College Hoops Weekend Primer March 5-6
Here’s a look ahead to the college basketball slate for this weekend (March 5-6):
Top 5 Matchups:
1. Duke (27-3/13-2 RPI 5) at North Carolina (23-6/13-2 RPI 8 ) 8 PM EST Sat on CBS: The ACC regular season championship comes down to Saturday night’s game in the Dean Dome. Usually, this game gets way too much hype and annoys everybody who doesn’t like either team. But this year, with both teams at 13-2, the hype is warranted. The Blue Devils are looking to win Coach K’s 13th ACC regular season title in his 31st year at the school. Ol Roy is looking for his 14th overall regular season title and 5th while at UNC. Duke’s Nolan Smith gets a primetime opportunity to make his case for national POY and a big game against UNC could leave an indelible impression on the voters. Freshman Harrison Barnes is showing an ability to hit big shots and is letting the game come to him now instead of trying to force the action like he did earlier in the season and comes into the game off of his game winning three-pointer against Florida State. If you haven’t seen much of Kendall Marshall, the Heels freshman point guard has great court vision and is going to be a special player. Duke is playing for a #1 seed and North Carolina might be able to secure a #2 seed on Selection Sunday if they can win this game and then play well in Greensboro next week. In any case, it should be a tremendous game. I only have one question. Can both of them lose? Just kidding.
2. Wisconsin (23-6/13-4 RPI 13) at Ohio State (28-2/15-2 RPI 2) 4 EST Sun on CBS: The Badgers gave the Buckeyes their first defeat three weeks ago in Madison. Now the Buckeyes get a chance to clinch the outright Big Ten regular season title if they can avenge their earlier loss to the Badgers. The Big Ten POY award might be on the line as well in Columbus. Badgers point guard Jordan Taylor has put together a tremendous season and is coming off a 39 point effort against Indiana on Thursday night. Taylor torched the Buckeyes for 21 of his 27 points in the second half of the Badgers upset win in Madison. For the Buckeyes, Jared Sullinger’s Big Ten POY campaign has stalled in recent weeks as Taylor and Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore have been playing great. Sullinger probably has to have a big game for a victorious Buckeyes team to capture the award.
3. Villanova (21-9/9-8 RPI 33) at Pittsburgh (26-4/14-3 RPI 9) 4 PM EST Sat on CBS: It’s desperation time for the reeling Wildcats as they have lost 3 straight games and 8 of 13 after starting the season 16-1. They were a preseason top 10 team, along with Pittsburgh, and were expected to make another Final Four run. Right now, their potential seed in the tournament is dropping quickly and they are sure to be facing at-large competition in their opening game. Corey Fisher hasn’t played up to his potential and they are going to need somebody to take charge if they are going to do damage in the postseason. The Panthers have an opportunity to seal Jamie Dixon’s second Big East regular season title and move closer to securing a #1 seed for the NCAA tournament. There’s been some recent talk about Pitt guard Brad Wanamaker’s candidacy for Big East POY. If the Panthers win the title, the do-it-all guard should be a serious candidate for the award. He’s averaging over 12 points and is getting over 5 rebounds and 5 assists per game while making big plays on both ends of the floor. Ashton Gibbs is the flashy scorer, but Wanamaker is the glue to the best team in the Big East and could be rewarded for it next week.
4. Kansas (28-2/13-2 RPI 29) at Missouri (22-8/8-7 RPI 27) Noon EST Sat on CBS: The Jayhawks come into the Border War looking to clinch the Big 12 regular season title and put the finishing touches on their #1 seed resume. Junior point guard Tyshawn Taylor returned to the lineup against A&M on Wednesday night after missing two games due to a suspension for some Allen Fieldhouse hanky-panky, allegedly. He only played 17 minutes and it will be interesting to see if Coach Self increases his playing time in his second game back. Jayhawks forward Marcus Morris is getting consideration for Big 12 POY and if he has a big game to help seal the regular season title, it might give him the edge when they vote next week. The Tigers are a strange team as they lack any top 100 RPI road wins. They have only won on the road twice, beating Oregon and Iowa State. Everybody seems to agree that they’re not in danger of missing the tournament, but losing to Kansas to finish at 8-8 in the Big 12 and then dropping their first round game in Kansas City next week could change that. Beating Kansas would go a long way to making us forget about their pitiful play away from Columbia.
