In lieu of our weekly contender or pretender article, today we will discuss the bubble teams that need to win this weekend, as well as look ahead to what is going to be an amazing weekend of college basketball.
Boy is this weekend going to be awesome.
First off, let’s talk about the bubble.
The bubble doesn’t get any bigger than it is right now for the Kentucky Wildcats, last years champions. Since the Nerlens Noel injury in a loss at Florida, the Wildcats are 3-3. The thing is, they weren’t exactly world beaters with Noel in the lineup. Against Louisville, you got the idea that maybe this team was finally putting it together. Then the SEC started and it was clear that this team hadn’t improved very much and the Cats weren’t playing as a cohesive unit. Now they find themselves at 20-10, after a disappointing road loss at Georgia. Not to take anything away from Georgia, they’re a solid team, but Coach Cal doesn’t expect to lose to many games to Georgia.
The Wildcats need to win this weekend against Florida in Lexington or they will be ordering the NIT shirts in Kentucky, because Kentucky isn’t winning the SEC Tournament.
For Virginia, their NCAA tournament hopes took a hit last night as well. Virginia couldn’t afford a loss to Florida State ahead of a close out game at home this weekend against Maryland. Instead the Cavaliers dropped their second in a row to teams that won’t be playing very much longer this year. Virginia is still in the tournament, but they can’t afford another slip up.
Currently they are 5th in the conference, a game back of N.C. State whom they beat earlier this year. They lost their chance at a first round bye and now need to deliver in the ACC Tournament to solidify their place in the bracket.
How about the SEC this year? We already talked about Kentucky, but does any team in that conference really wanna play in March? I mean, seriously. Tennessee did a pretty good job to get in contention for an at-large bid, then lost at Georgia. At the moment, the Vols are probably in, but like Virginia, they need a strong showing in their conference tournament to get in for the first time under Cuonzo Martin.
Ole Miss found themselves in the top 25 heading into a showdown with Kentucky in late January, coming into that game at 17-2. Since then? Well, that’s a different story. The Rebels have folded like a cheap suit lately, but picked up a big win over Alabama on Tuesday. If they beat LSU this weekend, then steal a couple in the SEC Tournament, preferrably over a Tennessee or Kentucky, then maybe Ole Miss can win its way back into the Dance.
Southern Mississippi is an interesting team as well. When Larry Eustachy headed for greener pastures at Colorado State, not as funny as you think considering the job he’s done there, USM was left in a tricky situation. New head coach Donnie Tyndall came in with several JUCO transfers and was able to keep the Golden Eagles afloat in Conference USA. USM found themselves at 18-5 before a loss to league leading Memphis, then lost to the same Tigers team two weeks later. Coupled in with bad losses to Marshall and Louisiana Tech and it’s probably safe to say that the only way Southern Miss gets into the tournament is by winning the conference tournament next weekend in Tulsa. But with Memphis putting the finishing touches on a 16-0 season, it’s looking like an NIT berth for the Golden eagles.
How about the action this weekend? When the Big Ten schedule was released, everyone and their Mama circled the last day of the regular season.
Michigan vs. Indiana II in Ann Arbor, a rematch of their classic battle
on February 2nd, a game in which Indiana regained its perch atop of the
Big Ten. Since then the Big Ten has gotten even more exciting. Indiana
had a chance to end it all and take some meaning away from this Sunday’s
game on Tuesday night, but lost to Ohio State at home.
Should Michigan win at home they would force a four-way tie atop the
standings with Indiana, Michigan State and Ohio State. Indiana is
already the #1 seed thanks to a Michigan State victory over Wisconsin on
Thursday night but the Hoosiers don't want to share the title.
For Indiana, all the Hoosiers need to do is win this weekend to clinch
their first outright Big Ten title since 1993 and have a great chance at
going to Dayton, then up 37 to Indianapolis for the Sweet Sixteen and
Elite EIght. If they lose, they would have to quickly regroup for the
Big Ten Tournament.
UNC-Duke II is going to be special. Since going to a small lineup, UNC hasn’t looked better. This is an entirely different team than the one we saw get run out of Maui and Assembly Hall earlier this year, and this is a team that wants to avenge the loss at Duke a couple weeks ago, a game the Tar Heels believe they should have won.
It’s not exactly the same Duke team either. Ryan Kelly being back is huge and Duke has probably moved into the spot of favorite for the title in the wake of Indiana’s play in the last week. The Hoosiers have dropped 2 of 3 and looked rough against Iowa. Ryan Kelly has been on a tear since returning against Miami last weekend, and look for him to continue that tear in Chapel Hill.
These two games are going to be big for all four teams involved, as well as the bubble teams mentioned above. March Madness is three weeks long, but in reality it starts during the conference championship week. Expect an amazing week with the Big Ten tournament, the Pac-12 Tournament and the Big East Tournament taking the spotlight next week.
I can’t wait.