College Basketball Weekend Primer: Best Games, Best Bets For Feb. 24-26

    Important showdowns in the SEC and Pac-12 highlight college basketball's weekend slate as teams from around the country try to boost their NCAA Tournament resumes.

    February 24, 2017

    Important showdowns in the SEC and Pac-12 highlight college basketball’s weekend slate as teams from around the country try to boost their NCAA Tournament resumes. 

    Teams jockeying for NCAA Tournament seeding and trying to boost their at-large chances are what make the final weeks of the college basketball season so exciting. Resumes get stronger, bubbles burst and Cinderellas start preparing for the ball.

    Gonzaga, Villanova and Kansas barring something dramatic will occupy three of the No. 1 seeds when the bracket is revealed Selection Sunday. What’s uncertain is the fourth top spot, and UCLA and Arizona have just as good a shot as anyone to earn that perch. That’s what makes Saturday’s meeting in Tucson even more important.

    Lonzo Ball’s Bruins are seeking revenge for a 96-85 home loss to the Wildcats on Jan. 21 and enter this matchup on a roll, having won six in a row. Allonzo Trier has helped push Arizona to the top of the Pac-12 standings with a 25-3 overall record and 15-1 mark in conference play. There’s little reason to believe it will be anything but a fast-paced game that will come down to the wire.

    Speaking of revenge, Kentucky sure would like to make things even with Florida after the Gators stomped the Wildcats 88-66 on Feb. 4 in Gainesville. Those teams head into Saturday’s rematch at Rupp Arena tied atop the SEC with identical 23-5, 13-2 records.

    Neither Kentucky or Florida are in line for a No. 1 seed at the moment, but a victory would increase one of their chances to slip onto the No. 3 or possibly the No. 2 line when the pairings are announced. The one thing certain is that both teams are headed to the Big Dance. That’s not the case for some others around the nation.

    Not so fast, Northwestern

    The feel-good story of the college basketball season could wind up with Northwestern fans feeling pained. Once thought to be a lock for their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance, the Wildcats have dropped four of their last six games after Illinois beat them Tuesday to sweep the season series.

    Northwestern now sits at 20-8 with a 9-6 mark in Big Ten play, and its best win – at Wisconsin on Feb. 12 – isn’t looking so impressive anymore with the Badgers struggling down the stretch. Beyond that, only wins over Dayton and Wake Forest kind of stick out. The Wildcats play at Indiana on Saturday and face Michigan and Purdue at home to close the regular season. They can take some pressure off by going at least 2-1, or else they’ll be needing a victory or two in the Big Ten tournament.

    Mid-majors and their at-large cases

    Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders forward Reggie Upshaw (30). Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

    Remember when Middle Tennessee became a rare No. 15 seed to knock off a No. 2 when it led Michigan State from start to finish in last year’s first round? It pains me to relive that memory as a Spartans fan, but the Blue Raiders are proving that victory wasn’t a fluke.

    Coach Kermit Davis has them sitting at 24-4 overall and 14-1 in Conference USA action heading into Sunday’s game at UAB. Middle Tennessee is the clear favorite to run through the conference tournament, but some believe it should receive an at-large bid should it stumble. It’s true that there aren’t victories that jump off the page, and losses to Tennessee State, Georgia State and UTEP don’t do the Blue Raiders any favors. But that win over Michigan State proves they can hang with the big boys.

    It seems more realistic, though, that the committee has a much more difficult decision when it comes to the Missouri Valley’s top two teams. Wichita State (26-4) and Illinois State (24-5) are tied atop the MVC with 16-1 records, with their lone losses coming to each other. The Shockers play at Missouri State and the Redbirds travel to face Northern Iowa on Saturday.

    They’ll likely have to win the rest of their regular season games and play each other in the conference tournament championship game in order for the loser to have a shot for an at-large bid. As of now Wichita State has a leg up.

    Really, Syracuse? Again?

    There was a large contingent – myself included – that didn’t believe Syracuse deserved to be in the NCAA Tournament last season. But the committee disagreed and the Orange went from a No. 10 seed to the Final Four. All that despite losing four of their last five regular-season games and falling in their first ACC tournament contest.

    Wednesday’s thrilling upset of Duke has some believing Syracuse is making another late-season push. John Gillon banked in a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Orange a 78-75 victory and snapped their three-game losing streak. Their resume isn’t exactly tip-top considering they’re 17-12 overall with a 33-point loss to St. John’s and a 15-point defeat at Boston College, but beating Duke is starting to get people on their side.

    Syracuse can take a huge step towards another Tournament run by winning at No. 7 Louisville on Sunday.

    Best Bets

    In this section each week I pick five games against the spread that I’d put smart money on. I then keep a running record throughout the season. These picks will consist of games taking place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

    Here’s a look at what I have this week:

    Season record: 28-29-3
    Last week: 3-2

    • North Carolina (-3) over Virginia (W)
    • Villanova (-6.5) over Seton Hall (W)
    • Virginia Tech (+13.5) over Louisville (W)
    • Florida State (-5.5) over Pittsburgh (L)
    • Northwestern (-13.5) over Rutgers (L)

    This week:

    • Arizona (-2) over UCLA
    • Purdue (+1) over Michigan
    • Duke (-1.5) over Miami
    • Illinois State (-2) over Northern Iowa
    • SMU (-5.5) over UConn

    MORE: USC, Cal Struggling To Secure NCAA Tournament Berths In Top-Heavy Pac-12


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