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  • The final weekend of the regular season is highlighted by the likes of Duke-UNC, Michigan-Michigan State and Tennessee-Auburn. Who has the edge in these matchups and more?
By Michael Beller
March 08, 2019

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The final weekend of college basketball’s regular season will decide championships in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC, and features a couple of high-profile rivalry matchups that will help determine who gets to raise a banner in two of those conferences. Additionally, four teams will earn the first official bids to the big dance, with the Ohio Valley, Atlantic Sun, Big South and Missouri Valley conferences all crowning their tournament champions this weekend.

All times Eastern.

No. 5 Tennessee at Auburn

Saturday, noon, ESPN

Tennessee can earn at least a share of the SEC title with a win at Auburn on Saturday. That, of course, is no sure thing, and the Volunteers will almost certainly have to settle with a shared title, considering that LSU simply needs to beat Vanderbilt at home to keep pace with them. LSU also holds the tiebreaker, which means that unless Vanderbilt pulls off a huge upset, Tennessee will likely have to beat Kentucky and LSU to win the SEC tournament. Auburn is finally on solid tournament ground after beating Mississippi State and winning at Alabama in its last two games, but a win over Tennessee could really vault the Tigers up the seed list. The teams have yet to play all season, which means Auburn has not had to deal with Tennessee’s impressive strength on the interior. Auburn isn’t the sort of team built to handle Admiral Schofield, Grant Williams and Kyle Alexander, so it will have to do what it can to use the Volunteers’ desire to go inside against it. That means getting the ball out quick, even after made baskets, and trusting Jared Harper and Bryce Brown in transition. That’s more of a winning formula than it might seem like on paper.

Tennessee 80, Auburn 78

No. 23 Villanova at Seton Hall

Saturday, noon, FOX

The Pirates already did themselves a huge favor by beating Marquette earlier this week. They can essentially wrap up an at-large bid with a win over Villanova on Saturday. Villanova cruised to an 80–52 win the first time these teams met back in January, and has won two straight after a three-game losing streak. Seton Hall had no answer for Phil Booth in the first meeting, with the senior guard scoring 25 points while connecting on seven of his 13 attempts from behind the arc. Even with that, though, it was the Pirates’ dreadful offense that did them in, as they scored just 0.78 points per possession. If the Pirates are going to put an exclamation point on what would be their best week of the season, they’ll need to do what they can to disrupt Villanova’s half-court offense by forcing the tempo, and overextend to defend the three.

Villanova 73, Seton Hall 68

Syracuse at Clemson

Saturday, noon

Two of the ACC’s premier bubble teams face off in a game that could lock the winner into the at-large picture. Syracuse would certainly assure itself a place in the tournament with a win, while Clemson would add a much-needed victory over a team worthy of at-large consideration. If the Tigers lose this one, they’ll need to do some damage in the ACC tournament. Syracuse knocked off Clemson at home in what was both of their second ACC games of the season. The Orange are a particularly bad matchup for a Clemson team that doesn’t shoot the three or pound the offensive glass, two areas where a 2–3 zone can be vulnerable, and the Tigers don’t really have a wing or big man equipped to attack the zone from the high post. Clemson could opt for more ball screens than you typically see against a zone, helping Marcquise Reed and Shelton Mitchell get into the paint.

Syracuse 67, Clemson 61

TCU at Texas

Saturday, noon, ESPN2

This is a huge game for a couple of teams that are likely to be among the 36 best at-large candidates, but could still lose their way out of the field of 68. A win on Saturday would give either of these teams some breathing room going into the Big 12 tournament, and it’s hard to say that one needs it more than the other. This would go down as a Q1 road victory for the Horned Frogs, and could prove to be the last win they need to secure an at-large bid, though they wouldn’t exactly rest easy if they won this and then lost their first Big 12 tournament game. They’ve also lost three straight games and six of their last seven, so they’re desperate for any win, period. The Longhorns have a number of high-profile victories—North Carolina and Purdue chief among them—but a loss would drop them to 16–15 overall, and force them to win two games, and more likely three, to be in good shape on Selection Sunday. TCU won the first game between the two, 65–61, in Fort Worth. Suspended Texas guard Kerwin Roach will not play in this game, but will return for the Big 12 tournament.

