There’s less than a week left in February, which means March is right around the corner! Can you believe it? Me either.
This college basketball season has been, well, I’m not sure if there’s a word to describe it, but if I had to pick one, I’d probably choose “crazy.” There’s been tons of parity, the top teams have lost to teams with losing records, and a report was released just this morning tying some of the top programs in the nation with illegal recruiting tactics, including Duke, North Carolina and Michigan State.
That situation could put a little damper on the March Madness that we know and love, but despite that, we could be in for one of the more exciting postseasons in recent memory!
A number of mid-major conferences will finish up their regular seasons this weekend, including the West Coast Conference with likely Tournament teams Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s. The Big Ten will also finish up this weekend, with their tournament taking place a week earlier this year so that they could hold it at Madison Square Garden in NYC. I do not understand why the Big Ten Tournament would be in New York, but it will take place there next week, with the Championship Game next Sunday, March 4th, in essence kicking off this year’s Championship Week.
But before that, we have another action-packed weekend of regular season play, and today, I have a little preview of the action to come this Saturday and Sunday.
Also, a special Friday night pick for all of you gamblers out there. My brother Dan (an avid sports bettor), says that Indiana will cover the spread against Ohio State tonight. They are the home team, and they are 2-point underdogs. The Buckeyes won by 15 when the two teams played in Columbus earlier this season, so Dan believes that makes this a sucker bet with the close line. So, you might want to put some money on the Hoosiers tonight (I’ll stick to just watching the games myself).
Baylor (17-11, 7-8 B12) @ TCU (19-9, 7-8 B12)
12:00 noon, ESPN2
First Meeting: Tuesday Jan. 2, TCU 81 Baylor 78 (OT) at Baylor
This is a big game in the middle of the pack in the Big 12, with these two teams currently tied for 5th. Baylor has been one of the hotter teams in the country, having just had a five-game win streak snapped on Tuesday night at home against West Virginia. This late season run has gotten the Bears back onto the Bubble and into the Tournament conversation. TCU has traded wins and losses in conference play after starting the season 12-0 in non-conference play with wins over SMU and Nevada.
Tournament Implications: A road win against a likely Tourney team would be big for Baylor’s chances of reaching the Big Dance. I don’t think a loss hurts TCU’s chances all that much, while a win would make them feel at least a little bit better heading into the home stretch of the regular season.
Louisville (18-10, 8-7 ACC) @ Virginia Tech (20-8, 9-6 ACC)
1:00 pm, CBS
First Meeting: Saturday Jan. 13, Louisville 94 Virginia Tech 86 at Louisville
Like the middle of the Big 12, the ACC is all sorts of bunched up, and both of these teams still have a chance at a double-bye in the ACC Tournament, being held at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY this year. Deng Adel scored 27 points to lead Louisville to a victory the first time these teams met, but the situation is much different this time around. Back then in mid-January, Louisville was looking like a Tournament team, and the Hokies were likely on the outside, looking in. The script has now been flipped, with Virginia Tech having won at Virginia, and Louisville having lost six of their last nine games.
Tournament Implications: Louisville is squarely on the Bubble, and while a win at Virginia Tech wouldn’t clinch a berth for them, it would move definitely move them in the right direction. A loss here for Virginia Tech would not be awful, but a win would have them feeling pretty good.
#3 Villanova (25-3, 12-3 BE) @ Creighton (19-9, 8-7 BE)
2:30 pm, FOX
First Meeting: Thursday Feb. 1, Villanova 98 Creighton 78 at Villanova
If I had to put money on one team right now to win the National Championship, I’d choose Villanova. Despite a few losses, including a bad one at home to St. John’s, when healthy and playing their best, nobody can touch this team. Phil Booth just returned from injury, so they are at full strength at the best time. Creighton was humbled by the Wildcats in their first meeting, and that loss was the first of four the Bluejays have suffered in their last six games, with the only wins in that stretch coming over DePaul and Bemidji State (yes, they played a D-II team this late in the season).
Tournament Implications: Nova looks well on their way to a 1-seed, and could be the overall #1 seed if Virginia slips up. Meanwhile, Creighton is in no danger of missing the Tournament, but they are sliding down the seeds, and a win over Villanova could halt that slide immediately.
#8 Kansas (22-6, 11-4 B12) @ #6 Texas Tech (22-6, 10-5 B12)
4:15 pm, ESPN
First Meeting: Tuesday Jan. 2, Texas Tech 85 Kansas 73 at Kansas
Revenge will be a factor in this game between the top two teams in the Big 12. Kansas is looking to extend it’s historic conference championship streak, and they have been helped in that quest by Texas Tech losing two straight games, to Baylor and Oklahoma State. The Red Raiders have yet to lose at home this year though, and they easily defeated the Jayhawks in Lawrence back in early January. The key to this game could be the health of Texas Tech star Keenan Evans. He was hurt in the loss to Baylor, and was ineffective at best against Oklahoma State.
