Monday, February 25, 2008

After the All-Star Break in the NBA

Yes, it's that time again. The time that only shows itself once a month. The time when I write an NBA blog telling you who the top five teams and who the top five MVP candidates in the League are. A lot has happened since mid-January though. The East beat the West in the All-Star game. Andrew Bynum was injured. About 25 players were traded, most notably Pau Gasol, Shaq, J-Kidd, and Ben Wallace. This is when it matters though. There are only 25 games or so left on the schedule and the trade deadline has come and gone. So without any further adieu...

The STRONGER Rankings

1. Los Angeles Lakers (39-17) - They have the best record in the better conference. There is no reason not to put them number one. Not to mention, they are missing Andrew Bynum. Once he comes back, I don't see anyone beating L.A. in a best-of-seven series. Gasol, Odom, and Fisher will be happy to help. Currently, the Lakers have a one-game lead over the Suns in the Pacific as they have five players average 12 points or more per game. Gasol has been averaging 22 points and 7 rebounds since he was traded, and Kobe has been just as remarkable while averaging 28 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 steals per contest. Just think, by the time the playoffs roll around two things will have happened. One, Pau Gasol will be very familiar with the offense and, two, Bynum will return and the starting lineup that everyone has been waiting for will finally be together. Oh, and did I mention they are riding an eight-game winning streak right now?

2. San Antonio Spurs (37-17) - The Spurs are the best team in the toughest division in the NBA. They have a nice five-game winning streak going right now and are 9-1 in their last ten games. They, too, made a decent trade by getting Kurt Thomas, a skilled low post defender. Add to that the core of San Antonio in Ginobili, Parker, Duncan, and Bowen and this team definitely has a chance at getting back to the Finals. Duncan has been his usual self with averages of 20 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocks while Manu has been the perfect 6th man anyone could ask for (21 pts, 5 reb, 5 ast). The Spurs finish off the month with two worthy opponents in Dallas and Atlanta. Their schedule in the middle of March, however, is almost like death as they have to face Denver twice, Phoenix, New Orleans, Detroit, and Boston. Good luck.

3. Houston Rockets (36-20) - How could I not put them this high? They have the League's best winning streak at twelve games and are playing fantastic ball. They sit only two games back of San Antonio, yet somehow they are in fourth place in the division. Go figure. Yao Ming has been great. He is averaging 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks per game. Tracy McGrady is also playing well with 22 points, 5 rebounds, and 6 assists per game. Bobby Jackson was acquired by Houston before the trade deadline and put up 14 points and 2 assists in only 19 minutes of playing time in his Rockets debut. The Rockets have a somewhat easy schedule until, once again, the middle of March. They face the Lakers, Celtics, Hornets, Warriors, and Suns consecutively.

4. Detroit Pistons (41-15) - The Pistons are 13-2 in their last fifteen games and have been playing great. In that span, they have defeated the Magic, Lakers, Blazers, Suns, and Nuggets to name a few. They have to play Utah tonight on the road. Their schedule in March gets tough with a stretch of games that includes San Antonio, New Orleans, Denver, and Phoenix. However, Detroit's schedule in April is a breeze. If they make it through March with only three or four losses, they could end up being the #1 seed in the East. Right now, Rip Hamilton and Chauncey Billups are averaging 18 points apiece to lead the Pistons. Antonio McDyess and Rasheed have been pulling down 9 and 7 boards per game, respectively, to lead the team. Detroit is my pick to represent the East in the Finals this year.

5. Utah Jazz (36-20) - Utah is 20-4 since they traded for Kyle Korver. He was a nice addition to a team that really didn't have a pure shooter before he came along. But they better watch out as they finish off the month with games against the Hornets and Pistons. Deron Williams has been fantastic this season with averages of 19 points, 10 assists, and 3 rebounds. However, he has been overshadowed by Chris Paul of the Hornets. Carlos Boozer is having a great season as well, but not many people are taking notice outside of Jazz fans. Averaging 22 points and 11 rebounds, Boozer is becoming a force to be reckoned with among the other big men of the West such as Duncan, Amare, Gasol, and Dirk. This team definitely has a chance at getting back to the Conference Finals, but not much further. The West is just too damn tough.

