I am now all in when it comes to college basketball. I love the sport but during NFL season I can't really pay more than cursory attention to it. My favorite teams, my Alma mater George Mason and my favorite team since I was a kid, North Carolina are having reasonably good seasons. Mason has exceeded most expectations and currently sits at 12-2 in the CAA, 22-6 overall. However, it will take winning the CAA Tournament in a couple of weeks for Mason to make the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season, an accomplishment the school has never achieved. Carolina was preseason number 1 but has suffered some tough losses along the way and is currently ranked 7th. They aren't on anyone's list for a #1 seed in the Tournament and actually are a 3 seed in a few mock brackets I have seen. However, they still have plenty of time to win some games and improve their seeding.
Saturday, February 18
Lamar (17-9) at George Mason (22-6)
This random, late season out of conference matchup for Mason is part of ESPN's BracketBusters. While other CAA teams like Drexel, VCU, and Old Dominion were paired up with other top mid majors, Mason was paired up with a team most Mason fans hadn't heard of until three weeks ago. Lamar does have a semi-famous coach, Pat Knight, the son of Bob Knight. Lamar's attack is guard based and their two most most dangerous players are G Mike James who leads the team in scoring at 16.4 pts per game, and G Anthony Miles, who shoots 39% from beyond the arc. Just to further show how much the Cardinals play is predicated on guards, their leading rebounder is guard Devon Lamb who averages 8.3 boards per game. The Cardinals have won five of their last six games, all in blow out fashion. They played some of the top programs in the country in their non-conference schedule, suffering blowout losses to Louisville, Ohio State and Kentucky.
Mason's offense is one of the best in the CAA but overall ranks pretty low in the NCAA. F Ryan Pearson is the only player averaging double figures at 17.9 points per game. The second leading scorer is G Sherrod Wright, who was Tuesday's hero with his game winning three pointer against VCU. Pearson also leads the team in rebounding and really how he plays determines how effective Mason is offensively. He has had a few clunkers this year, but overall would seem to be on his way to being named CAA Player of the Year. Because of the Cardinals reliance on their guards, Bryon Allen, Andre Cornelius, Vertrail Vaughns, and Corey Edwards will have their work cut out for them. Where Mason should find an advantage is with their front line of Pearson, Mike Morrison, Erik Copes. Mason has struggled rebounding the basketball at times this year, but against a team whose leading rebounder is a guard it shouldn't be an issue Saturday.
This is the last home game, barring any postseason games, for seniors Pearson, Morrison, and Cornelius. I think those three will play with a lot of passion and that will overcome any letdown effect from such a huge win against VCU. This game is basically an exhibition as far as its meaning on the season but the seniors will want to go out with a win and will do just that.
Prediction: George Mason 66, Lamar 60
Mississippi (15-10, 5-6) at #1 Kentucky (25-1, 11-0)
Kentucky is just a buzzer beater loss at Indiana from being undefeated this season. They have become one of the best defensive teams in the country and might have the NCAA Player of the Year in Anthony Davis. F Michael Kidd Gilchrist has also been an impact freshman for the Wildcats. Ole Miss just had 102 points scored on them by Vanderbilt last night, not a good sign for how things will go for them in this game.
Prediction: Kentucky 80, Mississippi 61
#3 Missouri (24-2, 11-2) at Texas A&M (13-12, 4-9)
Texas A&M has really missed Mark Turgeon and slipped back to their usual levels of basketball mediocrity. Missouri has been perhaps the biggest surprise of the season, especially considering the less than stellar resume their new head coach Frank Haith brought with him. Expect senior guard Marcus Denmon to have a huge hand in leading the Tigers to a hard fought road victory.
Prediction: Missouri 73, Texas A&M 68
Texas Tech (8-17, 1-12) at #5 Kansas (21-5, 11-2)
Kansas F Thomas Robinson has seen his number spike tremendously this season. He has done a great job of making Jayhawks fans not miss the Morris twins as much as they expected to.