Tournament Implications: A 1-seed is likely still in play for both of these teams, but Kansas looks to be in a better position for that. A road win over Texas Tech would make their chances all the better, while a season sweep of Kansas would look great on the Red Raiders’ resume.
Syracuse (18-10, 7-8 ACC) @ #5 Duke (23-5, 11-4 ACC)
6:00 pm, ESPN
First Meeting: None
It’s been a fascinating season for the Duke Blue Devils. They started 11-0 with wins over Michigan State, Texas and Florida, but then lost their conference opener to Boston College. They also have losses to NC State and St. John’s. They have won four in a row, all without star freshman Marvin Bagley, leading people to question if they might be better without him. I’m not sure if that’s the case, but it certainly can be argued. Syracuse is squarely on the Bubble yet again, and they just missed a huge opportunity at home against North Carolina, falling 78-74. Even bigger would be a road victory over Duke, and I’m sure Coach Boeheim will have his guys motivated.
Tournament Implications: Duke is still in play for a 1-seed, but they cannot afford to lose at home to Syracuse. Meanwhile, the Orange could get themselves definitely onto the right side of the Bubble with a win in this game. If they fail, they may need to win their last two regular season games, at Boston College and at home against Clemson.
Arkansas (19-9, 8-7 SEC) @ Alabama (17-11, 8-7 SEC)
6:00 pm, SEC Network
First Meeting: None
And would you look at that, another super tight pack in the middle of a major conference. At 8-7, these two teams are among six that are tied for 3rd in the SEC behind Auburn and Tennessee. That means the winner of this game could earn a double-bye in the conference tournament. Arkansas just had a four-game winning streak snapped at home by Kentucky, and they’ll need to get back on track with a home game against Auburn coming up next week. Alabama has had an up and down season, and they’ll be looking to avoid a three-game losing streak in this one.
Tournament Implications: Both of these teams would likely be in if the season ended today, but I think Alabama could use this win more. A road loss in this one wouldn’t hurt the Razorbacks all that much.
Kansas State (20-8, 9-6 B12) @ Oklahoma (16-11, 6-9 B12)
6:00 pm, ESPN2
First Meeting: Tuesday Jan. 16, Kansas State 87 Oklahoma 69 at Kansas State
Has there been a more confusing team in college basketball this season than Oklahoma? Freshman Trae Young is probably the most talented player in the country, but his team has relied on him way too much down the stretch. The Sooners were ranked in the Top-10 not too long ago, but they are currently on a six-game losing streak and have lost nine of their last 11, putting them in danger of missing the Tournament altogether if the slide continues. On the other side, Kansas State is right smack dab in the middle of the Bubble, and while a road win over Oklahoma doesn’t look as good now as it would have weeks ago, it would still be a nice addition to the Wildcats’ resume.
Tournament Implications: Just two weeks ago, the Selection Committee had Oklahoma as a 4-seed, but I cannot imagine they have them even close to that right now. The Sooners really could be in danger of missing the Big Dance, so they need a win. Kansas State would move further onto the right side of the Bubble with a win in this one.
Missouri (18-10, 8-7 SEC) @ Kentucky (19-9, 8-7 SEC)
8:15 pm, ESPN
First Meeting: Saturday Feb. 3, Missouri 69 Kentucky 60 at Missouri
Look at this, two more of the teams tied for 3rd in the SEC standings. Kentucky may be finally reaching it’s potential, scoring back-to-back wins over Alabama and Arkansas following a four-game losing streak, the longest in John Calipari’s tenure at Kentucky. They will be a scary team in March if they continue playing like this. Missouri has done nearly the exact opposite, losing their last two games to LSU and Mississippi after a five-game winning streak. They may have just gotten a boost though, as their superstar freshman Michael Porter Jr. was just cleared for all basketball activities. They’re still not sure if he’ll play this season, but if he does, this will be a team nobody wants to see in the Tournament.
Tournament Implications: Both these teams should be safe, but a road win and season sweep of Kentucky would look really good on Missouri’s resume. Kentucky meanwhile can continue to improve their seed with a win in this one.
Penn State (19-11, 9-8 B10) @ Nebraska (21-9, 12-5 B10)
5:15 pm, Big Ten Network
First Meeting: Friday Jan. 12, Penn State 76 Nebraska 74 (OT) at Penn State
A battle between two true Bubble teams this late in the season always carries a ton of significance. This game could have an impact on the seeding in the Big Ten Tournament as well. The Cornhuskers are currently tied for 4th with Michigan, so with a win here and a Michigan loss, Nebraska would clinch a double-bye in NYC. Penn State is currently tied for 6th in the conference with Indiana, but this game is much bigger for their NCAA Tournament hopes. The Nittany Lions are ranked as the 27th best team in the nation by KenPom, but their resume as a whole isn’t as strong.
Tournament Implications: I believe that neither of these teams are currently in the field, but depending on other results, the winner of this one could sneak into the field. I think a win would mean more for Penn State given that they are the road team, but a loss will hurt both.