By Jon Rothstein
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SYRACUSE AT LOUISVILLE
A battle between the two best teams in the Big East should be the highlight on what is a terrific all-around Saturday in college basketball. Louisville is far from a great offensive team but the Cardinals’ defense is beyond vicious. Peyton Siva and Russ Smith will put all sorts of pressure on Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams and the Orange’s lack of depth could be a factor in what is sure to be an intensely paced game from start to finish. If Jim Boeheim’s team is going to steal this one on the road, they’re going to need better accuracy from Brandon Triche, who is shooting just 1-for-11 from three-point range in his last three games. We think Triche will get back on back, but not enough to stop Louisville from winning at home.
PREDICTION: LOUISVILLE 69, SYRACUSE 64
HARVARD AT MEMPHIS
This feels like a first-round NCAA Tournament game. Memphis is in a really good rhythm right now and Tigers junior guard Joe Jackson is playing some of the best basketball of his career — but Harvard is a special team. The Crimson are one of the unsung stories of the season and have evolved into an unselfish, well-coached squad that gets a little better each time they step on the floor. The biggest reason for Harvard’s rise? Freshman point guard Siyani Chambers. The lefty has done an unbelievable job running Tommy Amaker’s offense and is shooting 50% from three-point range. We expect the Crimson to play well and be competitive, but Memphis’ overall depth and athleticism will be too much to overcome on the road.
PREDICTION: MEMPHIS 74, HARVARD 65
MARQUETTE AT CINCINNATI
We really think this game should be played in shoulder pads. These two teams have been the toughest squads in the Big East over the past few years and even though the calendar changes, the characteristics of the Golden Eagles and the Bearcats do not. Marquette has yet to establish to reliable scorer on offense while Cincinnati has lost three consecutive home games. Mick Cronin’s team still needs more scoring and has to get their big men to finish more accurately around the rim, but they’re still tough as nails and iron-willed enough to narrowly escape this one by the slimmest of margins.
PREDICTION: CINCINNATI 60, MARQUETTE 59
CREIGHTON AT WICHITA STATE
Talk about a contrast in styles. The Bluejays have scored less than 70 points in a game just once this season while the Shockers have only given up more than 70 on a single occasion. Something’s gotta give, right? In this case, we think it’s going to be Creighton’s offense. Gregg Marshall is as good a coach as there is at taking away his opponent’s strengths. Wichita State completely slowed VCU down earlier this year in a game they won in Richmond and we foresee the same thing happening on Saturday against Bluejays.
PREDICTION: WICHITA STATE 68, CREIGHTON 64
ARIZONA AT ARIZONA STATE
The Sun Devils have given every indication that they’re 14-3 record isn’t a fluke — but can they get a quality win over a team like Arizona? We’re not so sure. Arizona State has gotten a terrific jolt from freshman point guard Jahii Carson but going against a seasoned defensive team like the Wildcats will present an entirely differently test. Herb Sendek’s squad will need huge efforts on the boards from both Jonathan Gilling and Jordan Bachynski to stay close in what should be a real competitive game. We like the Sun Devils but just don’t think they’re ready to beat a team the caliber of Arizona.
PREDICTION: ARIZONA 81, ARIZONA STATE 72
THIS AND THAT:
– The inability of Saint Joseph’s to get a win over either Butler or VCU in the first few weeks of Atlantic 10 play could hurt the Hawks’ potential NCAA Tournament resume down the line. Phil Martelli’steam already owns wins over Notre Dame and Harvard and last night’s OT loss against the Rams in Richmond could wind up being a costly defeat if the Hawks find themselves on the bubble. This team is much better than their 9-6 record, but they need to start accumulating wins.
– Duke freshman power forward Amile Jefferson continues to prove that he deserves to be on the floor. Pressed into more time after Ryan Kelly was lost with a foot injury, Jefferson had another good showing last night in the Blue Devils’ 73-57 win over Georgia Tech. In 28 minutes of work, the lanky forward scored six points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
– DeMario Mayfield is flourishing as a sixth man for Charlotte. The 6-6 junior is averaging 15 points per game in the 49ers first three conference games and has really given Alan Major another offensive threat in reserve. Charlotte is 3-0 in Atlantic 10 play and will travel to Richmond on Saturday.
– Pat Skerry hasn’t just made Towson made competitive in his second year — he’s made them a real factor in the CAA. The 9-9 Tigers beat Delaware on Wednesday night and have already beaten league favorite Drexel on the road. Don’t dismiss the notion that Skerry could win CAA Coach of the Year and Georgetown transfer Jerelle Benimon could win CAA Player of the Year. The 6-8 forward has been dominant for the Tigers, averaging 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. Remember, Towson only won a single game last season.
– Mike Caffey is enjoying a breakout sophomore season for Long Beach State. The 6-foot Caffey was used in spurts last season as the 49ers floor general when Dan Monson opted to play Casper Ware off the ball, and now Caffey looks like one of the better perimeter players in the Big West. While he’s only shooting 25.4% percent from three-point range, Caffey has put up solid numbers, averaging 12.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and 1.7 steals per game. Long Beach State is 5-1 in conference play.
– There was strong buzz in College Park on Wednesday night surrounding the potential of Michigan transfer Evan Smotrycz for Maryland. The 6-9 Smotrycz is sitting out this season per NCAA rules but should start next year for the Terps as a true face-up power forward. Last season, Smotrycz averaged 7.7 points and 4.9 rebounds for the Wolverines while shooting an impressive 43.5% from three-point range.
– The Mountain West Conference is enjoying a standout year on the basketball court and its brand was only enhanced when San Diego State announced they will remain in the league. In a day of realignment and constant change, the Mountain West has built a strong basketball niche with the Aztecs as well as programs like UNLV, New Mexico, Colorado State, and others. Solid league.
– The only team happier than Wisconsin when the Badgers beat Indiana on Tuesday night at Assembly Hall was probably Iowa. The Hawkeyes host Bo Ryan’s team on Saturday night in Iowa City and have been searching to add a marquee win to their resume. Iowa opened Big Ten play with three consecutive losses to Indiana, Michigan, and Michigan State.
– Xavier coach Chris Mack wasn’t surprised by his teams 7-6 start. “We had five new starters,” Mack said earlier this week. “Guys were in different roles and everyone was feeling each other out. I knew if we guarded and defended we would have a chance to be competitive every single night.” And that they have. The Musketeers are off to a 3-0 start in the Atlantic 10 and have embraced their coach’s hard nosed mentality. Xavier hosts La Salle on Saturday.
– St. John’s has the third most talented roster in the Big East behind Syracuse and Louisville. And it’s not even close. Scary, scary talent right now in Jamaica.
What’s your can’t-miss game of the weekend? Let us know in the comments!