Wednesday, December 31, 2008

One Final Six Pack For 2008

A look at the six most notable games on the New Year's Eve schedule:

Wisconsin at Michigan
We never thought we'd say this, but we're pretty pumped for the Big Ten season to tip off. The conference is deeper than it's been in years, and it already boasts five ranked teams, with Illinois and Wisconsin closing in. Michigan faces those two teams back-to-back at home to start its Big Ten schedule, beginning with the Badgers tonight. This one has all the makings of a close game, and the result might hinge on whether Wisconsin can keep Michigan's Manny Harris (he had 29 points and 16 rebounds last time out) away from the rim.

Michigan State at Minnesota
The Gophers have shocked everybody with their 12-0 start, but they might be running into a buzzsaw in their Big Ten opener against the Spartans. Michigan State is a different team with Goran Suton in the lineup (see: their win over Texas a week and a half ago) and they should be able to own the paint against Minnesota. The Gophers do have the home court and a solid group of guards that could give Michigan State problems, but in the end, look for Minnesota to fall from the ranks of the unbeaten.

North Carolina at Nevada
This match-up would be a pretty juicy one a couple of years ago, but this is far from a vintage Nevada team. They are still one of the better teams in the WAC, but they shouldn't give the top-ranked Tar Heels - whose closest win of the season has been by 15 points (yikes) - much of a challenge. Tyler Hansbrough, who grabbed his 1,000th career rebound in Carolina's win over Rutgers on Sunday, has scored 20 or more in six straight games - and he should easily make it seven here.

Gonzaga at Utah
Let's assume that the Zags bounce back from two straight losses and handle the Utes, and instead use this space to throw our first jab of the season at our buddy Joe Lunardi. In his latest bracket, which was released on Dec. 23, Lunardi inexplicably has Utah IN his field as an 11 seed (and going up!). The Utes, at the time, were 6-5 with losses to Division II Southern Baptist and Idaho State, and had just lost the day before at Utah State. It doesn't appear to be a typo, either; nothing has changed with his bracket since. To recap: if the season ended today, according to Joe Lunardi, the Utes are dancing. Nice to see you're in mid-season form, Joe. Happy holidays.

UNLV at Louisville
Louisville finally played like a ranked team in pounding UAB on Saturday, and they get another chance at a good mid-major win tonight against a red-hot UNLV team. The Rebels have won six straight, a streak that includes a double-digit win over Arizona, and they're 3-0 in road games this season (they've won at UTEP, Fresno State, and Nevada). If the "good" Cardinals show up, they could win by double figures; if the "bad" Cardinals show up instead, this one could get dicey.

Evansville at Illinois State
How long can Illinois State keep this up? The Redbirds squeaked past Missouri State in OT on Sunday to remain unbeaten, but now they host the Aces, who have beaten Western Kentucky (by 32) and Buffalo (by 15) already this season and whose only losses are to North Carolina and Butler. Illinois State's explosive backcourt should be the difference in this one, but expect a close game and don't be shocked by an upset.

Also receiving votes: Pittsburgh at Rutgers, Notre Dame at DePaul, Iowa at Ohio State, Loyola (MD) at Duke, Texas A&M at Rice


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