MVPs- 55 to 60 Games In

1. LeBron James - His averages are out of this world. LBJ is putting up 30 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists...PER GAME! My only concern is his spotty shooting. King James only shoots 31% from deep and 71% from the line. Is that good enough for the League's best player? Nevertheless, he is still producing. In fact, a couple nights ago he had back-to-back triple doubles. I have a feeling that this guy will be contending with the all-time triple double leaders by the end of his career.

2. Kobe Bryant - He's the best player on the best team in the NBA. Yet I still do not think this will be the year Kobe finally gets the recognition as the League's Most Valuable Player. He is averaging 28 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists, but LeBron has better averages in each of those categories. If the Lakers do end up winning the West, I can see him winning the award, but only if that happens. His shooting is better than LBJ's though as he shoots 35% from long range and 85% from the stripe. Also helping his case are the games in which he scores a whole lot and his team wins (i.e. scoring 41 in win over Suns).

3. Chris Paul - Any other year and CP3 would be first or at least second in the MVP races with averages of 21 points, 11 assists, and 4 rebounds. Not this year though. The two players ahead of him are both having remarkable seasons. Don't forget that this is only his third year though. He still has plenty of time to win the MVP award. I mean, he's still a better shooter than LeBron, but I guess that isn't saying all too much. What is most certainly not helping his case for the trophy is his team losing lately. They have a three-game losing streak going.

4. Dwight Howard - This guy is the premier big man in the game today. He is a force on both ends of the floor as he averages 22 points, 15 rebounds, and 2 and a half blocks per game. In his last three games, Dwight is averaging 29 points, 14 rebounds, and 2 blocks. He would be higher if he showed up to play every game. Orlando's coach has been saying that Howard is lazy and isn't giving his best effort for the team every night. The Magic are 24-2 in games that he has three or more blocks. If Orlando wants to do well in the postseason, this guy needs to block a lot of shots on the defensive end.

5. Kevin Garnett - I know, I know. The Boston Blowhards are going to be all over me for not having the Celtics in the top five and having KG as far back as fifth in the MVP rankings. Too bad; suck it up. It's not so impressive when he's on a team with two other all-stars. Nonetheless, he does average 19 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists. He is probably the biggest part of the Big Three and that is why he makes it on this list ahead of the other two. However, his production has slowed down considerably since the beginning of the season. In fact, in the month of February KG is only averaging 12 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists.

Okay, that will do it for this blog. I hope you enjoyed reading it. I try and mix it up a little each month with my picks. As a refresher, here were these two lists last month:

1. Lakers (New Rank: 1)
2. Mavericks (6)
3. Celtics (8)
4. Suns (7)
5. Hornets (9)

1. Kobe Bryant (New Rank: 2)
2. LeBron James (1)
3. Dwight Howard (4)
4. Chris Paul (3)
5. Kevin Garnett (5)

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Volunteers On Top

As almost all of you probably already know, Tennessee defeated Memphis 66-62 last night as the #2 team in the nation upset the undefeated #1 team. Coming into the game, all of America was thinking that the Tigers had the rebounding edge in the game. Shockingly, they were outrebounded by Tennessee 46-31 as JaJuan Smith and J.P. Prince led the way with 10 and 8 rebounds, respectively.

You know, there's a saying: live by the three, die by the three. I would say that's what happened to Memphis in the game. They started the game 7 of 11 from deep, but somehow they only had a two or three possession lead over the Vols. Bruce Pearl had the perfect gameplan. It was to pack it in with a 2-3 zone so Memphis couldn't drive. He was relying on his team's ability to hold off the Tigers' initial shooting surge and just stay in the game. They did and when Memphis went cold, Tennessee took over the game.

Memphis really struggled from the line...more than usual. They shot a horrendous 47% from the charity stripe. There are a couple of positives that Memphis can take from this game though. They shot terribly in the second half. They missed a ton of free throws. They didn't execute. They didn't rebound like they normally do. But somehow, someway it was still a one or two possession game down the stretch. If the Tigers play to their full potential, there is not one team in the country that can beat them.

The Tigers definitely proved that they can shut down any top scorer in the country. Their defense on Chris Lofton was nothing short of spectacular. They held him to seven points on 2-11 shooting and didn't even let him make one three. I would also like to comment on J.P. Prince. He was the spark off the bench that Tennessee needed. I've seen him have two great games so far this season and his 13 points and 8 rebounds against the #1 team in the nation was amazing. Derrick Rose, playing in the first huge game of his career, came up huge for Memphis. He started the game making two three-pointers and continued that to finish with 23 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals in 31 minutes of play. Chris Douglas-Roberts also had a decent game with 14 points, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 3 steals.

