By Jon Rothstein
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SYRACUSE AT NC STATE
It feels like every year Jim Boeheim’s team gets off to a monster roll in November and December. Two years ago with Wesley Johnson, the Orange bulldozed opponents before losing Arinze Onuaku just prior to the NCAA Tournament to injury. Last season, we saw Syracuse primed for a deep run in the field of 68 only to lose to Marquette just before the Sweet 16. This group has the same type of attributes but they’re much deeper. Dion Waiters, C.J. Fair, and Baye Moussa Keita are three reserves that would start anywhere in America but come off the bench for this team, who haven’t had much adversity on the court except for a tight win over Stanford in the finals of the Preseason NIT. That could all change on Saturday. I’m still not even sure if Mark Gottfried has an NCAA Tournament team at NC State but the Wolf Pack are talented — and they are big. Look for the front court trio of Deshawn Painter, C.J. Leslie, and Richard Howell to play a big role along with the outside shooting of Scott Wood as Gottfried earns his first signature win in Raleigh.
PREDICTION: NC STATE 77, SYRACUSE 74
ST. JOHN’S VS. FORDHAM
The Rams can’t beat the Red Storm two years in a row, right? Guess again. As much as Fordham struggled last week in losses to Manhattan and Monmouth, they might be getting St. John’s at the right time. The Red Storm have had a roller coaster ride to start the season and it only got rockier when starting point guard Nurideen Lindsey transferred last week. Tom Pecora doesn’t have a team that’s ready yet to challenge in the Atlantic-10 but he does have a squad that’s good enough to beat New York City’s hallowed program for the second consecutive year — and that’s what we’ll see on Saturday.
PREDICTION: FORDHAM 67, ST. JOHN’S 62
MEMPHIS AT LOUISVILLE
Nobody can absorb more injuries and flourish better than Rick Pitino. The Cardinals coach has already lost Mike Marra for the season, has had minimal use of Rakeem Buckles, and won’t get highly touted freshman Wayne Blackshear back until the middle of the Big East season. Still, Louisville looks once again primed to be a Top Ten team all season long thanks to their unselfish play and underrated front court of Gorgui Dieng, Chane Behanan, and Jared Swopshire. Memphis meanwhile, is struggling mostly in part to a lack of experience and leadership. The Tigers will have Seton Hall transfer Ferrakohn Hall available for the first time this season against the Cardinals, but he won’t likely be enough to stop Louisville at home.
PREDICTION: LOUISVILLE 83, MEMPHIS 74
FLORIDA VS. TEXAS A & M
Nobody in America has played a tougher non-conference schedule than the Gators and Saturday’s showdown with the Aggies will be another terrfic tune up for Billy Donovan’s squad before they hit the SEC. Florida has pound for pound the best perimeter in America but the girth of the Texas A & M front court will pose a stern test. Billy Kennedy has four solid low post players he can rotate and with a healthy Khris Middleton on the wing, the Aggies have all the ingredients to win the Big 12. Still, college basketball has always proven to be a guards game and that’s why we like the Gators by the narrowest of margins.
PREDICTION: FLORIDA 76, TEXAS A & M 75
BAYLOR AT BYU
A dangerous road game for Scott Drew’s team features the debut of UCLA transfer Matt Carlino for the Cougars. There is no Jimmer Fredette on Dave Rose’s squad but BYU has several key pieces back from last year’s Sweet 16 team headlined by Charles Abouo, Noah Hartsock, and Brandon Davies. Beating Baylor’s freakish length and towering 2-3 zone will require poise and effective outside shooting — two things the Cougars do relatively well.
PREDICTION: BYU 71, BAYLOR 62
Which game will you be glued to this weekend? Let us know in the comments below…