Friday March 5th, 2010

This Weekend's 10 Best Matchups
Saturday, March 6
2 p.m. ET (CBS)No. 2 Kansas (28-2) at Missouri (22-8)
Kansas has sewn up the Big 12 regular season title, and even if the Jayhawks lose this one they will still be in the driver's seat for a No. 1 seed. So with so little motivating them, why would anyone expect they will win a road game against a good team in a supremely hostile environment? Well, they're good, for starters. Also, this is a bitter rivalry, with nary a need for external motivation. Zaire Taylor's heroics will not be enough for Mizzou to overcome a squad that outrebounded them by 25 in a 19-point waxing in Lawrence on Jan. 25.
9 p.m. ET (ESPN)North Carolina (16-14) at No. 4 Duke (25-5)
It's nice to see the Tar Heels coming into this game with their first two-game winning streak since Dec. 30. The key has been their defense: Wake shot 29.7 percent and Miami 34.8 percent in those wins. But winning two in a row against mediocre teams is a far cry from handing Duke its second straight loss ... in Cameron ... on Jon Scheyer's Senior Day, no less. Scheyer has not shot the ball well over the past month, and he made just 7-for-21 from the field (3-for-10 from three-point range) in the Blue Devils' loss at Maryland on Wednesday night. The difference between this Duke team and the one from the past few years is they can better overcome a bad shooting night. When Duke beat UNC in Chapel Hill on Feb. 10, the Blue Devils only shot 31.9 percent from the field, but they grabbed 19 offensive rebounds -- and that was before Ed Davis got hurt. Given the stakes at hand for Duke in this one, it's hard to see the Blue Devils not pushing their way to victory.
Noon ET (CBS)No. 10 West Virginia (23-6) at No. 9 Villanova (24-5)
It goes to show what kind of wacky year it has been that Villanova has lost three of it last five games yet remains very much in the hunt for a No. 1 seed. The Wildcats' best win of the season came on Feb. 8 in Morgantown, when they sliced through the Mountaineers' defense for 82 points on 56.9 percent shooting. West Virginia's free throw shooting woes were apparent in that game (18-for-32), but that was more a glaring example of the difference between a team with lots of great guards and one with none. The chase for a No. 1 seed aside, Villanova very much needs to reestablish momentum heading into the Big East tournament, so there is zero chance for a letdown here, especially since it is Scottie Reynolds' last home game.
6 p.m. ET (ESPN)No. 16 Tennessee (22-7) at Mississippi State (21-9)
I'm going with the textbook on this one. Tennessee is playing on the road, has locked up an at-large bid but possesses no chance for an SEC regular season title or a really high seed. Mississippi State, on the other hand, is as desperate as a home team can be. After the Bulldogs' embarrassing loss at Auburn on Wednesday night, their at-large hopes are on life support. A win would put them back on the inside looking out; a loss would mean they would probably have to advance to the SEC tournament final to warrant a bid. MSU needs to do a far better job defensively than it did Wednesday, when it allowed Auburn to convert 11-of-24 from three-point range and out-rebound them by six. Given the stakes, though, it's hard to imagine the Bulldogs taking the court with a lack of focus and energy.
9 p.m. ETUAB (23-6) at No. 24 UTEP (23-5)
For much of the season it looked like this game would decide the Conference USA regular season championship, but the Miners have already locked that up. UAB is in weaker position for an NCAA at-large bid, but since UTEP's road win at UAB in double overtime is its only win against a team ranked in the top 50 of the RPI, the Miners also understand that they have little margin for error should they falter in the conference tournament. Facing Memphis at home on Wednesday night, UAB picked a lousy time to have an epically bad shooting night, making just 3-of-24 from three-point range. The Blazers also shot 4-for-27 from behind the arc when they lost to the Miners the first time, and there's not much reason to think they'll shoot it much better in El Paso.
4 p.m. ET (ESPN)Texas (23-7) at No. 21 Baylor (23-6)
I have been driving the Baylor bandwagon since early January, when I gave the Bears a rare Buy-Plus in my annual Stock Report. They haven't quite broken through with an eye-popping win, but they have won seven of their last eight games to pull into a three-way tie for third in the Big 12. Ekpe Udoh gets most of the love on this team, but over the last month the Bears' best player has been senior point guard Tweety Carter, who is averaging 15.8 points and 6.2 assists this season while making 39.8 percent from three-point range. Carter was magnificent when Baylor beat Texas in Austin in overtime on Jan. 30, pouring in 27 points to go along with six rebounds and two assists. He will again provide a stark contrast to a Longhorns team that has suffered from instability, injury and inexperience at point guard all season long.
4 p.m. ET (Raycom)Virginia Tech (22-7) at Georgia Tech (19-10)
This is the weekend's most bubblicious game. Virginia Tech may be two games ahead of Georgia Tech in the ACC standings, but the Yellow Jackets are 16 spots ahead in the RPI rankings because they have played a tougher schedule. My sense is that both of the these teams will probably make the NCAA tournament, and while Virginia Tech needs this win more, it's not by much. The Yellow Jackets have been horrible on the road this season, but they should benefit from the home cooking in this one, especially with freshman forward Derrick Favors playing his best basketball right now. Favors is averaging 16 points and 10 rebounds over his last four games.
6 p.m. ET (Fox Sports Net)Cal (20-9) at Stanford (13-16)
Am I the only one who is noticing that Cal is playing its way into an at-large bid if it needs one? I realize the Pac-10 is not exactly murderer's row, but the Bears have done what they needed to do by winning six of their last seven games. They are ranked 22nd in the RPI and have the No. 1 overall nonconference strength of schedule. Stanford has a very good player in 6-foot-7 senior swingman Landry Fields, who is averaging 22.1 points per game, but when these two teams faced off in Berkeley on Jan. 2, Cal did not get much scoring from Theo Robertson (10 points) or Patrick Christopher (7), and the Bears still won by 26 points. Cal will never be a great defensive team, but it has gotten better at that end of the floor, and the Cardinal do not have enough firepower to beat the Bears when they really need a win.
7 p.m. ETSt. Louis (19-10) at Dayton (19-10)
A lot of my fellow amateur bracketologists seem to have given up on the Flyers, but I haven't. They've played a great schedule, they have three RPI top-50 wins, and eight of their nine losses have come against the top 100. That said, if they blow this one at home, even to a good team like St. Louis, even I'm going to abandon ship. The Flyers' inability to score in the half court cost them against walk-it-up Richmond on Wednesday night, and the Billikens play the same grinding style. When St. Louis beat Dayton in Chaifetz Arena on Feb. 13, the Flyers made exactly one three-pointer -- and that game went into double overtime. Still, St. Louis is one of the youngest teams in the country, and if Dayton can't win a home game with so much at stake, then maybe it doesn't deserve to go to the NCAA tournament.
Sunday, March 7
Noon ET (CBS)Florida (20-10) at No. 3 Kentucky (28-2)
Florida is another one of those teams that people are casually dismissing as out of the tournament, but the reality is, there are not 34 more candidates who -- as of today, anyway -- are more worthy of being invited. A loss here would not change that. It will be interesting to see how well Kentucky handles Florida's zone given how the Wildcats have struggled with their three-point shooting. The Gators were unable to keep Vanderbilt from drilling outside shots on Tuesday night, but we all know that is not the Wildcats' forte. The Gators should have some success in their half-court defense, but not as much success as Kentucky will have. The Wildcats have built their identity around their defense, and their big men inside should be able to bottle up Florida big men Alex Tyus and Vernon Macklin in the post.
Record Last Week: 7-3               Overall: 69-41

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