syracuse gets just 20 percent of its points from downtown, the 11th lowest percentage in Division I--so if the Cardinals' two-point defense wins the battle inside the arc, it will likely be a long night for the Orange.

Matchup: Xavier (21-4, 9-1 Atlantic 10) at Rhode Island (20-5, 6-4), 7:00
Rankings: Xavier, #18 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 14 in A-10); Rhode Island, #63 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Xavier, 79-75 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 33%
Prospectus: The Musketeers eked out another one last Wednesday, beating Charlotte 62-60, its third straight tight game in Atlantic 10 play. The Rams didn't fare as well in Philadelphia, as they lost in overtime to Temple, and are now tied with both Temple and Richmond in third place in the A-10. The Rams get to return home to play first-place Xavier, however, where they are 11-0 this season. With a win in this game Rhode Island could essentially lock up an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament, which would be the school's first trip since 1999. That was the year when Lamar Odom donned the powder blue and led the Rams to their only A-10 tournament title (the first and last time Rhode Island won the regular-season title was 1981, a banner shared with Duquesne). Xavier has won three of the last six A-10 tournaments, although the Musketeers were bounced from the running for a fourth in the second round of 2007 by the Rams, which was the last time these two teams met. Both squads have offenses that are significantly better than their defenses, so this game should be a high-scoring affair, and if the Rhode Island gets its way it will also be a fast-paced one.

Matchup: Rider (18-8, 11-4 Metro Atlantic) at Loyola MD (15-12, 10-5), 7:00
Rankings: Rider, #120 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 10 in MAAC); Loyola MD, #166 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Rider, 78-77 in 71 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 49%
Prospectus: Rider fell on the road against Fairfield Saturday, but the Broncs caught a break in that Siena, their co-inhabitant in first place, also lost a winnable game. Or you could say that Rider missed a great chance to take sole possession of first in the Metro Atlantic after Siena's misstep, depending on how you want to color it. Regardless, thanks to Saturday's action, the top of the MAAC is now extraordinarily tight--Rider and Siena are both at 11-4, while Niagara and Loyala MD are one back at 10-5, and both Marist and Fairfield are lurking at 9-6, with just three conference games remaining for the lot. Loyola, the team that knocked off Siena on Saturday in overtime, has never won the MAAC regular-season title, and has been to the NCAA Tournament just once, after winning the conference tournament in 1994. Coincidentally, 1994 was also the last year Rider made it to the NCAA Tournament. The Broncs won the first meeting of the season between these two teams, 81-67 on January 13, a game in which Rider shot 16 more free throws than the Greyhounds (does Loyola get complimentary bus travel to road games?). If the Greyhounds can manage to neutralize that advantage in the rematch--Loyola does a great job of getting to the line, but has been completely unable to keep opponents from reaching--then they will stand a very good shot at winning, for they shoot 77.2 percent as a team on free throws (the seventh best rate in the country), while Rider converts just 64.5 percent of its attempts.

Matchup: Texas A&M (20-5, 6-4 Big 12) at Texas (21-4, 8-2), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Texas A&M, #14 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in Big 12); Texas, #19 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Texas, 67-64 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 38%
Prospectus: Things were going great for the Aggies up until Saturday. Texas A&M had won five games in a row, a streak that included victories against Texas, Oklahoma and Missour. Then a down Oklahoma St. team came into College Station and won by five. The Aggies now have to hit the road to play their rematch with the Longhorns, who are likely looking for some revenge after getting beat 80-63 by Texas A&M on January 30. The Aggies shot the lights out in that game, going for a 63.5 eFG%, while holding Texas to a 40.6 mark. Texas A&M is an excellent defensive team that has one glaring weakness--the Aggies rank dead last in the Big 12 and 328th out of 341 Division I teams in forcing turnovers. Don't expect that to change in this game, because Texas is the best squad in the country at protecting the ball, and turned it over on just 12.5 percent of its possessions in its earlier loss at College Station. Texas A&M should be able to duplicate the advantage at the free-throw line it held in the first meeting, however, because the Aggies have done a significantly better job than Texas this year of both getting to the line and keeping opponents from shooting free throws. The Longhorns have won five in a row in Big 12 play after Saturday's five-point win at Baylor, and are even in the loss column with both Kansas St. and Kansas, with one win separating them from the Jayhawks at the top of the conference standings.

Matchup: Gonzaga (20-6, 9-1 West Coast) at San Diego (15-11, 8-1), 11:00
Rankings: Gonzaga, #24 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 8 in WCC); San Diego, #131 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Gonzaga, 69-60 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 17%
Prospectus: Winners of seven straight West Coast games, the Toreros have control of their own destiny, as they are even in the loss column with both Gonzaga and St. Mary's with games against both teams amongst their final four scheduled contests. Of course, it is unlikely that San Diego can win either of those games, let alone both--although they are the third-best team in the WCC, the Toreros rate nearly 100 spots below both in the Pomeroy Ratings. In the first meeting between San Diego and Gonzaga this season, the Bulldogs won 80-70 January 19 in Spokane. The Toreros shot 9-of-20 on three-pointers in that game, but hit only 42 percent of their attempts from inside the arc, while Gonzaga scored efficiently on both twos and threes to put up a 63.5 eFG%. That disparity was likely related to Gonzaga's height advantage: the Bulldogs are fifth in the country in Effective Height, and sixth in Average Minutes-Weighted Height, while San Diego ranks in the bottom third of Division I in both categories. Gonzaga is one of the most well-balanced teams in the nation, with the 30th rated offense by adjusted efficiency (1.14 points per possession) and the 31st rated defense (0.91).

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

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