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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