There are only two more weekends left in February, which means three more weekends until the end of the regular season. In fact, some teams will begin their postseason on March 1, just 10 days from now. It’s crazy how fast this season has gone, but we are coming down the home stretch, and there are some big-time battles on the docket this weekend. The following is a preview of the biggest games going down this weekend.
Iona @ Monmouth
When: Fri 2/19, 10:00 pm ESPNU
Why: You already know about Monmouth, with their crazy bench and their wins this season over traditional powers USC, UCLA, Notre Dame and Georgetown. Iona didn’t have the same success in non-conference play, but the Gaels are in 2nd place in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, and they will be the biggest roadblock on Monmouth’s path to the NCAA Tournament. Monmouth took the first match-up between these two teams 110-102, one of the higher scoring games this season. That should make this rematch fun.
Player to Watch: Monmouth G Justin Robinson – Robinson, a 5-8 junior, is the leading scorer for the Hawks, and he is the difference maker in most of their games. He’s the favorite for MAAC Player of the Year, and he put up 29 points in the first meeting with Iona. Robinson is a terrific player despite his size, and he’s a joy to watch.
Prediction: Monmouth could slip up here, but on their home floor, I like them to get a win and extend their lead in the MAAC.
#20 Duke @ #18 Louisville
When: Sat 2/20, 12:00 noon ESPN
Why: Duke is one of the hottest teams in the country, having won five straight, including the last three over Louisville and Virginia at home, and then in Chapel Hill against the Tar Heels. Louisville is coming off of a win over Syracuse, and they are looking to stay near the top of the ACC standings. Both teams come in hurting, as Louisville lost C Anas Mahmoud for the season, while Duke G Matt Jones suffered a badly sprained ankle in the North Carolina game.
Player to Watch: Duke G Luke Kennard – The freshman guard has had some big scoring nights for the Blue Devils this year, including a 30 point outburst against Notre Dame, and they will need him more than ever with Jones out of the lineup. Kennard will move into the starting lineup and will look to be a spark for Duke, as they look to win their sixth in a row.
Prediction: Duke is playing like a national championship contender despite a very small rotation, but this will be an extremely tough test. Louisville will be fired up for this one at home, and their defense should be good enough to get the win.
St. Bonaventure @ #15 Dayton
When: Sat 2/20, 12:00 noon NBC Sports Network
Why: These are two teams coming off of disappointing losses in the City of Brotherly Love. Dayton had their nine-game winning streak snapped at Hagan Arena by St. Joseph’s, while St. Bonaventure was upset by lowly La Salle, a brutal loss for a team looking for an at-large tourney bid. Dayton won the first game between these teams 85-79 on the Bonnies’ home floor.
Player to Watch: St. Bonaventure G Jaylen Adams – The sophomore guard had a massive game last time these teams played, totaling 27 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds and 3 steals. The Bonnies came up short, but with another performance like that from Adams, they could pull off the upset.
Prediction: The Bonnies will play well coming off of a loss, but Dayton is just too talented to lose a second game in a row, especially getting this one at home.
#11 Miami FL @ #5 North Carolina
When: Sat 2/20, 1:00 pm CBS
Why: Not only two of the top teams in the ACC, but two of the nation’s best will do battle, looking to move closer to an ACC regular season title. North Carolina is coming off of a brutal loss to arch rival Duke on Wednesday night, and they will look to bounce back in a big way against the tough Hurricanes. Miami has overachieved this year, as they look positioned for a run at an ACC Championship.
Player to Watch: North Carolina F Brice Johnson – Johnson looked like one of the best players in the country for 31 minutes in the game against Duke. Then for some inexplicable reason, the Tar Heels stopped giving him the ball. They need to take advantage of his talents for 40 minutes if they’re going to beat Miami.
Prediction: Miami is tough, but I expect North Carolina to be super motivated after the loss to Duke. On their home floor, I actually think they’ll win this one easy.
#25 Baylor @ #24 Texas
When: Sat 2/20, 2:00 pm ESPN
Why: These two teams are in right in the middle of the logjam in the Big 12 standings, and they are both definite contenders to win the Big 12 tournament this season. Baylor got a huge win this past week over Iowa State, that coming after a brutal home loss to Texas Tech. Texas also got a huge win over West Virginia, completing the season sweep of the Mountaineers. The Longhorns will look for another season sweep in this one, as they beat Baylor 67-59 in Waco on February 1st.
Player to Watch: Baylor F Johnathan Motley – Motley had 27 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks in the game against Iowa State this week, showing that he is capable of taking over a game. He’ll have to contend with Prince Ibeh in this one, but if Motley has another big game, expect the Bears to come out on top.
Prediction: Baylor is an extremely talented team, but they have been a little inconsistent in conference play. Texas has looked very good against the class of the Big 12, and at home, I like them to finish off the season sweep of the Bears.
#3 Oklahoma @ #10 West Virginia
When: Sat 2/20, 4:00 pm ESPN
Why: In the first match-up between these two teams, Oklahoma needed a last second basket from Khadeem Lattin to knock off West Virginia at home. This time, they’ll do battle in Morgantown with Bob Huggins’s Mountaineers looking for some revenge. Oklahoma will look to avoid a three-game losing streak, as they are coming off losses to Kansas and Texas Tech.
