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Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Vote of Confidence

by Graham Hays
ESPN Fantasy Games

The Gimmes
Ohio State over Dartmouth
Penn and Princeton can give almost any school fits on any court, but the rest of the Ivy League usually looks pretty homesick on the road. Dartmouth has lost games at Hawaii-Hilo, Stony Brook, Quinnipiac and New Hampshire, in addition to home games against such powerhouses as Rider and Lehigh. Does it matter which Big 10 teams hosts them? Ohio State is hardly dominant, dropping a game to San Francisco and barely holding off Furman and Central Michigan, but a frontline that includes 7-0 Velimir Radinovic and 6-9 Terence Dials is too much for one of the Ivy's weaker entries. Confidence Vote: 10 points

UTEP over Mississippi Valley State
Nothing against the Southwestern Athletic Conference, but SWAC teams don't go on the road against quality opponents and come out with wins -- the conference is 21-57 in non-conference play. And for these purposes, WAC representative UTEP is a quality opponent. Mississippi Valley State is 5-3, but that includes bad losses at Richmond and Tennessee-Martin, as well as close wins against Mt. St. Mary's and Delta State. Not one of the Devils' three leading scorers shoots better than 36 percent from the floor. Meanwhile, UTEP has rolled through beatable opponents while losing by a respectable 13 at Texas Tech. UTEP leads the WAC in scoring offense and field goal percentage, while Mississippi Valley State ranks in the middle of most SWAC defensive stats. Confidence Vote: 9 points

Gonzaga over Washington State
It's not much of a trek from Pullman to Spokane, but this intrastate battle is still a tough road game for the Washington State Cougars. Dick Bennett gives Washington State an air of legitimacy and the ability to scare any team when they execute, but the Cougars' record is mostly fluff. Wins against VMI, Alaska Fairbanks, Idaho, Montana and IPFW (Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne) won't prepare them for Gonzaga. In two of Washington State's last three road games, they've produced 36 points against Southern Utah and 29 points against Fresno State. Gonzaga may top that before the final timeout of the first half. Confidence Vote: 8 points

Danger Games
Kentucky over Lousiville
Undoubtedly the marquee game of this week's slate. The key here isn't numbers or matchups, it's location. You simply can't bet against the No. 1 team playing on their own court against a team that hasn't ventured away from the friendly confines of Freedom Hall yet this season. Confidence Vote: 4 points

Michigan over UCLA
The Bruins are coming off a high, having downed Michigan State in an emotional game to christen John Wooden Court at Pauley. Good win, just don't let it fool you. This is still the same enigmatic UCLA team that Steve Lavin led for so many years -- losing to Kentucky by two before beating Loyola Maramount by three and losing to Santa Barbara. That's not the kind of squad you want to count on for a road win, especially against a solid Big 10 team. Michigan will have trouble matching up with a UCLA frontcourt that just got T.J. Cummings back -- no Michigan player taller than 6-6 averages more than 20 minutes a game -- but they have the defense to frustrate the Bruins. Michigan ranks third among Big 10 teams in points allowed and field goal percentage defense. Confidence Vote: 1 point

Memphis over Missouri
Talk about the potential for trouble. Living largely off preseason reputation, Missouri has yet to look dominant in any game, securing wins against Oakland, Coppin State, Indiana and UNC-Greensboro by an average of 6.8 points. Arguably their best performance came in a seven-point loss to Gonzaga in Seattle. The Tigers will also be coming off a Dec. 23 game against Illinois, which in combination with the Christmas holiday could leave them distracted. And Memphis isn't a good place for a distracted team to visit. The Tigers have respectable road losses to Wake Forest and Illinois, as well as a road win at Mississippi, and should be itching to get a quality opponent on their home court. Just as important, the Tigers have a point guard in Antonio Burks who leads the team in assists and shoots 53 percent from the floor, while Missorui has struggled to find a floor leader. Confidence Vote: 3 points

Road Wins
Maryland over Florida State
Florida State lost to Pittsburgh in the Seminoles' first significant game of the season. A seven-point loss is hardly embarassing, but the Seminoles defense -- first among ACC in points allowed and second in field goal percentage defense -- allowed the Panthers to score 63 points on 52 percent shooting. Considering Maryland has already successfully handled a bigger road game in the state of Florida, knocking off the No. 1 Gators on the road, it's too early to trust Florida State's homecourt advantage. Confidence Vote: 5 points

Mississippi State over Tulane
It's a game of two teams that haven't played mich of anyone yet, with the exception of Mississippi State's win against a struggling Xavier team. So why pick the road team? Because they're from the SEC and because Tulane doesn't have anyone to match up against Timmy Bowers or Lawrence Roberts, let alone both. Shared opponents also helps clarify the picture, as the Bulldogs rolled over New Orleans by 18 points, while the Green Wave suffered a three-point defeat to the same team. There's danger in picking a team that has played just two road games and didn't look great in either -- barely beating Western Kentucky and Santa Clara -- but this remains a case of talent over location. Confidence Vote: 7 points

The Rest
NC State over Virginia
The dreaded home team with a soft schedule against an undefeated conference opponent. Then again, Virginia's 8-0 record includes wins against Minnesota and not much else of note. When in doubt, stick with the home team. Confidence Vote: 2 points

Seton Hall over Depaul
The Pirates acquitted themselves well in loss to Purdue and Louisville, while also rolling over Ohio State. They've won their four home games by an average of 24 points. DePaul is coming off back-to-back home losses to Notre Dame and Toledo, erasing any momentum from a 5-1 start that included an eight-point loss at Michigan State. The Blue Demons rank next-to-last in Conference USA in scoring defense and just eighth in scoring offense, averaging just a point more than they allow. By comparison, against a similarly difficult schedule, Seton Hall averages 10 more points than they allow. Throw in homecourt advantage and it's tough to pick against the Pirates. Confidence Vote: 6 points