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FIRST PLACE IN BIG 12, BIG EAST, AND PAC-10 ON THE LINE
February 23, 2009

SCS.comThree of this week’s games are so compelling, I couldn’t even pick a Game of the Week. And since I felt it would be overzealous to have three Games of the Week, I instead went with three Might As Well Be March games. Don’t you just love my clever titles? I do, and you know what else I love? Games that decide conference leaders. Luckily for you and me, we’ve got three of those on tap for the next four days.

MIGHT AS WELL BE MARCH
Games you might see in the NCAA tournament

Kansas at Oklahoma
Monday 8:00 PM ESPN

Blake Griffin’s concussion from Saturday’s game at Texas leaves the Player of the Year candidate questionable for tonight’s game against Kansas. That’s a shame, because an Aldrich/Griffin match-up could be epic. None of us can speculate on whether Griffin will play or not, because concussions are a serious matter and not the type of injury you can simply “play through.” If he’s on the floor, Kansas will have a difficult time winning. Cole Aldrich has physically dominated most of the centers in the Big 12 but against Griffin, he’ll be neutralized. If he sits out, however, I expect the Jayhawks to hang around for the majority of the game. I’m still not sure if they can win, considering the game is in Norman. With first place in the league on the line, the home crowd will give the Sooners an enormous advantage. Oklahoma also kept fighting after losing Griffin on Saturday and nearly won in Austin, which is encouraging for the Sooners if they play without their star.

Prediction: Oklahoma 73, Kansas 68

Connecticut at Marquette
Wednesday 6:00 PM ESPN

With a win Wednesday night, Marquette will be tied for first place in the Big East. Even if the Golden Eagles somehow take down Connecticut, their place atop the league will probably not last long. Marquette’s final four games include Connecticut, Louisville, Pittsburgh and Syracuse. That will more than make up for the easy schedule that allowed Marquette to run its conference record to 12-2. I have a hard time believing that this team can hang with UConn, even at home. The Golden Eagles make a living off of scoring in the paint with Wesley Matthews, Dominic James and Jerel McNeal, but it’s not so easy to attack the basket when Hasheem Thabeet is standing in the middle of the lane.

Prediction: Connecticut 72, Marquette 61

Arizona State at Washington
Thursday 10 PM FSN

A narrow win over rival Arizona last night has Arizona State heading to Washington with a chance to seize first place in the Pac-10. Quincy Pondexter, an inconsistent and underachieving performer for the Huskies most of his career, has finally figured this D-I basketball thing out. He has averaged 16 points per game in the last six games and is finally showing the results Washington expected. Pondexter is a tough match-up for anybody and made USC suffer on Saturday for paying too much attention to Jon Brockman, Justin Dentmon and Isaiah Thomas. I would expect Harden and Pondexter to guard each other, which will be an interesting pairing to say the least. Harden has had an outstanding sophomore season but has disappeared in a few games. If he doesn’t show up to play, ASU doesn’t have a chance.

Prediction: Washington 77, Arizona State 75

BUBBLE BURSTERS
Features teams that need to bolster their resumes

Florida State at Boston College
Tuesday 6:30 PM ESPN2

In typical Boston College fashion, the Eagles followed up a win over Duke with a loss at Miami. Seems similar to the way they lost four straight games after beating North Carolina.

Prediction: Florida State 69, Boston College 62

Florida at LSU
Tuesday 8:00 PM ESPN

LSU wins with its defense, and Florida wins despite its defense. Problem is, the Gators aren’t winning enough anymore. So maybe they should try guarding someone instead of letting Calathes play one on five.

Prediction: LSU 70, Florida 66

Kentucky at South Carolina
Wednesday 7:00 PM Raycom

Kentucky helped itself with a dominating win over Tennessee on Saturday, and a win over South Carolina might just cement its spot in the NCAA tournament. Not to mention it would put the Wildcats in first place in the SEC East.

