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February 26, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Tuesday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Games of Tuesday, February 26

Matchup: Ohio St. (17-10, 8-6 Big 10) at Indiana (23-4, 12-2), 7:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Rankings: Ohio St., #28 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 11 in Big 10); Indiana, #16 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Indiana, 69-62 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 22%
Prospectus: On Saturday, the Hoosiers barely pulled out a victory over hapless Northwestern, leaving Evanston with an 85-82 victory in the team's first game without coach Kelvin Sampson, whose contract was bought out on Friday after the NCAA brought charges of five major rules violations against him. The question facing Indiana is, obviously, how the team will adapt to new coach Dan Dakich. The Buckeyes, whose firing of coach Jim O'Brien in 2004 has been revisited frequently in recent days due to the Sampson affair and O'Brien's successful lawsuit against the school, have lost their last two and are very much on the tournament bubble. These two teams played three Sunday's ago, with Indiana winning at home 59-53 in an extremely slow 55 possessions, much fewer than would be expected given the two teams' paces (67 possessions/40 minutes for Indiana and 64 for Ohio St.). The Hoosiers won mostly because they turned the ball over just six times, good for their second-lowest turnover percentage of the season, and because the Buckeyes could not stop forward D.J. White, who scored 21 points on 10-of-15 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds. White, the favorite for Big 10 Player of the Year, is tops in the conference in offensive rating among players having used at least 21 percent of possessions, and leads Indiana in eFG%, rebounding and blocks.

An interesting trend to watch in this rematch will be whether Ohio St., which is the best team in the country at not sending its opponent to the line, can continue to keep White and freshman guard Eric Gordon from shooting free throws. Gordon and White have combined to average 13.4 trips per game this season, but the pair shot just five free throws in the first game with the Buckeyes (four by Gordon). The Hoosiers as a team attempted just seven free throws, and hit every one. Indiana ranks ninth in the country with a 76.7 free throw percentage.

Matchup: Southern Illinois (16-12, 10-6 Missouri Valley) at Bradley (17-12, 9-7), 7:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Southern Illinois, #54 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 10 in Missouri Valley); Bradley, #82 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Bradley, 67-66 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 47%
Prospectus: Basketball Prospectus' Joe Sheehan discussed the potential NCAA Tournament at-large chance of Southern Illinois in his review of the BracketBusters matchups. As stated in that piece, the Salukis absolutely have to win their last two regular season games, against Bradley and second-place Illinois St., to have a shot. Winning at Bradley will be a challenge, as the Braves have played very well of late, with an impressive 28-point win over Creighton at home, a one-point upset of Valley leader Drake on the road, and a victory over BracketBusters opponent Wisconsin Milwaukee in their past three games. Southern Illinois beat Bradley 77-64 on January 8, a game in which the Salukis shot 56 eFG% from the floor and the Braves turned it over on 29 percent of their possessions. Forcing teams into turnovers has been the M.O. of Southern Illinois' strong defense this season, as it ranks 14th in the country in opponent turnover percentage. The Salukis are not strong in stopping the three-pointer, however, and Bradley gets a larger percentage of its points from threes than any other Valley team. The Braves shot only 6-of-21 on long balls in the first game between these two, but that percentage will likely increase in this rematch, for Bradley shoots 38 percent from deep and the Salukis have allowed 36 percent three-point shooting.

Matchup: Boston College (13-12, 4-8 Atlantic Coast) at Virginia Tech (16-11, 7-6), 7:00, ESPNU
Rankings: Boston College, #75 in Pomeroy Ratings (10th of 12 in ACC); Virginia Tech, #66 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Virginia Tech, 68-64 in 67 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 31%
Prospectus: The Hokies are tied with Maryland for fourth place in the ACC, but unlike the teams surrounding them--Clemson and the Terrapins, as well as Miami one game behind--Virginia Tech does not have a bead on an NCAA Tournament at-large berth. That's because the Hokies didn't beat anybody notable in their non-conference schedule, and have lost all three games they've played against Duke, North Carolina and Miami. The big game for Virginia Tech is its last of the year, at Clemson; if it can win its next two at home and pull that one out, the Hokies will head into the ACC Tournament still with a fighting chance. Virginia Tech beat Boston College on the road in overtime January 26, which was the second in a series of eight losses in nine games for the Eagles, a slump that has dropped them one game from the ACC basement after a 3-0 start in league play. Virginia Tech played without freshman forward Jeff Allen in that game, who is the team's leader in percentage of possessions used, eFG%, rebounding, and steals.

Matchup: Tennessee (25-2, 11-1 Southeastern) at Vanderbilt (23-4, 8-4), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Tennessee, #14 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 12 in Big 12); Vanderbilt, #48 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Tennessee, 82-78 in 76 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 36%
Prospectus: The Volunteers sit atop both the AP and the USA Today/ESPN polls, as well as the RPI, after Saturday's huge road win over then-No. 1 Memphis. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has won six in a row after suffering three big losses in four games in late January. The first of those defeats was to Tennessee, 80-60. In that game the Commodores, not surprisingly, committed turnovers at a higher rate than they have in any other conference game, and their prolific three-point attack was shut down by the Volunteers, to the tune of 3-of-21 shooting. This contest will likely also be decided at the arc: Vanderbilt shoots 40.6 percent from deep, the eighth-best figure in the country, while Tennessee holds teams to a fifth-lowest 29.1 long range percentage. Commodores senior Shan Foster leads all BCS-conference players in three-point makes per game, with 3.7, and has shot 45 percent from deep. Vanderbilt is fighting to get a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament--the top two teams in the conference's East and West divisions receive a bye, and the Commodores are currently a game behind second-place Kentucky in the East (and three games behind Tennessee). Tennessee plays at the fastest pace of any SEC team, and Vanderbilt the second-fastest, so this game promises to be played at a breakneck speed.

