March 14 - Sunday
12-1 pm - Road to the Final Four (CBS HD)
6-7 pm - National Championship Selection Show
Two of the Big Ten's best get together in Columbus as Purdue visits Ohio State with a share of first place on the line for the Buckeyes. They've already met once this season with Evan Turner (32 points, nine rebounds) leading OSU to the 70-66 win in West Lafayette. But after dropping the following game at Northwestern, Matt Painter's squad has won seven straight to move into a tie in the loss column with Michigan State and Ohio State. The Buckeyes are also playing well, having won six straight and their last nine Big Ten games so something's got to give.
Mississippi State, who hasn't done enough to sew up an NCAA bid to this point in the season, has a great opportunity to do so in Starkville on Tuesday night. Kentucky comes calling on ESPN in a game that matches up likely lottery pick big men in DeMarcus Cousins and Jarvis Varnado. With an RPI of 58 and an overall strength of schedule of 118 (numbers courtesy of realtimerpi.com) they need at the least a solid effort if they're to be a part of the NCAA Tournament.
The big game on Monday matches up the nation's top-ranked team and one of the hotter teams in the Big 12. Kansas has taken care of all comers since their loss at Tennessee, taking full control of their contest at Texas last Monday. However, in Texas A&M they'll take on a squad that's playing better basketball than the Longhorns were and Mark Turgeon's team is also "more secure" in their roles than Texas was.
As we get closer to March the games that take precedence are those with NCAA Tournament hopes on the line, and there will be no shortage of such contests on Saturday. Connecticut kicks things off in what's essentially an elimination game between the Huskies, who welcome back head coach Jim Calhoun, and Cincinnati at the XL Center. A pair of Lance Stephenson free throws decided the first meeting but neither he nor Deonta Vaughn has played well of late.
How many bids will come out of the Pac-10 this year? There's a distinct possibility of the conference receiving just one bid to the NCAA Tournament given the unimpressive resumes of its primary contenders. And that essentially means the entire league with ten teams separated by just two games in the standings. However, the winner of Thursday's matchup between California and Washington in Berkeley will go a long way towards deciding who's got the inside track for the automatic bid.
While UConn/Syracuse and Duke/North Carolina have been given the ESPN stage on Wednesday night neither one is the biggest game of the night. For that honor, look out west where UNLV hosts New Mexico in a game matching two of the three teams tied for first place in the Mountain West. The Lobos have won seven straight since losing 74-62 to the Runnin' Rebels back on January 9th, and in addition to the revenge angle Steve Alford's team needs the win to avoid losing out on an important tiebreaker.
Injuries can be the great equalizer in sports, turning a race that looks to be all but over into a contested sprint to the finish line. Michigan State can attest to that, with point guard Kalin Lucas (ankle) going down against Wisconsin and being unable to play at Illinois in a second consecutive loss on Saturday night. Tuesday's matchup is in East Lansing but none easier, especially if Lucas is unable to go.
A pair of games between ranked teams take center stage on Monday night, with Villanova's trip to Morgantown preceding Kansas taking on Texas in Austin. Jay Wright's team will look to bounce back from their disappointing showing at Georgetown on Saturday and they're going to need to hit the glass with a vengeance in order to beat the Mountaineers. West Virginia averages 15.6 offensive rebounds per game, good for third in the Big East. Of the 795 rebounding opportunities on Mountaineer shots Bob Huggins' team grabs the board 43.3% of the time, tops in the conference.