by Chris Carlson
The last two weeks of the regular season promises to give College Basketball fans something to cheer for before the conference tourneys begin as we make are way to March Madness. 2nd place in the Big Ten remains a tossup between Michigan State, Maryland, Purdue, and Ohio State. Back to back Monday losses by Kansas, has the conference title up for grabs. The question is who will grab it?
As promised West Coast juggernauts Gonzaga and Arizona will be tested in the closing weeks. The Zags got a crucial win in comeback fashion last Saturday. Can anyone beat Kentucky sitting at 28-0 with only one ranked team left on the regular season schedule? Two Mid Majors get their chance in a spotlight game that will no doubt have a major effect on the seeding process. Buckle up for another week in College Basketball with a full slate of intriguing and meaningful games.
Marquee Matchups this weekend
#1 Kentucky may get a legit test when #18 Arkansas rolls into town in an attempt to knock-off what is hands-down the best team in the country. The Razorbacks are on a current 7-game winning streak including 10 of 11 so obviously this gives them plenty of mojo to get the job done. One could argue this will be the Wildcats toughest test since league played started. As we know that’s just on paper, what happens on the court is a much different story.
The Pick: Kentucky in a competitive game that gets decided in the last 8-10 minutes.
#10 Northern Iowa vs. #11 Wichita State is a battle of streaks and a huge resume building win especially at the mid-major level. Wichita State’s 31-game home unbeaten streak is in jeopardy when the Panthers, who have won 16 games in a row, visit this Saturday. Northern Iowa beat the Shockers 70-54 a few weeks back with great shooting (60% to 35%) and solid defense. The Shockers will have to be better from 3 point land after shooting a dismal 5-24 behind the arc in their first game.
The Pick: Northern Iowa ends Wichita State’s home dominance in OT.
#7 Arizona travels to #13 Utah in a matchup of the best two teams in the Pac-12. In their first meeting back in January the Cats outshot the Utes 49% to 39% from the field, and collected 10 more free throw attempts as well. Having dropped just one game in their last 11, Zona comes into this important contest with momentum to match their skill level. I do think we will see an entertaining game decided hopefully late or in overtime.
The Pick: Arizona’s talent gap gets them a key road victory.
#20 West Virginia at #19 Baylor: The top 5 or 6 teams in the Big-12 have been very inconsistent which tells me to pick the current “it” program of the week. This game should produce an up and down pace that will be marred by long stretches of ugly play. Baylor got a humongous win at Iowa State and looks to carry that energy into this Top-20 battle.
The Pick: Baylor finally get’s their act together getting a defining victory.
#5 Wisconsin vs. Michigan State: Year in and year out these two teams typically carry the torch for the Big Ten conference. Try telling that to Ohio State or Michigan. This game is on Sunday at the Kohl Center were the Badgers will be looking to bounce back from their loss to Maryland last Tuesday. The loss to the Terrapins stopped their 10-game Big Ten winning streak, good for second longest in school history. The Spartans are coming together as a group and Coach Izzo per usual has his team on an uptick to close out the regular season strong. Michigan State got caught looking ahead losing to Minnesota on their home court. Can the Badgers stave off a hungry team who has since rearranged its starting lineup?
The Pick: The Badgers win going away in a 2nd half blowout of sorts.
Weekday Can’t Miss Matchup
#20 West Virginia faces #9 Kansas in a must win for the rock-chalk-Jayhawks, who’ve been beat in back to back Big Mondays Matchups. Paging Mr. Cliff Alexander, please report to Allan Fieldhouse this Monday because your team badly needs your presents. All jokes aside this Jayhawks team is full of talent the problem is it still in need of development, a scary thought this late in February. The Mountaineers will have played Baylor but considering how inconsistent either team has been, it might not even matter the outcome of that game pertaining to this matchup. Kansas will have an issue shooting like normal and West Virginia plays defense very well which helps them get out on the break.
The Pick: Kansas rights the ship getting a much needed victory.
The every improving Syracuse Orangemen are no push-over and with nothing to play for in the post season, their upcoming games against Duke and Virginia will serve as spoilers and a chance to end the season on a positive note.
Georgia Tech has threatened a few highly ranked teams of late and could get over the hump versus #15 North Carolina.
Georgia at home against #1 Kentucky: This doesn’t seem likely however the Bulldogs played the Cats close in their first meeting and with nothing to lose could be a surprise upset in the making.
Teams on the Rise
Northern Iowa is ranked in the AP Top-10 for the first time in school history and have won 16-games in a row heading into their important game against Wichita State.
This is not your normal University of Pittsburgh team but the Panthers have managed to win 7 of their last 8 games against the likes of Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Syracuse twice.
Weekly Quick Hits Recap & My Top 4
-#3 Gonzaga Forward Kyle Willjer scored 45 points last week versus Pacific. He also made several key plays down the stretch in the Zags comeback victory from 18-points down on the road against their West Coast Conference rival St. Mary’s. Willjer finished with 16 points, 12 rebounds, and now the Zags face another potential pothole versus BYU this Saturday.
-#14 Maryland beat #5Wisconsin behind 26 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assist and zero turnovers from Dez Wells. In the process the Terps added a great name to put on the ledger in hopes of the lowest seed possible heading into the Big Dance.
-#8 Kansas was upset by their in-state rival Kansas State resulting in a much closer finish in conference than expected just a few weeks ago.
-#20 West Virginia is getting hot at the right time winning 3 of last 4 after losing 3 of 4 games. The Mountaineers seem primed to close out the conference race strong.
-#12 Iowa State was on a tear heading in to Wednesday nights matchup against #19 Baylor on their home court. Their 79-70 loss to the Bears stings worse with Kansas losing earlier in the week which left the door wide open for the Cyclones to tie for the Big-12 lead.
My Top 4 in order: Kentucky, Duke, Wisconsin, Virginia
Written by Chris Carlson
Owner and Host of The Weekly College Ball Show blogtalkradio.com/ropeadoperadio