College Basketball This Week: Final Games of Regular Season
In what has been a tumultuous season of college basketball, it has all come down to this. Several of the top teams in the nation still have to wade through their final week of the conference schedule before they take on the challenge of their individual conference tournaments. For some, it is the last few potential pitfalls they have to avoid on their way to the NCAA Tournaments; for others, it may be their last chance to get into the Big Dance.
One team has all but etched their name into the field of 68 for the middle of this month, however. Wichita State, the #2 ranked team in the nation, isn’t expected to have any challengers in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis that begins on Thursday. The only thing that the Shockers have to avoid is complacency on their way to being undefeated (and a #1 seed) come the announcement of the field on March 16.
While Wichita State can sit back and relax a bit, these teams have some work yet to do to make their case for being a contender for the National Championship (home teams in CAPS, pick in bold).
#1 Florida vs. SOUTH CAROLINA
While they have already clinched the Southeastern Conference regular season crown, the Gators are far from finished with their run to what, at this time, is the #1 seed for the NCAA Tournament. They have this game tonight against the Gamecocks and a tilt on Saturday against #25 Kentucky. That’s not counting the SEC Tournament, where they will enter as the #1 seed.
This game tonight shouldn’t be a problem for Billy Donovan’s boys, however. Coming off a rousing upset of then-#17 Kentucky, South Carolina will have the home court behind them, but it isn’t going to be enough (they’ve lost the three previous games before the Kentucky upset). They also won’t have any chance at the NCAA Tournament unless, by some miracle, they win the SEC Tournament. Take Florida and look for the Gators to put a beat down on the South Carolina squad.
#12 Michigan vs. ILLINOIS
Here’s a case of one team needing the win more than the other. Although a victory tonight would seal the Big Ten regular season championship for the Wolverines, the Illini are trying to claw their way into a better position in the Big Ten tournament and perhaps a seat at the Big Dance. Michigan has had some issues on the road this year and Illinois, behind G Rayvonte Rice, seems to be coming together at the right time of year (three victories in a row, including a thumping of Michigan State last Saturday). It will be a close one, so I will take the team hungry to get in the NCAAs (Illinois’ record at this time is 17-12, putting them on the bubble) versus the team that will get in fairly easily in Michigan.
#4 Duke vs. WAKE FOREST
Even though they have six losses on the season, somehow Duke is still vying for a #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament. They are going to need to get on a roll now and through the ACC Tournament, however, if they are going to make that happen. There is no hope for the Blue Devils to win the ACC regular season title (that has already been decided, with #5 Virginia taking the crown) but, with wins over the Demon Deacons tonight, a win at home in their season finale against #14 North Carolina and an ACC Tournament championship, Duke might just eke out one of the top seeds. Expect the Dukies to take the first step with a big win tonight over Wake in Winston-Salem.
#20 Memphis vs. #15 CINCINNATI
These two teams clashed on January 4 in Tennessee, with the Bearcats taking a decisive win over the Tigers back then. The two teams have moved up and down the rankings since then (Cincinnati was unranked in that first meeting) and are looking for positioning for the American Athletic Conference tournament. Cincinnati still has a shot at winning the regular season title (and the #1 seed in the tournament), but they’re going to need this win tonight to make their case.
Both teams are stumbling into the end of the season. Memphis is 3-2 in their last five (with losses to lowly Houston and then-ranked #24 Connecticut among those games), while Cincy is on a two game losing streak. Look for the Bearcats to right that ship in tonight’s game as Memphis’ road record is 2-3 over their last five road trips.
#24 Iowa vs. #22 MICHIGAN STATE
One of these teams has been a surprise this season, while another has been tough to determine just what they are. The Hawkeyes are 20-9 this year and will probably make the Big Dance (unless they just totally collapse here, against Illinois and in the Big Ten Tournament). The Spartans, after being ranked among the top teams in the nation at the start of the season, have sunk to this low point this late in the year.
Iowa is a staggering team at this point in the season, 3-4 over their last seven games, but their offense is still ranked fifth in college basketball. Michigan State isn’t exactly bursting to the line either, losers of three of their last four games and four of their last six. With the game in Lansing, however, I do believe that the Spartans will have enough to outlast the Hawkeyes and perhaps make a push up the rankings.
Last Week: Went 3-1 with our picks and would have been perfect had NC State been able to pull out an overtime win against North Carolina.
Season: 14-9-1, steadily getting better and looking for a charge out of the end of the regular season and the conference tournaments…then it’s off to the NCAA Tournament!
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