With the conference tournaments starting this week and the regular season winding down on Sunday, this will be the last installment of our weekend previews. We won’t be addressing the conference tournaments in this post (all of that can be found here and here).
Sat. 8:00 pm: No. 5 Duke @ No. 13 North Carolina: First things first: yes, I know, North Carolina beating Duke at home is probably not an upset. But look at the numbers to the left of their names. Technically, I can call this an upset. And I am going to, because it is the most important game of the weekend and deserves the most words written about it.
Calling this the most important game of the weekend might even be an understatement. This is one of the most important regular season games of the season. Thanks to the Blue Devils loss to Virginia Tech last Saturday, the ACC’s two premier programs will square off in the final game of ACC play with the conference title on the line. Back in December, how many people thought that was even possible?
Duke still has a very good shot at earning a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday. But can you give one of the top four seeds to a team that didn’t win its conference’s regular season title? And all of this is on the line in our sport’s greatest rivalry.
The first game between this two teams was interesting. UNC asserted their will on the Blue Devils in the first half, opening up a lead as big as 16 points thanks to excellent defense and transition offense. But Duke responded in the second half, as Nolan Smith and Seth Curry took the game over.
I think the two most important aspects of this game are how UNC handles Smith and what Duke does against the Tar Heel’s front line. Smith, is this man’s opinion, is the player of the year in college basketball, and never was that more evident than in his second half performance against the Heels. Stopping Smith is a pipe dream, but to slow him down you need to make sure he cannot get penetration off of high ball screens situations. On the other hand, the part of UNC;s resurgence that does not get talked about nearly enough is the emergence of John Henson and Tyler Zeller on the inside. They both may be a bit weak, but they can rebound the ball, they can score the ball, and they can blocks shots. UNC’s defense, not their offense, has been the biggest catalyst in their return to the top of the ACC. And Henson and Zeller are the root cause.
Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 11 Louisville @ West Virginia: There are two things that West Virginia does very, very well. The first is rebounding the ball on the offensive end of the floor. They have aggressive, athletic forwards in John Flowers and Kevin Jones, a bruiser in Deniz Kilicli, and some tough guards that aren’t afraid to mix it up with the big boys. Louisville, on the other hand, is not a great defensive rebounding team. They force the offense to take bad shots and they force turnovers, which is why they are the sixth best defensive team in the country despite struggling to finish a possession. West Virginia is also very good at defending the three, which is something that the Cardinals rely on heavily.
Sat. 9:00 pm: No. 8 Texas @ Baylor: Texas has lost their last two games on the road and three of their last four overall. Jordan Hamilton is struggling mightily on both ends of the floor, playing lackadaisical defense and falling back into his role as a gunner instead of a scorer. Baylor has some athletes inside. They have a big-time scorer in LaceDarius Dunn on the perimeter. And they will be playing with a possible NCAA Tournament on the line. At home. On Gameday. Expect the Bears to be fired up.
Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 2 Kansas @ No. 24 Missouri: The last time these two teams met up, the Jayhawks pounded the Tigers, who were completely incapable of stopping Kansas. This time, however, the game will be in Columbia instead of Lawrence, where Mizzou is a different team. The Tigers struggle against teams that can break their press and run half court offense, and with the number of experienced players and capable ball handlers that Kansas puts on the court at one time, I have trouble seeing the Tigers capable of making this a full court game.
Sat. 12:00 pm: Virginia Tech @ Clemson: For all intents and purposes, this is an elimination game from the at-large field. Both teams are right on the edge of the cut line, and neither can afford the loss to like their chances heading into the ACC Tournament.
Sat. 1:30 pm: Georgia @ Alabama: This is a huge game for Alabama. Enormous. For starters, they still have to play their way into the NCAA Tournament. The pretty SEC record that the Crimson Tide have posted? Its largely come against bottom feeders. Its also not enough to make the committee forget about the brutal non-conference portion of the schedule. Secondly, with a win, the Tide earns a share of the SEC regular season title. If ‘Bama wins and Florida loses at Vanderbilt? The Tide are your SEC champs. Could a major conference’s outright winner really get left home?
Sat. 2:00 pm: No. 7 Notre Dame @ No. 16 UConn: This is a good test for the Irish heading into the postseason. The Irish, frankly, are not a very good road team. UConn is reeling a bit down the stretch of Big East play, but they will be celebrating Kemba Walker’s senior night and have proven capable of beating good teams regardless of location. The Irish are playing their best basketball of the season right now. Will it travel with them?
Sat. 2:00 pm: Michigan State @ Michigan: Another rivalry game with major postseason implications. Michigan State is inching ever closer to being considered safe, while the Wolverines simply need to win a couple of games before they can get out of the area around the cut list. The matchup in this game that will be interesting is between Kalin Lucas and Darius Morris. Both are quality point guards, both are asked to do quite a bit for their team.
Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 19 Villanova @ No. 5 Pitt: This one could get ugly. Whatever is going on with Villanova of late is far from good. They aren’t playing hard, they aren’t shooting the ball well, and they aren’t defending the three. About the only thing Villanova is doing is right now is that they are getting off to slow starts. Pitt is coming off of a loss to Louisville on the road, a team that is not exactly known for their ability to box out. Keep an eye on that. Will Pitt be able to dominate the offensive glass like we’ve become accustomed to
Sat. 6:00 pm: No. 14 Florida @ No. 20 Vanderbilt: With a win, the Gators will earn, at the very least, a share of the SEC regular season title. What’s more important, however, is how everything shakes out in the middle of the SEC East. If Florida wins, Tennessee beats Kentucky, and Alabama beats Georgia, there will be four teams tied at 9-7 and tied for second place in the eastern division. No one is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, but earning the bye in the SEC Tournament could help seeding immensely.
Sat. 7:00 pm: Princeton @ Harvard: The Ivy is the only league in the country that not only plays their games on a Friday night/Saturday afternoon schedule, they are also the only league that still has the regular season champ get the automatic bid. The game should determine who that autobid is.
Sun. 12:00 pm: No. 23 Kentucky @ Tennessee: Like I mentioned earlier, seeding in the postseason tournaments is the only real outcome of this game. But what I think we all want to see is whether or not Kentucky can find a solution for their road woes. Tennessee is inconsistent at home, but this will be senior night (and possibly the last time Bruce Pearl coaches at Thompson-Boling), so you have to think the Vols will be ready to play
Sun. 4:00 pm: No. 10 Wisconsin @ No. 1 Ohio State: Unfortunately, this game won’t directly be for the Big Ten regular season title (wouldn’t that have been awesome). That said, Ohio State wins it outright with a victory, or shall I say revenge, over Wisconsin. The Badgers are coming off of a win at Indiana where Jordan Taylor scored 39 points on 55 possessions. Based on how entertaining the last game between these two teams was, there is no for you not to tune in.
- 12:00 pm: Duquesne @ Richmond: The Spiders can probably lock up an NCAA Tournament bid with a win against the Dukes and in the first round of the A-10 Tournament.
- 12:00 pm: Indiana @ Illinois: Most folks have the Illini safely in the NCAA Tournament right now. Does that change if they lose to the Hoosiers and finish below .500 in the Big Ten?
- 1:30 pm: Iowa State @ Kansas State: Iowa State has beaten both Nebraska and Colorado after they knocked off Texas. Can they do the same to the Wildcats?
- 2:00 pm: No. 17 Georgetown @ Cincinnati: The last time the Hoyas played the Bearcats, Cincy complete shut Georgetown down in the second half after Chris Wright broke his hand. Will the rematch be any different?
- 2:00 pm: Oregon @ No. 18 Arizona: The Wildcats will clinch the Pac-10 regular season title with a win.
- 2:00 pm: Xavier @ St. Louis: The Musketeers can lock up the Atlantic 10 regular season title with a win.
- 4:00 pm: Wyoming @ No. 3 BYU: Can the Cougars recover from the loss of Brandon Davies? It didn’t look that way on Wednesday night.
- 4:00 pm: No. 6 Purdue @ Iowa: The Boilermakers still have an outside chance of being able to play their way into a No. 1 seed come Selection Sunday.
- 4:00 pm: DePaul @ No. 12 Syracuse: With a win, Syracuse will clinch the fourth spot in the Big East standings and a double bye in the Big East Tournament.
- 5:30 pm: UCLA @ Washington State: This game would have held a lot more intrigue if Washington had lost to UCLA Thursday night. Wazzu still has an outside chance at getting in off the bubble.
- 6:00 pm: Marquette @ Seton Hall: Marquette needs this win if they want to make the tournament.
- 7:00 pm: No. 21 Utah State @ Louisiana Tech: The Aggies long ago locked up the WAC regular season title, but they still have some work to do to assure themselves on an NCAA Tournament trip.
- 8:00 pm: South Florida @ No. 15 St. John’s: The Johnnies can only earn themselves a double bye with a win and a Syracuse loss.
- 8:00 pm: East Carolina @ UAB: The Blazers are still in the tournament picture, believe it or not, but without a quality win on their resume, a loss to ECU would be devastating.
- 9:00 pm: Nebraska @ Colorado: The Buffaloes are one of the handful of teams trying to play their way into one of the last few spots in the NCAA Tournament.
- 10:00 pm: Colorado State @ No. 9 San Diego State: Want an idea of how bad the bubble is? If the Rams win this game, they will likely be dancing.
- 10:30 pm: USC @ Washington: The Trojans and the Huskies probably locked in their NCAA Tournament fates on Thursday. USC looks to be done. Washington should be in.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.