Games of Monday, February 25
Matchup: Marquette (20-6, 10-5 Big East) at Villanova (17-9, 7-7), 7:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Rankings: Marquette, #10 in Pomeroy
Ratings (3rd of 16 in Big East); Villanova, #59 (9th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Marquette, 73-68 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: The Wildcats have played much better after suffering through a five-game losing streak, winning four of their last five, including victories at home over West Virginia and Connecticut. Villanova's lone loss in that stretch was by two points at Georgetown, and the team is now in the mix for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. Freshman guard Corey Stokes has set career highs in three straight games for the Wildcats, and is 10-of-20 from three-point range in the team's three-game winning streak. He shot 4-of-7 from three and finished with a game-high 18 points in Villanova's 67-65 win over Connecticut on Saturday. The third-youngest team in the Big East, Villanova's leading scorer is sophomore guard Scottie Reynolds, who has averaged 16.4 points per game on 50 eFG% shooting. Marquette enters this game having won four in a row, and is two games behind Big East leader Georgetown with three conference games left. The Golden Eagles play the Hoyas next Saturday at home. Marquette junior guard Jerel McNeal had a great game in the team's 30-point win over Rutgers Saturday, scoring 14 points on 7-of-10 shooting while grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out seven assists, garnering five steals, and blocking three shots.
Matchup: Hampton (15-10, 10-4 Mid Eastern) at Morgan St. (17-9, 12-2), 7:30
Rankings: Hampton, #251 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in MEAC); Morgan St., #170 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Morgan St., 67-58 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 17%
Prospectus: Todd Bozeman has his charges in line for an NCAA Tournament appearance in just his second year at the helm, two years removed from a season in which the Bears finished 4-26. Morgan St. is the clear-cut best team in the MEAC, over 80 spots in the Pomeroy Ratings ahead of second-best Hampton. The Bears are one game ahead of Norfolk St. and two ahead of Hampton with three conference games left. Morgan St. beat the Pirates back when Hampton was undefeated in the conference, on January 28, to claim a share of first place. In that game, a 64-57 decision, the Bears' leading scorer Jamar Smith scored 23 points on 50 eFG% shooting, while leading rebounder Boubacar Coly had 12 points and 12 boards. Morgan St. is characterized by a strong defense which is the best in the nation at limiting three-point field goal attempts--less than one of four of Bears' opponents' shots from the floor are from long range. Hampton is the second-best team in the country at three-point field goal percentage defense, and both squads are strong on the offensive glass.
Matchup: Texas (23-4, 10-2 Big 12) at Kansas St. (18-8, 8-4), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Texas, #9 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in Big 12); Kansas St., #11 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas St., 74-71 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 35%
Prospectus: Texas is on fire, having won seven straight to move into first place in the Big 12 and jump past tonight's foe, Kansas St., in the Pomeroy Ratings. Texas has also taken over the top spot in the nation in terms of adjusted offensive efficiency, as the Longhorns, after factoring in the strength of the defense they've faced (fifth toughest), have converted at a rate of 1.22 points per possession. Rick Barnes can certainly put together an offense, and in the last two wins--at home by 27 over Texas A&M and 17 over Oklahoma--Texas has also been doing it with defense, holding the Aggies to 0.75 points per possession and the Sooners to 0.73 points. While one should be cautious reading too much into two games, those performances could be the sign that the Longhorns are on their way to becoming a truly elite squad. Kansas St. seems to be moving in the opposite direction after back-to-back losses to Nebraska and Baylor, and three setbacks in their past four. All of the Wildcats' four conference defeats have come on the road, however, and Kansas St. now gets to return to Bramlage Coliseum, where it is 14-1 this year (a November 29 overtime loss to Oregon being the lone smudge).
Kansas St.'s vaunted defense has gotten ripped in the past two games, to the tune of allowing over 1.13 points per possession and better than 55 eFG% shooting from the floor. That doesn't bode well for this showdown with the charging Longhorns.
Texas' offense is a great lesson in just how important it is to hold onto the ball. The Longhorns don't shoot particularly well--they're just sixth in the Big 12 in eFG%, and eighth in free throw percentage. They're a good offensive rebounding team, but not nearly at the level of Kansas St., which leads the nation in that department. But Texas has turned it over on less than 14 percent of its possessions, and just because the Longhorns are able to get a shot off on a greater number of their trips than any other team, they have the most efficient offense.
Matchup: Valparaiso (16-12, 6-9 Horizon League) at Wisconsin Milwaukee (13-13, 8-7), 9:00
Rankings: Valparaiso, #124 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 10 in Horizon); Wisconsin Milwaukee, #148 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Wisconsin Milwaukee, 71-70 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 43%
Prospectus: The Crusaders were looking good early in the season, going 9-3 in the non-conference and winning their first two Horizon League games, both on the road, but things quickly fell apart in conference play when the calender turned to 2008, and before Saturday's double overtime win over Miami OH, Valparaiso had lost six of seven. Part of the Crusaders' struggles were caused by Wisconsin Milwaukee, as the Panthers pulled out a two-point win in Indiana earlier this year. Wisconsin Milwaukee has had its own struggles of late, having lost five of six to wipe away a promising 7-3 start to its Horizon campaign. The Panthers are good at handling the ball on offense and rebounding on defense, while Valparaiso marches at the pleasure of the three-pointer. The Crusaders shoot 40.3 percent on threes, the 10th-best mark in D-I, and because they fire from deep quite often have scored 40 percent of their points from threes, also the 10th highest mark in the country. Senior Shawn Huff leads the team in that category, with 62 makes in 136 attempts (46 percent). Valparaiso is also a strong defensive rebounding team, so the battle on the boards should be fierce.
Matchup: San Diego (16-12, 9-2 West Coast) at St. Mary's (23-4, 10-1), 10:05
Rankings: San Diego, #126 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 8 in West Coast); St. Mary's, #34 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: St. Mary's, 70-57 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 8%
Prospectus: The Toreros narrowly missed an upset that would have defined their season and perhaps helped bring them the West Coast title last Monday in a four-point home loss to Gonzaga. Now San Diego will venture into the home of the team that shares the top spot with the Bulldogs, St. Mary's. The Gaels blew a lead on Saturday in losing to Kent St. in a BracketBusters matchup, which was their first loss of the season in Moraga. That setback, as well as San Diego's home win over St. Mary's earlier in the season, will likely have the Gaels in a nasty mood. In the Toreros' 63-55 win over St. Mary's January 28th, juniors Gyno Pomare and Brandon Johnson combined to score 45 points on 18-of-25 from the field (Pomare made nine of 10 shots). Considering that San Diego is averaging 0.97 points per possession, and St. Mary's is holding its opponents to 0.91, San Diego won't be able to re-create the 1.05 points per possession offense it found in its first game with the Gaels.
Caleb Peiffer is a contributor to Basketball Prospectus. He can be reached here.