The player of the game has to be, in my opinion, Tyler Smith of Tennessee. He ended up with 16 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals. Most important of those 16 points were the two recorded on a turnaround jumper with thirty seconds left to play in the game. In my opinion, he was the key in keeping the Vols in the game when Memphis was shooting the ball so well in the first half.

The last two things I would like to mention are free throw shooting and Doneal Mack. With the free throws, Tennessee was 4-4 in the last five minutes while Memphis was ony 1-5 in that same time period. Ironic considering what Coach Calipari was quoted as saying before the game which was basically him telling the media that Memphis will make their free throws down the stretch and that free throws is not a concern with the team. What is he watching? They were terrible from the line against UAB down the stretch as well! Finally, I'd like to talk about the bad shooting game that Memphis's "sharpshooter", Doneal Mack, had. He couldn't get his shot going for his life. He was 0-6 on field goals and 0-5 from the field.

That's all I have to say about this game. Congrats, Tennessee but I still think Memphis will be the team to beat in March. The Volunteers are #1 for the first time in men's basketball history and Memphis's home winning streak (the longest in the country) has come to an end.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Game-Planning 13

Number One versus Number Two. Does any other game really compare this weekend? It could be considered the second biggest game of the year after the National Championship. Both teams hail from Tennessee. The Volunteers and the Tigers. Every other matchup this week pales in comparison.

Interestingly enough, this is the fifth time ever that the #1 and #2 teams in the AP poll met in the regular season. Even more, in the previous four times the #2 team is 0-4. #1 seems to dominate the series but, of course, for a team like Memphis, who plays in a "weak" conference, it is very possibly, even likely, for Tennessee to win.

I'd also like to mention the recent struggles of the Duke Blue Devils. They've lost their last two games to (no mistake) Wake Forest and Miami. They have been outscored by fourteen points in those two games and it's had me wondering if Duke even has enough to make it to the Elite Eight.

1st Quarter- #2 Tennessee at #1 Memphis

I've already explained what makes this matchup so huge. 1 vs. 2. There isn't anything bigger in sports than the top two teams squaring off. Memphis will be running the high-powered and newly-famous Dribble Drive Motion Offense. They are led by Chris Douglas-Roberts (18 pts, 5 reb, 2 ast), Derrick Rose (14 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast), and Joey Dorsey (7 pts, 11 reb, 1 ast).

Tennessee, on the other hand, will be pressing on defense and pushing the ball on offense just like the Tigers. Spectators should expect a high-scoring affair in this one. The Volunteers are led by Chris Lofton (15 pts, 3 reb, 2 ast), JaJuan Smith (14 pts, 3 reb, 3 ast), and Tyler Smith (13 pts, 7 reb, 4 ast). Lofton, after having a slow start to begin the season, is averaging 19 points in his last nine games and has reached the 20-point plateau in six of those games.

In my opinion, it will be interesting to see how each team guards the other's top scorer. For Memphis, they will attempting to shut down the senior sharpshooter, Lofton. For the Vols, they will have the job of stopping Douglas Roberts, or more popularly known as CDR. Douglas-Roberts is averaging an astounding 28 points in his last three games.

Neither of these teams really had a dominant big man to utilize on offense so look for both to rely heavily on their guards and the three-point shot. Memphis averages 8 three-pointers per game; Tennessee is somewhat better at the long ball as they make 9 threes per contest. Keys to the game will definitely be the three-pointer, pressure defense, and the scoring of CDR and Lofton.

I shall be picking Memphis to win this game. Calipari will be getting his 401st coaching victory and the #1 team will then be 5-0 agains the #2 team all time. This game can be viewed Saturday, February 23rd at 9pm eastern time on ESPN. Simply put, you cannot, under any circumstances, miss this game.

Author's Note: I now understand that the rest of this blog may be a let-down due to the awesomeness of the 1st Quarter game.

2nd Quarter- Arizona at #17 Washington State

I suggest that after you finish up watching the Memphis-Tennessee game that you flip over to FSN to catch the second half of this game. It probably will, however, take some getting used to as these teams don't get out and run nearly as much as the top two teams in the country do.

