While three leagues begin conference tournament play on Tuesday there's also plenty of things to be settled in conferences who won't start their tourneys until next week. Florida and Illinois are two teams that look to be in good shape as of right now but both are faced with ranked opponents who would vault them into the Big Dance for sure were they to win. The Gators host Vanderbilt, a team that's still got designs on the SEC's overall title, in a game they can win provided guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton make sound decisions with the basketball. Two areas made the difference in the Commodores' 95-87 win on January 9th: the foul line (VU: 26-33, UF: 16-21) and turnovers (VU: 7, UF: 14).
A.J. Ogilvy and Jermaine Beal combined for forty-seven points while the aforementioned Florida guard tandem scored fifty, but neither Chandler Parsons nor Vernon Macklin was playing as well as they have been of late. Add in a raucous atmosphere in Gainesville and this sets up as a game the Gators can win. As for the Fighting Illini, they've got to visit Evan Turner and company in Columbus with the hope that point guard Demetri McCamey can show off the ability that caused Turner to peg him the best point guard in the Big Ten in an interview Monday. In their meeting on Valentine's Day the Illini shot just 34.3% from the field as McCamey, Mike Davis and D.J. Richardson all struggled from the field. Also, keep an eye on the Buckeyes' offensive efficiency; twenty of their twenty-six baskets in the first meeting were assisted.
Other games of note on Tuesday include Cincinnati needing another high-profile win to move their way onto the "good" side of the fence, Louisville and Marquette facing off in a game that may have more of an impact on the seeding of both (they look like solid bets to make the NCAA Tournament). Georgia Tech and Clemson are both needing another win and UTEP visits Marshall with the opportunity to clinch the Conference USA title outright and that would be the first time since expansion that someone other than Memphis has done so. And top-ranked Syracuse hosts St. John's in their first home game as the number one team since the 1990 season.
7p ESPN Vanderbilt at Florida
7p ESPN2 Villanova at Cincinnati
7:30p ESPNU USF at DePaul
8p Raycom Miami at North Carolina
9p ESPN Illinois at Ohio St
9:30p ESPNU Louisville at Marquette
9:30 MTN Air Force at Wyoming
7p St. John's at Syracuse
7p UTEP at Marshall
8p Georgia Tech at Clemson
Three league tournaments get underway on Tuesday with top seeds Coastal Carolina (Big South) and Murray State (Ohio Valley) looking to make their way to the NCAA Tournament (the top two seeds in the Horizon League have byes to the semifinals). In leagues in which one bid is the most they'll receive March can be a brutal month for regular season champs if they aren't careful. Billy Kennedy's Racers were without a doubt the best team in the OVC outside of a two-point loss at Morehead State on Thursday but none of that matters now. "We remember last year's experience and how demoralized we were after losing to Austin Peay (in last year's tournament)," said Kennedy on Monday.
He added that the loss to Morehead State last week served as a reminder to his team of how quickly the season can end at this stage in the season. Prior meetings can be scrutinized until one's eyes burn but the saying "on any given night" rings especially true this time of the year. Morehead State gets Tennessee State, who's an entirely different team now than they were in either of the two regular season meetings and their youth could mean that the Racers take on a team more than willing to throw caution into the wind. And Cliff Ellis' Chanticleers have a tricky matchup themselves in VMI, and with the Keydets more than willing to run up and down the floor this isn't your "conventional" first round conference tournament game.
In the Horizon seeds three through ten play with the higher seeded teams hosting all four games. Detroit and Valparaiso could be the most evenly matched game on the schedule yet outside of Youngstown State beating Green Bay it wouldn't be a major shock if a lower-seeded team pulled an upset. The winners move on to Friday's second round at Hinkle Fieldhouse where one more win would mean a matchup with either Butler or Wright State.
Villanova over Cincinnati: The Bearcats desperately need this win if they're to leap back into the at-large discussion and it's one that could push them past a Connecticut team they've swept should they get it. But the Wildcats should have better luck going up against a team that doesn't have as many offensive options as a team such as Syracuse. Villanova will keep the fouls down and pick up the close road victory.