North Carolina expended a lot of energy to beat a hyped-up Ohio State team on Wednesday night, so it's natural to expect some sort of letdown. The Wildcats might be well-positioned to take advantage, but I still don't think they have the offensive firepower necessary to win. For all the chatter about how Roy Williams will manage his point guard situation between Ty Lawson and Bobby Frasor, Tubby Smith has his own situation to manage between 6-foot-2 junior Ramel Bradley and 6-6 freshman Derrick Jasper, who had 12 points and four assists in 34 minutes during UK's loss to UCLA in Maui. North Carolina's style should enable them to get easy baskets, which means the Heels can win this one even if they don't play their best.
I was actually tempted to pick the Hoyas until they lost at home to Oregon on Wednesday night. The Ducks are a pretty good team, but it is very unsettling that in Georgetown's two losses, Jeff Green attempted a combined six shots. Meanwhile, Duke was itself fortunate to survive Indiana in Cameron on Tuesday night. So far this has not been the type of high-scoring Duke team we're used to seeing -- the Blue Devils are averaging just 70.7 points -- and point guard Greg Paulus is really struggling through an early funk (26 turnovers to just 30 assists, 35.7 percent from the field). On the other hand, the Hoyas have their own problems on the perimeter and it doesn't feel like they're ready to pull of a big road win right now.
There's a reason Wichita State coach Mark Turgeon scheduled road games at LSU and Syracuse this season: He has a really good team and he knows it. The 'Cuse, of course, never plays on the road in December, but that will be no small consolation against the Shockers. What's amazing is not so much that Wichita State beat sixth-ranked LSU in Baton Rouge, but rather that it did so despite making just 2 of its 14 three-point attempts. Syracuse is definitely a better shooting team than LSU (Eric Devendorf and Demetris Nichols are making a combined 45.2 percent from three-point range), but I don't see the Orange applying the kind of defensive pressure the Tigers did. The bottom line is, Wichita State is a good, experienced team with something to prove.
If this game were being played in Austin, I might go with the Longhorns. But it's being played in Phoenix, and I simply can't shake the sight of the Zags picking apart North Carolina in Madison Square Garden last week. (That was on the same floor where I saw Texas be fortunate to beat a mediocre St. John's squad by one point.) Yes, Gonzaga looked pretty middling the next night against Butler and will need to be more careful with the ball, but that concern is offset by the emergence of 6-foot-11 center Josh Heytvelt as a bona fide star. Texas has arguably the best freshman in the country in Kevin Durant, but Gonzaga has a pretty good frosh itself in 6-5 guard Matt Bouldin.
UMass doesn't get an opportunity like this often: An ACC team and cross-state rival coming to the Mullins Center to face a resurgent program. The Minutemen began the season under the radar, but their 6-1 start indicates they could be Xavier's the biggest challenger in the Atlantic 10. Gary Forbes, the 6-7 transfer from Virginia, is second on the team in scoring (14.0) and assists (2.9), and Syracuse transfer Tiki Mayben has made a smooth transition to the point. This game, meanwhile, will feature two of the nation's premier shot blockers in UMass' Stephane Lasme (4.9) and BC's Sean Williams (7.7). BC looked pretty good in beating Michigan State on Wednesday, but this is a road game against a team that, unlike the Spartans, can really put points on the board.
UMass 74, BC 70
The Second Five
No. 5 Kansas (6-1) at DePaul (2-4) Have the Jayhawks learned their lesson about not playing down to their competition? I'm guessing they have. Kansas 82, DePaul 68
Illinois (7-5) at Arizona (4-1) Arizona's Mustafa Shakur is not my favorite point guard, but he's still better than anyone Illinois has. Arizona 88, Illinois 76
No. 24 Nevada (6-0) at Cal (6-1) If the Wolf Pack can get by this game and a road date with Gonzaga on Dec. 30, they could enter the NCAA tournament with only one or two losses. Nevada 81, California 76
Arizona St. (4-2) at Minnesota (2-5) Will the Gophers be inspired by Dan Monson's resignation or demoralized? I'm guessing the latter. Arizona State 66, Minnesota 63
Notre Dame (5-1) at No. 23 Maryland (8-0) The Terps are due for a bad one, but I'm still not giving the Irish a fighting chance. Maryland 73, Notre Dame 67