Friday, February 29, 2008

Weekend Preview

With the calendar turning to March tomorrow, it’s time to start counting down to Selection Sunday (if you haven’t already). With that in mind, time is running out 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 match-ups between championship contenders. Conference tournaments in many leagues tip-off next week, so the next couple of days will be a great hors d'oeuvres for the greatest month of the year.

Pittsburgh at Syracuse (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN):
Two Big East teams in need of a win to help their seeding (Pitt) or their general inclusion into the NCAA Tournament (‘Cuse). The Panthers beat Cincinnati at home this week, but had dropped three consecutive games prior to that; their seed and standing in the conference pecking order has been dropping rapidly. Syracuse, as it was last year, is squarely on the bubble. A win here would be a boost to the Orange’s profile – a loss here would be a wasted opportunity. Prediction: Syracuse 71, Pittsburgh 64

West Virginia at Connecticut (Saturday, 12:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Another Big East battle that will have an effect on potential seedings in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments. Connecticut bounced back its loss last weekend at Villanova with a victory at Rutgers this week; the Huskies have won now won 11 of their last 12. West Virginia is 9-4 in its last 13 games, but needs to do more in order to reach the NCAA Tournament. A win here would likely clinch a bid for the Mountaineers. Prediction: Connecticut 74, West Virginia 66

Texas A&M at Oklahoma (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN): An interesting game in the Big 12. Both teams would make the NCAA Tournament if the field was selected today, but neither is a lock by any stretch. They each need to do more work if they want to feel safe about their status come Selection Sunday. A&M is coming off of an impressive home win over Texas Tech, while Oklahoma has lost back-to-back road games by a combined 35 points to Texas and Nebraska. The frontcourt battles will be fun to watch.
Prediction: Oklahoma 72, Texas A&M 65

Georgetown at Marquette (Saturday, 2:00 PM, CBS): This game should reflect what is at stake in the Big East and NCAA Tournaments – as well as the difference in the two teams’ respective styles. Georgetown runs a version of the Princeton offense, filled with backdoor cuts and open passing lanes. Defensively, the Hoyas play tough half-court defense and don’t allow too many open shots. Having the 7-3 Roy Hibbert down low helps things. On the other side, Marquette has a variety of perimeter players who can either take their defender off the dribble or hit the three off penetration. At the other end, Marquette loves to pressure the opponents’ guards and play the passing lanes hoping for steals and transition baskets. It will interesting to see which side prevails.
Prediction: Marquette 73, Georgetown 68

USC at Arizona State (Saturday, 3:00 PM, Regional TV): One of several big-time Pac-10 games this weekend. USC is on a three-game winning streak and has won nine of its last 12 games. The Trojans went into Tucson and knocked off Arizona on Thursday night, widening the gap between themselves and the rest of the Pac-10. Arizona State needs to win here in order to keep its NCAA hopes alive. The Sun Devils had a chance to help their resume on Thursday, but they were blown out by UCLA on their homecourt. Prediction: USC 69, Arizona State 65

Washington State at Stanford (Saturday, 4:00 PM, FSN): Two of the top teams in the Pac-10 square off in a game that could decide who will be UCLA’s biggest competition in the conference tournament. Washington State destroyed California in Berkley on Thursday, proving once again that the Cougars are far better on the road than at home. Stanford is still one game behind UCLA in the league standings, and the Cardinal have won three in a row and 10 of their last 11. Can WSU defend Brook Lopez inside? Prediction: Stanford 66, Washington State 61

Mississippi State at Florida (Saturday, 4:00 PM, CBS): An interdivision showdown in the SEC. Mississippi State is getting closer and closer to locking up a bid to the NCAA Tournament, but a win here would likely clinch an invitation. The Bulldogs lead the SEC West and have been playing well lately, winning five of their last six. Florida, on the other hand, has a lot of work to do if it wants a bid to the Big Dance. The Gators have just three top-100 wins, but a win here combined with double-digit SEC wins will get them a bid. Prediction: Florida 72, Mississippi State 63

Vanderbilt at Arkansas (Saturday, 4:05 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV): Another interdivision battle in the SEC. Vanderbilt likely locked up a bid to the NCAA Tournament with its victory over Tennessee earlier in the week, and the Commodores might be playing some of the best basketball in the conference. On the other side, Arkansas is in the midst of its worst stretch of the season, having lost four of their last five games. The Razorbacks need a win here to get back on the right track and help out their resume.
Prediction: Arkansas 77, Vanderbilt 71

Saint Mary’s at Gonzaga (Saturday, 8:00 PM, Regional TV):
The West Coast Conference regular-season title is on the line when these two teams meet on Saturday night. St. Mary’s won the first meeting between the two, an overtime classic on the Gaels’ homecourt. They are coming off a home win over San Diego this week, but they dropped a home contest to Kent State last week in the Bracket Busters. Gonzaga has lost just three times since Christmas – to Tennessee, Memphis and St. Mary’s. The Bulldogs have the edge at home. Prediction: Gonzaga 75, Saint Mary’s 70