Last time these two teams met, Arizona left with a 76-64 victory over Wazzou. In that game, Chase Budinger and Jerryd Bayless combined for 45 points. The Wildcats are led by Bayless (21 pts, 3 reb, 4 ast), Budinger (17 pts, 5 reb, 3 ast), and Jordan Hill (13 pts, 8 reb, 1 ast). The Cougars, however, are led by Derrick Low (14 pts, 2 reb, 2 ast), Kyle Weaver (11 pts, 5 reb, 4 ast), and Taylor Rochestie (10 pts, 3 reb, 5 ast) in the backcourt. Down low, Aron Baynes (11 pts, 6 reb, 0 ast) is the key man for Washington State.

Both teams have decent big guys, but neither has a dominant one. Currently, Arizona is on a two-game losing streak and WSU has a four-game winning streak. The Cougars need to win this game if they'd like to contend with Stanford and UCLA for the Pac-10 crown and the number one seed going into the conference tournament. I am picking Washington State to win this game. They are at home and Arizona hasn't been playing very well as of late. Tune in to watch this game Saturday, February 23rd at 10pm eastern time on FSN.

The Halftime Show

So there I sat, wondering what the hell I'm going to write about for three paragraphs for the Halftime Show. All of a sudden, it came to me. I'll be talking about the best unranked teams in college basketball. The first team that is definitely worth mentioning is Arizona. They play in one of the toughest conferences in the nation and have a respectable record of 16-10. The Wildcats have knocked off formidable opponents such as USC, Washington State, and Texas A&M. Arizona also has two possible All-Americans on their team.

The second team that I will talk about is Clemson. Their record is 19-7 and have five players averaging in double figures for points (leading scorer: K.C. Rivers- 15 ppg). The Tigers have played North Carolina very tough two times in a row and have knocked off Virginia, Purdue, and Mississippi State to name a few. This is my dark horse pick come tournament time. They have the talent to make it to the Elite Eight.

The final team I will mention is Baylor. They have a record of 17-8 in the tough Big 12 conference. Yes, the Bears have lost their last four games and six of their last seven but if they pull it together for March they can definitely be dancing for awhile. They lead a balanced attack and, like Clemson, have five players averaging in double figures for points (leading scorer: Curtis Jerrells- 15 ppg). However, if they don't shape up, they won't even make the tournament.

3rd Quarter- #10 Xavier at Dayton

After starting 14-1, Dayton has lost seven of their last ten games and appear to be giving the Selections Committee an easier job come March. However, this time they will have the home crowd behind them and will want revenge for the embarassing 69-43 loss suffered to Xavier in their first meeting this season. In that game, the Flyers shot an abysmal 30% from the field and were outrebounded 38-22. This time Dayton will need to turn it around.

The Flyers are led by Brian Roberts (19 pts, 3 reb, 4 ast). Pulling down the rebounds and helping out with the scoring load will be Chris Wright (10 pts, 6 reb), Marcus Johnson (9 pts, 5 reb), and Charles Little (8 pts, 5 reb). The Musketeers, on the other hand, are led by playmaking point guard Drew Lavender (11 pts, 3 reb, 5 ast) and senior swingman Josh Duncan (12 pts, 5 reb, 1 ast). Xavier's squad features four MORE players that average in double figures for points (Raymond, Brown, Anderson, Burrell) and two that average 6+ rebounds (Brown, Anderson).

Alas, the home court advantage and vengeance will not be enough for the stumbling Dayton Flyers. I am picking Xavier to win this game. Be sure to tune in and watch Sunday, February 24th at 2pm eastern time on CSTV.

4th Quarter- #2 Tennessee at #16 Vanderbilt

Coming off the big game at Memphis, Tennessee has to travel to Vandy. In my opinion, Vanderbilt's home arena is one of the toughest to play at in college basketball because it's different. The shot clocks aren't in the same place, the benches are down by the baselines, and the court is just more open as the fans sit back farther from the action than normal. All of this is playing against the Vols chances. Oh, wait, did I mention that the Commodores are 16-0 at home this season?

Tennessee is led by, as I mentioned earlier, Lofton, JaJuan Smith, and Tyler Smith. They have NINE players averaging at least five points per game. Vanderbilt, however, is led by Shan Foster (19 pts, 5 reb, 2 ast) and Andrew Ogilvy (17 pts, 7 reb, 1 ast). Recently, they have defeated 41 points! In that game, Ogilvy was a complete force as he finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds in only 24 minutes of playing time.

