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March 1, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Saturday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer


Games of Saturday, March 1

Big 12

Matchup: Nebraska (17-9, 6-7) at Oklahoma St. (15-12, 6-7), 1:45 p.m. EST
Rankings: Nebraska, #30 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 12 in Big 12); Oklahoma St., #48 (9th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Oklahoma St., 61-60 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 45%
Prospectus: Assuming that half of the Big 12's teams will make the NCAA Tournament, one squad currently at 6-7 in the conference will get in. Oklahoma has the third best RPI in the Big 12, better even than Kansas St.'s, while Nebraska has the edge in the Pomeroy Ratings, and beat the Sooners by 18 points at home on Wednesday. The Huskers were dead in the water regarding an NCAA Tournament berth two weeks ago, but then beat Kansas St. at home and Texas A&M on the road before knocking off Oklahoma. Nebraska can now finish at .500 in the conference with a 2-1 finish, but the Huskers will have to get through a Cowboys team that has suddenly come alive. Oklahoma St. was beaten badly in Manhattan by Kansas St. on February 9, but since then has taken four in a row, including wins at Texas A&M and by a point over Kansas at home. The Cowboys are built around their defense, which is sparked by senior forward Marcus Dove, who was named Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2007 along with Mario Chalmers. Dove leads the team with a block percentage of 4.2, and ranks in the top 200 in steal percentage, at 3.4. His teammate, 5'11 junior Byron Eaton, is in the top 30 with a 4.8 steal percentage. Eaton had three steals and got to the free-throw line 18 times--his specialty on offense--to score 26 points and lead the Cowboys over Kansas two games ago. Nebraska is also keyed by its defense, which is the second best unit in the Big 12 by raw efficiency. Senior center Aleks Maric anchors the team's strong two-point field goal defense, rebounds extremely well, and blocks 8.1 percent of opposing field goal attempts while on the floor, and his teammates are very strong at garnering steals, so this game could feature quite a few turnovers on both ends of the court.

Matchup: Texas A&M (21-7, 7-6) at Oklahoma (18-10, 6-7), 2:00, ESPN
Rankings: Texas A&M, #14 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 12 in Big 12); Oklahoma, #47 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Texas A&M, 65-62 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 37%
Prospectus: People were beginning to get down on the Aggies recently, and for good reason, as they had lost three in a row, including home games to Oklahoma St. and Nebraska. Texas A&M reasserted itself, however, with a 44 point win at home over Texas Tech. The Aggies now hit the road to play the Sooners, whom they beat at home 60-52 on February 2. Texas A&M was outshot in that game, but got to the free throw line seventeen more times than Oklahoma, which received a career-high 22 points from senior shooting guard David Godbold on 6-of-10 from three-point range in the loss. The Sooners now find themselves in trouble, because it is questionable whether the NCAA Tournament selection committee would sneak them into the field if they finished with a record of 7-9 in the Big 12, so they need to beat either the Aggies at home or Oklahoma St. on the road next Wednesday heading into their last game of the year at home versus Missouri.

He has been lost amongst the plethora of first-years having great seasons, but 6'10 Blake Griffin of Oklahoma is second in the Big 12 in defensive rebounding percentage, behind Kansas St.'s Michael Beasley, and second in free throw rate, behind Oklahoma St.'s Eaton. It will interesting to see how the matchup between Griffin and Texas A&M's own monster freshman, 7'0 center DeAndre Jordan, plays out in this one.

Matchup: Kansas St. (18-9, 8-5) at Kansas (25-3, 10-3), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Kansas St., #12 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in Big 12); Kansas, #1 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kansas, 80-69 in 75 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 15%
Prospectus: This is the premier game of the night, and one of the best of the season. The only thing you can complain about as a fan is that the Wildcats have removed some of the sheen from this contest by stumbling since they gave the Jayhawks their first loss of the season, in Manhattan back on January 30, and Kansas has also fallen out of the Big 12's top spot, and now stands a game behind streaking Texas. Kansas St.'s huge upset of the Jayhawks made the Wildcats 5-0 in the conference, but since then they have gone 3-5, and enter Lawrence and Phog Allen Fieldhouse tonight having lost three in a row. In Kansas St.'s 84-75 victory over Kansas, the Wildcats' tandem of freshman forwards, Bill Walker and Michael Beasley, each shot 9-of-18 from the floor (Beasley hit all four of his three-pointers, Walker 3-of-10) and combined for 47 points. Kansas St. will need that kind of production from Beasley's wingman Walker again, and thus Walker will have to recover from his worst game of the year, an 0-of-14 shooting performance in which he scored only one point in Monday's loss at home to Texas. The Wildcats are the second-best offensive rebounding team in the country, and that advantage was made manifest in the win over Kansas, as Kansas St. put up a 44.4 offensive rebounding percentage to the Jayhawks' 35.7. Kansas' defense, however, should do a much better job of keeping the shooting percentage of the Wildcats down in this rematch.

