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Editor's note: Myron Medcalf and Eamonn Brennan got together for their weekly Watercooler chat, discussing Thursday night's results while looking ahead to this weekend's games and the madness of March.
Eamonn Brennan: The greatest month of all the months is upon us, Myron. With it comes the final week of the regular season, bubble crunch time for a wide swath of teams and even less sleep than could be had in January and February. And you know what? Forget sleep. I'm ready. How are you feeling?
Myron Medcalf: I'm with you. I'll sleep in April. I'm ready to go. Excited for the finish. Speaking of the latter: In the middle of the Michigan-Illinois game, I found myself wondering how Illinois has a 7-footer who's a possible lottery pick, some talented weapons around him and size but looks horrible. It's Big Ten tournament title or the NIT for Illinois, right?
EB: Oh, absolutely. After that disastrous late-season slide, the Illini had to beat Michigan and win at Wisconsin this weekend to try to salvage some hope of an at-large bid. Now it's Big Ten tourney title or bust. And news flash, but I'm going to go ahead and predict that Illinois won't win the Big Ten title. The problems that have plagued the Illini all season -- stagnant offense, bad shot selection, underuse of Meyers Leonard, Brandon Paul's chuckfests -- have officially done them in. The same goes for Bruce Weber's tenure at Illinois. That, as they say, is that.
|Florida State again showed its ability to shut down an opponent when it mattered.|
I found myself turning away from Illinois-Michigan to check out a much closer and more competitive game between Florida State and Virginia, which Florida State won, somehow, by draining a well-guarded, last-second 3-pointer.
The shot was great and all, but the most impressive thing? FSU needed a big stop at the end. It got the first, gave up an offensive rebound, then got another to keep the score tied at 60. The Seminoles are still the Seminoles on offense. But as ever, man, do they defend.
MM: They do. That's their bread and butter. In two previous losses to Duke and Miami, the Seminoles didn't have that same defensive bite. But on Thursday night they proved that they can lock down like Alcatraz. Leonard Hamilton will tour the country this summer teaching seminars on the last-second, contested 3-pointer.
Although I give FSU credit for that gutsy win, I think it's time to question its opponent's at-large résumé. Eamonn, you stay up until 4 a.m. to knock out the thorough and essential Bubble Watch. You and others in the Bracketology realm can speak to this issue more eloquently than I can, but what am I missing about Virginia? The Cavs are still living off that win over Michigan, in my opinion. They're like the Chingy of college basketball. Should I be more impressed with their résumé? Am I missing something?
EB: You're not missing a ton. From a strict bubble perspective -- in which we're just talking about wins and losses and computer numbers -- Virginia hardly overwhelms. Now, I think the Cavaliers are better than their record. Five of their seven ACC losses to date have come by a margin of three or fewer points. And they play really good defense, which we've seen all season.
The Cavs will probably get in the tournament, if only because they've got a good-enough RPI and SOS profile and they've mostly handled business against inferior teams in the ACC, which are legion. But I'll admit that the enthusiasm I felt for the Cavaliers early in the year has waned in the latter weeks of February.
MM: Selection Sunday will be interesting. Teams like Virginia and South Florida, which have struggled against the elite in their own conferences. Mid-major leagues (see CAA) pushing for more multiple bids. And then you have the fighters, the teams that might be able to squeeze into the field with a late push. How about Northwestern? As you wrote, why can't that team catch a break? I mean, the Wildcats can't get one bid. Not one? I think there's still time for that program, though. What will it take for Northwestern to make history?
EB: Well, obviously the Wildcats can't lose at Iowa in what promises to be the most hotly anticipated and widely viewed Iowa-Northwestern game of all time. (Not Iowa-Northwestern State. Actually, sorry for bringing that up, Hawkeyes fans. That was mean.) A loss at Iowa would sink the Wildcats, and obviously it depends on what else happens around the bubble, but the bubble is only going to get smaller as the conference tournaments offer up an auto-bid or two that isn't one of the league's obvious at-large candidates. Best advice for the Cats: Beat Iowa, get a win in the Big Ten tournament, then get another. Then we'll see.