Player to Watch: Oklahoma G Buddy Hield – Hield is second in the nation in scoring at over 25 points a game, but he has struggled in Oklahoma’s last two games, leading some to question if he truly is the Player of the Year. If he wants to turn people into believers, a huge game on the road against West Virginia would be a good way to do it.
Prediction: This is a huge game for West Virginia, and luckily for them, this doesn’t look like the same Oklahoma team that we’ve seen for most of this season. West Virginia beat Kansas at home, and I expect them to do the same to Oklahoma.
#14 Kentucky @ Texas A&M
When: Sat 2/20, 6:30 pm ESPN
Why: Two of the top teams in the SEC will go at it with ESPN’s College Gameday in town. Kentucky has started to play really well over the last few weeks, and this is another chance for them to show the nation how good they are. Texas A&M meanwhile has not been playing well, as they have lost five of their last seven games. They snapped a four-game losing streak this week against Ole Miss, but Kentucky will present quite a test.
Player to Watch: Kentucky F Derek Willis – Willis floundered on the bench in Lexington for two season, but since entering him in the starting lineup, he has flourished for John Calipari. Willis scored a career high 25 points on 7-11 3-point shooting in Kentucky’s last game against Tennessee, and they’ll look for another performance like that in this one.
Prediction: The Aggies are getting Kentucky at the wrong time unfortunately. I expect Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and company to lead the Wildcats to another big SEC road victory.
#17 Purdue @ #22 Indiana
When: Sat 2/20, 8:30 pm ESPN
Why: The Big Ten has a lot of really good teams at the top of the conference, and Purdue and Indiana are definitely two of them. The Boilermakers are one of the best defensive teams in the country, and will present a challenge for the Hoosiers. But Indiana just simply does not lose to ranked teams at Assembly Hall. So if Purdue can go in there and get a win, that would be massive.
Player to Watch: Indiana PG Yogi Ferrell – Ferrell is the straw that stirs the drink for the Hoosiers. He is one of the most talented guards in the country, and he is capable of taking over any game. They might need him to if they’re going to beat Purdue.
Prediction: I’m going out on a limb here, but I think Indiana has to lose a home game eventually. Purdue presents a difficult challenge for Indiana, and I like the Boilermakers to pull off the upset.
Saint Mary’s @ Gonzaga
When: Sat 2/20, 10:00 pm ESPN2
Why: These teams played a classic back on January 21st, with Saint Mary’s coming out on top at home, 70-67. The Gaels and the Bulldogs are at the top of the WCC, and they are also directly on the Bubble. I fully expect to see these teams playing in the WCC Championship game, so this will be a little preview of that. Both teams need this win, which will create an exciting atmosphere.
Player to Watch: Gonzaga G Eric McClellan – McClellan had his best game of the season in the first meeting with Saint Mary’s, finishing with 23 points and 6 boards. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough for the Zags to come away with the win, but this time at home, another big performance from McClellan could go a long way.
Prediction: You could argue that Gonzaga outplayed Saint Mary’s in the first match-up, and just couldn’t pull it out on the road. They’re playing at home this time, and I expect them to get the win.
Hawaii @ UC Irvine
When: Sat 2/20, 11:30 pm ESPNU
Why: With these two teams and Long Beach State, the expectation is that the Big West is going to send a team to the NCAA Tournament that is easily capable of knocking off a couple top teams. Hawaii and UC Irvine are the top two teams in the conference, and this is the second time they will meet up this year, with Hawaii winning the first one at home by 22 points just over a week ago. I’m sure that the Anteaters have been looking forward to this rematch every minute since that loss.
Player to Watch: Hawaii G Roderick Bobbitt – Bobbitt, a 6-3 senior, is the unquestionable leader for the Rainbow Warriors, and he definitely led them in the win over UC Irvine, totaling 23 points, 7 assists and 6 rebounds. Hawaii will look for Bobbitt to lead them to another victory tomorrow night.
Prediction: These teams are much closer in talent than the result of their first meeting would suggest. It’s difficult for any team to travel to Hawaii for a game. With this one on the mainland, I expect UC Irvine to get the victory and even the season series.
Michigan @ #6 Maryland
When: Sun 2/21, 1:00 pm CBS
Why: Michigan is finally back to full strength, as John Beilein has just about fully integrated Caris LeVert into the rotation. They underwhelmed a little without him, but they are a contender in the Big Ten with him back. Maryland is coming off of quite possibly the worst loss of any top team this season, as they fell to Minnesota last night 68-63, giving the Golden Gophers their first Big Ten victory, snapping a 14-game losing streak. The Terrapins get to return home, and they need to bounce-back from that loss.
Player to Watch: Maryland C Diamond Stone – The star freshman center did not play against Minnesota as he served a 1-game suspension for slamming an opponent’s head into the ground during the Wisconsin game last weekend. Stone will return to the lineup in this one, and it’s clear that they need him to play at their full potential.
Prediction: Maryland is too good to lose to a team like Minnesota. They know that, and I think in front of their fans, they’ll play inspired and get the win over Michigan.
It looks like we’re going to have beautiful weather this weekend, but if you still don’t feel like leaving the house, there will be plenty of good basketball for your viewing pleasure. Have a good weekend everyone!