Big East

Matchup: West Virginia (20-8, 9-6) at Connecticut (22-6, 11-4), 12:00
Rankings: West Virginia, #19 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 16 in Big East); Connecticut, #25 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Connecticut, 69-67 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 41%
Prospectus: The Huskies had their 10-game winning streak snapped at Villanova on February 23, then avoided a losing streak by beating Rutgers on the road last Tuesday. Connecticut got back sophomore shooting guard Jerome Dyson against Rutgers after Dyson had missed the previous nine contests for violating team rules. Dyson played 15 minutes and scored just three points, but he did dish out five assists in his limited action. If Dyson, who led the team in possessions used and percentage of shots taken before his suspension, can integrate himself smoothly back into a squad that was rolling with him on the sideline, then the Huskies will be an extremely tough team to knock off this March. Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut's 7'3 center from Tanzania, got off to a slow start this season blocking shots after finishing sixth in block percentage last year, but he has his block rate up to 12.7 percent, 11th best in the nation, after averaging over 6 blocks a game in his last eight, including back-to-back eight-block performances against South Florida and DePaul. Thabeet has also seen his minutes rise over the course of the season as he settles into the offense and learns to stay out of foul trouble, and he has played nearly 37 minutes a game over the previous eight games. Thabeet still has a very limited role in the offense--he uses just 15.9 percent of possessions and takes 13 percent of the shots, both the lowest figures on the team--but his offensive numbers are up across the board from his rookie campaign last season, which is a frightening trend for the rest of the Big East. And, of course, his ability to alter the offensive strategy of opposing teams is unparalleled in the rest of the conference, and perhaps the country.

Despite not having a 7'3 eraser under the hoop, West Virginia has an even better defense than Connecticut does, and is also very strong at blocking shots, thanks to 6'7 sophomore Wellington Smith and 6'8 junior Joe Alexander. The Mountaineers have also had their shots blocked at a lower rate than any other Big East team this year, so it will be interesting to see if they can avoid the reach of Thabeet and the rest of the Huskies shot swatters. The Mountaineers are the third best team in the country at taking care of the ball, and likely won't be challenged on that front by a Huskies defense that is last in the conference at forcing turnovers.

Matchup: Pittsburgh (20-8, 8-7) at Syracuse (17-11, 7-8), 12:00, ESPN
Rankings: Pittsburgh, #28 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 16 in Big East); Syracuse, #42 (8th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Syracuse, 74-72 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 44%
Prospectus: Pittsburgh is currently being projected as the last team into the NCAA Tournament from the Big East, and the Orange the first team out, so Syracuse badly needs this game to help it avoid being left out in controversy for the second straight year. If the Orange fall to the Panthers, then it will need to win on the road against Seton Hall and at home against Marquette to close the season in order to lay a legitimate claim to an at-large berth. Both of these teams have been beaten up by the Big East bullies of late, as Syracuse has lost two straight on the road to Louisville and Notre Dame, while Pittsburgh had lost three in a row to Marquette, Notre Dame, and Louisville before beating Cincinnati at home on Wednesday. The Panthers have to be concerned about their point guard, Levance Fields, who recently returned from a broken left foot which forced him to sit for 12 contests. In the four games since coming back, Fields has shot just 31 eFG% from the floor, as opposed to 51 eFG% in 12 games before the injury. Pittsburgh's offense has been carried by junior forward Sam Young, who has broken out this year in a huge way. Last season Young played well less than half of the team's minutes, and had a below-average offensive rating and a sub-50 eFG% while using 24.4 percent of possessions and taking 26 percent of the shots. This year Young leads the Panthers in minutes, and has a 110.8 offensive rating while using up a significantly larger chunk of the team's possessions and taking the most shots. He has made 52 percent of his 290 two-pointers, and 42 percent of his 78 three-pointers, and ranks fifth in the Big East in scoring with 508 points (18.1 per game).

