Friday, February 26, 2010

Weekend Preview

With the calendar turning to March on Monday, 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 great hors d'oeuvres for the greatest month of the year.

Top Games

No. 2 Kentucky at No. 19 Tennessee (Saturday, 12:00 PM, CBS): Although Kentucky has already essentially locked up the SEC title, there are still road bumps left for the Wildcats. Things won’t be easy in Knoxville. Tennessee has one of the better homecourt advantages in the conference at Thompson Boling Arena, and the Vols have lost only one game there all season. In the first meeting between these two teams, Kentucky pulled away down the stretch for an 11-point win. However, if Tennessee’s pressure defense is creating havoc, the turnover-prone Kentucky guards could encourage momentum for the Volunteers. On the road, that could be a recipe for defeat. Prediction: Kentucky 76, Tennessee 70

No. 21 Texas at No. 22 Texas A&M (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN): Battle in the Lonestar State between a couple of teams jockeying for position in the Big 12. Texas A&M has lost two of three, including a late loss at Baylor on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Texas could be righting the ship, having won two in a row after losing six of nine. A&M’s Donald Sloan will be the key cog for the Aggies, while Damion James and Dexter Pittman could have an edge inside for Texas. Prediction: Texas A&M 68, Texas 62

No. 1 Kansas at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 4:00 PM, CBS): An intriguing game in the Big 12. Kansas has essentially locked up the Big 12 title and a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the Jayhawks face a tough finishing stretch, starting against the Cowboys on Saturday. Oklahoma State has hung tough against quality teams this season, and even beat Kansas State on the road. A win here would lock up an NCAA bid for the Cowboys. James Anderson needs to have a huge day. Prediction: Kansas 82, Oklahoma State 72

No. 10 New Mexico at No. 13 BYU (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Versus): On most weekends, a game between two of the top 13 teams in the country would easily be the best game of the weekend. However, this Mountain West battle is flying below the radar a bit. New Mexico currently holds a 0.5 game lead on BYU in the MWC standings, and this game will likely decide the regular season champ. Both teams are headed for top-four seeds in the NCAA Tournament, and it is also an opportunity to see two of the best players in the country, New Mexico’s Darington Hobson and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette. Prediction: BYU 86, New Mexico 78

Missouri at No. 6 Kansas State (Saturday, 8:00 PM, ESPNU): Another solid Big 12 contest this weekend. With Hummel’s injury and Villanova facing a difficult final stretch, Kansas State has an outside shot at a No. 1 seed if it can run the table the rest of the season. Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen will have to come up big if the Wildcats are to achieve that, though. On the other side, Missouri will be playing its first game without Justin Safford, who tore his ACL this week and is out indefinitely. The Tigers’ pressure defense has created havoc against many elite backcourts so far this year – it will need to do it again. Prediction: Kansas State 80, Missouri 71

No. 7 Villanova at No. 4 Syracuse (Saturday, 9:00 PM, ESPN): Huge showdown in the Big East. After Syracuse’s win over Providence on Tuesday, the Orange improved to 13-2 in the conference, while Villanova’s back-to-back losses dropped them to 11-3 in the league before the Wildcats beat South Florida. A win on the road would get them right back in the race, though. Interestingly enough, Syracuse’s only losses this season have come at home – to Pittsburgh and Louisville. This game is going to be outstanding to watch. Syracuse’s 2-3 zone is a nightmare to attack because of the Orange’s length and athleticism, but Villanova has the guards to penetrate into the teeth of the zone and hit long-range jumpers. Furthermore, Syracuse is prone to turnovers, and the Wildcats are good at creating steals defensively. The difference in this game, though, will be Syracuse’s edge inside. That is the biggest change from last season to this season for ‘Nova. Last year, they had Dante Cunningham down low to provide balance. However, this season, Antonio Pena has been inconsistent. He will have his hands full with Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku of Syracuse. Prediction: Syracuse 86, Villanova 79

