<
>

Saddle Up: ACC title already on the line

Saddle Up is our semi-daily preview of the night's best basketball action. It has tiger blood and Adonis DNA.

No. 13 North Carolina at Florida State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: On Saturday, Duke will travel to Chapel Hill for another chapter in the historic and heated rivalry, which, according to common convention, must be followed with a note that it is the best rivalry in college basketball. But that game stacks up as more than just a rivalry rematch. It might very well be a one-game ACC regular season championship.

For that awesomeness to happen, though, both teams have to win their games Wednesday night. Duke gets Clemson at home, so the Blue Devils will probably be winners. North Carolina, on the other hand, has a much more difficult challenge in this game, one that could derail UNC's surprising midseason run toward at least a share of the ACC title.

Meanwhile, this game is a huge chance for Florida State to bolster its tournament profile and improve its seed, a seed that could still take a hit if forward Chris Singleton can't get healthy by Selection Sunday. FSU hasn't had this sort of opportunity to prove itself without Singleton; its wins since the injury have come over Wake and Miami, and the 'Noles dropped a game at Maryland in that span. This game won't make or break FSU's at-large chances, but it could be the difference between a No. 10 seed and something considerably more favorable.

No. 22 Texas A&M at No. 2 Kansas, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN2: If Texas A&M wants to avoid its NCAA tournament performance being determined by matchups, it would do well to mix some backcourt scoring in with its interior attack. How do I know that? ESPN Insider's LaRue Cook told meInsider :

The book has been written on Mark Turgeon's team: The Aggies are deliberate -- 62.8 possessions per game, slowest in the Big 12 -- and nearly half of their offensive possessions end in shots at or near the bucket. When a team relies on 77 percent of its points to come from inside the arc or at the free throw line, there's no taking a night off in the paint.

Basically, A&M gets almost all of its offense at the rim, which is nominally a good thing; if you can get your buckets inside, why wouldn't you? But there are defenses -- and Kansas' is one of them -- that are better at protecting the rim than A&M is at attacking it. When the Aggies get into games with tough interior teams, they tend to struggle. Khris Middleton, Nathan Walkup and David Loubeau don't have reliable outlets on the perimeter, and that's a major limitation for this otherwise surprisingly effective team.

In any case, that's something to watch in what is likely to be a Kansas win Wednesday night. Can Turgeon's team develop a double-edge attack this late in the season? Or can its forwards do enough against top post defenses to make that a moot point?

Cincinnati at Marquette, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN3: Will the Big East really get 11 teams in the tournament? That's been the pertinent Big East question -- often asked derisively by readers who believe we have a love affair with the conference -- for much of the season. But what once seemed possible, if a little wacky, now seems downright certain. Cincinnati could lose this game and still be in fine at-large shape after wins at Georgetown and over Louisville in the past two weeks. If Marquette loses, the Golden Eagles will still be on the bubble, but they'll also still be on the right side of the bubble, and few of the current cut-line teams (Richmond, Boston College, Memphis, Michigan) are likely to put together better profiles than the one the Eagles already have. Meanwhile, a Marquette win would tie a bow on their trip to the tourney. If Marquette gets to the tournament, it will be just one of 11 -- yes, 11 -- Big East teams to do so.

Everywhere else: The only non-Cincinnati, non-Marquette Big East team that isn't a lock to make the NCAA tournament right now is West Virginia. If the 'Eers crash the offensive glass per the usual and get a home win over Connecticut Wednesday night, they'll be the Big East's sure thing. ... Other Big East action includes Pitt at South Florida and Providence at Louisville. ... BYU will host New Mexico in its first game without dismissed forward Brandon Davies, and it will be worth watching to see how the Cougars adjust their lineup and strategy going forward. ... As mentioned above, Duke welcomes Clemson to Cameron Indoor Stadium. ... Utah State will try to avoid any further bid-threatening WAC letdowns at New Mexico State. ... Memphis has to rebound from Saturday's UTEP thrashing in time to get a win at East Carolina; a loss probably dooms the Tigers' tournament chances for good. ... UAB travels to Southern Miss for a C-USA showdown; can USM get back on the bubble with a win here? ... One of the last teams in the current bracket, Richmond, travels to St. Joe's Wednesday night. ... Maryland plays Miami. ... and Colorado can't afford to lose at Iowa State.