Vanderbilt is 16-0 at home. Tennessee is 9-1 on the road. Both average over eighty points per game on offense. Vanderbilt will win. The game will be aired Tuesday, February 26th on ESPN at 9pm eastern time. This is a must-see game as it is vital to the SEC standings. If Vandy can pull off the upset, then it will give teams like Mississippi State and Kentucky a chance to knock the Vols down and out of first place.

The Postgame Video Vault

I couldn't resist with that last video. haha

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Game-Planning 12

College basketball has been interesting to say the least since my last Game-Planning blog was posted. Duke defeated a North Carolina team that was obviously hurting with the loss of Ty Lawson. Indiana edged out Illinois in double overtime. Louisville defeated highly-ranked Georgetown in a very entertaining matchup. More recently, Texas upset Kansas in a battle between two ranked teams.

I was sick on Tuesday; I'm sure I wasn't the only one either. That night was spent watching the games on ESPN. I had the pleasure of watching Purdue upset Michigan State. What surprised me most about this was the Boilermakers' stifling man-to-man defense they played. In fact, they held Drew Neitzel without a field goal until late in the second half. I then proceeded to watch Vanderbilt put a nice thumping on Kentucky. I was, to say the least, very impressed with A.J. Ogilvy not only on the offensive end but also with his defense on Patrick Patterson.

Also, I'd like to express my deep concern for North Carolina. They have had 57 turnovers in their last three games and only 47 assists. Quentin Thomas is obviously hurting the Tar Heels out there and Lawson must come back soon if UNC wants to win the ACC this season. They only beat Virginia by one point the other night and had another scary outing against Clemson on Sunday.

1st Quarter- #11 Texas at Baylor

In my opinion, this game could be the most exciting one all week. I'm almost beside myself as to which team I should choose as the winner. Obviously, the Longhorns are the favorite but any diehard college hoops fan will tell you that Baylor is definitely one of the best unranked teams in the nation this year. They are led by Curtis Jerrells (15 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast) and Kevin Rogers (12 pts, 8 reb, 1 ast) who are only two of the five Baylor players averaging at least eleven points per game. The Bears have posted nice wins over Winthrop, Oklahoma State, and Texas A&M (in 5OT).

Texas is led by D.J. Augustin (19 pts, 3 reb, 6 ast), A.J. Abrams (18 pts, 3 reb, 2 ast), and Damion James (13 pts, 11 reb, 1 ast). Last time these two teams met, the Longhorns won 80-72 in Austin. In that meeting, Baylor shot a paltry 32% from deep while Texas was shooting 43% from that same distance. The Bears are a much better free throw shooting team and are one of the most well-conditioned teams in the nation though.

That is only part of the reason as to why I am picking Baylor to win. The other would be the fact that Augustin is in a shooting slump right now and appears to be trying to do too much as far as penetrating the lane goes. You can watch this game Saturday, February 16th at 6pm eastern time on ESPN. You should expect this game to be up and down the court with the final score at least making it to the 70s.

2nd Quarter- #10 Michigan State at #13 Indiana

I love two matchups in this game. Eric Gordon vs. Drew Neitzel and D.J. White vs. Raymar Morgan. Gordon (21 pts, 3 reb, 3 ast) and White (18 pts, 11 reb, 1 ast) lead the 20-3 Hoosiers. Michigan State is led by Morgan (16 pts, 7 reb, 2 ast) and Neitzel (14 pts, 3 reb, 5 ast). The Spartans are coming off a loss to Purdue and should respond with an intensity that Indiana will have trouble matching.

This game could very well come down to the role players. The Spartans had to rely heavily on Kalin Lucas (10 pts, 4 ast) when things weren't going right in the first half against the Boilermakers. They will also have to depend heavily on the rebounding of Goran Suton (9 pts, 8 reb). Jordan Crawford (11 pts) and Armon Bassett (10 pts) will have to have decent games and Jamarcus Ellis's (8 pts, 8 reb, 4 ast) all-around game could be the difference-maker.

I seriously doubt that Indiana will wreak havoc on defense the way Purdue did. Michigan State will be able to get Neitzel open looks and the inside will open up for Morgan. The Spartans will win over Indiana. You can tune in to watch this game Saturday, February 16th at 9pm eastern time on ESPN.