No. 23 Richmond at Xavier (Sunday, 1:00 PM, ESPN2): An Atlantic-10 showdown for first place. Both of these teams are tied at 11-2, sitting atop the standings along with Temple. With each team playing very well lately – Richmond winning eight in a row and Xavier picking up 12 of its last 14 – these teams are both locks for the Big Dance. The Spiders have an excellent backcourt in Kevin Anderson and David Gonzalvez, who have carried Richmond at times this season. Xavier counters with a balanced attack that is led by Jordan Crawford, who is averaging better than 20 points per game. Prediction: Xavier 75, Richmond 66

No. 14 Michigan State at No. 3 Purdue (Sunday, 4:00 PM, CBS): All eyes were going to be on this game regardless of what the circumstances were, but things were taken to a new level on Wednesday, when Purdue’s best player, forward Robbie Hummel, tore his ACL. The Boilermakers had the inside track towards a No. 1 seed before the injury; how will they play without him? Purdue won the first battle between the two teams, and have rattled off 10 wins in a row. On the other side, Michigan State has struggled, losing four of its last six games. The Spartans could get back on track against this depleted Purdue squad, though. The key things to watch in this game will be how Purdue’s offense operates without Hummel, and how Michigan State takes advantage of his absence. Prediction: Purdue 65, Michigan State 60

Bubble Battles

Arizona State at California (Saturday, 3:00 PM, FSN): A win here would clinch the Pac-10 regular season title for California, which could go a long way towards an at-large bid if it fails to win the automatic bid. Arizona State needs a win to stay in the at-large hunt. Prediction: California 77, Arizona State 70

Minnesota at Illinois (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Big Ten Network): Minnesota missed a huge chance against Purdue on Wednesday after Robbie Hummel went down with an injury, but it couldn’t capitalize. Illinois has a gaudy Big Ten record, and just needs to avoid bad losses. Prediction: Illinois 62, Minnesota 49

Maryland at Virginia Tech (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV/ESPN FullCourt): Both teams would be in the NCAA Tournament right now, but neither can afford to slip up too many times. Maryland is in far better shape than Virginia Tech, but the Terrapins need a win to stay in the ACC title race. Prediction: Virginia Tech 73, Maryland 66

Marquette at Seton Hall (Sunday, 12:00 PM, Regional TV/ESPN FullCourt): Prior to the season, one might not have predicted this would game would matter so late in the season. However, Marquette has won seven of eight, while Seton Hall has rattled off four of five. SHU needs this game more. Prediction: Marquette 78, Seton Hall 75

Louisville at Connecticut (Sunday, 2:00 PM, CBS): No. 1 seeds a season ago, both of these teams are fighting for their NCAA Tournament hopes right now. Louisville fell to Georgetown this week, while UConn has won three in a row to get back in the hunt, including wins over West Virginia and Villanova. Prediction: Connecticut 71, Louisville 63

Clemson at Florida State (Sunday, 5:30 PM, FSN): Another couple of ACC teams that are likely in the NCAA Tournament at this point, but also two squads who can’t drop too many games. Clemson squandered a big first-half lead at Maryland on Wednesday, while Florida State has won three in a row, including two road games. Prediction: Florida State 74, Clemson 64

Conference Clashes

Princeton at Cornell (Friday, 7:00 PM): Cornell holds a 1.5 game lead on Princeton in the Ivy standings, but the Big Red have already knocked off Princeton once. A win here would essentially lock up the regular-season title – and the automatic bid that comes along with it. Prediction: Cornell 71, Princeton 50

Notre Dame at No. 11 Georgetown (Saturday, 12:00 PM, CBS): Notre Dame has suddenly risen from the at-large cemetery despite Luke Harangody’s absence. The Fighting Irish handled Pittsburgh earlier in the week. Georgetown is still fighting for a double-bye in the Big East Tournament. Prediction: Georgetown 80, Notre Dame 64

Cincinnati at No. 8 West Virginia (Saturday, 2:00 PM, Regional TV/ESPN FullCourt): Cincinnati kept its at-large hopes alive on Wednesday by holding off DePaul at home to move to 7-8 in the Big East. However, this game starts a brutal three-game stretch for the Bearcats – at WVU, vs. Villanova and at Georgetown. WVU is in the mix for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Prediction: West Virginia 79, Cincinnati 67