Prediction: Kentucky 72, South Carolina 66

Virginia Tech at Clemson
Wednesday 6:30 PM ESPN2

The final four games for Virginia Tech look like this: at Clemson, vs. Duke, vs. North Carolina and at Florida State. The Hokies have already lost three in a row, so it’s not looking good in Blacksburg to say the least.

Prediction: Clemson 85, Virginia Tech 77

Duke at Maryland
Wednesday 8:00 PM ESPN

Greivis Vazquez proclaimed that Cameron Indoor Stadium was “his house,” and that didn’t turn out too well (see: Duke 85, Maryland 44). But this time, Vazquez really IS playing in his house and his triple-double just helped the Terps knock off North Carolina two days ago.

Prediction: Maryland 85, Duke 84

West Virginia at Cincinnati
Thursday 6:00 PM ESPN

Bob Huggins returns to Cincinnati looking to boost his team’s NCAA tournament credentials and destroy his former team’s hopes for the Dance. If West Virginia can keep winning and make the field of 65, the Mountaineers will be one of those dangerous seeds in the 8-12 range.

Prediction: West Virginia 66, Cincinnati 59

Minnesota at Illinois
Tuesday 6:00 PM Big Ten Network

Illinois finally learned how to score against Ohio State. Bruce Weber hopes that continues against Minnesota, the team that held the Illini to 36 points earlier this season. Something tells me that Illinois won’t do that again now that it has found its shooting touch.

Prediction: Illinois 65, Minnesota 62

Purdue at Michigan
Thursday 8:00 PM ESPN

After losing to Iowa, Michigan is now 7-8 in the Big Ten with games against Purdue (home), Wisconsin (road) and Minnesota (road) left. Much like Virginia Tech, Michigan is going to need a miracle to hear its name on Selection Sunday.

Prediction: Purdue 72, Michigan 60

USC at Cal
Saturday 9:30 PM FSN

Despite a loss to Oregon State this weekend, California won’t need to worry much about its tournament chances. USC has plenty of reasons to worry, however.

Prediction: USC 67, California 66

MID-MAJOR GLORY
Please, no hate mail about the term “mid-majors,” just be happy I’m writing about your team

Northern Iowa at Illinois State
Tuesday 7:05 PM

Fresh off of BracketBusters losses, Northern Iowa and Illinois State both need a win to keep up with Creighton in the Missouri Valley.

Prediction: Illinois State 77, Northern Iowa 66

BYU at San Diego State
Tuesday 8:30 PM The Mountain

Utah has a comfortable lead in the Mountain West, but this game means a lot for at-large purposes. BYU suffered its first loss in a month on Saturday and will face another road test here.

Prediction: San Diego State 68, BYU 66

UNLV at Utah
Wednesday 8:30 PM The Mountain

UNLV already has wins over Arizona and Louisville, and another one against Utah might put the Runnin’ Rebels in position for an at large bid.

Prediction: Utah 72, UNLV 68

Akron at Buffalo
Tuesday 6:00 PM

Akron is currently tied for second in the MAC East with three other teams, but a win on Tuesday would tie it for first with Buffalo. These two teams play stout defense and I’m not sure if either will score over 60.

Prediction: Buffalo 61, Akron 59

Memphis at UAB
Thursday 8:00 PM ESPN2

Would anyone even be surprised if UAB won on Thursday? I sure wouldn’t be. Memphis has to lose a CUSA game sometime, and UAB is a good enough team to be the Tigers at home.

Prediction: UAB 71, Memphis 67

DESPERATION GAME
Someone who really needs a win

Penn State at Ohio State
Tuesday 6:00 PM ESPN

With two straight wins over Minnesota and Illinois, a victory in Columbus would leave Penn State in great shape. Ohio State cannot afford to lose a fourth straight game, and with a road trip to Purdue coming up this weekend, that streak could turn into five. The Buckeyes’ NCAA tournament hopes are riding on Tuesday’s game.

Prediction: Ohio State 68, Penn State 62

Last week’s prediction record: 10-11
Overall prediction record: 217-130

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