- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2008

FORTUNES RISING

PURDUE

 Few teams around the country are younger than Matt Painter’s Boilermakers, who nonetheless are making the most of a weak Big Ten. Purdue already owns victories over Louisville, Ohio State and Wisconsin, with the latter coming Saturday in West Lafayette. There’s no shortage of chances for victories on the horizon, meaning the Boilermakers are looking at back-to-back NCAA berths.

FORTUNES FALLING

VILLANOVA

 Nobody does erratic quite like the Wildcats, who will continue to play poorly in the Big East this winter. There might not be a top-10 caliber team in the league besides Georgetown, but it contains no shortage of teams capable of carving Jay Wright and Co. up whenever the youthful Wildcats sputter at inopportune times. If Rutgers can do it, so can anyone else in the conference.

MID-MAJOR SPOTLIGHT

ORAL ROBERTS

 Most teams only could dream of losing a 20-points-a-night scorer like Caleb Green, who led the Eagles to two straight Mid-Continent (now Summit) titles, and still thriving. But Oral Roberts is through the first half of the conference’s double round-robin at 9-0 and might just be a sneaky No. 13 seed when March arrives thanks in large part to sixth man Robert Jarvis, who averages a team-high 16.9 points.

THIS WEEK’S SIX-PACK

TONIGHT

No. 11 INDIANA (17-2, 6-0 Big Ten) at No. 13 WISCONSIN (16-3, 6-1)

9 p.m., Kohl Center, Madison, Wis., ESPN

Skinny: No conference team other than Illinois has toppled the Badgers at Kohl Center under Bo Ryan, though the Eric Gordon-led Hoosiers have a chance. Of course, if they play with the same impatience and sloppiness that plagued them throughout their loss to Connecticut on Saturday, they will be even in the loss column with Wisconsin in the watered down Big Ten.

SATURDAY

No. 25 BAYLOR (16-3, 4-1 Big 12) at No. 10 TEXAS (16-3, 3-1)

1:45 p.m., Erwin Events Center, Austin, Texas

Skinny: The glow of Baylor’s untelevised five-overtime thriller at Texas A&M; faded some when the Bears lost to a rested Oklahoma, but this is a way to make up for that setback. Texas entered the week 82-7 under coach Rick Barnes against in-state opponents, including 20-0 against the Bears. That streak could end this year but don’t count on it happening in Austin.

No. 14 STANFORD (16-3, 5-2 Pac-10) at No. 9 WASHINGTON STATE (17-2, 5-2)

3 p.m., Beasley Coliseum, Pullman, Wash.

Skinny: The Cardinal, who will finish a three-game road swing with this game, have quietly chugged along and built up a solid record with only two victories (Southern California and Arizona) against top-50 RPI teams. Both of those came at home, which lends a bit more significance to Stanford’s attempt to upend Derrick Low, Kyle Weaver and the Cougars.

No. 7 TENNESSEE (18-2, 5-1 SEC) at MISSISSIPPI STATE (14-5, 5-0)

7 p.m., Humphrey Coliseum, Starkville, Miss.

Skinny: Rick Stansbury’s Bulldogs struggled to a 5-5 start overall but rattled off nine straight victories to enter the week as the SEC’s lone unbeaten team in league play. Tank-like guard Jamont Gordon and big men Charles Rhodes and Jarvis Varnado have Mississippi State on the precipice of being ranked for the first time in more than three years; a victory over the Volunteers surely would help.

MONDAY

GONZAGA (16-5, 5-0 WCC) at No. 21 SAINT MARY’S (17-3, 4-1)

11 p.m., McKeon Pavilion, Moraga, Calif., ESPN2

Skinny: The Gaels probably will drop back out of the top 25 after Monday’s loss to San Diego, but this is still a vital league game. It is the second stint in the poll this year for Saint Mary’s, which did not play quite the same murderous schedule Gonzaga typically does. Mark Few’s Bulldogs will remain in league play the rest of the way, and poaching this one on the road would prove valuable for the regular-season WCC race.

WEDNESDAY

No. 3 DUKE (17-1, 5-0 ACC) at No. 4 NORTH CAROLINA (19-1, 4-1)

9 p.m., Dean E. Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C., ESPN, Chs. 20, 54

Skinny: This one doesn’t need much explanation. The Blue Devils, whose talent coupled with perimeter reliance is reminiscent of 2006 Villanova and 2007 Oregon (both Elite Eight teams), have earned a top-five ranking for the 11th straight season. Meanwhile, the Tar Heels remain a legitimate national title contender. None of that will matter next week, when the Tobacco Road titans could meet as top-five foes for the first time since Feb. 1, 2001.

Patrick Stevens

64 PLUS ONE

There are eight Big East teams in this field, with three more (Villanova, Providence, Syracuse) just on the outside. It isn’t so much that many of these teams are great, but rather there are a lot of solid-but-not-spectacular squads in what is an underwhelming season across the country. Even with that depth, at this stage it’s hard to view anyone in the Big East besides Georgetown as a Final Four threat.

EAST REGION

1. North Carolina

2. Georgetown*

3. Indiana*

4. Xavier*

5. Arizona

6. Vanderbilt

7. Kansas State

8. Gonzaga*

9. Ohio State

10. Arizona State

11. UNLV*

12. West Virginia

13. Davidson*

14. Cornell*

15. UMBC*

16. Wagner*

SOUTH REGION

1. Memphis*

2. Michigan State

3. Washington State

4. Pittsburgh

5. Florida

6. Dayton

7. Saint Mary’s

8. Clemson

9. Texas A&M;

10. Notre Dame

11. Arkansas

12. VCU*

13. Oral Roberts*

14. Utah State*

15. Hampton*

16. Alabama State*/ Jacksonville*

MIDWEST REGION

1. Kansas*

2. Tennessee

3. Stanford

4. Drake*

5. Butler*

6. Marquette

7. Purdue

8. Southern California

9. Rhode Island

10. Oklahoma

11. Miami

12. Seton Hall

13. Kent State*

14. UNC Asheville*

15. Austin Peay*

16. Lamar*

WEST REGION

1. Duke*

2. UCLA*

3. Texas

4. Wisconsin

5. Baylor

6. Connecticut

7. Mississippi

8. Mississippi State*

9. Louisville

10. Saint Joseph’s

11. South Alabama*

12. Brigham Young

13. Marist*

14. Cal State Northridge*

15. Northern Arizona*

16. Lafayette*

* automatic qualifier