Friday, March 3, 2006

Weekend Preview

Are you ready for the biggest weekend of the college basketball season? With several conference tournaments already underway, there are four automatic bids to hand out. Additionally, with one week until Selection Sunday, it is time for bubble teams to make a statement to the committee. Many of the teams on the fence go up against a top team with a chance to pick up a marquee win, while other bubble teams need to just continue winning and avoiding bad losses. On top of that, there are a handful of matchups between championship contenders. Oh yeah, there's also the biggest rivalry in the game on Saturday night.

Top Games

Illinois at Michigan State (Saturday, 12:00 PM, CBS)- Big Ten showdown. Spartans have been inconsistent for most of the season, and need to win to finish above .500 in league play. They are also looking to improve their seed for the NCAA Tournament. Illinois has a shot at a share of the Big Ten title if they win and Ohio State loses their finale. Fighting Illini pushing for a Top-3 seed in the Big Dance. Prediction: Michigan State 73, Illinois 67

Wisconsin at Iowa (Saturday, 4:40 PM, CBS)- Another matchup between Big Ten heavyweights. Iowa can gain a share of the Big Ten title with a win and an Ohio State loss. Furthermore, Hawkeyes are looking for a Top-4 seed come Selection Sunday. Wisconsin has only won two road games all season, and that could affect their seeding. Badgers looking to avoid playing on the first day in the Big Ten Tournament. Prediction: Iowa 63, Wisconsin 59

Washington at Arizona (Saturday, 6:00 PM, FSN)- Pac-10 rematch of what was one of the best games of the season. Washington is hot right now and could be in line for a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They have won 7 in a row, and could get a share of the Pac-10 title with a win here and a UCLA loss. Arizona has moved into "lock" status for the NCAA Tournament, but are still working on seeding. They have won 5 of their last 6 games. Prediction: Arizona 76, Washington 74

North Carolina at Duke (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN)- Just another ACC game. Who am I kidding here? This is the best rivalry in college basketball, and one of the best in all of sports. ESPN is pulling out all the stops for this one, which should make it even more exciting for the viewer (I guess?). Duke is trying to regain #1 overall seed status, while UNC is pushing for a #2 seed come Selection Sunday. Tar Heels have won 6 in a row and 9 of 10, while J.J. Redick and Duke have struggled somewhat lately. Prediction: Duke 76, North Carolina 71

Florida at Kentucky (Sunday, 12:00 PM, CBS)- Two SEC teams going in opposite directions. Florida has lost 3 of 4 to drop into a second-place tie with Kentucky, who has won 4 of 5. More importantly, though, the Gators' NCAA seed is dropping, while the Wildcats have moved into the "lock" column and are playing for a Top-8 seed. Florida dominated Kentucky in the first matchup, but that was before the recent streaks by each team. Prediction: Kentucky 72, Florida 64

Oklahoma at Texas (Sunday, 4:00 PM, CBS)- Most thought this would decide the Big 12 regular-season title when the schedule was made before the season. However, Oklahoma is just trying to get a Top-6 seed in the NCAA Tournament after winning four straight games by one point each. Texas, on the other hand, has lost 2 of their last 4 and are struggling. A win here would get them back into a #2 seeding for Selection Sunday. Moreover, they need to win this to get at least a share of the Big 12 title. Prediction: Texas 75, Oklahoma 70

Automatic Bids on the Line

Coastal Carolina at Winthrop (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN2)- The Big South Championship game will be the first automatic bid handed out this weekend (other than Penn clinching the Ivy title on Friday night). Coastal Carolina swept Winthrop in the regular season, and has also won 12 in a row. Buzz Peterson might have the best player in the conference in guard Jack Leasure. Pele Paelay is one of the best all-around players in the Big South, and Moses Sonko is a solid forward. Winthrop was expected to run away with the league from the start. However, it is not been that easy. James Shuler and Torrell Martin form an excellent wing combination, while Craig Bradshaw might be the best big man in the league. Prediction: Winthrop 69, Coastal Carolina 65

Belmont vs. Lipscomb (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN2)- The Atlantic Sun Conference Championship will feature two of the hottest teams around. Both squads tied for the regular season title and were the top two seeds. Belmont has one of the best inside-outside combos in the league in center Boomer Herndon, who has the ability to take over a game, and guard Justin Hare, who is an excellent scorer on the perimeter. Josh Goodwin and Brett Collins are two more solid contributors in the backcourt. Lipscomb, meanwhile, uses mostly a four-guard set, with all-around stud Eddie Ard leading the way. Brian Fisk is an excellent scorer, while James Poindexter also contributes on the perimeter. Shaun Durant is the go-to-guy inside. Prediction: Belmont 73, Lipscomb 68

