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. Meanwhile UConn took Syracuse down to the wire on Wednesday night and while moral victories don't get you into the Tournament that effort could spark a run. If Jerome Dyson and Kemba Walker can take quality shots while cutting down on the turnovers a win Saturday is a definite possibility.
Looking for a league that may have a wilder finish with its bubble teams than the Big East? Check out the ACC, which on Saturday will feature three games that will have an impact on the bubble. Maryland visits Duke and while the Terrapins look to be in decent shape a win at Cameron would more than likely punch their ticket. It's also the last time that Greivis Vasquez gets to play in front of his "good buddies" (the Cameron Crazies). The key for Maryland: the play of Jordan Williams and Landon Milbourne. If those two can play well, especially with Duke's Lance Thomas most likely not playing (bone bruise), the Terps can hang around and possibly even win. The other two important ACC games are Georgia Tech visiting Wake Forest and Virginia Tech hosting in-state rival Virginia.
San Diego State, Xavier and Florida are all teams in need of more quality wins to strengthen their cases as well and the Musketeers may have the most to gain on Saturday. Chris Mack's squad visits Florida in a rare late-season opportunity for both to pick up one more solid non-conference victory, and if Jason Love and Kenny Frease can control the boards Xavier can win in Gainesville. SDSU hosts UNLV in a game that's pretty close to a must-win for them; currently 5-4 in the Mountain West they need to at least remain close to the Rebels, BYU and New Mexico. The closer they are to them and not the likes of Colorado State and Utah the better in regards to their perception. Memphis takes its depleted roster to Tulsa and Saint Mary's visits Portland in two other contests that would serve as solid resume-building wins for all involved.
As for games that won't be on national television, Rhode Island visits Temple in a game that the Rams could definitely use although they look to be in solid position right now. For some teams this time of the season can be more about avoiding a skid instead of scurrying for quality results and Jim Baron's team is in that boat. ODU host George Mason in a key game for both in regards to seeding for the upcoming CAA Tournament, and after their stunning loss at Penn on Friday night Ivy favorite Cornell needs a win at Princeton to avoid falling two games behind the currently undefeated Tigers in the standings. Possessions will be key at Jadwin Gym; the fewer the better for Princeton, who rely on Douglas Davis and Dan Mavraides to get the job done offensively. And for an under-the-radar contest Texas A&M-Corpus Christi visits Sam Houston State in a matchup of the top two teams in the Southland West; they could very well meet in the conference tournament with a lot more on the line.
Noon ESPN Michigan State at Penn State
Noon ESPNU Kent State at Buffalo
Noon BEN-HD/SNY/CST Cincinnati at UCONN
1p CBS Maryland at Duke
2p ESPN Oklahoma at Oklahoma State
2p ESPNU Providence at Villanova
2p BTN Indiana at Wisconsin
4p ESPN N.C. State at North Carolina
4p ESPNU Dayton at Saint Louis
4p FSN Washington St at Cal
4p VS UNLV at San Diego St
4p CBS-College Tulane at UCF
4p BTN Iowa at Purdue
5p ESPN2 Texas A&M at Texas Tech
6p ESPN Xavier at Florida
6p MTN Air Force at BYU
7p ESPN2 Memphis at Tulsa
7p FSN-SEC Auburn at Mississippi St
8p ESPNU Iowa State at Kansas
9p ESPN Tennessee at Kentucky
8p Raycom Virginia at Virginia Tech
8p Raycom Georgia Tech at Wake Forest
9p ESPN2 St. Mary's at Portland
9p MTN New Mexico at Utah
10p ESPNU San Diego at Gonzaga
Noon Navy at Lafayette
3:05p Illinois St at Creighton
4p George Mason at Old Dominion
4p Rhode Island at Temple
4p Bethune-Cookman at Delaware St
6p Cornell at Princeton
7p Northeastern at William & Mary
7p Green Bay at Wright St
8p Marshall at UAB
8p Texas A&M-Corpus Christi at Sam Houston St
8:05p IUPUI at Oral Roberts
8:30p Jackson St at Prairie View A&M
8:30p USF at Marquette
9:05p Northern Colorado at Weber St
Virginia Tech over Virginia: This game likely means more to the Cavaliers in regards to tournament resumes given their relatively soft non-conference schedule. But in the second thriller that these two will play this season look for Dorenzo Hudson and Malcolm Delaney to lead the Hokies to the win. Also, don't expect Jeff Allen to get ejected as he did in Charlottesville. Hokies by four.
Friday's Key Happenings
1. Penn 79, Cornell 64 The Quakers, who moved to 4-15 on the year (3-2 Ivy), ripped off a 15-0 run to start the second half and hung on to hand the Big Red their first league loss. Combine that with Princeton's win over Columbia and all of a sudden Steve Donahue's team finds itself needing to beat the Tigers on Saturday night.
2. Niagara 87, Siena 74 The nation's longest win streak (15 games) came to an end when the Purple Eagles, who were also the last MAAC team to beat the Saints, took control of the game late in the first half and into the early stages of the second. Fran McCaffery's Saints already had the top seed wrapped up but now their margin of error in regards to an at-large bid took a severe hit (as did Cornell's). But unlike the Big Red Siena still has a resume-building opportunity: at Butler next weekend. As for Niagara, keep an eye on Joe Mihalich's team the rest of the way. Now 22-5 in February over the last four years this is a team that could be dangerous in next month's MAAC Tournament.
3. Pittsburgh 98, West Virginia 95 (3OT) An absolute thriller at the Peterson Events Center, with the Panthers creating a three-way tie for third in the Big East standings. Pitt, WVU and Georgetown will engage in the hoops version of "musical chairs" with the final two double byes in the Big East Tournament up for grabs.