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March 4, 2008
Prospectus Preview
Tuesday's Games to Watch

by Caleb Peiffer

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Games of Tuesday, March 4

Big 10

Matchup: Purdue (23-6, 14-2) at Ohio St. (17-12, 8-8), 7:00 p.m. EST, ESPN
Rankings: Purdue, #20 in Pomeroy Ratings (4th of 11 in Big 10); Ohio St., #32 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Ohio St., 63-62 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 47%
Prospectus: The Buckeyes have all but killed their chance of earning an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament by losing their last four, and will likely need to win their final two games, against Purdue and Michigan St. at home, to get back into consideration. If the Boilermakers can win this road game, meanwhile, then all they would need to do is beat 9-20 Michigan in Ann Arbor next Sunday in order to guarantee at least a share of the Big 10 regular season title with Wisconsin, with whom they are currently tied atop the standings at 14-2 and which closes with two gimmes against Penn St. and Northwestern. If Purdue and the Badgers do end up tied, the Boilermakers would gain the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, thanks to having handed Wisconsin its two losses of the Big 10 season. Purdue has more Big 10 regular season championships than any other school, with 21, but has not won since 1996. Wisconsin has 16, with the last coming in 2003. Ohio St. has 17, and, of course, won the title last season, led by freshman Greg Oden, before advancing to the NCAA National Championship Game, where it fell to Florida.

Purdue beat the Buckeyes in the teams' first meeting this season, a 75-68 decision January 12 in West Lafayette that was the first of 11 straight wins for the Boilermakers, a streak that vaulted them temporarily into sole possession of first place in the Big 10. Junior guard Marcus Green led Purdue with a season-high 22 points on 9-of-12 from the floor (and 3-of-4 from three-point range), while Ohio St. was paced by the 26 points of senior guard Jamar Butler, who hit 6-of-11 three-pointers. Both these teams have excellent defenses--Purdue's is second in the Big 10 and 10th overall in adjusted efficiency thanks in large part to it having forced turnovers on 26 percent of opponent possessions, while the Buckeyes' unit ranks 22nd in the country, and is the best at keeping its opponents off the line (In the first game Purdue managed to shoot 33 free throws, however, against 60 field goals).

Mid American

Matchup: Miami OH (14-13, 8-6) at Kent St. (23-6, 11-3), 7:00, ESPN2
Rankings: Miami OH, #88 in Pomeroy Ratings (2nd of 12 in MAC); Kent St., #77 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: Kent St., 64-60 in 59 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 32%
Prospectus: The Golden Flashes are in first place in the Mid American's East division, and can clinch the top spot outright tonight with a win and an Akron loss at Ohio. Kent St. can also clinch the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament with a win and a loss by Western Michigan, which also sits at 11-3 and is in first place in the Mid American's West division. Kent St. won its first meeting against the RedHawks this year, 74-62 at Miami OH, a game in which it shot for a 67.1 eFG% and had more free throws (36) than field goal attempts (35), which is always a recipe for extremely high efficiency on offense. Golden Flashes forward Haminn Quaintance put up a double-double in that one, with 14 points and 11 rebounds, and has eight double-doubles on the season. Since last checking in on Quaintance, he has picked up six blocks and six steals in the past four games, and currently ranks in the top 40 nationally in block percentage (9.1) and top 75 in steal rate (4.0). An interesting question will be whether or not Quaintance and Co. might make it into the tournament as an at-large team if they fail to win the Mid American tournament. The Golden Flashes helped their cause greatly by winning at St. Mary's in the BracketBusters on February 23, but they also lost the next week at Bowling Green. Kent St. last advanced to the NCAA Tournament after winning the MAC Tournament in 2006, while Miami OH took the crown last year to go to the Big Dance.

