Men's Basketball Games of the Weekend 3/3 - 3/4

Vanderbilt at Kentucky Men's Basketball

Men’s Basketball Games of the Weekend 3/3 – 3/4


This is it, college basketball fans. There will be one more big weekend of games before tournament time starts in earnest. Of course, for many conferences tournament time has already begun and the first NCAA bids will be earned this weekend. Oh, and did we mention the two big showdowns of the weekend? North Carolina-Duke and Ohio State-Michigan State will attract a lot of attention.


No. 12 GEORGETOWN at No. 8 MARQUETTE (2 p.m. Saturday at Bradley Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

While Syracuse rests comfortably atop the Big East, the jockeying for tournament position continues. Both of these teams are guaranteed at least one bye in the conference tournament, but the top four teams in the league earn double byes into the quarterfinals. Georgetown (22-6, 12-5) desperately needs to win here, because a loss and a South Florida win would knock the Hoyas into the single-bye category. Georgetown barely beat Marquette in the last contest, 73-70. Marquette (24-6, 13-4) is coming off a 72-61 loss to Cincinnati and needs this game to maintain some momentum entering the conference tournament. Not to mention 25 victories makes this team pretty dangerous.


No. 11 MURRAY STATE vs. TENNESSEE STATE (2 p.m. Saturday at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee)

The finals of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament take place Saturday, and by all indications this is Murray State’s game to lose. Or is it? Keep in mind Tennessee State (20-11, 11-5) is the team that knocked Murray State from the ranks of the unbeaten with a 72-68 victory last month. Of course, Murray State got some measure of revenge with an 80-62 victory on February 23. Murray State (29-1, 15-1) can earn 30 wins and a pretty high tournament seeding with a victory in this game, and from there we will see if the Racers are for real.


No. 18 LOUISVILLE at No. 2 SYRACUSE (4 p.m. Saturday at Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York)

Syracuse’s tournament position is safe, and so is Louisville’s by all indication. So why is this game important? Well, two top-25 teams, the Big East, the last weekend before the conference tournament… in short, it qualifies. Louisville (22-8, 10-7) came very close to knocking out the top team in the nation last month before it lost, 52-51. The Cardinals won’t cost Syracuse anything with a victory here, but a win would give Rick Pitino’s squad plenty of momentum heading into the Big East tournament. Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) has won nine games in a row since its loss against Notre Dame.


No. 6 NORTH CAROLINA at No. 4 DUKE (7 p.m. Saturday at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina)

Ah, the equivalent of a one-game playoff in baseball. A winner-take-all showdown. Yes, both of these teams definitely are NCAA-bound, but you just know the Cameron Crazies will party all night if Duke knocks out hated rival North Carolina. Never mind these teams could meet again next week in the Atlantic Coast Conference finals, but any NC-Duke showdown is worth its weight in gold. North Carolina (26-4, 13-2) lost to Duke 85-84 earlier in the season at Chapel Hill, and Cameron is a tougher place to play but teams have beaten Duke there. North Carolina is the nation’s top rebounding team at 45.8 per game and the second-leading scorers at 82.1 points. Duke (26-4, 13-2) has lost twice at home, so it isn’t out of the question the Blue Devils could lose.


BELMONT vs. FLORIDA GULF COAST (7 p.m. Saturday at University Center in Macon, Georgia)

This is the final for the Atlantic Sun Conference, with the winner guaranteed an NCAA tournament bid. This also should be a one-sided contest. Belmont (26-7, 16-2) has beaten Florida Gulf Coast twice this season, 95-53 and 86-63, and the Bruins are riding a 13-game winning streak into the Atlantic Sun finals. Belmont beat Jacksonville and East Tennessee State to reach the finals. What’s a compelling reason to recommend this contest? It should be one-sided, but Florida Gulf Coast (15-16, 8-10) is definitely a giant killer this week. The Eagles defeated USC-Upstate in the first round and shocked Mercer, 62-58, on Mercer’s own hardwood floor. That will definitely take away the feeling of home-court advantage.


No. 1 KENTUCKY at No. 17 FLORIDA (12 p.m. Sunday at Stephen C. O’Connell Center in Gainesville, Florida)

Kentucky (29-1, 15-0) has the Southeastern Conference title and the top seed in the tournament locked up, and the Wildcats already topped Florida 78-58 in the teams’ regular-season meeting. The wild card here is Florida. If the Gators (22-8, 10-5) can beat Kentucky, the No. 2 seed in the SEC tournament is theirs for the taking. If Florida loses and Vanderbilt beats Tennessee, then Vanderbilt leapfrogs to the second seed and Florida goes to three. If Tennessee wins and Florida loses, the Gators drop all the way to the fourth spot. Florida is still a strong team but it has struggled in recent weeks, losing four of its last seven games.


No. 10 OHIO STATE at No. 5 MICHIGAN STATE (4 p.m. Sunday at Jack Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan)

Michigan fans usually don’t root for Ohio State under any circumstances, especially if it comes to something involving in-state rival Michigan State. Yet that is the exact situation all three teams face on Sunday. If Ohio State (24-6, 12-5) can overcome its recent woes (3-3 in the last six games) and beat Michigan State, it would be tied with the Spartans for the Big Ten championship. Ohio State lost to Michigan State 58-48 at home earlier this season. Now comes the fun part: If Michigan beats Penn State on Sunday and Ohio State tops the Spartans, Michigan would win a share of the Big Ten title for the first time since 1986.


MISSOURI VALLEY CONFERENCE FINAL (TBD Sunday at Scottrade Center in St. Louis, Missouri)

The teams taking part in the tournament final won’t be known until later in the day on Saturday, but the top four seeds are still alive. Wichita State, Illinois State, Creighton and Evansville are competing in the semifinals, and don’t be surprised to see another Wichita State-Creighton showdown. Wichita State and Creighton should make the NCAA tournament, but Illinois State and Evansville need some help to keep their tournament hopes alive.