Watch out for Arizona-Illinois, Marquette-Wisconsin

Updated: December 7, 2007

AP Photo/Wily Low

Arizona freshman Jerryd Bayless is a young star and a big-time scorer.

Game to watch

Arizona at Illinois, Saturday, noon ET, ESPN

Arizona is starting to figure it out, but this is still a fragile team, with Lute Olson announcing he will take a leave of absence for the rest of the season. Interim head coach Kevin O'Neill has done a great job with the Wildcats, and the players are beginning to respond. This is not a super-talented Arizona team, but there are a couple of first-round picks in the lineup. Illinois is young, much deeper and much more athletic than last season. The Illini will guard you, and they play hard. The question is whether Illinois can make enough perimeter shots.

Players to watch: Chase Budinger, Jerryd Bayless and Brian Randle. Budinger is an outstanding player, and although some have questioned his physical and mental toughness, he is really starting to play like a great one. I think the questions about Budinger have been unfair, and he is proving them so. Against Kansas, Budinger was the best player on the floor, and he was solid against Texas A&M against defenders determined to stop him.

He likely will be guarded by Randle, the outstanding fifth-year defensive whiz. Randle has had some foul issues, and he needs to shadow Budinger all over the floor without picking up any cheap ones.

Bayless is a young star and is becoming more aggressive. He needs to be aware and patient with the ball against Illinois, because he can get going too fast and turn it over. Bayless is an outstanding shooter with a great first step, and he is a big-time scorer.

Key matchup: Illinois' Brian Randle vs. Arizona's Chase Budinger. Arizona runs Budinger off a lot of staggered screens, and the Wildcats look to post him and isolate him; they are usually a motion team with a four-around-one look. O'Neill has run a lot of set plays, and it has been good for getting Budinger more shots. Randle or any other defender cannot allow Budinger to catch the ball and shoot it. Illinois must make Budinger dribble into a shot.

Pivotal X & O: Watch how Arizona guards Illinois big man Shaun Pruitt. The Wildcats have young and inexperienced big guys, and Pruitt can have a big day with his size and strength. Pruitt is left-handed, and he really looks to go to that hand. In fact, he doesn't really look to use his right. Arizona needs to sit on that left hand and make Pruitt go over his left shoulder.

Who wins: Arizona played a great game at Kansas and won a big one at home against Texas A&M. This game is in Chicago, but it will still be a tough road test for Arizona. Even though the Cats are on the rise, I favor Illinois in a close one.

Don't miss ...

Marquette at Wisconsin, Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Marquette has really good guards in Dominic James, Jerel McNeal, Wesley Matthews, David Cubillan and Maurice Acker, and they can really push the ball and pressure it on the defensive end. Wisconsin has solid big guys and an offense that can be difficult to guard if you are not disciplined and together on defense. Wisconsin does not make many mistakes, and the Badgers do a good job of getting on the glass. Wisconsin, however, is not super-athletic and does not really hurt you in the post. Wisconsin is full of players who are working through new roles and still figuring it out. When they do, this will be another Bo Ryan NCAA Tournament team. How will Marquette shoot it? How will Wisconsin handle Marquette's pressure?

Players to watch: Brian Butch is averaging 13.1 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, and he can pull a big defender away from the basket. He is a capable scorer and can hit shots from the perimeter. Lazar Hayward is a terrific athlete who has 3-point range, hits the offensive glass and runs in transition. Last season, Wisconsin had Alando Tucker to make athletic plays and present an unsolvable matchup problem. This season, Wisconsin will have to do Tucker's work by committee, but it is a very capable committee.

Trevon Hughes

David Stluka/Getty Images

Will Trevon Hughes find a way to score against Jerel McNeal's constant defensive pressure?

Key matchup: Marquette's Jerel McNeal vs. Wisconsin's Trevon Hughes. McNeal is one of the top five defenders in the game. He is not a lock-down type who denies the ball, but he is a disruptive force who takes it away or deflects it. Hughes is an underrated player who is ultra-quick and fast, and he is athletic enough to handle and break pressure. Hughes has to have a big game for Wisconsin.

Pivotal X & O: Watch how Marquette's pressure affects Wisconsin. The Badgers set a lot of back-screens to get guards into the post, and some teams switch those screens and take their chances with a guard posting a big man. Marquette's best offense is scoring off its defense, but Wisconsin does not turn the ball over against most teams. If Marquette can keep Wisconsin from catching it in an operating area, it will be an advantage for the Golden Eagles.