Matchup: Georgetown (23-4, 13-3) at Marquette (21-6, 11-5), 2:00, CBS
Rankings: Georgetown, #11 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 16 in Big East); Marquette, #10 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Marquette, 65-61 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 34%
Prospectus: This will be the Hoyas' first big test since February 9, when they lost on the road at Louisville, 59-51, and the first of a very tough two-game final exam for Georgetown, which closes its season with a rematch against Louisville on Saturday, a game that will likely decide who receives the No. 1 seed in the Big East tournament. The Golden Eagles, who have won five straight games, are also angling for a higher seed in the tournament, and, if they beat Georgetown and then Syracuse to close the regular season, could get as high as the two seed if the Hoyas also lose and Notre Dame and Connecticut both stumble. Marquette has been beating teams up on both sides of the ball, and has won by an average of 18 points in its last five, but Georgetown will be the best team the Golden Eagles have faced since they lost to Louisville on February 4. The Hoyas have the Big East's second best defense by adjusted efficiency, and Marquette the third best, and these two teams have also been the second and third best in the conference as ranked by efficiency margin.

Pacific 10

Matchup: Southern California (18-9, 9-6) at Arizona St. (17-10, 7-8), 3:00
Rankings: Southern California, #21 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 10 in Pac 10); Arizona St., #45 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Southern California, 62-61 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 47%
Prospectus: This is a huge game for the Sun Devils, whose NCAA Tournament at-large position has become extremely precarious. If Arizona St. loses this one at home, then its only path to a .500 record in the conference would be to beat Oregon in Eugene before traveling to Corvallis for the automatic win against the Beavers to close the season. An 8-10 conference record, barring a run in the Pac 10 tournament, would likely make the Sun Devils one of the favorites to win the NIT. Southern California beat Arizona St. 67-53 in L.A. on February 2 in the first meeting between these two teams this season. The lone offensive star in that game for the Sun Devils was freshman guard James Harden, a Los Angeles native, who scored 26 points on 8-of-9 from the floor (3-of-4 from three-point range) and 7-of-8 from the line. The 6'5 Harden has been Arizona St.'s best offensive player by far in his first year, and he also leads the squad in steal percentage. The Sun Devils are the shortest team in the conference as measured by Effective Height, and they rank in the bottom 60 in the country in offensive rebounding. It is Southern California, however, that ranks last in the conference in defensive rebounding. The Trojans make up for it with excellent field goal percentage defense, and by keeping opponents off the free throw line, and thus have the ninth best defense in the country by adjusted efficiency.

Matchup: Washington St. (22-6, 10-6) at Stanford (23-4, 12-3), 4:00
Rankings: Washington St., #8 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 10 in Pac 10); Stanford, #13 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Stanford, 57-55 in 57 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 40%
Prospectus: Washington St. is higher in the Pomeroy Ratings, but it is Stanford that has the better conference record, and the higher efficiency margin in Pacific 10 play. The Cardinal also beat the Cougars in their first meeting of the year, a thrilling 67-65 overtime victory in Pullman. Stanford committed 17 turnovers in that game to just four for Washington State, but the Cardinal shot 50 eFG% from the floor to the Cougars' 37.3 and out-rebounded Washington St. on the offensive glass. Stanford is the sixth best offensive rebounding team in the country, while Washington St. is the worst in the Pac 10, although it is third best in the conference on the defensive glass. If the Cardinal wins this game, and UCLA takes care of Arizona tomorrow at home, then Stanford will enter Pauley Pavilion next Thursday with a chance to tie the Bruins for the Pacific 10 lead.


Matchup: Mississippi St. (19-8, 10-3) at Florida (21-7, 8-5), 4:00
Rankings: Mississippi St., #32 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in SEC); Florida, #40 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Florida, 72-69 in 68 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 40%
Prospectus: This is a key game for Florida, whose NCAA Tournament at-large fate is still very much in doubt. Considering the Gators close with a home game against Tennessee and on the road versus Kentucky, two games they will be expected to lose (although maybe not the Kentucky game anymore now that Patrick Patterson is out for the year), this is the victory Florida has to have to round out its resume. The Gators are a very young team with a highly efficient offense, which ranks second in the country in two-point field goal percentage, at 56.6 percent. The Bulldogs have the second best two-point field goal percentage defense in the nation, which holds opponents to a meager 39.4 percent shooting from inside the arc. Mississippi St. is also second in block percentage. The Bulldogs offense is another matter, however, and while Mississippi St. shoots a very healthy 54.2 percent on two-pointers, its attack is weakened by too many turnovers, bad three-point shooting, an inability to get to the line, and a poor conversion rate (63.3 percent) when it does reach. Opposing SEC offenses have been able to cure their ailments by playing the Gators, as Florida had allowed 1.09 points per possession in conference play through February 25.

