Some common sense direction for the college basketball weekend: Keep your eyes on the road.
In a coincidence of scheduling and standings, a fleet of teams playing in hostile territory Saturday and Sunday have much to gain -- seemingly more than the teams playing at home have to lose.
Maybe this is always the case because a win on the road is double the difficulty. But the number of clubs who can put a jolt into their seasons and/or their leagues is startling. It’s hardly restricted to the SEC showdown that features Florida rolling in the maw of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. If several teams travel well this weekend, it may echo well into March.
VCU can put itself in position to steal away the Atlantic-10 regular season title by handing Saint Louis its first home loss of the conference season and second home defeat of the entire year. The teams meet again on March 1 at VCU. A win Saturday sets up the Rams, already saddled with two league losses, to loosen the Billikens’ choke-hold on the A-10.
Virginia was an unheralded contender for the ACC regular season title way back in mid-January, given the way the unbalanced schedule fell, with both Pittsburgh and Syracuse coming through Charlottesville. Losing to a capable Clemson team on the road Saturday would be no embarrassment, but it’s the toughest of the three remaining away games for the Cavaliers (Virginia Tech and Maryland are the others). Go on the road and score a ninth straight win and that path to the league title gets even clearer.
Pittsburgh could use a quality win or three to bolster its somewhat flagging resume for March, with another chance for that obliterated by Tyler Ennis’ late-game sorcery. Going to North Carolina and securing a win won’t shoot the Panthers up anyone’s seeding charts, but it would be a solid victory against a peaking team.
Ohio State is impossible to understand. The Buckeyes looked like a national title contender, then looked like they were in need of pulmonary resuscitation, then looked like a contender again and then face-planted at home against Michigan. On the road at Illinois this weekend, they may be a team with as much to lose as gain. The Illini are dead last in the Big Ten, and Ohio State’s schedule is eminently manageable through the season finale against Michigan State. Trip up in Champaign, and it’ll be difficult to convince anyone that they have a huge run in them.
West Virginia goes to Texas as a scrambling bubble team. Four wins in five games – all bolstered by the Big 12’s overall strength – have the Mountaineers challenging for an NCAA tournament invite. The Mountaineers have lost three of their last four road games in the Big 12, and its road wins have come at the expense of some listless foes: TCU, Texas Tech and Baylor. Scoring a difficult-to-come-by road win would be a bright spot on the resume. And then there’s Wichita State, which has consecutive conference road games on tap as it storms through the regular season unscathed. First it’s Evansville on Sunday, and then Loyola-Chicago on Wednesday. The Shockers have greeted moments in which they were expected to fail with a sneer – many figured the perfect season might end at Indiana State on Feb. 5, and many were wrong. But that was a dangerous, veteran team Wichita State saw coming. Evansville is 223rd in the kenpom.com rankings and Loyola-Chicago is 219th. Both are 4-9 in the Missouri Valley. The Shockers have not been a team to sleepwalk into any games. But if any contest would be a candidate for that, Sunday’s fits the bill.