Who wins: It is next to impossible to beat Wisconsin in Madison under Bo Ryan, and only a fool would expect Marquette to win at Kohl. Still, I believe this will be the most competitive game of the weekend, and I favor Marquette by a very thin slice of cheddar. Marquette is more athletic, and that will make the difference.


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Best of the rest

Dayton at Louisville, Sat., 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2
This game features one of the best underrated scorers in the nation in Dayton's Brian Roberts and a budding star in Louisville's Earl Clark. Last season, Clark wasn't ready. This season, he is much more mature and is scoring and rebounding in double figures. Dayton will fight the Cards, and with Chris Wright and Charles Little, the Flyers are athletic and tough enough to win. The question is, who guards Derrick Caracter?

Michigan State vs. BYU, Sat., 4 p.m. ET
The Spartans are starting to come together, and while Michigan State is primarily a jump-shooting team, Tom Izzo's players are starting to get up and down the floor and score some easy ones in transition. BYU has a great big guy in Trent Plaisted and a shooter in Jonathan Tavernari, but the Cougars may not have the depth to beat Michigan State. Watch for Raymar Morgan. He is blossoming into a star.

-- Jay Bilas,

Syracuse wins a big true road game

Don't forget about these games too ...

St. Mary's vs. San Diego State, Sat., 3 p.m. ET
Forwards Lorrenzo Wade and Kyle Spain are combining to average 28 points for a strong Aztecs team, but the inside-out attack of the undefeated Gaels is worth the price of admission. With high-scoring freshman guard Patrick Mills averaging 16.3 points and 4.8 assists, plus 6-7 forward Diamon Simpson, St. Mary's has a highly productive perimeter. Mountain-sized center Omar Samhan (6-11 and 265 pounds) in the post makes the St. Mary's attack complete. After St. Mary's knocked off Oregon, it is safe to say Gonzaga is not a lock in the West Coast Conference.

Purdue at Missouri, Sat., 4 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Purdue coach Matt Painter's rookies are a special group, and after a strong showing on the road in a close loss to Clemson, the young Boilermakers are growing up fast. The freshmen class of wings Scott Martin, E'Twaun Moore and Robbie Hummel and post JaJuan Johnson are accounting for 58 percent of Purdue's scoring. Missouri coach Mike Anderson's 40 Minutes of Hell will be on display, led by underrated point guard Stefhon Hannah (averaging 16.1 points and 5.4 assists). It will be fun to see if Purdue can get a road win in the hostile environment of Mizzou Arena.

Kentucky at Indiana, Sat., 4 p.m. ET
This isn't your typical UK vs. IU game because the Wildcats come in unranked. These are trying times for coach Billy Gillispie, given injuries to key players Derrick Jasper and Jodie Meeks, in addition to freshman Alex Legion transferring from Kentucky this week. It will be interesting to see how much fight the Cats will have. The Crawford family feud will take place as Kentucky's Joe battles younger brother Jordan of IU. Anytime Indiana's Eric Gordon is on the floor (and he is expected to play after hurting his back on Monday), there should be plenty of action; the super frosh enters the game averaging 24.3 points. Senior forward D.J. White controls the lane and the glass for the Hoosiers (14.8 points and 8.6 boards). Kentucky is searching for the right combination. The Wildcats have started five different lineups in six games. Anytime these two programs go head-to-head, it will be a battle.

Miami (Fla.) at Florida International, Sat., 7 p.m. ET
Miami, champions of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, is making plenty of noise with two must-see players, guard Jack McClinton and center Anthony King. McClinton is quick off the dribble and a consistent threat beyond the arc. The 6-1 junior is the heart and soul of the Canes. King who is an above-the-rim athlete and great shot blocker. The Canes are definitely one of the surprise teams in the country thus far.

Rhode Island at Syracuse, Sat., 7 p.m. ET, ESPN Full Court
Fresh off a huge win against Providence College, the Rams will try to make it two in a row against the Big East behind the dynamic duo of Will Daniels and Jimmy Baron. Rhody is one of the favorites in the A-10 (along with Xavier). Daniels, at 6-8, is a powerful wing averaging 18.1 points and 6.6 boards. He can score inside and out. Baron, averaging 15 points, has range past the NBA 3-point line. The Orange freshmen are fun to watch, with Donte Greene and Jonny Flynn leading the way, but an experienced and tough Rhode Island team seeking double-figure wins makes this a great game.

-- Reggie Rankin, Scouts Inc.

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