Matchup: Akron (20-8, 10-4) at Ohio (18-10, 8-6), 7:00
Rankings: Akron, #91 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in MAC); Ohio, #105 (5th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Ohio, 65-62 in 63 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 41%
Prospectus: Akron is a game behind Kent St. in the Mid American's East division, and, given a win over Ohio tonight or a Kent St. loss to Miami OH, will have a chance to gain a share of first place (or the outright title, if it wins tonight and Kent St. loses) next Sunday at home versus the Golden Flashes in the last game of the regular season. The first game this year between Akron and Ohio was a thriller, with the Zips winning 55-54 at home, as forward Nate Linhart scored a tip-in with four seconds remaining to put Akron ahead for good. This matchup features two players with impressive rebounding resumes--Bobcats senior forward Leon Williams is the third-best on the offensive boards in the country, as he capitalizes on 18.4 percent of his chances, while the Zips have 6'6, 245-lb Jeremiah Wood, who ranks in the top 40 in offensive rebounding percentage and the top 75 in defensive. Williams got the better of the first matchup, grabbing 11 rebounds, including five on the offensive end, to Wood's four overall. Both of these teams will need to win the Mid American Tournament to advance to the NCAAs, something that Ohio has done four times, most recently in 2005, but Akron has never done. The Zips have a decent shot at it this year, however, and have already clinched a first-round bye. Last year, Akron finished the regular season with a 13-3 record, second to just Toledo, but fell in the final game to Miami OH, 53-52, coming within a basket of making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1986 and the second time overall.

Atlantic Coast

Matchup: Wake Forest (16-11, 6-8) at Virginia Tech (17-11, 8-6), 7:00
Rankings: Wake Forest, #61 in Pomeroy Ratings (8th of 12 in ACC); Virginia Tech, #56 (6th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Virginia Tech, 69-65 in 72 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 33%
Prospectus: With last night's 76-74 Virginia win over Georgia Tech, the ACC clinched the title of the conference with the highest percentage of close games in the 21st century. It would be no surprise if this one ended up close, too, as Wake Forest won the first game between these two 77-75 on December 23. Virginia Tech badly needs to win to keep its NCAA Tournament hopes alive--ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi currently has the Hokies as the last team in the field of 64. Virginia Tech saved its season with a 69-65 win at Maryland February 20, then won its next two games at home entering tonight. The Demon Deacons, meanwhile, have lost three in a row, the last an overtime decision at Georgia Tech. In these teams' initial meeting this season, both shot the same effective field goal percentage from the floor (47.9) and the Hokies got to the line at a rate of 66.7, but Virginia Tech killed its chances by committing 22 turnovers, to 11 for Wake Forest. Demon Deacons' opponents have turned it over on one out of four possessions this season, the second-highest percentage in the ACC behind Duke. The Hokies' offense, meanwhile, ranks towards the bottom of the conference in turnover percentage. Indeed, Virginia Tech's offense hasn't had much go right this season, having averaged just a point per possession, the lowest rate in the ACC, but the Hokies, one of the most unbalanced teams in the nation, have a defense that is second in the conference and 14th in the country with an adjusted efficiency of 0.88 points per possession allowed.

Matchup: Florida St. (17-12, 6-8) at North Carolina (27-2, 12-2), 8:00
Rankings: Florida St., #59 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 12 in ACC); North Carolina, #6 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: North Carolina, 87-70 in 76 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 8%
Prospectus: This is the Tar Heels' final tune-up before they travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium to play Duke next Saturday. Assuming that North Carolina takes care of the Seminoles at home, and the Blue Devils beat Virginia on the road Wednesday, the weekend showdown between the two in the last game of the regular season will be for the ACC title. North Carolina nearly fell behind Duke on Saturday, as the Tar Heels found themselves down 18 points early in the second half to Boston College after guard Tyrese Rice scored 34 first-half points. But North Carolina rallied for its sixth straight win, outscoring the Eagles by 24 points in the second half. The Tar Heels also got point guard Ty Lawson back on Saturday after he missed six games with an ankle sprain. Lawson played 21 minutes, and despite scoring just four points dished out five assists against one turnover. Lawson got hurt in the first meeting of the season between North Carolina and Florida St., leaving in the early going in a game the Tar Heels eventually won in overtime, 84-73. The Seminoles shot just 6-of-31 from three-point range, and that along with North Carolina's superior ability to get to the line helped the Tar Heels escape Tallahassee with a victory despite committing 10 more turnovers than the Seminoles. North Carolina shot 33 free throws, converting on 27, an excellent 82 percent, while Florida St. was just 11-of-15 from the line. Tyler Hansbrough hit more free throws himself than the entire Seminoles team, going 12-of-14. The junior forward leads the ACC in free throw rate (free throws shot per 100 field goal attempts), at 79.8, and has taken at least 12 free throws and made at least 10 in each of his past four games.

