Monday, Dec. 21, 2009 | 2:59 p.m.
The one-loss records of UNLV and St. Mary's highlight the field at this week's Diamond Head Classic, while Southern Cal carries maybe the most recognizable name to Honolulu.
With action starting Tuesday, here's a look at the first-round matchups, plus a glance at the schedule from there forward. All times listed are Pacific.
GAME 1: Northeastern (2-5) vs. St. Mary's (9-1) — Noon Tues., Dec. 22, ESPNU
As far as top-to-bottom talent and overall ability, St. Mary's shares the honors with UNLV as the best squad taking part in this eight-team field.
The Gaels are winners of seven in a row following a narrow 72-70 loss to Vanderbilt on Nov. 20. They play a faster brand of ball than most teams, and are productive in doing so, averaging 85 points per game.
The team's anchor is 6-foot-11 senior Omar Samhan, who leads the teams in scoring (21.8 ppg), rebounding (12.0 rpg) and blocks (2.0 bpg). The motor, though, is junior point guard Mickey McConnell. He successfully has taken the reins from the departed Patty Mills, averaging 11.8 points and a team-best 6.1 assists per game.
Northeastern has struggled so far in the win-loss column, but has hung with everyone it has played so far. Those five setbacks have come by a combined 20 points. They could wind up surprising someone for sure.
Greene's prediction: St. Mary's wins, 94-71. UNLV might be the only team in this field that can hang with the Gaels in a shootout, but they could have a tough time against USC's slowed-down, defensive style, should the Trojans advance.
GAME 2: Western Michigan (4-4) vs. Southern Cal (5-4) — 2 p.m. Tues., Dec. 22, ESPNU
Western Michigan, in its first eight games, hasn't really seen anyone who will present the physical challenge that Southern Cal will. The Broncos will have to rely heavily on senior guard David Kool, who will be one of the best players at the Diamond Head Classic. He's averaging 21.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg and 2.5 apg this season.
The Trojans appear to have turned a significant corner recently under first-year coach Kevin O'Neill.
After splitting their first eight games, USC trounced a top-10 foe in Tennessee on Saturday afternoon, 77-55. It was the worst loss for the Volunteers since Bruce Pearl took over in 2005.
The difference-maker for the Trojans was senior point guard Mike Gerrity, a UNC-Charlotte transfer who posted 12 points, 10 assists and five rebounds in his first game for USC. It's a sign of good things to come for the Trojans in the post-Tim Floyd fiasco era.
A defensive-minded team, the Trojans will cause fits for anyone
Greene's prediction: Southern Cal wins, 66-54. It won't be pretty, but the Trojans' depth wins this slugfest.
GAME 3: SMU (4-3) vs. UNLV (10-1) — 7:30 p.m. Tues., Dec. 22, ESPNU
Well, one thing is for sure: the Mustangs will come in well-coached under Matt Doherty, who recruited the talent to North Carolina that won the 2005 NCAA title under Roy Williams.
SMU enters this week's action at 4-3 and the winner of two straight. However, its wins (Florida Gulf Coast, Huston-Tillotson, Texas State and Occidental) have come from teams that are anything but heavyweights. Meanwhile, the three losses have come at the hands of South Florida, Texas A&M and TCU.
Doherty has compiled a roster with talent from around the globe, including Hawaii, Illinois, Senegal, California and Iowa. Only four players on the 16-man roster are from Texas.
None of the Mustangs' regulars, it's worth noting, shoot below 40 percent from the floor.
As for UNLV, on the heels of a disappointing 95-80 loss last Saturday to Kansas State, the Rebels gradually built back up in a five-day stretch, winning three straight leading up to the trip to Honolulu.
Leading scorer Tre'Von Willis (16.1 ppg) missed Saturday's 88-58 victory over South Carolina Upstate with a turned ankle, but is expected back come Tuesday night.
Greene's prediction: UNLV wins, 78-60. SMU is a bit rough offensively, and UNLV's focus is pretty sharp right now.
Game 4: Charleston (4-5) vs. Hawaii (5-4) — 9:30 p.m. Tues., Dec. 22, ESPNU
The host Warriors have only left the island once this season, and that came in the form of an 80-70 loss at UC-Irvine on Dec. 2.
Meanwhile, tons of talent have come to pay Hawaii a visit, making this a battle-tested team after facing the likes of Mountain West powers BYU and New Mexico.
Roderick Flemings, 6-foot-7 senior guard, could turn out to be one of the tournament's bigger difference-makers in terms of spreading out defenses. He's averaging 16.4 ppg and 6.4 rpg. Petras Balocka, a 6-foot-8 senior big man, averages a double-double, too.
Charleston, meanwhile, suffered a couple of non-conference blowouts against Tennessee on Thanksgiving weekend and then at Clemson this past Saturday. But the Cougars are 3-0 in the always-competitive Southern Conference, and with Bobby Cremins roaming the sideline they can't be overlooked.
Greene's prediction: Hawaii wins, 74-68. The Warriors are very, very tough on that home floor. Charleston can hang, though.
Semifinals and loser's bracket schedule
Game 5 (Northeastern/St. Mary's loser vs. WMU/USC loser) — Noon Wed., Dec. 23, ESPNU
Game 6 (Northeastern/St. Mary's winner vs. WMU/USC winner) — 2 p.m. Wed., Dec. 23, ESPNU
Game 7 (SMU/UNLV winner vs. Charleston/Hawaii winner) — 8:30 p.m. Wed., Dec 23, ESPN2
Game 8 (SMU/UNLV loser vs. Charleston/Hawaii loser) — 11 p.m. Wed., Dec. 23, ESPNU
Game 9 (Game 5 loser vs. Game 8 loser) — 11 a.m. Fri., Dec. 25 (No TV)
Game 10 (Game 5 winner vs. Game 8 winner) — 1:30 p.m. Fri., Dec. 25 (No TV)
Game 11 (Game 6 loser vs. Game 7 loser) — 4:30 p.m. Fri., Dec. 25, ESPN2
Game 12 (Game 6 winner vs. Game 7 winner) — 6:30 p.m. Fri., Dec. 25, ESPN2