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March 2, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Sunday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Games of Sunday, March 2

Southeastern

Matchup: Kentucky (16-10, 10-3) at Tennessee (25-3, 11-2), 12:00 p.m. EST, CBS
Rankings: Kentucky, #61 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 12 in SEC); Tennessee, #15 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Tennessee, 76-64 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 12%
Prospectus: The Wildcats received a potentially season-ending blow when they learned Friday that their star forward, 6'9 freshman Patrick Patterson, will miss the remainder of the season with a stress fracture in his left ankle. Patterson is the team leader in minutes played, offensive rating, eFG%, rebounding, and lowest turnover rate, and his 270 two-point attempts are the most on the team by far. He led Kentucky with 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting and eight rebounds in the Wildcats' 72-66 home win over first-place Tennessee back on January 22. In Patterson's absence, the team's low-post burden falls on 6'9 sophomore Perry Stevenson, who has used just 14.6 percent of the Kentucky's possessions and taken just 12.7 percent of its shots while on the floor. Considering that Stevenson has not shown himself to be a scorer in his 1.5 years in Lexington, the Wildcats will likely become more of a perimeter-oriented team, with guards Ramel Bradley (25.1 percent of possessions used, 24.3 percent of shots taken, 52.2 eFG%) and Joe Crawford (26.1, 29.9, 54.8) handling even more of the offense. Perhaps the most devastating aspect of the injury, however, is the effect Patterson's absence will have on the defense--the Wildcats rank 15th in the nation in opponent two-point percentage, and 34th in block percentage, two categories that Patterson had a huge hand in.

The injury comes as Kentucky claws for an NCAA at-large berth, which it will likely not receive unless it wins at least two of its final three games, and perhaps advances several rounds in the SEC Tournament. Kentucky did catch a break last night when Vanderbilt, the team chasing it for second place in the SEC East, picked up its fifth conference loss in falling to Arkansas. If the Wildcats can manage to stay ahead of the Commodores, they will receive a first-round bye in the SEC Tournament. Tennessee is coming off a loss at Vanderbilt on Tuesday, but has not lost at home this season in 14 games, which includes a 7-0 mark in conference play. A win would put the Volunteers two ahead of Kentucky with two to play, guaranteeing them at least a share of the SEC East title, while a Wildcats victory would move them into a tie for first place, and give Kentucky the tiebreaker with a season sweep of Tennessee.

Big 10

Matchup: Indiana (24-4, 13-2) at Michigan St. (22-6, 10-5), 2:00, CBS
Rankings: Indiana, #14 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 11 in Big 10); Michigan St., #20 (3rd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Michigan St., 70-67 in 66 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 41%
Prospectus: Michigan St. is 16-0 at home this season, and 8-0 in the Big 10, but this will be the toughest opponent for the Spartans in East Lansing all year. Michigan St. has lost its last three games against the three teams ahead of it in the standings--Wisconsin, Indiana, and Purdue--falling to the Hoosiers 80-61 on February 16 in the second-to-last game of embattled coach Kelvin Sampson's tenure at Indiana. Hoosiers freshman guard Eric Gordon lit the Spartans up in that one, going 9-of-15 from the floor and 8-of-9 from the free throw line for 28 points, his second highest total of the conference season. Indiana also committed just 10 turnovers in that game to Michigan St.'s 20, continuing a problem that the Spartans have faced all season. Michigan St. ranks seventh in the Big 10 in turnover percentage, but in its last three games has committed turnovers on a low 11 percent of its possessions, a big improvement over the Spartans' seasonal average of 21 percent. However, Michigan St.'s turnover problem is even worse on the defensive end, as Spartans opponents have coughed it up on just 18.7 percent of their possessions, the lowest figure in the Big 10 and 294th in the nation. In its 57-42 win over Michigan St. on Thursday, Wisconsin committed only one turnover--one turnover--in 52 possessions. That rate has more to do with the Badgers' ball-handling ability than it does the Spartans' lack of defense, but it still serves to highlight a disturbing trend for Michigan St. If the Hoosiers can knock off the Spartans for the second straight time this season, then Indiana will have an excellent chance at finishing in at least a tie for first place in the Big 10 with Wisconsin, for the team closes with eminently winnable affairs against Minnesota at home and Penn St. on the road.