Prediction: Kansas 75, Texas Tech 55
#6 Ohio State (22-4, 10-3) at #19 Michigan (19-7, 9-4)
It has been cool to see Michigan and Indiana both competitive again in the Big Ten this season. The Buckeyes dominated the Wolverines in Columbus in the first meeting, but the Wolverines are unbeaten at home this season. The combination of G William Buford and F Jared Sullinger will prove to be too much for Michigan to handle.
Prediction: Ohio State 68, Michigan 64
Clemson (13-12, 5-6) at #7 North Carolina (22-4, 9-2)
It is hard to believe but the fact still remains that Clemson has never won in Chapel Hill. I repeat, NEVER. This year's Tigers team doesn't appear to be the ones to do it, as they are just barely over .500. The Tigers have trouble scoring and rebounding, both of which are tremendous strengths of the Tar Heels. Guard Andre Young is the Tigers best player, but they lack someone that is explosive and can carry a team.
On the other hand, the Tar Heels have an abundance of riches when it comes to players like that. Harrison Barnes leads the team in scoring but their best player this season has been Tyler Zeller. In less minutes per game than last season, Zeller has matched his scoring and increased his rebounding and assists. Kendall Marshall continues to be distributor extraordinaire, averaging 9 assists per game. John Henson, who still frustrates me at times, is having a monster year both scoring and rebounding, where he leads the team with 10 rebounds per game.
It would take a completely lifeless performance by Carolina for Clemson to have any chance in this game. Carolina should get this win and then get primed for the tough close they have to their ACC season, where three of the final four games are on the road, including at ranked UVA, and rivals NC State and Duke.
Prediction: North Carolina 77, Clemson 63
#9 Georgetown (19-5, 9-4) at Providence (13-14, 2-12)
I earlier mentioned Missouri as the biggest surprise of the season but the Hoyas might have something to say about that. Many expected Georgetown to miss the NCAA Tournament, instead they are ranked in the Top 10. The improved play of Jason Clark and Hollis Thomas are the biggest reasons for their success this season.
Prediction: Georgetown 73, Providence 65
Kansas State (17-8, 6-7) at #10 Baylor (22-4, 9-4)
After dispiriting blowout losses to Missouri and Kansas last week, Baylor got back on track at home against Iowa State. Next up is a Kansas State team that is fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives, and are especially desperate after losing four of their last six games. These two played a down to the wire game at Manhattan in January, and this one should come down to the final minutes as well. Perry Jones III disappeared in those games against Mizzou and Kansas, but rebounded against the Cyclones, and I expect him to come up big in this game.
Prediction: Baylor 68, Kansas State 65
Sunday, February 19
#2 Syracuse (26-1, 13-1) at Rutgers (12-14, 4-9)
The Orange have made it interesting recently but still keep finding ways to win. They play great team basketball, where each player excels at a certain aspect of the game, and combined makes them a very dangerous team. Kris Joseph and Dion Waiters handle the scoring, Fab Melo and C.J. Fair handle the rebounding, while Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche find the open man. Rutgers has upset some good teams at home this year but the wheels have fallen off for them in Big East play and things won't get better Sunday.
Prediction: Syracuse 77, Rutgers 67
#4 Duke (22-4, 9-2) at Boston College (8-18, 3-9)
Duke once again got a win by the skin of their teeth, coming from 20 behind at home last night to beat NC State. Questions will seriously have to be asked if they face any sort of deficit against a terrible Boston College team.
Prediction: Duke 80, Boston College 63
#8 Michigan State (21-5, 10-3) at Purdue (17-9, 7-6)
The Spartans come in on a roll, winning at Ohio State last weekend, and thrashing Wisconsin at home last night. Each of these teams relies heavily on their superstar player. For the Spartans it is Draymond Green, and for the Boilermakers it is Robbie Hummel. Michigan State killed the Boilermakers in the first meeting and I really have no tangible reason to pick Purdue to pull off the upset. I just feel like there will be at least one upset in the top ten this weekend, and this game is huge for Purdue. A win would go a long way towards them securing an at-large berth. I think Hummel will play much better than he did in the first meeting, leading to the upset.
Prediction: Purdue 62, Michigan State 59