VCU at Old Dominion (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV): Old Dominion has a one-game lead on Northeastern in the CAA standings, and a win here would clinch the regular-season title. However, both of these teams also harbor at-large hopes (albeit VCU’s are very faint). ODU can garner as high as a 9 or 10 seed in the Big Dance. Prediction: Old Dominion 66, VCU 58

Troy at Arkansas State (Saturday, 8:05 PM): The Sun Belt is a mess at the top of the standings this season, with seven teams within one game of each other for first-place. Troy is tied with Middle Tennessee atop the East Division, while Arkansas State has lost two in a row to fall to 10-6 – one game back of first in the West. Prediction: Arkansas State 71, Troy 64

Must-Wins for Bubble Teams

Boston College at Georgia Tech (Saturday, 12:00 PM, Regional TV): Despite its impressive wins, Georgia Tech is still in trouble. The Yellow Jackets’ buzzer loss at Maryland last weekend dropped them to 6-7 in the conference. Prediction: Georgia Tech 76, Boston College 61

Mississippi at Alabama (Saturday, 2:00 PM, ESPN2): Ole Miss doesn’t harbor much legitimate at-large hope right now, but the Rebels will get back in the hunt if they keep winning. The Crimson Tide are not an easy out on their home floor though. Prediction: Alabama 74, Mississippi 71

Tulane at UAB (Saturday, 2:00 PM): UAB has done what it had to do in the past couple of weeks, avoiding bad losses and plowing along in the at-large hunt. The Blazers should have no problem disposing of the Green Wave this weekend, either. Prediction: UAB 72, Tulane 51

Rhode Island at St. Bonaventure (Saturday, 2:00 PM, Regional TV): Prior to its 26-point thrashing of Fordham last weekend, Rhode Island had dropped three in a row to hurt its at-large hopes. St. Bonaventure has been plucky at times this season, but URI can’t afford a loss here. Prediction: Rhode Island 85, St. Bonaventure 75

UNLV at Air Force (Saturday, 3:30 PM, Regional TV): Air Force caught the nation’s attention last weekend when it nearly beat New Mexico on the road before falling late. UNLV has been inconsistent on the road this season, but the Runnin’ Rebels have won two in a row by 47 total points. Prediction: UNLV 70, Air Force 52

Florida at Georgia (Saturday, 4:00 PM, Regional TV/ESPN FullCourt): Florida took a big step towards solidifying its at-large hopes this week, dominating Tennessee in the second half en route to an impressive win. However, the Gators need to keep the trend going and handle a dangerous Georgia team on the road. Prediction: Florida 73, Georgia 69

Charlotte at George Washington (Saturday, 6:00 PM, Regional TV): Despite losing three in a row prior to this week’s victory over Saint Joseph’s, Charlotte is still very much in the at-large hunt. However, George Washington has won three of its last four and will not roll over for the 49ers. Prediction: Charlotte 76, George Washington 74

Mississippi State at South Carolina (Saturday, 6:00 PM, ESPN): South Carolina has completely fallen off since beating Kentucky in late January, losing four of its last five to drop to 14-13. Mississippi State has won four of five to stay right along the cut line in the bubble picture. A road win here would be huge. Prediction: Mississippi State 66, South Carolina 62

Massachusetts at Dayton (Saturday, 7:00 PM, Regional TV): Yet another important game with NCAA Tournament implications in the Atlantic-10. Dayton was the preseason favorite, but the Flyers have dropped three of four to fall to sixth place in the conference. They might need to win out to have an at-large chance. Prediction: Dayton 80, Massachusetts 60

Providence at South Florida (Saturday, 7:00 PM): South Florida is all but finished in its at-large quest, but the Bulls are still holding out hope. They are currently in 12th place in the Big East, which obviously won’t cut it, but if they win out, Dominique Jones and co. have a chance. Prediction: South Florida 82, Providence 71

Loyola Marymount at Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 9:00 PM, Regional TV): With bubble teams from the major conferences losing seemingly everyday, Saint Mary’s is rising up in the at-large board without improving its resume all that much. Of course, the Gaels have little room for error and can’t lose this game. Prediction: Saint Mary’s 83, Loyola Marymount 65

1 comment:

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