The Halftime Show

Who is the best point guard in America? To me, this comes down to about six or seven players who have proved that they are the elite of point guards today in college. The first two that come to mind are D.J. Augustin (19 pts, 3 reb, 6 ast) of Texas and Jamont Gordon (18 pts, 6 reb, 5 ast) of Mississippi State. Next would be UNC's Ty Lawson (14 pts, 3 reb, 6 ast), Memphis's Derrick Rose (14 pts, 4 reb, 4 ast), and UCLA's Darren Collison (14 pts, 3 reb, 4 ast). The last couple would have to be between Sean Singletary (19 pts, 4 reb, 6 ast), Tyrese Rice (20 pts, 4 reb, 5 ast), and Mike Green (15 pts, 6 reb, 5 ast).

For me to rank those point guards would be nearly impossible. However, I will tell you that, if not for the Iowa State game, Augustin would definitely be my choice. Lawson's injury surely hurts his chances as well. Sadly, not a one of these guys even compares to Gary Payton's last season at Oregon State in which he finished with averages of 26 points, 8 assists, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals. Here's a little chart for you that compares the top three:

D.J. Augustin -- 19.3 ppg - 5.8 apg - 2.7 TO/g - 1.3 spg - 43% FG - 43 3PM
Jamont Gordon -- 18.1 ppg - 4.7 apg - 3.7 TO/g - 1.1 spg - 45% FG - 43 3PM
Ty Lawson -- 13.6 ppg - 5.7 apg - 2.3 TO/g - 1.9 spg - 54% FG - 20 3PM

Gordon's high turnover rate and low (compared to the other two) assists average has me putting him at #3. Lawson's somewhat low points per game average and lack of perimeter shooting has me putting him at #2. Obviously, that leaves Augustin at #1 who, despite his recent shooting slump, is still the best point guard in the nation. He's a good shooter and, like other good shooters, he will get out of this slump eventually. My decision in putting him #1 was also helped by Texas's upsetting of Kansas on Monday night.

3rd Quarter- #6 UCLA at USC

Ahh yes, the crosstown rivalry. The University of Southern California versus the University of California-Los Angeles. This will be a matchup of two fabulous freshmen: Kevin Love of the Bruins and OJ Mayo of the Trojans. In my humble opinion, Love is twice the athlete and, more importantly, person than OJ is. UCLA is coming off a devastating loss to Washington and should come out with a high intensity level in this one. They are led by Love (18 pts, 11 reb, 2 ast) down low while Josh Shipp (14 pts, 3 reb, 2 ast), Darren Collison (14 pts, 3 reb, 4 ast), and Russell Westbrook (12 pts, 4 reb, 5 ast) control the backcourt.

USC, on the other hand, is led by Mayo (20 pts, 4 reb, 3 ast), Davon Jefferson (13 pts, 6 reb, 1 ast), and Taj Gibson (10 pts, 8 reb, 1 ast). They, too, are coming off a loss to Washington State, in which they got their asses handed to them in losing by 24 points! In the first meeting between these teams, USC defeated UCLA 72-63. Davon Jefferson had an amazing game with 25 points and 9 rebounds. Kevin Love wasn't too shabby either with 18 points and 12 rebounds. What lost the game for the Bruins was simply poor shooting. They shot 33% from the field while USC was making 61% of their attempts.

I seriously doubt USC will ever be able to shoot near 60% against UCLA. Therefore, I am picking UCLA to win by about 8-12 points. I expect this game to be filled with tension and intensity. You can tune in to watch Sunday, February 17th at 10pm eastern time on FSN. The good news is (for all you East Coasters) you can stay up late and watch since there is no school on Monday for Presidents' Weekend.

4th Quarter- #19 Purdue at #13 Indiana

The Hoosiers are 1-2 against ranked teams this year. The lone team they beat, Southern Illinois, is no longer ranked. They have lost to Wisconsin twice when the Badgers were ranked 13th and 14th. My first prediction for the game is this: Eric Gordon will not score 15 points. That has only been done twice this season in games that Gordon has played more than twelve minutes. The Purdue defense will completely stifle Indiana, similar to what they did to Michigan State in that upset earlier this week.

