The final weekend of the college basketball regular season features conference tournament championships, the Duke-UNC rivalry, bubble intrigue and much more.

By Michael Beller
March 02, 2018

The final weekend of the college basketball regular season has it all. Conference tournament championship games, including the Big Ten’s on Sunday. Mid-major powerhouses, with Loyola-Chicago hoping to clinch a bid to the dance. The sport’s premier rivalry on display in primetime. Bubble intrigue in nearly every power conference, with huge games in the ACC, SEC, Pac-12, Big 12 and Big East. And to wrap it all up, a game between the No. 10 and No. 11 teams in the country with a regular season championship on the line. College hoops saved its best weekend of the regular season for last.

Big Ten Tournament (Madison Square Garden)

Friday through Sunday, multiple channels and times

The Big Ten tournament began on Wednesday and will crown its champion on Sunday. The matchups likely won’t be too intriguing until Saturday, where if chalk reigns supreme, we’ll get a final four of Michigan State vs. Michigan and Ohio State vs. Purdue. That foursome would give us three entertaining games, all of which would carry tournament implications. What are the two biggest storylines to watch? First, can Nebraska win its way to an at-large bid? To even have a chance, it will need to beat Michigan and Michigan State. Second, can Michigan State push for a No. 1 seed? If the Spartans claim the crown and notch wins over Michigan and Ohio State or Purdue, they could bully their way to the top line.

Predicted Champion: Michigan State

Missouri Valley Tournament (Scottrade Center, St. Louis)

Friday through Sunday, multiple channels and times

Loyola-Chicago enters as the overwhelming favorite after rambling through the conference in the regular season. But the Ramblers did lose three games in conference and may have to meet Bradley, one of the teams that took them down, in the semifinals on Saturday. Should they fall short of the conference championship, they’ll have an outside shot at an at-large bid, largely because of a non-conference win at Florida. However, the committee hasn’t shown much appetite for granting at-large bids to such teams in the recent past. Remember Monmouth? If the Ramblers do get in, they’ll be one of the most dangerous double-digit seeds in the field.

Predicted Champion: Loyola-Chicago

No. 20 West Virginia at Texas

Saturday, noon ET, ESPN

This is a huge game for Texas, which has slipped down the seed list after losing six of its last nine games. The last time the Longhorns beat a likely tournament team not named Oklahoma was way back on January 17, when they upended Texas Tech. If they lose Saturday and exit the Big 12 tournament early, they could be ticketed for the NIT. The Mountaineers, meanwhile, are back on track, going 6-2 in their last eight games after a speed bump in the middle of the Big 12 season. They crushed Texas by 35 points the first time these teams met. Mo Bamba is still dealing with a toe injury that could have him in street clothes once again. If that’s the case, it could be another long day for the Longhorns.

West Virginia 72, Texas 65

No. 23 Kentucky at Florida

Saturday, noon ET, CBS

Something clicked for Kentucky offensively two weeks ago and that should have a lot of teams toward the top of the projected field of 68 nervous. The Wildcats have scored 81, 87, 87 and 96 points in their last four games, three of which were against likely tournament teams. Florida knocked off the Wildcats in Lexington back in January, holding them to 64 points and 0.9 points per possession. But the Kentucky squad of today looks like a much different team—one that is equipped to beat up Florida on the glass. The Gators will have to find a way to keep the Wildcats out of transition and off the offensive boards enough if they are going to win.

Kentucky 77, Florida 74

Virginia Tech at Miami

Saturday, noon ET, ESPN2

These teams scored huge victories earlier in the week that essentially guarantee they’ll be tourney-bound. The Hokies took down Duke at home, adding that to wins over Virginia, North Carolina and Clemson. Miami, meanwhile, stunned North Carolina on senior night in Chapel Hill, thanks to a Ja’Quan Newton buzzer-beater from just inside half court. Beating the Hokies typically requires finding a way to run them off the three-point line and the Hurricanes’ three-point defense ranks 42nd in the country and seventh in the ACC. This should be an entertaining game and with both teams sitting at 10-7 in the ACC, conference tournament seeding will be on the line.

