WEEKEND PREVIEW: UNC-Duke, the SEC and Pac-12 titles, and thoughts on Wichita State

(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
2 Comments

GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 8 North Carolina at No. 17 Duke, Sat. 6:30 p.m.

Do I really need to explain this one?

I shouldn’t have to. But I will. Because I’m a nice guy and all.

For starters, it’s Duke-Carolina, which is never not must-see TV. It’s the best rivalry in college basketball. When it’s on, you watch it. Especially when there is an ACC title on the line, which is the case for UNC on Saturday. The Heels are currently tied for first in the conference with Miami, who also happens to be playing on the road on Saturday.

But all that is before you consider what happened last month in Chapel Hill. Duke, playing without Amile Jefferson and, for the most part, Matt Jones, went into the Dean Dome and beat the Tar Heels, erasing a late deficit as the defense-deficient Blue Devils held UNC’s guards to 1-for-14 shooting in the final 11 minutes. They also managed to keep Brice Johnson, who had 27 points and 17 boards in the first 29 minutes, to just two points and two rebounds down the stretch.

It was those 11 minutes that made the media at-large hop off of the North Carolina bandwagon. Words like “physically soft” and “no mental toughness” were mentioned and questions were being asked about whether or not this was truly a team that could be considered the most talented in the country. So in addition to the incentive of trying to win a title, the Tar Heels will be looking to get revenge by making a statement on Duke’s home court.

And doing that to a team with Grayson Allen and Brandon Ingram in Cameron Indoor is not going to be an easy thing to do.

THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 11 Louisville at No. 4 Virginia, Sat. 8:30 p.m.

The two best teams in the ACC squaring off isn’t normally must-see TV, but considering that A) Louisville was utterly humiliated by Virginia earlier this season, B) it’s the last game of Louisville’s season thanks to that postseason ban and C) that the winner of this game can win a share of the ACC regular season title if Miami and UNC lose on the road, and what you’re going to see is a battle between two veteran, well-coached teams.

THE OTHER, OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 21 Iowa State at No. 1 Kansas, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

In October, we circled this game on the calendar as one that could potentially have decided whether or not the Jayhawks would win their 12th straight regular season title. Obviously, that is no longer the case, but it will be the last time that we see this Cyclone team play a Big 12 regular season game. It’s something of the end of an era, as Georges Niang will be facing off with Perry Ellis for the last time in their illustrious, 17-year careers.

FOUR MORE THINGS TO WATCH

  1. The SEC regular season title is going to come down to the final day of the regular season, and depending on how it shakes out, there could very easily be a four-way tie atop the conference. No. 22 Kentucky and No. 20 Texas A&M are tied for first place in the league with Vandy and LSU sitting one game behind them. Vanderbilt plays at Texas A&M at noon on Saturday while LSU plays at Kentucky at 2:00 p.m.
  2. The Pac-12 regular season title is going to come down to the final day of the regular season as well. No. 9 Oregon, who is currently sitting all alone in first place, plays at USC on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. while Colorado will pay a visit to No. 13 Utah, who is one game out of first place, at 9:30 p.m. Oh, and should I mention Josh Scott vs. Jakob Poeltl will be awesome for anyone that loves a good throwback battle of the big men?
  3. Indiana has already clinched the outright Big Ten regular season title, but what will be interesting on Sunday is whether or not No. 12 Indiana will cut down the nets if they lost to No. 14 Maryland. That tip is at 4:30 p.m., while Wisconsin will play at No. 15 Purdue at 7:30 p.m. with the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament on the line.
  4. No. 10 West Virginia will pay a visit to No. 19 Baylor on Saturday at 2:00 p.m. which should be an entertaining game to watch as the Mountaineers look to maintain their grip on the No. 2 spot in the Big 12.

WHO’S GETTING UPSET?: No. 7 Miami at Virginia Tech, Sat. 4:00 p.m.

I know I’ve said a lot about how good Miami has been and how good Larrañaga is and how special it would be for the Hurricanes, twice in the span of four seasons, to win an outright ACC regular season title. But that doesn’t change the fact that Miami will be playing on the road tonight, and they’ll be playing against a Virginia Tech team that Buzz Williams has turned into a real threat in Blacksburg. The Hokies haven’t finished above .500 in the ACC since 2011, and they can do that with a win on Saturday. In fact, Va. Tech has already won more games in ACC play this season (nine) than they did in the previous three seasons combined (eight). The ‘Canes better come ready to play.

WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT ON MONDAY: Wichita State.

The Shockers will have their chance to lock up their NCAA tournament bid this weekend as the No. 1 seed in Arch Madness. The event kicks off on Friday night, and by Sunday, we’ll know whether or not Gregg Marshall’s club is going to be sweating out Selection Sunday.

If they do win the tournament — Which they should. Are you betting against Fred VanVleet when he’s backed into a corner? I’m not. — they’re going to be a trendy pick to make it out of the first weekend, and perhaps further. This is a team with a back court that has been through some wars, has a veteran front line and a talented group of youngsters on the perimeter. This team has been to a Final Four, went 35-0 and then beat Kansas the last three years. Wichita State wins big games, flat out.

But what happens if they don’t?

Meaning, what happens if they have to wait out Selection Sunday, hoping to land an at-large bid like every other mediocre team in the country?

Simply put, they’re probably going to be on the outside looking in. They do not have a tournament résumé. They have one top 85 win — over Utah, but still, one — and, after losing to someone in the MVC, four losses to teams between 63 and 105 in the RPI. If this was any team other than Wichita State, we wouldn’t even be discussing them as an at-large candidate.

But this is Wichita State.

And they were without Fred VanVleet for three of their seven losses, but that fact matters less than this: The Shockers are currently eighth in KenPom. Eighth. EIGHTH!!!!

So while the Shockers unequivocally have a résumé worthy of a trip to the NIT, the data says that this team is about as good as any Wichita State team that Gregg Marshall has had. The committee has slowly begun to use other metrics beyond just the RPI, but that doesn’t change the fact that their seeding system relies on what you’ve accomplished during the season, not what a predictive metric says about how good you are.

But I can’t help but wonder if this team in this situation with that high of a rank on KenPom will be the first.