Indiana is led by Gordon (21 pts, 3 reb, 3 ast) and D.J. White (18 pts, 11 reb, 1 ast). They have four players averaging in double figures for points. The Boilermakers, however, are led by the two freshmen, Robbie Hummel (11 pts, 6 reb, 3 ast) and E'Twaun Moore (11 pts, 4 reb, 3 ast). Keaton Grant (11 pts) should also be a scoring threat for Purdue.

Purdue has only been involved in one conference game that reached the eighties in scoring this year. Don't expect for this one to be extremely high-scoring. In fact, in their three wins over ranked opponents they only average 64 points per game. Purdue's 10-game winning streak will remain alive as they will defeat Indiana. The game can be viewed Tuesday, February 19th at 7pm eastern time on ESPN.

The Postgame Video Vault

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Poll Result- 50% of the voters believe that Baylor is the best unranked team in the country while the other 50% think Louisville is the best. Do you agree?

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Duke vs. North Carolina: Explained!

As many of you know, I picked North Carolina to win this game in my predictions blog that came out only two days ago. However, when I wrote it I had no knowledge of Ty Lawson not being able to play. In fact, if you go back and read it you will notice how much I stressed the importance of the point guard matchup between Lawson and Greg Paulus. Another thing I didn't count on was Wayne Ellington having a subpar game. He shot 3-14 from the field and was 0-6 on threes.

In my defense though, I was correct in Duke not having anyone to stop Tyler Hansbrough underneath. Lance Thomas got in foul trouble just as I thought he would and Hansbrough ended up with 23 points and 18 rebounds. I was, however, greatly disappointed in both team's free throw shooting. The Tar Heels shot 63% from the line and Duke was even worse at 59%. The only Dukies that shot well from the line were Jon Scheyer (7-8 FT) and DeMarcus Nelson (6-7 FT).

I sincerely think that if Lawson plays and Ellington has a half-decent game against Duke next time, they will win the game. What are the chances of the Blue Devils shooting 45% from deep and UNC only shooting 18% on threes ever again? Worth mentioning also is that Duke only had 15 turnovers to UNC's 20.

It's interesting to watch how a game changes throughout the forty minutes though. After the first ten minutes of the game, I thought to myself, "UNC is playing better basketball right now." And, trust me, they were. The Heels were getting nice high-percentage shots inside with Hansbrough, and Duke was coming down settling for three-pointers. There seemed to be no way they were going to keep up that kind of shooting. Yet somehow they did and they ended up going back down Tobacco Road with the win.

Duke has gone into the Dean Smith Center and defeated a top five-ranked North Carolina team a total of four times EVER. The first three times they ended up going all the way to the Final Four and even got to cut down the nets once. But I don't see that happening this time. Yes, they are a Final Four-caliber team but they won't be going all the way this year.

There are currently two reasons as to why Duke will NOT win a National Championship this year. The first is their free throw shooting. I honestly expected them to be much better from the charity stripe this year. On the season, they shoot an average 69%. The second reason is, as I've mentioned many times before, their lack of an interior presence. They couldn't contain Hansbrough or DeJuan Blair when they faced off against Pitt when he went off for 15 points and 20 rebounds.

On the other hand, the biggest reason why North Carolina will NOT win a National Championship this year is Bobby Frasor. His going down with an injury absolutely killed this team's chances. Lawson and Frasor worked beautifully for Roy Williams at the point. Since Frasor has gone out with an injury, Lawson has played a lot more minutes and they've even had to rely on Quentin Thomas at times such as last night. Quite frankly, Thomas scares me at the point. He's a very shaky ball-handler and not the best decision-maker either.

The North Carolina-Duke Rivalry Player of the Game Award goes to Greg Paulus of Duke without a doubt. He hit clutch shot after clutch shot and finished with 18 points on 6-9 shooting to go along with his three assists and three rebounds. I believe that his three-pointer in which he was knocked down on could very well have been the biggest and most important play of the entire game.

March 8th. That is the date of the next meeting between these two fantastic teams. Mark it down on your calenders right now. Ty Lawson will most likely be back but Duke will be at home in Cameron Indoor Stadium which is, in my opinion, the toughest place to play in all of college basketball. But there is still a lot of basketball between now and then for the entire nation. Don't forget to read my Game-Planning blogs every week to find out that particular week's biggest matchups. Have a good day and thanks for reading.

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