Illinois State at Southern Illinois (Saturday, 8:30 PM, Regional TV):
A potential bubble game for two Missouri Valley teams hoping to grab the league’s second NCAA Tournament if there is one available this season. Illinois State is second in the league, two games behind Drake with just one game left. ISU is on a three-game winning streak. SIU came out of nowhere to move into the at-large mix with an 11-6 league record and a host of impressive wins. A win here, and the Salukis might move ahead of the Redbirds in the MVC pecking order. Prediction: Southern Illinois 60, Illinois State 54

Kansas State at Kansas (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): A rematch of Kansas State’s home win earlier this season, which was the Jayhawks’ first loss of the season. However, since that victory, Kansas State is just 3-5 and its NCAA Tournament seeding could be slipping if it doesn’t start picking up wins. Kansas is fighting for a No. 1 seed, although its loss last week at Oklahoma State and the fact that it is second in the Big 12 behind Texas will hurt the Jayhawks come Selection Sunday. Prediction: Kansas 84, Kansas State 74

Kentucky at Tennessee (Sunday, 12:00 PM, CBS):
Can Kentucky continue its improbable turnaround and pick-up its biggest win of the season, and potentially clinch an NCAA Tournament bid? There was a chance that the Wildcats could pull off the upset – but that was before star freshman Patrick Patterson was ruled out for the season with an injured ankle. Tennessee is going to be angry after its loss to Vanderbilt this week and its defeat in the first game between these two teams. Prediction: Tennessee 86, Kentucky 77

Indiana at Michigan State (Sunday, 2:00 PM, CBS):
Hopefully, this game is better than the first time these teams paired up a few weeks ago. That game was one of the most-hyped games of the weekend, but Indiana completely blew the Spartans out of the building, solidifying its spot among the top teams in the Big Ten. Now, the Hoosiers are without Kelvin Sampson and have a new coach, while MSU hasn’t proven able to beat elite teams on a consistent basis. Witness its 15-point defeat at Wisconsin last night.
Prediction: Michigan State 67, Indiana 63

UCLA at Arizona (Sunday, 4:00 PM, CBS): Another game most people would like to see be more competitive than the first meeting. In that contest, the Bruins jumped out to a big first-half lead and never looked back, en route to a 22-point victory over a hot Arizona team. This time could be slightly different, although Arizona doesn’t have any momentum heading into this game after its home loss to USC on Thursday. UCLA is looking more and more like a Final Four favorite with every game – its experience, defense and balance make the Bruins very difficult to beat.
Prediction: UCLA 71, Arizona 68

Villanova at Louisville (Sunday, 4:00 PM, CBS):
After Villanova blew its chance to continue their climb up the at-large ladder with a home loss to Marquette on Monday, this game becomes more important for the Wildcats. They are squarely on the bubble in the Big East, and could use a marquee win over the Cardinals. However, the way Louisville is playing, that is a nearly impossible task for any team – let alone an inconsistent bubble team. The Cardinals might be the best team in the Big East right now. Prediction: Louisville 78, Villanova 66

Clemson at Maryland (Sunday, 7:30 PM, FSN): One of the few ACC games this weekend that will be worth watching, in terms of NCAA Tournament and bubble hopes. Clemson is getting closer to clinching an at-large bid, due to its third-place standing in the ACC and quality power numbers. On the other hand, Maryland picked up a huge win at Wake Forest on Thursday, putting the Terrapins back in the driver’s seat for a potential fifth bid out of the ACC. Another win here would go a long way in determining their Big Dance legitimacy. Prediction: Maryland 87, Clemson 82

Other Games to Keep an Eye On

Wake Forest at Georgia Tech (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN FullCourt/Regional TV):
The Demon Deacons’ profile took a hit with their home loss to fellow bubble-dweller Maryland on Thursday, so this is a must-win.
Prediction: Georgia Tech 82, Wake Forest 74

UNC-Asheville at Winthrop (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV): The Big South is on the line when these two teams face-off. Winthrop is currently the leader, by one game over Asheville, heading into the season finale. A win by Asheville would give them the crown, as it would complete a season sweep of Winthrop.
Prediction: Winthrop 73, UNC-Asheville 67

Ohio State at Minnesota (Saturday, 4:00 PM, ESPN): The Buckeyes blew yet another chance at a marquee when they lost to Indiana this week, giving them three straight losses. A loss here would severely hurt their at-large chances. Prediction: Minnesota 65, Ohio State 60

Massachusetts at Richmond (Saturday, 7:00 PM): Like some of the above games, UMass needs to win to keep its at-large hopes alive, while surprising Richmond could move into second-place with a victory. Prediction: Massachusetts 79, Richmond 73

Davidson at Georgia Southern (Saturday, 7:30 PM): Just one game separates Davidson from an undefeated Southern Conference campaign – and it’s against the second-best team in the conference. A loss here would hurt their potential at-large hopes and ruin their chance of getting into the NCAA Tournament bracket. Prediction: Davidson 76, Georgia Southern 69

Temple at Saint Joseph’s (Sunday, 7:00 PM, Regional TV): Yet another monster game for an at-large team in need of a win. St. Joe’s might have killed its at-large hopes anyway, with a home loss to Saint Louis on Thursday. Prediction: Saint Joseph’s 66, Temple 59

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