College Basketball Forecast: Big Games in the Big East

Joshua Gleason@JGleasContributor IIIFebruary 22, 2012

Tonight’s college hoops action will present a lot of quality matchups, specifically in the Big East.

One of the first games to tip off tonight will feature one of the top teams in the nation—the Syracuse Orange—hosting the South Florida Bulls, a team on the cusp of their third NCAA Tournament bid in program history.

West Virginia will head to South Bend, where they will look to find a cure to their recent struggles and knock off a hot Notre Dame team.

The Atlantic 10 will have one of the better teams in the nation in the Temple Owls heading to take on the La Salle Explorers.

The Michigan State Spartans continue their quest for a No. 1 seed when they take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers on the road.

And finally, Wyoming and San Diego State will be looking to get out of their recent slumps with victories tonight.

There is plenty of great college basketball on tonight and it all starts with one of the most important games of the night—South Florida and Syracuse.


Two to Focus on

South Florida Bulls (17-10, 10-4) @ No. 2 Syracuse Orange (27-1, 14-1) – 7 p.m. ET ESPN3

Key to the Game: Which defense will find the most success tonight

The South Florida Bulls haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1992. That is what is at stake tonight in the Carrier Dome, as USF looks for the upset of Syracuse that would punch their ticket to the “Big Dance” for the first time in twenty years.

This has the makings to be an ugly game—not referring to the Orange’s new platinum jerseys for tonight—as two of the top defenses in the Big East square off.

The Orange defense is a vaunted one. Jim Boeheim has perfected his 2-3 zone over his lengthy span in charge of the Syracuse program. However, it’s Stan Heath’s Bulls defense that is leading the Big East in scoring defense at 58.2 points per game.

Syracuse is well-known this year for having great depth and a squad that can pick up points from anywhere at any time. South Florida has been stagnant on offense this season, and has only topped 50 points once against an RPI Top 25 team.

Make no mistake about it—nothing about this game favors the Bulls. South Florida is 4-7 on the road, Syracuse a perfect 17-0 in the Carrier Dome. Nevertheless, a lot is on the line for this South Florida program tonight.

Other than defense, USF doesn’t do anything quite well. They play tough defense and rarely foul, but it’s doubtful that will be enough against a Syracuse team that leads the nation in turnover margin and is 25th  in points scored.

The magic number for South Florida is 60. Syracuse has only been held under 60 points twice this season—in a loss to Notre Dame and a one point victory over Louisville.

When South Florida has scored over 60 points, they are 14-1 this season, with their only loss coming by two at Old Dominion. It will be a struggle for them to reach that point, but if they can, don’t be surprised if the upset occurs.

In the end though, I do fully expect this Syracuse team to top 60 points and win this game.

South Florida struggles to shoot the three, which is the best way to beat the zone. The Orange are a dangerous team and arguably the best in the nation. Other than just a couple freshmen who pick up significant minutes—Michael Carter-Williams and Rakeem Christmas—this team knows the pain of being bounced from the tournament earlier than they planned.

They are in prime position for a No. 1 seed right now and can’t afford anything that would ruin that.

Final Score Predication: South Florida 56, Syracuse 70


West Virginia Mountaineers (17-10, 7-7) @ No. 18 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (19-8, 11-3) – 7 p.m. ET ESPN2

Key to the Game: Darryl Bryant’s performance

The last time these two faced—exactly two weeks ago—it was an ugly first half for both teams but was competitive right until the end. Both teams were highly inconsistent shooting the ball and couldn’t hit a three if their lives depended on it. Notre Dame held on for the 55-51 win.

Expect a little more offense in this game, but not much.

West Virginia has been in a slump lately, going 2-5 in their last seven. If the finger is to be pointed at any one individual, it should be senior point guard Darryl Bryant.

“Truck” isn’t typically the most efficient shooter—35.9 percent career from the field—but he has been miserable in the last eight games with the exception of a 32-point outburst against Providence.

If you take out the Providence game, Bryant has shot 19 for 81 from the field since the Marshall game. Hopefully nobody has a weak stomach before I state his field goal percentage...

23.5 percent.

If that caused anybody to lose their lunch—or dinner depending on when you read this—I apologize, but I did warn you.

Bryant also put up a zero for six performance in the loss to Notre Dame, although he did manage eight assists.

If the Mountaineers want to pick up what would be a huge win for them tonight, they need Bryant to play well. Just like teammate and National Player of the Year candidate Kevin Jones, “Truck” plays nearly the entire game. West Virginia can’t afford to have its primary ball-handler continue his recent struggles.

For Notre Dame, they just need to continue what they have been doing. The Fighting Irish are on an eight-game winning streak and are 3-1 against teams ranked 26-50 in the RPI.

This game was very close last time and I expect it to be the same way this time around. Notre Dame is trending up while West Virginia has been heading in the opposite direction.