Matchup: Vanderbilt (24-4, 9-4) at Arkansas (18-9, 7-6), 4:05
Rankings: Vanderbilt, #41 in Pomeroy Ratings (5th of 12 in SEC); Arkansas, #35 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Arkansas, 75-70 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 31%
Prospectus: Vanderbilt's three-point win at home on Tuesday over the new No. 1 in the national polls, Tennessee, was the seventh straight win for the Commodores. Vanderbilt has stayed a game behind Kentucky for second place in the SEC East, but with the season-ending injury to Kentucky's best player, freshman forward Patrick Patterson, that order could well change over the final three games. Finishing in second would allow the Commodores to earn a first-round bye in the SEC tournament. Arkansas, meanwhile, is scuffling, having lost four of five games, all on the road. Now the Razorbacks get to return home, where they are 13-1 on the season (5-1 in SEC play). Arkansas is firmly on the bubble, but would likely secure its spot by winning two of its final three games. Like Mississippi St., Arkansas has a strong defense that has excellent shot-blocking ability and a weak offense. While the Bulldogs shut down the two-point shot, the Razorbacks specialize in eliminating the three-point game, a brand of defense which will surely come in handy versus Vanderbilt, which is the SEC's most deadly three-point shooting team. Senior Shan Foster showed what he could do from deep in the win over Tennessee by knocking down 6-of-9 three-pointers and scoring 32 total points.

Other Games

Matchup: Navy (16-12, 9-4 Patriot League) at Colgate (15-13, 6-7), 2:00
Rankings: Navy, #186 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 8 in Patriot); Colgate, #220 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Colgate, 75-73 in 74 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 43%
Prospectus: The Midshipmen knocked off first-place American on Wednesday at home by 15 points, beating the Eagles for the second time this season, to move into a tie for the top spot in the Patriot League with only one game remaining. All Navy has to do to earn at least a share of the regular season title and lock up the No. 1 seed in the Patriot League tournament is beat Colgate, which is sub .500 in the league, but due to the parity in this year's Patriot League, that is no easy feat. The Raiders knocked off the Midshipmen, 84-77, in Annapolis earlier this season. While this game is going on, American will be playing at home against Lafayette (which, like Colgate, stands at 6-7 in Patriot play), a game that American has a 74 percent chance of winning. In the first game between the Raiders and Navy, Colgate committed 22 turnovers, but shot 66 eFG% from the floor to 40.9 for the Midshipmen. The last year Navy ended the regular season atop the Patriot league was 2000, when it shared the title with Lafayette, while American was co-champion with Lehigh in 2004, and won the regular season outright in 2002.

Matchup: North Carolina (26-2, 11-2 Atlantic Coast) at Boston College (13-13, 4-9), 3:30, ABC
Rankings: North Carolina, #6 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in ACC); Boston College, #83 (11th)
Pomeroy Prediction: North Carolina, 84-73 in 74 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 16%
Prospectus: Freshman point guard Ty Lawson, out for the last six games with an ankle sprain, might return to play limited minutes this afternoon versus the Eagles. The Tar Heels lost their first game without Lawson, against Duke, but have won the next five, including a double-overtime victory over Clemson and a one-point road win against Virginia. In Lawson's last full game of action, North Carolina beat Boston College 91-69 at home on January 31. Lawson played very well in that one, scoring 16 points on 4-of-6 shooting and dishing 10 assists without committing a single turnover. The Tar Heels would obviously love to get Lawson integrated back into the lineup before their last game of the year, versus Duke next Saturday, which will likely decide who wins the ACC regular season championship. Basketball Prospectus will on hand this afternoon to chronicle the action from Chestnut Hill.

