By Jon Rothstein
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MISSOURI AT UCLA
This is a major opportunity for UCLA. The Bruins have yet to earn a marquee victory in the non-conference portion of their schedule and the Tigers will enter Pauley Pavilion as the seventh-ranked team in the country. Missouri has one of the biggest front lines in the country with Earnest Ross, Laurence Bowers, and Alex Oriakhi while UCLA has enjoyed success recently thanks for a smaller, quicker lineup that’s excelled at putting the ball in the basket. Ben Howland’s team will need strong efforts on the boards from both David and Travis Wear to stay close while Larry Drew has the tall task of matching up with Tigers’ point guard Phil Pressey. The nifty floor general is the gas in Missouri’s engine and does an unbelievable job at getting his teammates baskets. It says here that Pressey and Missouri’s relentlessness on the boards will be the difference.
PREDICTION: MISSOURI 82, UCLA 75
BAYLOR AT GONZAGA
The Bears have already won a game at Rupp Arena this season so they won’t be intimidated by a road tilt in Spokane. Gonzaga looks like it could have their best team ever under Mark Few but Baylor started to show real signs of improvement in their win over BYU last Friday. The biggest key for Scott Drew’s team is avoiding slow starts, something that’s plagued them over the past few games. The Bulldogs have two great guards in Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell along with a dynamite front court player in Elias Harris. It makes complete sense to expect Gonzaga to win this game at home —- and that’s exactly why I’m going to go with Baylor. Call me crazy, or just call me a fan of Pierre Jackson’s toughness. Check that, it’s probably the latter.
PREDICTION: BAYLOR 74, GONZAGA 70
IONA AT SAINT JOSEPH’S
The David Laury show hits Philadelphia for a pivotal game against Phil Martelli and Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks are reeling at 5-4 and won’t have forward Halil Kanacevic, who is still serving a suspension. No Kanacevic means Saint Joseph’s will only have five reliable players in their rotation, and that could be bad news against Iona. The Gaels are still finding themselves but have enough firepower to score the ball with anyone. Tim Cluess is known for his high octane, fast break approach and that’s just the type of style that could give the Hawks fits. With Laury, a versatile point forward along with Momo Jones and Sean Armand, Iona has more than enough talent and scoring ability to spoil Saint Joseph’s weekend. This is a bad match up for the Hawks.
PREDICTION: IONA 83, SAINT JOSEPH’S 77
KENTUCKY AT LOUISVILLE
Gorgui Dieng’s long awaited return means the Cardinals will be at full strength when they face their in-state rival. Kentucky is still a work in progress and a team that has yet to prove they can handle a hostile road atmopshere like they’ll see on Saturday against Louisville. While most of the focus up until this point has been on the Wildcats’ point guard situation with Ryan Harrow, we’re more curious to see how Kentucky’s two freshmen big men — Nerlens Noel and Willie Cauley-Stein do against Dieng inside. John Calipari’s teams over the years have always exuded unbelievable toughness and it says here while that’s been missing so far this season, the Wildcats display that attribute on Saturday before ultimately coming up short against Lousiville.
PREDICTION: LOUSIVILLE 77, KENTUCKY 71
UNLV AT NORTH CAROLINA
No game this weekend may be more likely to have more highlight reel type plays than this showdown on Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill. UNLV has assembled one of the more talented rosters in all of college basketball, and while North Carolina is still finding themselves, they still have a slew of McDonald’s All-Americans. The Tarheels’ wide open approach bodes well for the Runnin Rebels. Despite not having a true point guard, UNLV has enough offensive weapons to really score the ball at a high level. North Carolina will have to guard exceptionally well to have a chance in this one, something we can’t see happening with Runnin Rebels dynamite freshman Anthony Bennett on the floor.
PREDICTION: UNLV 84, NORTH CAROLINA 76
What’s your can’t-miss game of the weekend? Be heard in the comments…