Miami 73, Virginia Tech 70

No. 18 Clemson at Syracuse

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ACC Network

When you’re a true bubble team with few major wins to speak of and even less room for mistakes, you can’t lose to a team such as Boston College. To say Syracuse needs this game would be an understatement. Lose to Clemson on Saturday and the Orange almost certainly need at least two wins against tournament-quality competition to have a shot at an at-large bid. The Tigers are entirely comfortable at playing a slow pace and are one of the few teams in the conference that can out-defense Syracuse. The bet here is that the Orange are going to be a desperate team in Brooklyn next week.

Clemson 63, Syracuse 56

Baylor at Kansas State

Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN

The fortunes of these teams have flipped over the last month. Baylor now looks like the safe tournament team, having won six of its last eight games, including signature victories against Kansas and Texas Tech. Kansas State, on the other hand, hasn’t defeated a sure tournament team since beating TCU on January 20. Two days after that, the Wildcats put up one of their best offensive performances of the year in a 90-83 win at Baylor. They’ll need to repeat those heroics on Saturday to have the look of an at-large team going into the Big 12 tournament. A loss would certainly force them to pick up at least one, if not two, meaningful victories next week. Terry Maston and Jo Lual-Acuil could prove to be too much for a Wildcats team that is weak on the glass.

Baylor 66, Kansas State 61

Creighton at Marquette

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. ET

Marquette is likely going to enter the Big East tournament firmly on the bubble, so it’s impossible to overstate how much a win over Creighton would mean. If you love offense and could take or leave defense, this is the game for you. These teams played a 90-86 thriller, with the Golden Eagles coming out on top, just two weeks ago. With Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas on one side, and Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey on the other, this game will feature four of the best shooters in the Big East. The win would mean more to Marquette in terms of getting into the dance, but Creighton can improve its seed with an impactful road win, and a deep run in the Big East tournament.

Marquette 89, Creighton 88

Notre Dame at No. 1 Virginia

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ACC Network

Notre Dame got Bonzie Colson back earlier this week and the star senior forward didn’t skip a beat. After missing nearly the entire ACC season with a foot injury, he poured in 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting and grabbed nine rebounds in a 73-56 win over Pittsburgh. Virginia is literally at the opposite end of the conference from the winless Panthers, giving Colson and the Irish a true test heading into the ACC tournament. It’s silly to think you’re going to beat Virginia by breaking their defense. Just ask Duke, which scored 63 points against the Cavaliers, or North Carolina, which managed a paltry 49. In Virginia’s two losses, to West Virginia and Virginia Tech, it scored 61 and 60 points, scoring about one point per possession in both games. That’s the formula for beating Virginia. Even with Colson back, Notre Dame will have a tough time figuring it out.

Virginia 65, Notre Dame 52

No. 6 Kansas at Oklahoma State

Saturday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN

Oklahoma State is still on the fringe of the at-large field and a win over Kansas would have the Cowboys in position to play their way ahead of their fellow bubble teams with a couple wins in the Big 12 tournament. Of course, that’s much easier said than done against a Kansas team that is on a roll, winners of five straight and 12 of its last 15. The Cowboys, however, handed the Jayhawks one of those three losses, in Lawrence no less, behind 24 points from Kendall Smith. The Cowboys forced the Jayhawks into an uncharacteristically ugly night from distance, but that’s not exactly a trait of the former’s defense. If anything, it was a bit fluky, and the Jayhawks still nearly won. They should even the score on Saturday.

Kansas 81, Oklahoma State 72

TCU at No. 12 Texas Tech

Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2

Texas Tech may be the No. 12 team in the polls and TCU may be unranked, but recent results tell a different story. The Red Raiders have lost four straight games and while there’s no shame in losing to Kansas or West Virginia, they could use a win going into the Big 12 tournament. Meanwhile, the Horned Frogs have won four straight, and though the best win in the stretch was a home victory over Baylor, they’ve all but assured themselves a spot in the field of 68. Win or lose, the big deal for the Red Raiders is the health of Keenan Evans. After playing through a toe injury for two games, he sat in their loss to West Virginia earlier this week. Put simply, they’re a darkhorse Final Four contender with him and a potential first-weekend loser without him. His status could also determine the outcome of Saturday’s regular season finale.

