|The Weekend Forecast|
|No. 6 Ohio State (22-4, 10-3 Big Ten) at No. 17 Michigan (19-7, 9-4) |
If Ohio State had beaten Michigan State last weekend, I would have gone with the Wolverines. After all, this is a big rivalry, and Michigan has yet to lose a game at home this season. However, I think the Buckeyes understand a little better just how small their margin for error has become. If senior forward William Buford isn't taking smart shots, it becomes easier for opposing defenses to key in on Jared Sullinger. Plus, while I have been driving the Aaron-Craft-is-the-best-point-guard-in-the-country bus for much of the season, I am disappointed that he has not emerged as a bigger offensive threat. (He has reached double-figure scoring just five times in his last 17 games.) Still, with Jon Horford still out because of a foot injury, Michigan does not have the same kind of front-line defenders that Ohio State has.
|Kansas State (17-8, 6-7 Big 12) at No. 9 Baylor (22-4, 9-4) |
For a team that has lost to just two teams all season, Baylor sure has a lot of detractors. The Bears snapped their two-game losing streak in impressive fashion Monday night, throttling a good Iowa State team by 15 points in Waco. Freshman forward Quincy Miller was terrific in that game, finishing with 16 points and six assists. Baylor is getting Kansas State at the perfect time. The Wildcats fought as hard as they could against Kansas Monday night, but they just couldn't get over the hump and suffered a six-point loss. Kansas State simply has to work too hard to score, and that's a problem when you have to play back-to-back road games at Baylor and Missouri.
|No. 11 UNLV (22-5, 6-3 Mountain West) at New Mexico (21-4, 7-2) |
I'm guessing that not many people realize that New Mexico, not UNLV or San Diego State, is in first place in the Mountain West. That came courtesy of two results this week: UNLV blowing an 18-point lead to lose in overtime at TCU, and New Mexico upsetting the Aztecs by 10 points in San Diego. That Lobos win was no fluke. It was New Mexico's sixth straight win, and it came on a night when the Lobos' leading scorer, Tony Snell, was held scoreless. Normally, I would anticipate the pendulum swinging the other way, but with the Lobos returning to the Pit, I think they'll have the requisite energy to compete. Plus, in 6-foot-9 senior forward Drew Gordon the Lobos have the only player in the league -- and one of the few in America -- who can match up with UNLV forward Mike Moser both inside and out.
|No. 14 Florida (20-6, 8-3 SEC) at Arkansas (17-9, 5-6) |
Mike Anderson's new team looks a lot like his old ones: Can't be beaten at home, can't win on the road. The Razorbacks are 0-6 in SEC road games this season following Wednesday night's 19-point drubbing at Tennessee, yet they have managed to beat Michigan and Vanderbilt in Fayetteville. I don't think this team's problem is that it's inconsistent. I just don't think it's very good. I'm not sure Florida is such a great team either -- especially since it is unclear if two of the Gators' top reserves, forward Will Yeguete (concussion) and guard Mike Rosario (hip), will be able to play. Still, the Gators have been in the doldrums lately while losing two out of three, and I have a feeling they're ready to bring their A game.
|No. 12 Marquette (21-5, 10-3 Big East) at UConn (16-9, 6-7) |
Marquette is the nation's best-kept secret. This scrappy club, which was already height-challenged coming into the season, lost its starting center to a torn ACL back in early December and has played the last four games without its second-leading rebounder, sophomore forward Davante Gardner, because of a sprained knee. (He is listed as doubtful for Saturday.) Yet, the Golden Eagles are tied for second in the Big East through toughness, defense and heady guard play. By all rights, they should be able to handle a reeling UConn team that has lost six out of its last eight games. However, the Huskies are playing at home (albeit in Hartford, not Gampel), and they can ill-afford another loss if they want to stay in strong position for an at-large bid. And you all know how much I like desperate home teams.
