- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

FORTUNES RISING

XAVIER

No one — not North Carolina, not Memphis, not Kansas — has played as well over the last two weeks as the Musketeers. Xavier reinforced its status as a potential March sleeper by blitzing through Kansas State, Virginia and Auburn in a three-game stretch and might just be the best team the Cincinnati school has produced in the last 20 years.

FORTUNES FALLING

PITTSBURGH

There’s nothing the Panthers can do about their team getting gutted with injuries to Levance Fields and Mike Cook. But the reality is that Jamie Dixon is not presiding over a Top 25 team, regardless of what the rankings say. Still, a plucky performance in a tight loss at Villanova suggests there might be enough to make a push for an NCAA berth.

MID-MAJOR SPOTLIGHT

NIAGARA

The Purple Eagles have won six in a row (including five away from home) to improve to 10-3. Charron Fisher leads the country with 27.4 points a game for Niagara, which won the Metro Atlantic last year only to be relegated to the play-in game and later a thrashing at the hands of Kansas. A note of caution: The Purple Eagles have used only eight players this season.

THIS WEEK’S SIX-PACK

SATURDAY

N.C. STATE (10-3, 0-0 ACC) AT NO. 1 NORTH CAROLINA (15-0, 1-0)

Noon, Dean Smith Center, Chapel Hill, N.C., ESPN

Skinny: The Wolfpack were sluggish for much of nonconference play, but Sidney Lowe and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat likely will be on full display at the Dean Dome. The Tar Heels, prohibitive favorites in the ACC, look to build on a Wayne Ellington-engineered overtime victory over Clemson in their league opener.

NOTRE DAME (12-2, 2-0 Big East) AT NO. 15 MARQUETTE (12-2, 2-1)

2 p.m., Bradley Center, Milwaukee, MASN

Skinny: So this is what a road game is like. The Fighting Irish play on another team’s home floor for the first time all year after handling West Virginia and Connecticut last week. The Eagles could have an opening in the Big East with Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse dealing with injuries, but two league losses by mid-January wouldn’t help that push.

NO. 4 WASHINGTON STATE (13-0, 1-0 Pac-10) AT NO. 5 UCLA (14-1, 2-0)

2:30 p.m., Pauley Pavilion, Los Angeles

Skinny: Two teams built for March meet with the conference lead at stake. The Cougars’ backcourt of Derrick Low and Kyle Weaver struggled against the Bruins’ defense a season ago, but the pair has helped Tony Bennett’s team navigate nonconference play without a loss. UCLA’s one setback came against Texas, but the Bruins have since rattled off seven straight wins.

NO. 3 KANSAS (15-0, 0-0 Big 12) AT NEBRASKA (11-2, 0-0)

9 p.m., Devaney Sports Center, Lincoln, Neb., ESPN

Skinny: This could be a tricky game for the Jayhawks, who were shaky in their first two road games before ripping Boston College last week. Former Texas-El Paso coach Doc Sadler has the Cornhuskers poised to contend for their first NCAA berth since 1998; a victory over Kansas would go a long way for Aussie import Aleks Maric (16.2 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and his teammates.

TUESDAY

BRIGHAM YOUNG (11-4, 0-0 Mountain West) AT UNLV (12-3, 1-0)

11 p.m., Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas

Skinny: The Runnin’ Rebels head into the weekend having won eight of nine, the lone loss a three-point setback to Arizona, while the Cougars have stitched together a solid nonconference resume. This has the makings of a conference title preview (San Diego State and New Mexico might argue), and junior guard Wink Adams could be the difference for the balanced Rebels.

WEDNESDAY

FLORIDA (14-2, 1-0 SEC) AT NO. 16 MISSISSIPPI (13-0, 0-0)

8 p.m., Tad Smith Coliseum, Oxford, Miss.

Skinny: The Rebels entered last night’s game at Tennessee unbeaten, and a loss there wouldn’t matter all that much. But a visit from the two-time defending national champs certainly will create a circus in Oxford. The Gators are a vastly different team than a season ago, but it still means something to beat them; just ask Florida State and Ohio State.

64 PLUS ONE

It’s way too early for a bracket projection to be completely insightful. Heck, there are still more than two months before Selection Sunday. So with only half the season complete, perception of how things should be carries about as much weight as what has been done to date:

EAST

1. North Carolina*

2. Georgetown

3. Indiana

4. Xavier

5. Arizona

6. Butler

7. Oklahoma

8. Arkansas

9. UNLV

10. Oregon

11. Illinois State

12. Connecticut

13. Sam Houston State*

14. Boise State*

15. Brown*

16. Arkansas-Pine Bluff*/Wagner*

SOUTH

1. Memphis*

2. Tennessee*

3. Duke

4. Texas A&M;

5. Wisconsin

6. Pittsburgh

7. Stanford

8. Notre Dame

9. Massachusetts

10. Baylor

11. Kent State*

12. Arizona State

13. Cal State Northridge*

14. Delaware*

15. Hampton*

16. Austin Peay*

MIDWEST

1. Kansas

2. Washington State

3. Vanderbilt

4. Marquette

5. Dayton*

6. Saint Mary’s*

7. Syracuse*

8. Miami

9. San Diego State*

10. Ohio State

11. South Alabama*

12. Southern Cal

13. Niagara*

14. Cleveland State*

15. UMBC*

16. East Tennessee State

WEST

1. UCLA*

2. Michigan State*

3. Texas*

4. Mississippi

5. Clemson

6. Villanova

7. Rhode Island

8. Gonzaga

9. West Virginia

10. Virginia

11. Drake*

12. Winthrop*

13. Oral Roberts*

14. Holy Cross*

15. Chattanooga*

16. Montana State*

* automatic qualifier

-Patrick Stevens

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