MM: You know something crazy will happen in the Big Ten tournament. So I won't be surprised if Northwestern makes a run and secures bid No. 1. (Yes, Wildcats fans, weeks ago I prematurely predicted that your team would not make the NCAA tournament this season. Still work to do, but I might be wrong in a week.) But before we get to the BT tourney, Sunday's matchup between Michigan State and Ohio State could be classic. Ohio State can force a three-way tie for the Big Ten title. Michigan State is still fighting for a No. 1 seed. Draymond Green versus Jared Sullinger. I'm really pumped for that matchup.
Missouri-Kansas lived up to the hype last weekend. Will this matchup meet expectations, too?
EB: I think it'll be a good one. Three weeks ago, Michigan State went into Columbus and dominated OSU with a great defensive game plan -- dig on Sullinger the minute he puts the ball on the floor, make him pass, let the Buckeyes shoot -- and even better execution. I think Ohio State has a lot to prove in the rematch. Not to mention the Big Ten title implications of a win.
It'll be awfully tough to break down that defense in East Lansing. But the Bucks might have more in them than we've seen in the past few weeks.
MM: Best sign for Buckeyes fans was Sullinger's performance against Northwestern. He'd struggled in recent weeks. Only 17 points in the two games before the Northwestern victory. They definitely have the talent to win in East Lansing, and if Green's supporting cast struggles the way it did against Indiana on Tuesday, the Buckeyes certainly will have a chance. But as you said, it starts with Sullinger. He had 10 turnovers in that first game and was clearly frustrated. He has to remain composed and go to work. Should be a great game.
|Can Duke and North Carolina produce another classic game in their classic rivalry?|
But not the game of the weekend. UNC. Duke. Really don't have to say anything else. We were treated to a classic in the first game. You were there. I still remember our conversation after that game. You said Tar Heels fans were just in shock, some in tears after Austin Rivers hit that buzzer-beater to win the game. Will we get an encore on Saturday? I expect another battle.
EB: I can't wait. Alas, my plaintive wails to our editor, Edge, went unrequited. "What if I guarantee a last-second game winner? I came through last time!" No dice.
I'll have nearly as much fun watching from home. You can't really have a regular-season UNC-Duke game set up much better than this. Both teams are 13-2 in the ACC. And for the second straight year, the winner gets the outright conference crown. That may not seem like a huge deal in the national picture, where we're all obsessed with the tournament bubble and No. 1 seeds at the moment, but down there in the Triangle, it matters.
It's also a huge game for the Blue Devils. To me (and I wrote about this elsewhere in the Weekend Watch), this is their chance to disprove the notion that their win in Chapel Hill was a fluke, that UNC was the better team, that the basketball gods just aligned in a certain way. Coach K admitted after the game that he thought UNC was the better team. But Duke has consistently improved down the stretch. Will he be able to walk away Saturday night thinking otherwise?
MM: Yep. I thought that assessment was unfair: "But they were winning for three-fourths of the game." Doesn't matter. College basketball is a 40-minute game. And Duke played a complete game. That comeback was unreal. But the Blue Devils have improved since then. I like Duke in this matchup. It'll feed off that crowd; it's going to attack. And Austin Rivers has that swagger now. ACC title on the line. I have to go with Coach K & Co. Who's your pick?
EB: I think it's a one-possession game. I can't imagine an authoritative performance on one side or the other. It's a toss-up for me -- a play here, a play there. I'll take UNC, if only because I do think there was plenty of flukiness to Duke's win. But I don't think the gap between the two teams will appear nearly as wide as it did for 37 minutes in Chapel Hill.
The real winner in all this is, of course, you and me and everyone else in front of their TV on Saturday night. In the words of Rob Lowe's character on "Parks and Recreation," I'm literally tingling with excitement. And if that's too much information, I don't care.