Texas 70, TCU 62

No. 8 Texas Tech at Iowa State

Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPNEWS

The Red Raiders look like the Big 12’s best chance to get a team to the Final Four. They’ve won eight straight games, beating Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Baylor and TCU in that stretch, and are on the cusp of at least a share of the Big 12 title. Iowa State is the only team in the conference they’ve yet to beat this season. The Cyclones, however, are reeling, losers of four of their last five, and five of their last seven. They’re safely in the NCAA tournament field, but they’re sliding down the seed list, and that could get even more dramatic over the next two weeks. They’re set to play Kansas or Baylor in their first Big 12 tourney game, depending on how the seeds shake out. If they lose on Saturday and then lose that game, a team that was among the top-16 seeds when the Selection Committee did its midseason reveal in February could be all the way down at a No. 7 or 8 seed.

Texas Tech 70, Iowa State 65

Florida at No. 6 Kentucky

Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS

This is a huge game for the Gators, which could get the silver-bullet win their résumé needs by winning at Kentucky. That, of course, is no small task, considering the only teams to beat Kentucky in the last two months are Tennessee and LSU. The Wildcats completely suffocated the Gators’ offense in Gainesville the first time they played, holding it to 54 points and 0.86 points per possession. What has to be intimidating for the Gators is that the Wildcats didn’t play particularly well on offense in that one, and erased an 11-point deficit with 13 minutes left to ultimately win by 11. That’s a 22-point swing in 13 minutes of action. Florida can all but sew up its at-large bid with a win Saturday, but the bet here is that it’s going to need to do some work in the SEC tournament.

Kentucky 71, Florida 59

Baylor at No. 13 Kansas

Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN

These two teams are coming off ugly performances earlier in the week. Baylor fell at home to lowly Oklahoma State, while Kansas waved goodbye to its 14-year Big 12 regular season championship streak after an 81–68 loss to Oklahoma. Offense has been an issue for Kansas since Lagerald Vick left the team for personal reasons, which isn’t a surprise considering he’s the team’s best perimeter player. The Jayhawks simply don’t look like a second-weekend tournament team right now, though they have a great opportunity to get right against Baylor on Saturday. The Bears’ ponderous offense does not match up well with Kansas’ defense, even with Vick away from the team. Baylor doesn’t have the size to deal with Dedric Lawson possession after possession, and he was a force on both sides of the floor the first time these teams played, a 73–68 Kansas win, racking up 17 points, five blocks and five steals.

Kansas 77, Baylor 67

Louisville at No. 2 Virginia

Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN

It was just two weeks ago that Virginia went into Louisville and completely snuffed out the Cardinals’ offense in the second half, allowing 15 points after halftime in a 64–52 win. What’s most shocking about that result is that Virginia was terrible from behind the arc, going 2 of 17 with both makes coming from De’Andre Hunter. This is a team that has made more than 40% of its three-point attempts on the season. Kyle Guy shoots it at 45.6% from behind the arc, while Ty Jerome sits at 42.9%. They combined to miss all 11 of their attempts from distance in that game, and Virginia still won going away at Louisville. What hope does Louisville have to make this one any different?

Virginia 73, Louisville 60

No. 25 UCF at Temple

Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2

It was just one week ago that UCF was teetering on the bubble. Since then, the Knights have picked up wins over Houston and Cincinnati, and are now all but assured an at-large bid. Temple, on the other hand, remains a firm bubble team in search of a needle-moving victory. That makes this game huge for the Owls. A win keeps them right in the thick of the at-large hunt, and possibly puts (or keeps, depending on how you read the bubble) them ahead of teams like NC State, Clemson, Creighton and Alabama. A loss forces them to do some real work in the AAC tournament next week. UCF won the first game between these two, but how much does it have in the tank after its two recent huge wins? This is a quick turnaround after Thursday’s victory over Cincinnati.