5. Kentucky (21-8/9-6 RPI 12) at Tennessee (18-12/8-7 RPI 32) Noon EST Sun on CBS: This matchup in Knoxville was expected to be for the SEC East title when the schedule was made. Now both teams are just trying to erase the question marks about them going into the postseason. Kentucky’s best players are freshmen and they play like it. They’ve been inconsistent all season long and have failed to generate much success on the road. They have only three true road wins all season (Portland, Louisville, and South Carolina). Sunday’s game against the Volunteers gives them an opportunity to improve on that mark. They also have a chance to finish second in the SEC East, which would give them a first round bye at next week’s tournament in Atlanta. The Vols looked like national championship contenders when they beat Pittsburgh way back in December to move to 7-0. Since then, they’ve gone 11-12, including 5-3 without embattled head coach Bruce Pearl. That means that Pearl has gone 6-9 on the sidelines since their fast start. That’s not the type of record that can save the job of somebody who lied during an investigation. Those NCAA compliance issues should not have any impact on the Vols at-large chances on Selection Sunday. But do the Volunteers and Pearl want to risk it? The Vols need this game to ensure that they don’t end up on the bubble and find out if the selection committee has an agenda.
Teams with the most to gain this weekend: RPIs in ()
1. Colorado State (47) at San Diego State (4): The Rams are still searching for that “resume” win and Saturday night’s game in Viejas Arena provides them that opportunity. With a win, Colorado State might able to avoid being on the wrong side of the bubble on Selection Sunday.
2. Virginia Tech (63) at Clemson (64) winner: Virginia Tech doesn’t know how to avoid the bubble. Three days after upsetting Duke, they lose at home to BC by 15. Even Dick Vitale downgraded their NCAA hopes to questionable after holding a coronation for Seth Greenberg and the Hokies after the Duke game. Clemson fell short of beating Duke on Wednesday and needs to win this game to finish above .500 in conference play. Without that, it’s going to be tough for the Tigers to secure an at-large bid.
3. Michigan State (45) at Michigan (58) winner: Here’s another bubble matchup between conference teams where the winner can gain a huge advantage going into the selection process. The Spartans are limping across the finish line and need the win to finish over .500 in the Big Ten. A win over the Wolverines and Sparty’s probably dancing. John Beilein’s Wolverines have stormed back from a 1-6 start in the Big Ten and can finish at 9-9 if they complete the season sweep of Michigan State. The last season Michigan State didn’t beat Michigan was 2003 when they only played one game.
4. Princeton (49) at Harvard (43) winner: The Tigers can clinch the Ivy League title with a win in Cambridge on Saturday night. Harvard needs to win out to force a one game playoff with the Tigers. With a high RPI and a couple of wins over bubble teams (BC and Colorado), would the selection committee consider the Crimson for an at-large bid if they lose this game?
5. Baylor (77) vs. Texas (14): The Bears get one final chance to revive their faint at-large if they can beat the Longhorns in Waco on Saturday night. ESPN will be there for the primetime game and Scott Drew is hoping that his team can repeat what Virginia Tech did in last Saturday’s primetime game. If they win, you can be sure that one bald, excited announcer will pronounce them tournament worthy. Stand by for his twitter pics afterwards.
Don’t forget about the Big South, Atlantic Sun, and Ohio Valley conference championship games on Saturday starting at 4 EST on ESPN2. The Missouri Valley championship game is on CBS at 2 EST on Sunday.
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- Brian W.