If Darryl Bryant can shake his recent slump, then I can see the Mountaineers winning. However, nothing suggests Bryant is ready to get out of that, so expect a Fighting Irish victory.

Final Score Predication: West Virginia 60, Notre Dame 69


Three to See 

No. 22 Temple Owls (21-5, 10-2) @ La Salle Explorers (18-9, 7-5) – 7 p.m. ET

Despite the lack of pub for either of these two teams, this should be a very good game tonight between two very talented squads.

Temple is one of the better teams in the nation. They picked up a big wins versus Duke and Wichita State early in the season, and the Duke victory without top big man Michael Eric.

They have the recipe for success come tournament time as well with a trio of guards in Ramone Moore, Khalif Wyatt and Juan Fernandez. They have been hot in Atlantic 10 play recently and are on a 10-game winning streak that started with a victory over La Salle.

The Explorers are a quality basketball team as well. They are efficient and balanced at both ends of the floor that’s sitting at a very solid 69th  in RPI. La Salle did try to challenge itself out of conference with games at Villanova and Pittsburgh—which were very close—but with both of those teams’ struggles, neither look very impressive right now.

They desperately need a marquee win against a very good Temple team that will get them more talk as an “Under Consideration” team.

Temple should win this game because they are a superior team that is experienced and realizes not to take anybody in the A-10 lightly, specifically on the road.

La Salle desperately needs this game. If they can beat Temple, and make a run in the A-10 Tournament—in which they would currently have to face Charlotte, UMass and Saint Louis in route in the title game—it could be enough to crack the field of 68.

It will be a lot to ask for from one of the younger squads in the conference, though.


No. 6 Michigan State Spartans (22-5, 11-3) @ Minnesota Golden Gophers (17-10, 5-9) – 8:30 p.m. ET BTN

Michigan State has ripped off a bunch of key wins in lately to bolster their chances at a No. 1 seed, whereas Minnesota has blown three straight games that they could have really used to get into the tournament.

Luckily for the Golden Gophers, tonight begins a stretch of games that will still give them a shot to make the tournament, if they can pull the upsets.

The Spartans should be able to handle Minnesota tonight, but the Gophers are hungry and desperate. They have struggled on offense and against one of the toughest defenses in the country in Michigan State, it gets even tougher.

A loss for Minnesota seals their fate. Michigan State can actually afford to lose this one since they still have dates with Indiana and Ohio State before the Big Ten Tournament. I don't expect Izzo’s bunch to take any games off.

This will be hard fought game, but expect the superior Spartans to win.


Wyoming Cowboys (18-8, 4-6) @ No. 25 San Diego State Aztecs (20-6, 4-4) – 10:30 p.m. ET MTN

Both Wyoming and San Diego State come into this game on three-game losing streaks, so the good news is that one of these teams will get back to winning by the end of the night.

The Cowboys play very tough defense—fourth  in the nation in scoring defense—but struggle mightily to put up points. After putting up 68 points in an upset over UNLV, they have managed to only top 50 points once during this losing streak and have essentially played themselves out of consideration for the tournament.

Wins against the Aztecs and another one against the Rebels in a couple weeks could have people talking about this team again though.

Wyoming has a chance tonight because San Diego State is average on offense this season. Despite the Aztecs' inability to hit the three this season—23.9 percent—they rely heavily on shot fakes from the perimeter to get defenders in the air and then driving past them.

Against a Cowboys team that is the best defensively and most experienced in the Mountain West, this won’t work nearly as often.

Still, look for San Diego State to escape tonight. It will be a low-scoring game, but the Viejas Arena is a tough place to play and Wyoming has struggled on the road this season.


Mid-Major Flavor 

Texas-Arlington Mavericks (20-6, 12-0) @ McNeese State Cowboys (15-10, 10-2) – 8 p.m. ET

This game may not seem very important to most out there, but it’s a big game in the Southland Conference.

Texas-Arlington can clinch the No. 1 seed tonight in Southland Conference Tournament with a win over McNeese State, who is No. 2 in the conference.

The Mavericks are a very good offensive team that can shoot the three well. They are currently only projected as a No. 16 seed, but this is a fun team to watch, led by LaMarcus Reed III, who has 19 straight double-digit performances.

UTA lost 72-70 at Weber State on a dramatic finish in their BracketBusters game. The Mavericks limited the Wildcats' Damian Lillard–the nation’s leading scorer at 24.5 points per game–to 17 points on 41.7 percent shooting.

They will have another difficult scorer tonight when they have to shut down the Cowboys' Patrick Richard, who is putting up 17.9 per game.

If Texas-Arlington can get a lead at halftime, they should be able to win this, as they’ve only lost one game this year–against Weber State–in which they were leading at half.

UTA isn’t a major threat to pull an upset in March, but with their combination to score as well as rebound, if they could sneak into a No. 15 seed and get slotted against a team like Missouri—which struggles in three-point defense and rebounding—then the Mavericks could at least contest.


Follow me on Twitter @MisterSideline for more college basketball info!


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