Matchup: NC Asheville (20-8, 9-4 Big South) at Winthrop (19-10, 10-3), 4:00
Rankings: NC Asheville, #202 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 8 in Big South); Winthrop, #117 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Winthrop, 67-56 in 62 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 12%
Prospectus: This is a battle for the Big South title in the final regular season game of the year for both teams. If NC Asheville can pull off the upset on the road, it will have swept Winthrop in two games this season, and thus will hold the tiebreaker and earn the top seed in the conference tournament. The Bulldogs beat the Eagles 71-56 at home February 2 to move to 7-0 in the conference, but things fell apart from there, as NC Asheville lost its next four games. It is no coincidence that in those four straight losses, the Bulldogs' 7'7 junior center, Kenny George, was rested and played just 11 minutes total. George returned to the court to play 18 minutes last Sunday against Charleston Southern, and he scored 15 points on 7-of-10 shooting and blocked three shots in his team's 85-73 win. On Wednesday James played just 15 minutes against Coastal Carolina, but that was enough time for him to pour in 18 points on 9-of-10 from the floor to help the Bulldogs win 78-72 and set up today's battle for first place. You can bet that George will be on the court again for this huge game, and his presence should have a profound impact, especially considering that Winthrop has not seen him up close this season--the Bulldogs rested George in their earlier win over the Eagles. In that victory, NC Asheville senior guard K.J. Garland scored 26 points on 9-of-11 shooting to tie a career high, and dished out eight assists.

Matchup: St. Mary's (24-4, 11-1 West Coast) at Gonzaga (22-6, 11-1), 8:00
Rankings: St. Mary's, #34 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 8 in WCC); Gonzaga, #26 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Gonzaga, 71-65 in 69 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: The biggest game of the regular season in the West Coast Conference between the two teams tied for first place. Whichever squad takes this one will most likely claim the regular season title with it, because both teams play easy games to close out their schedules--Gonzaga against Santa Clara at home on Monday, and St. Mary's at Portland, also on Monday. The first meeting between these two this season was an outstanding one, an 89-85 Gaels victory at home in overtime. Bulldogs junior point guard Jeremy Pargo put forth a terrific effort in the loss, scoring 27 points on 11-of-17 shooting with nine assists. The Gaels managed to outrebound Gonzaga on the offensive glass, get to the free throw line much more often (freshman point guard Patrick Mills made 18 trips by himself), and do a better job of holding onto the ball, all trends that aren't likely to hold up to the same extent in this rematch. The Bulldogs will have to watch out for Gaels' senior Todd Golden this time, as Golden hit 6-of-6 three-pointers for 19 points in the first game. Golden has made 49-of-105 threes on the season, while taking just three two-pointers in 27 games. On the other side of the ball, St. Mary's ranks in the top 10 nationally in both three-point field goal percentage defense and holding down opponents' three-point attempts, but Gonzaga launched 22 times and hit nine of them in the first game, with 6'10 freshman Austin Daye knocking down 3-of-4.

Matchup: Illinois St. (21-8, 12-5 Missouri Valley) at Southern Illinois (17-12, 11-6), 8:30
Rankings: Illinois St., #53 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 10 in Valley); Southern Illinois, #50 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Southern Illinois, 60-57 in 60 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 33%
Prospectus: The final game of the regular season for both these teams is a critical one in the deciding of the NCAA Tournament fate of both. Each team has played very well lately to set this contest up--Southern Illinois with five straight wins, including over first-place Drake at home and Bradley on the road, and Illinois St. three in a row, the latest over Creighton at home. If the Salukis can win this one, they will finish in a tie with the Redbirds for second place in the Missouri Valley, and make a great case for an at-large berth. Illinois St. would take sole possession of second with a road victory, which, in the best of the non-BCS conferences, should be enough for an NCAA invitation, regardless of what happens in Arch Madness, the Missouri Valley tournament. The Redbirds beat Southern Illinois 56-47 at home in Normal at the beginning of the year, a game in which the Salukis shot 30 eFG% from the field, their lowest rate of the conference season and the lowest figure that Illinois St. has held a team to all year. Both of these teams have very strong defenses--Southern Illinois the best in the conference by adjusted efficiency, and the Redbirds the second best--so the struggle to score points that each squad underwent in that first game will likely be repeated today.

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

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Four-Point Play (02/29)
<< Previous Column
Prospectus Preview (02/29)
Next Column >>
Prospectus Preview (03/02)
Next Article >>
Tar Heels Overcome His... (03/01)

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