No. 4 Duke at No. 3 North Carolina

Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN

Unfortunately, it sounds as though this season’s rematch between Duke and North Carolina will have the same Zion Williamson-sized void as the last first game. That should help the Tar Heels win at least a share of the ACC title, which it would do with a win over the Blue Devils. Duke may have lost Williamson inside the first minute of the previous meeting between the two, but R.J. Barrett and Cam Reddish still combined for 60 points on 21-for-45 shooting from the floor. Williamson’s absence has been felt just as much, if not more so, on the defensive end, and that’s terrible news for the Blue Devils this weekend. The Tar Heels have been clicking offensively since their last loss, a 69–61 reversal against Virginia. With Williamson likely out, it’s going to take a special performance from one of Duke’s other NBA-bound freshmen, or a big shooting night from someone like Alex O’Connell or Jack White, for the Blue Devils to pull off what would go down as a small upset.

North Carolina 88, Duke 83

Oklahoma at No. 18 Kansas State

Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2

Oklahoma has been living on the bubble—in one of the bubble’s finest penthouses, but on the bubble nonetheless—for the last few weeks. It likely upgraded to a modest apartment off the bubble and in the field of 68 after beating Kansas earlier this week. Kansas State, meanwhile, has its eye on that penthouse suite represented by winning the Big 12. The Wildcats would clinch a share of the title with a win, and would take it home outright if they win and Texas Tech loses to Iowa State. Kansas State went into Norman in mid-January and ran the Sooners out of their own gym, winning 74–61 behind a combined 45 points from Barry Brown and Dean Wade. The Sooners have had a ton of trouble with the top defensive teams they’ve played this season, and it would be silly to expect that to change on the road this weekend.

Kansas State 68, Oklahoma 59

No. 7 Michigan at No. 9 Michigan State

Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN

The winner of this game will earn at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, and would win it outright if Purdue somehow loses at Northwestern. These teams met just two weeks ago, with the Spartans going into Ann Arbor and coming out with a 77–70 victory, despite playing without Nick Ward. The junior forward will again be out, a wise course even if he could play considering the Spartans have much bigger fish to fry in a few weeks. Cassius Winston was a man possessed in the first meeting between these teams, scoring 27 points on just 13 shots field goal attempts. Kenny Goins poured in 16, while Xavier Tillman stepped up in a big way, scoring 14 points while going 6 of 8 from the floor. The Wolverines didn’t exactly play poorly, though. They scored 1.13 points per possession while getting a combined 50 points from Ignas Brazdeikis, Jordan Poole and Zavier Simpson. If there was anything uncharacteristic in their play, it was that the Spartans rebounded 29.6% of their own misses, a higher rate than the Wolverines typically allow. This game may be in East Lansing, but it’s hard to see the Spartans pulling off a sweep playing both games without Ward, especially considering the manner in which they won the first one.

Michigan 74, Michigan State 70

No. 12 Houston at No. 20 Cincinnati

Sunday, noon, CBS

Houston would win the AAC regular season title outright with a victory in this game, while Cincinnati would earn a share of the championship if it comes out on top. Houston won the first game between these two, but it wasn’t without intrigue. The Bearcats took a short-lived lead with six minutes left in the game, and the entire contest was played within a nine-point window. Both of these teams lost their most recent game to a likely tournament team, UCF, so this is a good opportunity for them to get right going into the AAC tournament.

No. 21 Wisconsin at Ohio State

Sunday, 3:30 p.m., CBS

Wisconsin took care of Iowa on Thursday and is now a win away from locking up the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten tournament, which would give it a double-bye. Ohio State, on the other hand, is falling apart, having lost five of its last seven, and find itself firmly on the bubble. There’s no word as to whether Kaleb Wesson will return from his suspension this weekend, and if he doesn’t Ohio State is going to have a ton of trouble with Wisconsin on both ends of the floor. The Buckeyes have averaged 50.5 points per game without Wesson, which doesn’t inspire much confidence against the conference’s No. 2 ranked defense in adjusted efficiency, according to kenpom.com. On the other end, Ethan Happ could carve up the Buckeyes’ defense if Wesson isn’t on the floor. No matter what, Wisconsin will be favored to win. A win would do wonders for Ohio State’s at-large chances, but it’s likely the Buckeyes will have to make a mini-run in the Big Ten tournament to be in good shape on Selection Sunday.

Wisconsin 64, Ohio State 54

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