Things are starting to shape up for several teams in hopes of making it to the NCAA Tournament. After last week, it’s safe to say that Vanderbilt, Virginia and Notre Dame have punched in their tickets for the Big Dance. But who else is close to joining them?
Connecticut: Shabazz Napier had the biggest shot of the season for the Huskies on Monday, a 30-foot buzzer beater to beat Villanova. I realize ‘Nova is not playing up to par this year, but this could be a win for Connecticut that can shoot some life into them. A win against Syracuse on Saturday and they are a lock. If not, wins against Pittsburgh and Providence, as well as a couple wins in the Big East Tournament will be enough. The strength of schedule (1) and RPI (23) will be the biggest things the selection committee will look at. Feb. 21 status: In
Seton Hall: It’s hard to believe a team that lost six straight in conference play still has a shot, but that’s the case for the Pirates. A win against West Virginia and splitting the season-series with Connecticut could go a long way. If they beat Georgetown tonight, they will be a lock. At 18-9. they don’t have too many flashy wins, but they have beaten the teams they should, and now will look to pull of a big upset to get their bid. Feb. 21 status: In
West Virginia: This is a big week for the Mountaineers, as they face both Notre Dame and Marquette. They have to win one of those, or else they can say goodbye to their chances of making the tournament. Easier said than done though, with those two teams are playing some of the best ball in the country. They’ve lost five out of their last seven games, so they will certainly still have a lot to do in order to punch in their bid. Feb. 21 status: Out
Miami: How crucial is next week’s game against North Carolina State for the Hurricnaes? Whoever wins that one will likely be in, while the other may be out, depending on how they do in the ACC Tournament. But before that game, Miami has a home date with Florida State, who they lost to by just five points two weekends ago. If they win that one, the game three days later against the Wolfpack may not be as crucial for the Hurricanes. I don’t see both Miami and NC State making it, and I’d give the edge to the Hurricanes, thanks to that victory at Duke Feb. 5. Feb. 21 status: In
Illinois: What is going on in Champaign? The Illini look to be doing everything they can to go to the NIT. They’ve now lost five straight games, and it’s hard to find the light at the end of the tunnel with games still to play against Ohio State, Michigan and Wisconsin. They will need to win a couple of those, which is definitely easier said than done. Feb. 21 status: Out
Purdue: The Boilermakers had a solid week last week, beating fellow bubble teams Northwestern and Illinois before falling to the hot Michigan State squad. They have now swept the season series with both Northwestern and Illinois. Barring a late-season collapse, that may be all Purdue needs. A .500 Big Ten record should be enough to get them in. Feb. 21 status: In
Northwestern: It’s hard to overlook the Wildcats, but with a strong SOS (9) and RPI (40), they are just one big win away. They have already beaten Michigan State, and will now look forward to a home game tonight against Michigan, who they lost to in overtime back in January. If they win that one, they have a shot at going .500 in the Big Ten and becoming a virtual lock of making the tournament. Feb. 21 status: In
Texas: Two straight losses have hurt the Longhorns a little bit, but they aren’t out of it just yet. They need to beat Texas Tech and Oklahoma in their next two games, and they should. But with no big wins on their schedule, and an early season loss to fellow bubble team NC State, they certainly need a win to brag about. Feb. 21 status: Out
Iowa State and Kansas State: I’m bunching these two teams together because they have similar resumes and they are in the same conference. They play each other on Saturday in a win-and-you’re-in game. The loser still has a good shot though, as they each have a big marquee conference win (Baylor for Kansas State, Kansas for Iowa State). We’ll see what happens on Saturday.
Alabama and Mississippi State: Just like the last two teams, both of these two SEC squads have similar resumes and will meet this weekend. The Bulldogs probably need this one more, as they have dropped three straight (and a likely fourth tonight to Kentucky), while Alabama has won four out of six after dropping four straight. Alabama has beaten Wichita State and Purdue this year, but haven’t gotten a big SEC win this year, unless you count splitting with LSU or beating Tennessee. Wins against West Virginia and Vanderbilt were the big ones this year for Miss. State, as well as the first meeting of the year against the Crimson Tide.
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No. 23 Louisville 77, West Virginia 74
-Wayne Blackshear made his debut (24 games in) four Louisville, and scored 13 points. While there was a lot to talk about in this game — we’ll get to it — that has to be the most encouraging part for Louisville fans. Blackshear obviously kept himself in basketball shape while rehabbing. The future is bright…. Now, talk about going in opposite directions. The Cardinals (20-5, 8-4 Big East) reached 20 wins and have won six straight now, while the loss is the Mountaineers’ (16-10, 6-7) have lost five of their last six. WVU led for most of the game until a Kyle Kuric 3-pointer and a steal-and-score by Russ Smith on the ensuing inbounds play gave Louisville a 73-71 lead with 2:17 left. Kyle Kuric would steal a Gary Browne pass inside to Kevin Jones with 10 seconds left, hit two free throws after being fouled, and Truck Bryant’s left wing 3 went begging as time expired.
Butler 52, Cleveland State 49
-A big win for the Bulldogs (15-12, 9-6 Horizon League), who really needed this just for confidence heading into crunch time and the Horizon League tournament. The Vikings (20-6, 10-4) had a shot at an at-large bid, but those hopes are dashed now. All a matter of who gets hot in the tourney. Butler held Cleveland State to 26.3 percent from 3-point range and forced 16 turnovers, all the while overcoming an 0-for-8 3-point day and shooting 38 percent on their own.