Big 12

Matchup: Nebraska (17-10, 6-8) at Texas (24-5, 11-3), 7:30
Rankings: Nebraska, #35 in Pomeroy Ratings (7th of 12 in Big 12); Texas, #9 (2nd)
Pomeroy Prediction: Texas, 67-58 in 61 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 15%
Prospectus: Currently a half game behind Kansas for the Big 12 lead after the Jayhawks' massive blowout win over Texas Tech last night, the Longhorns have two regular season games remaining, and wins in both will guarantee them at least a share of the conference title. Texas had its eight-game winning streak snapped by Texas Tech in Lubbock on Saturday, as the Longhorns' defense, which had been very solid in the team's previous three games, coughed up 1.12 points per possession. Nebraska, meanwhile, missed its chance to push into the picture for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth on Saturday by losing at Oklahoma St., 77-63. The Huskers have a solid defense, which has given up just 0.92 points per possession on the season, but that figure bumps to 1.03 in conference play, which is middle-of-the-pack in the Big 12. In fact, Texas' defense has been the better unit in Big 12 games. If Nebraska has a chance at the upset, it rests upon the 6'11", 270-pound frame of center Aleks Maric, who has notched a double-double with points and rebounds in nine of his last 10 games. Texas doesn't seem to have anybody who will be able to body up on the massive Aussie--the Longhorns' tallest player who sees regular minutes is the 6'9", 225-pound junior Connor Atchley, as both of the teams' big post bodies, 6'10" forwards Clint Chapman and Dexter Pittman, are underclassmen who play sparingly. Then again, few teams do have anybody who matches up with Maric.

Southeastern

Matchup: Arkansas (19-9, 8-6) at Mississippi (19-9, 5-9), 9:00, ESPN
Rankings: Arkansas, #33 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 12 in SEC); Mississippi, #65 (7th)
Pomeroy Prediction: Arkansas, 74-73 in 73 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 50%
Prospectus: The Rebels, picked to finish with a 6-10 conference record before the year began, went 13-0 in non-conference play to raise expectations, but have come back down to Earth while playing against their peers in the weakest of the six power conferences. If Mississippi splits its final two games, the Rebels will finish with the 6-10 record that Basketball Prospectus' John Gasaway predicted them to have. One of those Rebels' losses came on February 9 to Arkansas, 75-69, which they dropped despite the strong effort of their leading scorer, freshman point guard Chris Warren, who shot 6-of-8 from long range and put in a season-high 26 points. Mississippi committed more turnovers than the Razorbacks and was out-rebounded, uncharacteristic for a team that is 25th best in the country at protecting the basketball and the top offensive rebounding squad in the SEC. The Razorbacks got 13 rebounds out of 6'1 guard Patrick Beverley, who despite his stature leads the team in defensive rebounding percentage and in rebounds per game (6.8). Arkansas enters this game coming off an important home win over Vanderbilt last Saturday, and the SEC's third-best team, by both the Pomeroy Ratings and conference efficiency margin, is likely playing for NCAA Tournament positioning from here until the end of the SEC tournament. The Razorbacks have already clinched a first-round bye in the conference tourney by locking up the second spot in the SEC West.

Mountain West

Matchup: Nevada Las Vegas (22-6, 11-3) at New Mexico (22-7, 9-5), 9:00
Rankings: Nevada Las Vegas, #52 in Pomeroy Ratings (3rd of 9 in Mountain West); New Mexico, #28 (1st)
Pomeroy Prediction: New Mexico, 68-61 in 65 Possessions
Upset Possibility: 24%
Prospectus: This is a huge game for both teams, but especially for New Mexico, which is one of the squads fighting for the last couple of at-large berths to the NCAA Tournament. The Lobos hurt their chances last Tuesday by losing at home by one point in overtime to first-place Brigham Young, which ended a six-game New Mexico winning streak. Nevada Las Vegas has won three in a row since it got smoked at Brigham Young several weeks ago, and now stands one game back of the Cougars with two to play. Brigham Young plays the teams in seventh and eighth place in the Mountain West in its last two games, however--Texas Christian and Wyoming--so the Runnin' Rebels don't have a very good chance at capturing the regular season title. UNLV beat New Mexico 79-60 in Las Vegas on February 2, as they held the Lobos, who rank first in the nation with a 42.6 three-point percentage, to just 6-of-24 shooting from deep, and forced them into turnovers on 31.5 percent of their possessions. The Runnin' Rebels, whose offense ranks seventh in the nation with a turnover percentage of 16.2 percent, gave it away just nine times in 69 possessions in the win. If New Mexico ends up making the NCAA Tournament along with UNLV and BYU, it will mark the first year the Mountain West has received three bids since 2004, when BYU, Utah, and Air Force all made it in.

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

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