College basketball is stepping into high gear and the scent of madness is in the air. With a weekend filled with games across the nation, we wanted to give you a quick rundown of what to watch for.
A Big-12 showdown between 24th ranked Iowa State and 10th ranked West Virginia highlights Friday’s games. The last time these two squads met was late January when West Virginia hounded the Cyclones from the get go en route to one of their best offensive performances of the year. Since the loss, Iowa State has dropped just one game (a tight loss at Texas), and have defeated both Kansas and Baylor along the way.
It’ll be intriguing to see how an improve Iowa State offense will handle a West Virginia team that is number one in the nation at creating turnovers. The Big-12 regular season title has already been decided for a 13th straight year (looking at you Bill Self), but no team wants to see the Cyclones or Mountaineers as their matchup in the tournament.
Conference tournament seeding will begin to solidify on Saturday through a slew of vital matchups.
In the ACC, 8th ranked Louisville hosts the 19th ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish. Notre Dame is playing their best basketball of the season and have already defeated the Cardinals in South Bend. Rick Pitino’s team is coming off a disheartening loss versus Wake Forest, a game in which the Demon Deacons went plus-15 from beyond the arc and hit eight more free throws than the Cards. Notre Dame is well equipped with outside shooters, making them a serious threat to sweep the season series over Louisville.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic Coast Conference, storied rivals North Carolina and Duke clash for the second time this season. Tar Heels forward Justin Jackson has had a week to dwell on his disappointing 7-point performance against Virginia. He’s scored in double digits in each of his past four games against the Blue Devils, including a 21-point game in a losing effort on February 7 earlier this year. Jackson will need to be playing at an elite level for UNC to have any type of sustained run in the postseason.
Duke bounced back from two shaky road losses with a convincing victory over Florida State. With Grayson Allen ailing from an injury, freshman Frank Jackson started in his place and played exceptionally well. If Allen is deemed fit to take back his starting spot, Jackson should greatly bolster a Duke bench that scored a grand total of two points in the Florida State victory.
Lastly on the east coast, the 25th ranked Miami Hurricanes travel to Tallahassee to face off against the 15th ranked in-state rival Florida State Seminoles. The last time these two teams met, Florida State put on an offensive clinic in Coral Gables, sending Hurricane fans home early and disgruntled. Currently slotted as an 8th seed in ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s bracket, the Canes will do whatever it takes to pick up crucial victories in order to avoid playing one of the top ranked teams in the Round of 32.
Looking around the rest of the country, a plethora of games are riddled with NCAA tournament implications. The cream of the crop in the Big West and Mountain West will square up as UC Davis faces off with UC Irvine and Colorado State travels to Reno to take on the Nevada Wolfpack.
Nearly every team on the bubble is in action on Saturday. Starting from the west coast, the USC Trojans take on a mediocre Washington team. Being a part of the Pac-12 has been both a blessing and a curse for the Trojans, who benefit from quality wins over UCLA and Stanford, but have suffered numerous painful defeats to both Oregon and Arizona. The Huskies aren’t going to the NCAA tournament, but standout Markelle Fultz could be reeling to steal the show in one of his final collegiate games.
Fringe tourney teams including Michigan State, Vanderbilt, Marquette, California, Seton Hall, Georgia Tech and Syracuse could all do wonders for their bubble status with crucial victories over the weekend. If the wait for the tourney proves to be too agonizing, Saturday’s games will surely capture that madness feeling we’ve all been yearning for. There’s a lot on the line this weekend, and with nearly 200 schools in action and tournament bids at stake, teams will be playing with everything they’ve got.
The regularly forgotten Big Ten conference takes center stage on Sunday. Wisconsin will play Minnesota with a chance in Madison to sweep the season series. Nobody wants the regular season to end faster than the Badgers, who are losers of four of their last five and have struggled mightily against multiple unranked teams. Stars Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes have been inconsistent, but the Badgers hope their experience will carry them to another deep playoff run.
About 150 miles south is where 15th ranked Purdue takes on Northwestern. The Boilermakers have a stranglehold on the Big Ten with convincing victories over every team in the conference. Northwestern has struggled since their impressive 18-4 start to the season, dropping six of their last nine. Both teams would love to have momentum entering champ week which starts on March 8th for the Big Ten.
Conference tournaments will be taking place throughout the weekend, with ACC starting play on the 7th and Big Ten, Big East, Big 12, Pac 12 and SEC kicking off on the 8th.
March is here. Get excited.