By Jon Rothstein
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NORTH CAROLINA AT KENTUCKY
The highly anticipated showdown between arguably the nation’s two most talented rosters should come down to a battle of toughness and outside shooting. When these two teams met in last year’s Elite Eight, John Calipari had different personnel but the Wildcats were more physical down the stretch and were also lethal from behind the 3-point line. This North Carolina team is breathtaking in transition and deeper than they were a season ago — but winning in a hostile place like Rupp Arena might be a tall task. When you look at the talent on Kentucky, you can see why.
PREDICTION: KENTUCKY 78, NORTH CAROLINA 73
MARQUETTE AT WISCONSIN
The annual showdown between the Golden Eagles and Badgers might be the most underrated rivalry in all of college basketball. Marquette seems ready to take the next step in the Big East this season while Wisconsin is well, Wisconsin. It’s amazing how Bo Ryan can lose key pieces each and every year and keep the Badgers in the race for a Big Ten title. This group features one of the better floor generals in the country in Jordan Taylor and a burgeoning guard in Ben Brust. Beating them at the Kohl Center would be a monumental task — and that’s exactly why we’re taking Marquette.
PREDICTION: MARQUETTE 69, WISCONSIN 66
GONZAGA AT ILLINOIS
Of all the tilts on the hardwood during the upcoming weekend, this could be the gem. Through seven games, Illinois has displayed vastly better chemistry compared to last season thanks to the leadership of 5th year senior Sam Maniscalco. Gonzaga meanwhile has one of the nation’s deepest front courts and will pose a major threat to the inside presence of Fighting Illini big man Meyers Leonard. The Bulldogs have struggled in the past few years to earn quality road victories away from Spokane, a trend we see continuing.
PREDICTION: ILLINOIS 76, GONZAGA 69
UNLV AT WICHITA STATE
Mike Moser is the officially the best player in college basketball that wasn’t on anyone’s national radar before the season. Sure people thought the 6-foot-8 forward could have an impact this season for the Runnin Rebels — but no one expected Moser to look like he could be the best player in the Mountain West Conference. Moser is just one piece of Dave Rice’s puzzle that makes UNLV one of college basketball’s most intriguing teams but it will take a number of weapons to click at the same time to beat a team as good as Wichita State. The Shockers have two tough wings in David Kyles and Toure’ Murry and have been searching for a marquee non-conference win after nearly beating Alabama and Temple in the Puerto Rico Shootout. It says here they’ll get it this weekend.
PREDICTION: WICHITA STATE 77, UNLV 74
CAL AT SAN DIEGO STATE
A battle between the two best teams in the state of California — you better believe it? The Bears look like legitimate contenders for a PAC-12 title and the Aztecs have proven early that last season’s run to the Elite Eight was no brief cameo. San Diego State is for real and good enough to win another Mountain West Conference title. They”ve already beaten one PAC-12 team in Arizona and after Sunday, they’ll have beaten another.
PREDICTION: SAN DIEGO STATE 82, CAL 71
CLUESS SEES GROWTH IN JONES:
He hasn’t produced in the early part of the season like Mike Glover and Scott Machado but Momo Jones is making a believer out of Iona coach Tim Cluess.
After the Gaels routed LIU 100-84 on Monday in New Rochelle, Cluess praised Jones’ all-around performance against the Blackbirds.
“I thought he played his best floor game,” Cluess said of Jones, who finished with eight points and six assists. “He made better passes and he was unselfish. I think he’s starting to buy in.”
The fact that Jones, who started the last two seasons for Arizona before transferring to Iona doesn’t need to put up major numbers for the Gaels to win is a huge bonus. Often times when a player leaves a BCS school for a mid-major, shot attempts and stats are something that’s immediately assumed — that’s not the case in this situation thanks to Iona’s deep assortment of scorers in Glover, Machado, Kyle Smyth, Taaj Ridley, Jermel Jenkins, and Sean Armand.
Jones can be a solid piece to the puzzle for Iona as a play maker and perimeter defender while taking over offensively if needed.
There’s a good chance with the Gaels brutal non-conference schedule in December which features road games at Marshall, Denver, and Richmond, Jones will have plenty of opportunities to score the ball — but it’s nice that he doesn’t have to.
What’s your prediction for Kentucky-North Carolina? Let ‘er rip in the comments below…