Texas Tech 74, TCU 70

Louisville at North Carolina State

Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN

This is one of the biggest bubble games of the weekend. With wins over Duke, North Carolina (on the road), Clemson and Arizona, NC State is all but locked in to an at-large bid. Louisville, however, is coming off a gut-wrenching loss to Virginia in the final few seconds—you have to see it to believe it. That could have been the win that pushed the Cardinals into the field. Now, they need to pile up as many wins over tournament-quality competition as possible over the next week. This is one guaranteed opportunity to do so, though it will likely need at least one more meaningful win the ACC tournament. And it certainly can’t afford a bad loss next week. Both of these teams get up and down the floor, playing at the first- (NC State) and fourth-fastest tempos in the ACC. This game could be decided on the glass, especially when the Wolfpack are on offense. They rank 25th in the country in offensive-rebounding rate, while Louisville is 286th in defensive-rebounding rate.

NC State 78, Louisville 75

Arkansas at Missouri

Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Arkansas is one of the hottest teams in the country, winning six of its last seven games, with its last three victims being Texas A&M, Alabama and Auburn. The run has the Razorbacks safely in the field of 68 and now playing for seeding. Missouri likely won’t have anything to worry about on Selection Sunday, but a win over Arkansas would go a long way toward that. Michael Porter Jr. watch continues, though we likely won’t know if he’ll return for this game until Saturday. Either way, Missouri has to find a way to take better care of the ball than it did the first time these teams met. The Tigers coughed it up 16 times (25.4% of their possessions) in what ended up being a two-point loss. Protect the ball and they can protect home court.

Missouri 77, Arkansas 76

Butler at Seton Hall

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

This became a crucial game for Butler after it dropped a double-overtime game at St. John’s on Wednesday. The Bulldogs have a solid resumé, but it doesn’t have much room for error—and a loss to the Red Storm was certainly an error. They still should make the dance, but if they lose at Seton Hall and then lose their first game in the Big East tournament, they could be in trouble. The Pirates knocked off the Bulldogs in Indianapolis back at the start of Big East play behind 28 points from Angel Delgado. He’s the sort of player who can give Butler’s undersized frontcourt fits and its best way to answer is by making him work on the defensive end. Desi Rodriguez has missed the last two games with an ankle injury and could be out again this weekend.

Seton Hall 78, Butler 71      

No. 9 North Carolina at No. 5 Duke

Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

There are few things in college basketball as sure to deliver as a March game between the Tar Heels and Blue Devils when both are legitimate Final Four contenders. Both are coming off losses from earlier in the week, with the Tar Heels losing at Virginia Tech by one and the Blue Devils dropping a heartbreaker to Miami on a Ja’Quan Newton buzzer beater. These teams both still have designs on the top line, though what they do in the ACC tournament will go a long way toward their seeding. The first game between the two this season was another classic, an 82-78 North Carolina win in Chapel Hill. It’ll be the last game for Grayson Allen—and almost certainly for Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter—at Cameron Indoor. There’s no better way to close out their respective college careers, especially Allen’s.

Duke 85, North Carolina 80

UCLA at USC

Saturday, 10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN

It would be a bit of a stretch to call this a de facto elimination game, but there may not be room for both UCLA and USC in the field of 68. We have both teams among our Last Four In the field in our latest Bracket Watch, but that could change with each impactful bubble game. UCLA won the first meeting between the two, an 82-79 thriller at Pauley Pavilion exactly one month before Saturday’s rematch. The Trojans have a more well-rounded offense, even without Bennie Boatwright, and Chimezie Metu is a tough cover for UCLA’s frontcourt.

USC 80, UCLA 72

No. 10 Cincinnati at No. 11 Wichita State

Sunday, noon ET, CBS

Cincinnati cruised to an easy win over Tulane earlier this week, while Wichita State needed overtime to dispatch of UCF. The Bearcats have already clinched a share of the AAC regular season championship, but if the Shockers win on Sunday, they will be the top seed in the conference tournament. Both of these teams are locked into the field of 68 but could improve their seeds over the next week. The winner of Sunday’s game will avoid a potential matchup with Houston in the conference semis, making cutting down the nets next week an easier task. The Shockers knocked off the Bearcats in Cincinnati just two weeks ago, getting 19 points from Landry Shamet and 13 from Shaq Morris.

Cincinnati 75, Wichita State 74

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