America East

Matchup: Boston University (13-15, 9-6) at Albany (14-14, 9-6), 2:00
Rankings: Boston University, #213 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 9 in America East); Albany, #185 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Albany, 65-60 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 28%
Prospectus: This is the final day of the America East regular season, and these two teams are battling for second place and the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament behind leader MD Baltimore County. Hatford is also at 9-6 in the conference, and plays at home versus MD Baltimore County today, a game it has a 67 percent chance of losing. Albany beat Boston University 70-63 in Boston on January 16, but the Terriers have come on strong lately. After a loss at home against Vermont on January 25 dropped the team to 2-5 in the America East, Boston University has won eight of nine games, including seven of eight in the conference, with the lone defeat on the road at MD Baltimore County by three points. The Terriers beat Hartford at home by 31 points on Thursday. Fueling the team's run has been freshman John Holland, a 6'5 guard/forward out of the Bronx. Holland scored a season-high 38 points on 73 eFG% shooting in the blowout defeat of Hartford, and has averaged nearly 19 points on 63 eFG% shooting in the last nine games, as compared with less than eight points on 43 eFG% shooting through the team's first 19 games. Holland has picked up an offense that was one of the America East's worst, as the Terriers have scored 1.15 points per possessions in their last four games, as compared to their seasonal average of 0.98. That new-look offense will go up against a Great Danes defense that is second in the nation in rebounding percentage.

Metro Atlantic

Matchup: Fairfield (14-14, 11-6) at Rider (20-9, 12-5), 2:00
Rankings: Fairfield, #208 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 10 in MAAC); Rider, #131 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Rider, 77-66 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 15%
Prospectus: This is one of four games on the final day of the MAAC regular season that will decide the league's regular season winner and No. 1 overall seed in the conference tournament. The others are Canisius (5-23, 2-15) at Niagara (18-9, 11-6) and Siena (18-10, 12-5) at St. Peter's (6-22, 3-14), both also at 2 p.m., and Loyola MD (18-12, 12-5) at Marist (16-13, 10-7) at 4. Siena, Rider, and Loyola MD are all currently tied for first place, while Niagara and Fairfield are each a game behind. If the Broncs win this one at home against Fairfield, they will guarantee a share of first place and the No. 1 seed in the MAAC Tournament, because they have split their two games with both Siena and Loyola MD and have a better overall record than both. If Rider loses and both Siena and Loyola MD win, then the Greyhounds of Loyola MD would gain the No. 1 seed, thanks to their season sweep of Siena. If all three first place teams lose, there would be either a four or five way tie for first, depending on whether Niagara also won, and Rider would hold the tiebreaker over every team but Fairfield. Whatever happens today, the MAAC Tournament should be a wild affair, and Basketball Prospectus will be on hand to chronicle the action for you from Albany, NY next weekend. The Stags can't be counted out, in this game or the conference tournament, because they have won seven games in a row, including an 88-76 home win over the Broncs on February 16.

Big East

Matchup: Villanova (17-10, 7-8) at Louisville (23-6, 13-3), 4:00
Rankings: Villanova, #62 in Pomeroy Ratings (9th of 16 in Big East); Louisville, #7 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville, 75-62 in 70 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 9%
Prospectus: The Wildcats are on the NCAA Tournament bubble, and were helped out yesterday by Syracuse's home loss to Pittsburgh, which dropped the Orange to 7-9. The Big East will likely get a maximum of eight bids to the dance, and with the first seven mostly sewn up--in the form of Louisville, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Connecticut, Marquette, West Virginia, and Pittsburgh--Villanova can't afford to have Syracuse get hot and pass the Wildcats in the standings. A win here on the road over the strongest team in the conference would obviously be a huge boost for Villanova on Selection Sunday. The Wildcats had won three in a row, including at home against West Virginia and Connecticut, before falling to Marquette at home by 10 points on Monday. The Cardinals, meanwhile, continue to roll over the rest of the Big East, and survived a 40-point effort from Luke Harangody to beat Notre Dame by five at home on Thursday. This is Louisville's final tune-up before facing Georgetown, the other titan of the conference, next Saturday in the final regular season game of the year. The Hoyas took care of their end of the bargain yesterday afternoon by beating Marquette on the road in overtime, so if Louisville wins today, both teams would be 14-3 in the conference and playing for the Big East regular season title. Louisville might very well be going up against a Villanova team missing its percentage leading in rebounding and shot-blocking, as 6'10 sophomore Casiem Drummond has missed the last two games with pain in his right ankle, the same ankle in which he had a stress fracture earlier in the season that caused him to miss nine games. If Drummond cannot play, it could mean a huge game for Louisville's 6'11 senior center David Padgett. Padgett scored a season-high 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting in the win over Notre Dame.

