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LAST WEEK OF REGULAR SEASON PLAY BEGINS
March 2, 2009

SCS.comOne more week? Can’t be. We just got started! Conference tournaments for smaller conferences don’t tip off until this weekend, so this Weekly Preview will be the last one without any post-season prognostications. My advice to you: enjoy the regular season while you can. March Madness can wait. Over the next four days, teams will be fighting for their NCAA tournament lives in desperate fashion, and it all culminates to create the best regular season in sports. And no, I’m not talking about college football here. Where else do you have more than a dozen games over a four-day span with this much importance?

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

Florida State at Duke
Tuesday 7:00 PM Raycom

With an important victory against Clemson Saturday, Florida State would tie Duke for second place in the ACC with a win on Tuesday. The first meeting between these two teams took place back in early January, and the result was not pretty for either team. Duke “won,” if you want to call it that. Florida State shot 31 percent from the field and trailed 19-14 at half time. The Blue Devils weren’t much better, but a spectacular second half performance by Gerald Henderson helped them seal the win.

I expect tomorrow’s game to play out much differently. The game will be in Durham, but this is a different and improved Florida State team. The Seminoles outrebounded Duke 40-28 in the first contest and hold a significant advantage in the frontcourt with all of their size. Toney Douglas has also been nearly unstoppable this season and has scored less than 20 points just once since that Duke game. The Blue Devils held Douglas to 30 percent shooting, and they will have to do that again to shut down Florida State’s offense.

Prediction: Duke 77, Florida State 75

Marquette at Pittsburgh
Wednesday 6:30 ESPN

Marquette’s first full game without Dominic James resulted in a loss. The Golden Eagles put up a fight at Louisville, which is encouraging considering Jerel McNeal shot 3-19 from the field. Even with its lack of size, Marquette actually outrebounded the Cardinals and will need a similar effort against a banged-up DeJuan Blair on Wednesday.

Though Pitt will be at home and is the better team, Marquette has a real shot in this game. Blair’s injury could hamper his play, and Levance Fields has been a disaster recently. He seems to have forgotten how to shoot the basketball and has given Pittsburgh nothing offensively in the past three games. If Marquette’s stingy guards can keep Fields in his slump and Blair’s knee haunts him, Sam Young alone might not be enough to avoid an upset.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 69, Marquette 66

Oklahoma at Missouri
Wednesday 8:00 PM Big 12 Network

The dreams were fun while they lasted, but Missouri’s Big 12 title hopes vanished with a horrid performance against Kansas yesterday. All is not lost, however, and the Tigers have a chance to claim second place in the conference with a win over Oklahoma. Blake Griffin returned against Texas Tech two days ago and looked like the same old Blake, despite the concussion.

Missouri does not have the personnel to stop Griffin, but then again, who does? Against Cole Aldrich, Mizzou doubled him nearly every time he received the ball, and the Tigers were fairly efficient in guarding him. They allowed too much dribble penetration from Kansas’ guards, however, which allowed Aldrich to score from put backs, point-blank dunks and alley-oops. J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor, who have gained a reputation as a top defensive tandem, will need to keep Willie Warren and Austin Johnson out of the paint. Mizzou is undefeated at home this season and will feed off the crowd, and Oklahoma has a tendency to play in close games. The Sooners have still only lost one game with Griffin in the lineup, and I don’t expect them to lose a second against an undersized Missouri squad.

Prediction: Oklahoma 73, Missouri 66

BUBBLE BURSTERS
Features teams that need to bolster their resumes

Villanova at Notre Dame
Monday 6:00 PM ESPN

Everyone loves to bash Notre Dame (even I do it from time to time), but let’s give the Irish a bit of credit for their recent play. They are now 4-2 in their past six games and took Connecticut to the wire in Storrs this weekend.

Prediction: Notre Dame 80, Villanova 72

Kansas State at Oklahoma State
Tuesday 6:30 PM ESPN2

A five game winning streak has Oklahoma State at 8-6 in the Big 12 to go along with its strong RPI and SOS numbers. A win tomorrow night would force the committee to take a hard look at the Cowboys, and a win at Oklahoma next weekend would put them in the Dance.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 83, Kansas State 77

Wake Forest at Maryland
Tuesday 8:00 PM

It’s simple: if Maryland beats Wake, it’s not going to be left out of the field of 65. A loss would give more importance to the ACC tournament for the Terps.

Prediction: Wake 75, Maryland 69

North Carolina at Virginia Tech
Wednesday 6:00 PM ESPN

Virginia Tech is on life support. One more loss might mean another NIT for Seth Greenberg.

Prediction: North Carolina 92, Virginia Tech 82

Wisconsin at Minnesota
Wednesday 7:30 PM

Here’s a nice high-stakes rivalry game. Wisconsin is on fire lately, while Minnesota can’t win a game to save its NCAA tournament life.

Prediction: Wisconsin 60, Minnesota 58

California at Arizona
Thursday TBA FSN

California is a near lock, but Arizona could use some help. The Wildcats have a solid resume and seem to have a great shot at making the field, but a few more losses could mean trouble.

Prediction: Arizona 77, California 69

Providence at Villanova
Thursday 6:00 PM ESPN

Thursday’s game marks the final regular season Big East game for Providence, who already has 10 conference wins. You’d think that mark in the Big East would make the Friars a lock for the tourney, but that isn’t the case. Eight of Providence’s wins were against South Florida, DePaul, St. John’s, Seton Hall, Cincinnati and Rutgers—Cincy is the only decent team on that list.

Prediction: Villanova 68, Providence 61

Tennessee at South Carolina
Thursday 6:00 PM ESPN2

I can’t figure out the SEC, so I’m going to give up. How does South Carolina rock Kentucky and then fail to play competitively against Vanderbilt?

Prediction: South Carolina 84, Tennessee 80

Illinois at Penn State
Thursday 8:00 PM

One piece of information you may not be aware of: Penn State is in fourth place in the Big Ten. I didn’t realize that either until I researched it just a second ago.

Prediction: Penn State 59, Illinois 55

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

Utah at New Mexico
Tuesday 8:00 PM The Mountain

A strong finish has New Mexico in second place of the Mountain West, a game behind first place Utah. The Lobos don’t have the quality wins to make the field as an at-large, but they can at least ruin Utah’s title hopes—and boost their own-- before the conference tournament begins.

Prediction: Utah 70, New Mexico 66

Dayton at Xavier
Thursday 8:00 PM ESPN2

This game could be classified as a bubble game, but this section needed some more games. A win on Thursday would give Dayton a definite spot in the NCAA tournament and sole possession of first place in the A-10.

Prediction: Xavier 72, Dayton 68

DESPERATION GAME
Someone who really needs a win

Florida at Mississippi State
Wednesday 8:00 PM Raycom

I really believe that Florida’s legacy of the 06/07 NCAA titles is the only thing keeping the Gators’ NCAA tourney chances alive. Billy Donovan thought this year’s team would be miles better than last season’s, but that hasn’t happened. This team has two games left in SEC play—at Mississippi State on Wednesday and then a home contest with Kentucky. A loss in either of them would probably equal an NIT berth.

Prediction: Florida 80, Mississippi State 78

Last week’s prediction record: 13-6
Overall prediction record: 236-148

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