Friday, February 17, 2012
Breaking down this weekend's top games
By Myron Medcalf
Editor’s note: Jay Bilas breaks down Saint Mary’s-Murray State in today’s Weekend Watch. Myron Medcalf offers a dozen more games to keep an eye on this weekend.
Northern Iowa at VCU (7 ET, ESPN2): VCU reached last season's Final Four. Northern Iowa reached the Sweet 16 two seasons ago. But both squads enter this BracketBusters game in need of some late-season momentum and probably a conference tournament title to guarantee a berth. With both squads coming off losses -- the Rams lost to George Mason on a buzzer-beater Tuesday; the Panthers have lost two of three -- this could be the game that starts that late-season push. UNI is out of the at-large running, but VCU still clings to hope -- and this is a must-win.
Marquette at Connecticut (12 ET, ESPN): If there's any hope left for UConn, it has to kick in nowish. Despite the Huskies' tumultuous season, it's hard to ignore last year's finish. Few had expected much from the program before it reeled off a run that ultimately led to a national title. The Golden Eagles are playing for seeding in the NCAA and Big East tourneys. And they're still in the Big East title conversation. They have an easy stretch that includes just one nationally-ranked squad (Georgetown) in their final five regular-season games. But late stumbles, especially with three more road games, could alter their postseason position.
Wichita State at Davidson (12 ET, ESPN2): Both teams have something to prove in this BracketBusters matchup. Davidson has a chance to show that its December victory over Kansas wasn't a fluke. The Shockers are clearly one of the top 20 teams in America in my opinion. But their omission from this week's ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll suggests that some still doubt the Missouri Valley leader. The Shockers are in the NCAA tournament. On the road at Davidson, however, they can prove that they're capable of a run.
Florida State at NC State (1 ET, ESPN3): The Wolfpack (No. 49 RPI) could use a signature victory to enhance their résumé, especially after blowing a 20-point lead against Duke on Thursday night. NC State faces Florida State and North Carolina, both at home, in their next two outings, crucial games for its NCAA at-large hopes. The Seminoles are still in contention for the ACC title. But their loss at Boston College last week and a shaky win against Virginia Tech on Thursday didn't exactly make Leonard Hamilton's squad look the part. There's a three-way logjam at the top of the league and the Seminoles have struggled on the road. They have to keep winning to stay in the mix, which is why Saturday's game is so significant.
UNLV at New Mexico (1 ET, CBS): Most figured that UNLV would enter mid-February as the top team in the Mountain West. Guess again. New Mexico's win over San Diego State elevated Steve Alford's squad to the top of the conference. But Saturday wins by UNLV and San Diego State (at Air Force) would create a three-way tie between SDSU, UNLV and New Mexico entering the final four games of the year. The Pit will be an absolute madhouse for this one. Should be a lot of fun.
Arizona at Washington (3 ET, FSN): Who knows what to expect in the final weeks of the Pac-12 season, but Arizona and Washington are fighting for the Pac-12 title (the Wildcats are 10-4 and the Huskies are 11-3). And they're also trying to boost their thin at-large résumés. Joe Lunardi has both teams in his latest bracket, but not exactly by a wide margin (UW is the last team in). A strong finish by either could solidify an at-large slot. And in the weak Pac-12, a string of losses could lead to an NIT invitation.
Seton Hall at Cincinnati (4 ET, ESPN3): Losing skids interrupted the at-large hopes of both. The Bearcats have lost four of their past seven. Prior to their current three-game winning streak, the Pirates had lost six in a row. Lunardi projected both programs as double-digit-seeds in the Big Dance, so they can't feel secure entering their final stretch of the regular season. They're out of the Big East title conversation, but a Saturday victory could go a long way toward impressing the selection committee.
Florida at Arkansas (6 ET, ESPN): The Razorbacks aren't in the field right now. But Arkansas can sneak in with three remaining games against top-50 schools and the SEC tourney ahead. They've struggled on the road, but have found success at home. The Razorbacks could change their postseason prospects with a Saturday win. After losing to Tennessee last week, the Gators beat Alabama in their next game. Any momentum would be beneficial as their March 4 matchup against No. 1 Kentucky approaches.
Yale at Harvard (7 ET): Tommy Amaker's squad leads the Ivy League with a 7-1 record entering Friday's matchup against Brown. Saturday's matchup against 6-2 Yale (the Bulldogs play Dartmouth Friday), however, could change that. The Crimson were expected to run away with the Ivy League. And their 30-point win over Yale last month suggests that they'll stay on top of the conference. Harvard, however, has found itself in an unexpected fight for the Ivy League's title and automatic bid.
Ohio State at Michigan (9 ET, ESPN): Big Ten title implications here. If the Buckeyes win this game, then they'll stay on top of the Big Ten with an 11-3 record, one that Michigan State could match with a win at Purdue on Sunday. A loss, however, would allow Michigan to tie the Buckeyes and give the Spartans a chance to grab sole possession of first place. With only a handful of games remaining, the Big Ten is still tight at the top. Big game for the Big Ten.
Long Beach State at Creighton (10 ET, ESPN2): Long Beach State (No. 44 RPI) hopes to avoid the drama from the past two years. The 49ers missed the NCAA tournament following consecutive losses in the Big West tourney title game. A road victory over Creighton could help the 49ers grab an at-large bid, but a loss could put them in the same scenario they've found themselves in the past two years. Creighton looks like a lock for the Big Dance, despite a recent three-game losing skid. A loss here, however, could jeopardize that position and lead to more questions about Greg McDermott's squad.
Michigan State at Purdue (1 ET, CBS): If Ohio State loses to Michigan on Saturday, the Spartans can seize first place -- alone -- with a road win over the Boilermakers. But Purdue nearly knocked off the Buckeyes in Columbus. They have won two in a row and they know that a victory over a Spartans squad that might earn a No. 1 seed would be a huge boost for their at-large résumé. Expect a battle in West Lafayette.