Murray State vs. Samford (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN2)- The Ohio Valley Conference Championship will be the last of the automatic bids to be handed out on Saturday. The top two seeds in the conference tournament will meet up to decide who will be headed to the Big Dance. Murray State is a balanced and deep team that uses 10 guys per game. Shawn Witherspoon is a very good inside player, while sixth man Trey Pearson is one of the better guards in the conference. Six other players average at least five points per game, led by Darnell Hopkins and Justin Orr. On the other side, Samford has an excellent frontcourt duo in J. Robert Merritt and center Travis Peterson. Guard Randall Gulina is a good scorer on the perimeter. Moreover, the Bulldogs are the best shooting team in the league, both from inside the arc and outside the arc. Prediction: Murray State 76, Samford 68

Fighting for Bids

West Virginia at Cincinnati (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN)- After the Bearcats lost to Seton Hall on Monday, they need this win to feel better about a bid. West Virginia will get the third seed in the Big East Tournament. Prediction: Cincinnati 68, West Virginia 64

Charlotte at George Washington (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN)- George Washington is looking to complete an undefeated Atlantic-10 campaign, even without injured starter Pops Mensah-Bonsu. Charlotte has a slight chance of an at-large bid, but they need to win this. Prediction: George Washington 79, Charlotte 72

Louisville at Connecticut (Saturday, 2:00 PM, CBS)- UConn is looking like it could be the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. Also, a win here would give them a share of the Big East title. If Louisville wins this and makes a run to the Big East Championship game, they could make a case for a bid. Prediction: Connecticut 83, Louisville 69

Tennessee at Vanderbilt (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt)- Tennessee is struggling lately, and have lost 3 of 4. Vanderbilt needs to win this to have any thoughts about an at-large bid going into the SEC Tournament. Prediction: Tennessee 74, Vanderbilt 71

Indiana at Michigan (Saturday, 2:30 PM, CBS)- A win here for Indiana would clinch an at-large bid for them. Michigan is just looking to solidify their seeding in the NCAA Tournament. Prediction: Michigan 70, Indiana 65

UCLA at Stanford (Saturday, 4:00 PM, CBS)- Stanford is pretty much out of the running for a bid, but a win would give them at least a tie for third place. UCLA would win the Pac-10 with a victory here. Prediction: UCLA 65, Stanford 62

Houston at Memphis (Saturday, 9:00 PM, CSTV)- Memphis is looking to bounce back from their loss to UAB and solidify their #1 seeding. Houston needs a win here to have any chance at a potential at-large bid. Prediction: Memphis 77, Houston 65

Villanova at Syracuse (Sunday, 12:00 PM, CBS)- Syracuse didn't send the best message with their 39-point loss to DePaul. A win here would partially make up for that. 'Nova is locked in for a #1 seed, but they are trying to get a share of the Big East title. Oh, and it's Gerry McNamara's last home game. Emotions will be running high. Prediction: Villanova 73, Syracuse 64

Must-Wins for Bubble Teams

Texas A&M at Texas Tech (Saturday, 1:30 PM, ESPN FullCourt)- The Aggies can't follow up their win over Texas with a loss to the Red Raiders. Bobby Knight doesn't want to finish the season on a 4-game losing streak. Prediction: Texas A&M 51, Texas Tech 46

Air Force at Colorado State (Saturday, 3:00 PM)- Air Force is still hoping their gaudy record will merit a bid come Selection Sunday. A loss here, though, and their chances would be shot. Prediction: Air Force 64, Colorado State 60

UTEP at UCF (Saturday, 7:30 PM)- UTEP still has a slight chance at an at-large invitation, but they need a win here to finish 12-2 and tied for second in the conference. UCF would be .500 in C-USA with a win. Prediction: UTEP 67, UCF 59

USC at California (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Regional TV)- California could've wrapped up a bid but lost to UCLA at home Thursday. A win here, and I think they are in good shape. A loss would hurt them big-time. Prediction: California 70, USC 60

Marshall at UAB (Saturday, 8:30 PM)- UAB is looking better and better after their win over Memphis on Thursday. Obviously, they can't lose here. A win here and a win in the C-USA tourney could clinch a bid. Prediction: UAB 79, Marshall 54

New Mexico at BYU (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt)- BYU is still alive for an at-large bid, although most people don't realize it. A win here, and they tie for second in the MWC with Air Force. Prediction: BYU 72, New Mexico 61

San Jose State at Utah State (Saturday, 9:05 PM)- Utah State has 6 wins over Top 100 teams and 3 losses against teams in the sub-100 range. They can't afford another defeat--not here or before the WAC final. Prediction: Utah State 69, San Jose State 53

Iowa State at Colorado (Saturday, 9:05 PM, ESPN FullCourt)- After losing their last three road games, Colorado's at-large chances have taken a hit. They need to beat the Cyclones to keep their hopes up. Prediction: Colorado 76, Iowa State 71

Florida State at Miami (Fl.) (Sunday, 1:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt)- Another team that can't follow up their marquee win with a dud. The Seminoles are not the best team on the road, but can't afford to lose to the Hurricanes. Prediction: Florida State 74, Miami (Fl.) 67

Maryland at Virginia (Sunday, 3:30 PM, FSN)- Maryland has not proven they can win on the road and have basically struggled anywhere as of late. The Cavaliers no longer have at-large chances, but could kill the Terps' hopes with a win. Prediction: Virginia 67, Maryland 62

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