No.5 North Carolina 70, No. 20 Virginia 52
-It was a game in the first half, with the Tar Heels (21-4, 8-2 ACC) leading just 35-32 at the half. The second half made a lot of people believe that the Cavaliers (19-5, 6-4) might not be the team everyone expected, what with Mike Scott getting completely owned and UNC showing no ill effects from that tough loss to Duke. Tyler Zeller had 25 points and nine rebounds for the Heels, with John Henson (10 and10) and Harrison Barnes (14 and 11) notching double-doubles. The bigs were obviously the difference in this one. Mike Scott has been carrying the Wahoos all season and had 18 in the loss.
No. 2 Syracuse 85, UConn 67
-I’m not saying that UConn (15-9, 5-7 Big East) can’t bounce back from a game that they basically quit in at Louisville, but they didn’t start with a loss at the ‘Cuse (25-1, 12-1). Four players finished in double-figures and Andre Drummond has 13 points and seven boards in the loss. But they never could match up athletically with the Orange, which if you’ve seen the Huskies, shouldn’t happen. They’ve got as much talent and athletic ability as any team in the nation.
No. 4 Missouri 72, No. 6 Baylor 57
-The Tigers (23-2, 9-2 Big 12) got the sweep over the Bears (21-4, 8-4) on the season, and wow, they did it quick. This team is guard-heavy, and they ran on Baylor’s athletic big men in the second half, using a 17-1 keyed by three 3-pointers midway through the second half to propel them to the W. Phil Pressey had 19 points and four three’s in the game and Mizzou shot 50 percent from 3-point range (14-for-28). They bombed it. Baylor still has to figure out it’s identity, which is scary considering it’s identity. They have long athletic forwards who play essentially like swingmen in Perry Jones III and the Quincy’s (Miller and Acy) but seem inept at finishing down low, though Acy has improved. Most telling stat? They out-rebounded Mizzou 35-22.
No. 17 Florida State 64, Miami 59
-The Hurricanes (15-8, 6-4 ACC) didn’t necessarily hurt their at-large hopes with this loss to the Seminoles (17-7, 8-2), but if they don’t get in, this is one game that Jim Larranaga will look at and shake his head. Reggie Johnson was held to four points (which can’t happen) to go with six rebounds, which really was the difference being that the game was never more than a three-possession game late. Bernard James ha 18 points, six boards and four blocks in the win.
Vanderbilt vs. No. 1 Kentucky (9 p.m., ESPN)
-A lot of folks taking Vandy (17-7, 6-4 SEC) in this one, especially being at home in Memorial Coliseum and the magic that seems to ensue in big games there for the Commodores. Kentucky (24-1, 10-0) is still Kentucky, they still have Anthony Davis and his Stretch Armstrong arms. It’s going to be tough for Festus Ezeli to be effective by himself, they’ll really need guys like Steve Tchiengang to show up down low and 6-8 Lance Gilbourne to provide a mid-range to draw out Davis and Kentucky’s other lengthy bigs.
No. 15 Creighton vs. Wichita State (5 p.m., ESPN2)
-Just another day in the Missouri Valley Conference. Creighton (21-4, 11-3 MVC) is somehow surviving in the Top-25 despite losses to Northern Iowa and Evansville on the road. Granted, they’ll fall come tomorrow, but a win over the Shockers (21-4, 12-2) would not only help them stay in the rankings, but also go a long way to help their confidence and steady their at-large hopes. Which to me, is the best a conference win can do, being that teams see these opponents automatically every year. Wichita State has won three in a row after a loss at Drake.
No. 16 UNLV vs. No. 14 San Diego State (4 p.m, The Mtn.)
-This one is set for a classic. The Rebels (21-4, 5-2 Mountain West Conference) losing at Wyoming in their last game took some luster off this game, but it’s still a battle of Top-20 teams. The Aztecs (20-3, 6-1) have only lost one game since Dec. 4, a bad one at Colorado State, but other than that have been soaring.
No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Michigan State (6 p.m., ESPN)
-It seems like every week, the Buckeyes (21-3, 9-2 Big Ten) play the second-best team in the B1G. Whoever it is. This week, it’s Michigan State (19-5, 8-3). It’ll be Jared Sullinger vs. Draymond Green for the most part, but can any of the Spartan’s guards get past ball-hawking Aaron Craft? That will probably be a big reason if Tom Izzo’s bunch can get a win. Look for William Buford to have a big game for tOSU, he had a career-high 29 last game, a victory at Purdue.
Temple vs. Xavier (9 p.m., ESPN2)
-What do the Owls have to do to get some serious poll love? They’ve beaten Duke this season, have a KenPom rating of 30 and have won eight in a row after a bad loss to Richmond on the road. They’re 18-5 overall and 7-2 in the Atlantic 10 and also have wins over Wichita State and Penn, two teams deep in the NCAA Tournament conversation. They won’t help themselves that much with a win over the Musketeers (16-8, 7-3), but it would certainly make me look stupid if they took a loss. Chris Mack’s squad, on the other hand, desperately needs a confidence W, losing three of their last six.
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