|No. 21 Saint Mary's (23-4) at No. 16 Murray State (25-1) |
This game lost some luster, but not just because Murray State is no longer undefeated. Saint Mary's, which at one point had won 12 games in a row, has now lost two out of three, including a 15-point shocker at home to Loyola Marymount on Wednesday night. I don't think the Gaels will shoot 6-for-28 from three-point land again, but I do think they'll have a tough time with the Racers' perimeter defenders. It's very impressive that Murray State didn't get deflated by that loss at home to Tennessee State. The Racers followed it up by whooping Austin Peay by 19 points at home and then clinching the OVC title by beating a tough Southeast Missouri State team on the road Wednesday night. The Racers only got nine points on 2-for-11 shooting from Isaiah Canaan and still scored 75 points. Nothing fazes this team, and I think it is going to give its hometown fans and the national television audience quite a show.
|No. 20 Florida State (17-7, 8-2 ACC) at North Carolina State (18-7, 7-3) |
These teams lived two very different lives on Thursday night. The Seminoles, playing at home, overcame a 15-point deficit to beat Virginia Tech. The Wolfpack, playing on the road, blew a 20-point lead and lost to Duke. Florida State is the better team, and it will have an even greater advantage playing an opponent that has to be demoralized. N.C. State literally had an NCAA tournament bid in its grasp and let it slip away. The Seminoles need to do a much better job taking care of the ball (they committed 15 turnovers against the Hokies), but it's hard to imagine the Wolfpack mustering the energy and drive to beat a quality opponent less than 48 hours removed from their epic collapse in Cameron.
|Drexel (22-5) at Cleveland State (20-7) |
Is it really possible that the CAA and the Horizon -- two mid-major conferences that have sent teams to the Final Four the last six years -- are going to be one-bid leagues this season? It's not only possible, it's downright likely. Cleveland State has the highest RPI rank in the Horizon at No. 82, but the Vikings trail Valparaiso by one game in the league standings. Drexel, meanwhile, has won 14 straight to move into a tie with George Mason for first in the CAA, but the Dragons don't have any wins over teams ranked in the top 50. With so much at stake, you can expect a lot of scratching and clawing and very little scoring. Both teams lead their leagues in scoring defense. I like that Cleveland State is playing at home, and I especially like the matchup pitting Vikings senior guard D'Aundray Brown, who is ranked ninth in the nation in steals (2.58), against Drexel's outstanding point guard, 6-4 sophomore Frantz Massenat.
|Arizona (19-8, 10-4 Pac 12) at Washington (18-8, 11-3) |
This might be the most significant bubble game of the weekend. Arizona has won five straight and six of its last seven to charge into third place in the Pac 12. That stretch includes a road sweep of Cal and Stanford, but it also includes a two-point loss at home to Washington on Jan. 28. Arizona outscored the Huskies 21-7 from the foul line in that game. You have to imagine that Washington won't suffer that kind of disparity playing at home. I also like that Washington will have the best two players on the floor in freshman point guard Tony Wroten and sophomore forward Terrence Ross. In fact, you could make a strong case that Wroten should be the Pac 12 player of the year. He is third in the league in scoring (16.6), steals (1.92) and field goal percentage (47.7), and he's seventh in assists (3.5).
|Minnesota (17-9, 5-8 Big Ten) at Northwestern (15-10, 5-8) |
This is another Bubblicious game. The Gophers had two chances to substantially help their cause against Wisconsin and Ohio State at home, but they couldn't convert. Northwestern, meanwhile, also blew an opportunity Wednesday night when the Wildcats couldn't complete their upset bid at Indiana. Since this game is in Evanston, and since Minnesota won the first meeting by 23 points, the onus is on Northwestern to win. I think they'll do just that thanks to their versatile big man John Shurna, who leads the Big Ten in scoring (19.5) and is ranked in the top seven in rebounds (5.7), blocks (1.52) and three-point percentage (43.6).
|Last Pickoff: 6-4 Overall: 79-31|