Matchup: Oklahoma St. (14-12, 5-7 Big 12) at Missouri (15-12, 5-7), 9:00, ESPNU
Rankings: Oklahoma St., #50 in Pomeroy Ratings (10th of 12 in Big 12); Missouri, #33 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Missouri, 76-69 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 27%
Prospectus: The Cowboys are coming off a very surprising one-point upset of Kansas at home, in which they held the second-best offense in the country to just 0.93 points per possession and forced the Jayhawks into turnovers on 31 percent of their trips. A high opponent turnover percentage is the hallmark of Oklahoma St.'s good defense, as the Cowboys have three players in the top 300 nationally in steal percentage, including junior guard Byron Eaton, who ranks 28th. Eaton is also one of the best in the country at getting to the foul line, averaging 77 free throw attempts per 100 field goal tries, and he made 18 trips to the line against Kansas (converting on 16 of them) to score a career-high 26 points. Battling in the country's best conference, both of these teams have played very hard schedules thus far, with Oklahoma St. facing the 12th-toughest and Missouri the 10th by the Pomeroy Ratings. The Tigers have gone up against the third-best collection of defenses in the country, with the result being that the team's offense is much better than the raw numbers show. However, Stefhon Hannah, a senior guard who led Missouri in percentage of possessions used, shots taken, assist rate and steal percentage, was dismissed from the Tigers for a violation of team rules February 12. The Tigers are the third-best in the Big 12 and the 24th-best in the nation at taking care of the ball, with turnovers on only 18.1 percent of their possessions, so it will be difficult for the Cowboys to force the turnovers that they need for their defense to be highly efficient.

Matchup: Brigham Young (21-6, 10-2 Mountain West) at New Mexico (22-6, 9-4), 10:00
Rankings: Brigham Young, #41 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 9 in Mountain West); New Mexico, #29 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: New Mexico, 71-65 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 26%
Prospectus: The Lobos picked up a huge one-point win on the road Saturday over Utah, which gave New Mexico the full NCAA Tournament at-large berth consideration that it deserves. Now the Lobos play their next two games at home against the two teams directly ahead of them in the Mountain West standings--Brigham Young is in first place, one and a half games ahead, and UNLV in second a half-game up. New Mexico will be looking for a little revenge after the Cougars' 83-66 victory in Provo earlier in the year. Lee Cummard, who ranks ninth in the country in offensive rating among players who have used 20 percent of possessions or more and who has a 66 eFG%, 10th best in the country, led the Cougars with 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting in that game. Brigham Young beat the Lobos by hitting an absurd 13-of-16 from three point range, with sophomore Jonathan Tavernari going 5-of-6. The Cougars rank 14 in the nation in three-point field goal percentage defense, at 30.2 percent, and they held the Lobos' nation-best three-point attack, which converts at 43.7 percent, to 6-of-18 shooting. New Mexico did not fare much better percentage-wise from two-point range, as Brigham Young also sports an excellent two-point defense, with the result being that the Cougars are seventh in Division I in eFG% allowed, at only 43.3. Both of these teams are also in the top 10 nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. For New Mexico, 6'5" senior guard J.R. Giddens has grabbed 27.3 percent of the defensive rebounds when he's been on the floor, the best ratio of anybody his height or shorter and the 14th-best percentage overall.

Matchup: San Diego St. (18-9, 8-5 Mountain West) at Nevada Las Vegas (20-6, 9-3), 10:00
Rankings: San Diego St., #83 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 9 in Mountain West); Nevada Las Vegas, #59 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Nevada Las Vegas, 66-60 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 25%
Prospectus: The Aztecs are coming off a big 69-65 win over conference leader Brigham Young at home on Saturday, and will be playing the Runnin' Rebels for the second time this season. The first game resulted in a 72-69 UNLV road win. The Rebels shot 60 eFG% from the floor in that game, hitting 10 of their 21 three-point tries, uncharacteristic for a team that has made only 33 percent of its three-pointers on the season. UNLV held San Diego St. to very poor shooting from deep--4-of-20--which it has been doing to teams all year, as the Rebels defense ranks fourth in the country with a 29 three-point field goal percentage allowed. The Rebels are also excellent at taking care of the ball, having turned it over on only 15.8 percent of possessions, while the Aztecs are a strong defensive rebounding team that collects a good number of steals. UNLV stands one back in the loss column of Brigham Young, and has a good chance of finishing in at least a tie for first if it can pull out its one road game left on the schedule, at New Mexico on March 4. With 20 wins and victories over both Brigham Young and New Mexico already under their belt, the Rebels look to be in good shape in terms of earning an invite to the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season. Last year the Rebels won the Mountain West conference tournament to earn the automatic berth, then knocked off 10-seed Georgia Tech and two-seed Wisconsin before falling to three-seed Oregon.

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

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Prospectus Preview (02/27)
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Conference Check (02/26)

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