Pacific 10

Matchup: UCLA (25-3, 13-2) at Arizona (17-11, 7-8), 4:00
Rankings: UCLA, #2 in Pomeroy Ratings (1st of 10 in Pac 10); Arizona, #24 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: UCLA, 69-64 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 29%
Prospectus: The Wildcats fell into sixth place in the Pac 10 standings last night after Arizona St. beat USC to move to 8-8. It doesn't seem like the Wildcats are in much danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, because they have played the toughest schedule in the country, but if they lose to UCLA at home and Oregon on the road to end their season (with a win over Oregon St. in between those two games assumed), then Arizona will finish below .500 in the Pac 10, at 8-10, and put itself in a position where it might need to win some games in the conference tournament to ensure a berth. The Wildcats have badly missed sophomore point guard Nic Wise, who was expected to miss four to six weeks after knee surgery February 6, and have lost four of the six games he has been out so far. Wise is the team leader in assist rate and steal percentage, and second amongst the team's starters in offensive rating to Jerryd Bayless. The Bruins beat the Wildcats in Westwood on February 2, 82-60, in Wise's last game before the surgery, as Kevin Love paced UCLA with 26 points on 9-of-12 shooting and 11 rebounds. If the Bruins win this game, they will stay one ahead of Stanford, which beat Washington St. last night, and set up a battle with the Cardinal for the Pacific 10 lead next Thursday at Pauley Pavilion.

Atlantic 10

Matchup: Temple (15-12, 8-5) at Saint Joseph's (17-9, 8-5), 7:00
Rankings: Temple, #81 in Pomeroy Ratings (6th of 14 in A-10); Saint Joseph's, #63 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Saint Joseph's, 75-69 in 64 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 26%
Prospectus: These two Philadelphia Big 5 members, tied for second place in the Atlantic 10, play in a rivalry game at the Palestra that has implications for both the A-10 and NCAA tournaments. The Owls are 1-2 in Big 5 play this season, having beaten Pennsylvania and lost to Villanova and Saint Joseph's--the latter defeat coming by one point on January 26--while the Hawks are 3-1, with wins over Pennsylvania, Villanova, and Temple, and a one-point loss to La Salle. Saint Joseph's has lost four of its last six, including a killer at home against Rick Majerus' pesky St. Louis squad on Thursday, and is now in trouble with regards to earning an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament despite being in second place. Considering that first-place Xavier comes in next Thursday, Saint Joseph's badly needs a win today. Meanwhile, no one is mentioning Temple in the same breath as the NCAA Tournament, but if the Owls beat the Hawks, they would be alone in second place in the A-10, and, besides being the only team to beat Xavier in the conference this year, would have wins over Massachusetts and Saint Joseph's, the other two possible A-10 tournament teams. In the Hawks' 68-67 win over Temple on January 26, Saint Joseph's senior forward Pat Calathes scored 24 points on 71 eFG% shooting, while junior guard Dionte Christmas also shot 71 eFG% to lead the Owls with 21. The difference in that game was forged at the foul line--each team got to the stripe 10 times, and Saint Joseph's hit nine free throws while Temple made six.

Atlantic Coast

Matchup: Clemson (20-7, 8-5) at Maryland (18-11, 8-6), 7:30
Rankings: Clemson, #17 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in ACC); Maryland, #48 (4th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Clemson, 74-71 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 58%
Prospectus: The Terrapins picked up a big win on the road last Thursday over Wake Forest to solidly position themselves as the ACC's fourth-best team, a status that should lead to a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Clemson picked up a home win over Miami FL on Wednesday, giving the Tigers their second straight 20-win season. Last year the Tigers were a terror in the NIT tournament, losing in the championship game to West Virginia, but this year--barring a big collapse--they'll be playing their postseason basketball in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998. Clemson has been the clear third best team in ACC play, with an efficiency margin that ranks them in the class below North Carolina and Duke, but well above the group fronted by Maryland. The Tigers have the third best offense in the conference, which is powered by offensive rebounding and efficient shooting from beyond the arc, and a strong defense as well, which generates a large amount of steals and guards the three-point line very closely. Maryland is in the top 10 in both block percentage and two-point field goal defense, but is prevented from being an elite defensive team by its inability to force turnovers or rebound well. The latter trait could prove to be a problem against Clemson, which has a trio of starters, in K.C. Rivers, Trevor Booker, and James Mays, who are all very good offensive rebounders.

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

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