College Basketball This Weekend: Top 25 Clashes Highlight Final Weekend of Regular Season
With next week dominated by the conference tournaments that will award seats to the NCAA Tournament (Harvard has already punched their ticket as the Ivy League champion and it is expected that Wichita State will earn theirs at the Missouri Valley Conference tournament championship game on Sunday), the final weekend of the regular season – and in particular Saturday – brings us games that are a must view for anyone to get a feel for the Big Dance.
These games might not mean much to the regular season titles (in most cases, they have already been determined), but the all-important seeding for the conference tournaments is key. Get in a good draw, win your conference tournament and you won’t have to worry about whether you’ll get an at-large berth or not! (Home team in CAPS, pick in bold, and all games are on Saturday.)
#25 Kentucky vs. #1 FLORIDA
Coming into this game, the Kentucky Wildcats are reeling. They have lost two of their last three games against such powerhouse SEC squads as Arkansas and South Carolina and were squashed at home on February 15 by this same Florida team. The problem has been that head coach John Calipari seems to think he can roll out five individuals and that they will beat anyone. TEAMS have beaten the Wildcats to this point and, without a sudden realization by Kentucky’s super freshmen that they need to play like one too, they aren’t going to go far in the NCAA Tournament.
It isn’t difficult to see how Florida head coach Billy Donovan has his team on top of the SEC. Although not outstanding on the offensive side of the ball, the Gators have the fifth-ranked defense in the country, only giving up 58.2 points per game. Heading to the SEC tournament, the Gators are going to want to make a statement AND keep their #1 ranking intact come next Sunday’s selection weekend. The first step in that will be a decimation of Kentucky on their home floor in Gainesville.
#14 North Carolina vs. #4 DUKE
Duke has pretty much squandered any chance at getting a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Their loss earlier this week to a substandard Wake Forest team put them in fourth place in the ACC and, barring a run to the ACC Tournament championship, they will probably be a #2 seed when they are chosen for the Big Dance.
The first step towards any chance at a #1 seed begins tonight. The Blue Devils lost to this same Tar Heel squad on February 20 by eight points and the game wasn’t honestly that close. Duke frosh Jabari Parker has to take control of this game early to drive Duke to a win. If he doesn’t get any help, then the team-oriented North Carolina unit will have a great chance at the season sweep.
#21 New Mexico vs. #10 SAN DIEGO STATE
This is one of the few games with something actually on the line. The winner of this game will earn the regular season championship of the Mountain West Conference, critical when it comes to seeding for their tournament. Both teams are pretty much assured of an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament, but a win tonight – and a conference tournament title – could mean the difference between a #3 or #4 seed in the NCAA tournament and perhaps a #6 or #7 seed as an at-large.
On February 22, the Lobos were actually able to beat the Aztecs in a low scoring game (58-44) that isn’t indicative of either team’s style. Although San Diego State is the third ranked defense in college basketball, both teams are used to scoring in the 70s. The only reason to take San Diego State in this game is its home court advantage in what should be a much more entertaining game.
#19 Connecticut vs. #11 LOUISVILLE
The defending National Champion is locked in a fight with Cincinnati for the American Athletic Conference regular season title and need this win over the Huskies (and an unlikely loss by Cincy to Rutgers) to take the #1 seed in their conference tournament. Connecticut has been one of the enigmas of college basketball this season, at once looking outstanding and completely lost in some games (and sometimes in the same game).
Louisville is the pick here for a few reasons. They have the most balanced offense/defense in the country (12th on offense, 21st on defense), had a dominant win over this same team back in January and are coming off an impressive road win against #18 Southern Methodist. They will have to control Connecticut’s Shabazz Napier, though, if they are to win decisively; if Napier goes off on a big game, then Connecticut has a good shot at the road upset.
#18 Southern Methodist vs. #20 MEMPHIS
These two teams aren’t going to want to show too much in this game. The fourth and fifth place teams in the AAC, they are already locked into those positions for the upcoming conference tournament and will meet each other in the quarterfinals. It is simply a matter of who is fourth and who is fifth and, with this in mind, they aren’t going to want to give their opposition any additional video for further review.
Although SMU lost that game earlier this week to Louisville, they have been more impressive than Memphis of late. The Tigers have lost two of their last three (to lowly Houston and Cincinnati) while the Mustangs had a three-game winning streak snapped by Louisville. On February 1, the Mustangs easily outpaced the Tigers in Texas 87-72 and, even though this time the game is in Tennessee, I see SMU defeating Memphis again.
Earlier this week: A 3-2 finish. Really thought that Illinois would put up more of a fight against Michigan (the Wolverines dominated on the way to taking the Big Ten regular season title) and Wake Forest’s huge upset of Duke were the scars on the board.
Season: 17-11-1, not too shabby as we get ready for conference tournaments next week.
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