It's hard to believe it, but this is the last full week of February. That's right; nearly 20% of 2006 is gone, and a much larger portion of the college hoops season has already passed us by. Not that the biggest of hoops fans mind, however. And why? Because that means March Madness is almost here, and a large number of teams seem to be having trouble closing the deal on their plans for the upcoming month. The good news, though, is that they've still got a chance to make their case, and what better time to start than now...like this week...please?!
MUST-SEE THIS WEEK
Tennessee at Florida
The Gators missed out on a chance to close the gap with UT when the Vols lost at Alabama this past weekend, as the Gators themselves dropped an overtime matchup at Arkansas. Still, a victory in Gainesville Wednesday night would move UF to within one game of Tennessee in the SEC East standings with three contests remaining for each. At the same time the Vols are trying to win the East, they are also battling LSU for an overall SEC title. Both UT and the Tigers currently have matching 10-2 conference records. And don't forget NCAA seeding, as each is also fighting for top placement when the pairings are announced in just a few weeks.
Ohio State at Michigan State
Four Big Ten teams, including the Buckeyes, have just four league losses, while the Spartans find themselves only a game behind those teams with five conference defeats of their own. OSU has won five of their last six, while MSU is coming off of a weekend trouncing of in-state rival Michigan. Though the Buckeyes have dropped three games on the road in Big Ten play, none of those losses have come by more than five points, meaning the Spartans' work will not be easy on Wednesday night. A MSU win, however, would keep the team in the running for at least a share of the conference championship.
North Carolina at NC State
The Wolfpack continues to hold the second-best record in the ACC behind league-leading Duke, while North Carolina comes into this contest playing about as well as anyone in the league, except for possibly the Blue Devils themselves. UNC has won six of their last seven, that one defeat coming at the hands of Coach K's squad. NCSU, meanwhile, has very quietly gone about their business, winning six of their last seven while awaiting a chance to make a move if Duke were to slip up somewhere along the way. Doesn't look like that'll happen, but this should be a great, in-state battle nonetheless.
UTEP at Memphis
Conference USA, outside of the Memphis Tigers, has received very little attention this season. At first glance, one would assume that UM is running away with the league, but look again and you realize that UTEP is just one game back of the Tigers while UAB is just two back. The Miners, who have lost just once since January 11, are fighting for their NCAA lives and trying to improve what right now is a very poor RPI rating. A victory over the third-ranked Tigers would certainly help that cause while also catching the attention of those that matter across the country.
Villanova at Cincinnati
After an outstanding week that saw them defeat both Connecticut and Georgetown, the Villanova Wildcats will take the outright Big East lead into the new week. 'Nova is now 21-2 overall and has lost just once in conference play. Cincinnati, meanwhile, improved its NCAA hopes tremendously with a 2-0 mark last week, taking the Bearcats a game above .500 in conference play with three matchups left on the slate. A win here on Thursday would likely solidify UC's slot in the Big Dance next month. And speaking of the Dance, if the Wildcats' success continues, look for Jay Wright's squad to earn a one-seed when the pairings are announced in just three weeks.
YOU'LL WANT TO CATCH THESE, TOO
West Virginia at Syracuse - Monday 6:00 PM CST
Oklahoma at Texas Tech - Monday 8:00 PM CST
Seton Hall at St. John's - Tuesday 6:00 PM CST
Boston College at Virginia - Tuesday 6:00 PM CST
Illinois at Michigan - Tuesday 6:00 PM CST
Texas A&M at Missouri - Tuesday 7:00 PM CST
Alabama at Arkansas - Tuesday 8:00 PM CST
Virginia Tech at Miami - Wednesday 6:00 PM CST
Charlotte at Massachusetts - Wednesday 6:00 PM CST
Akron at Miami (Ohio) - Wednesday 6:00 PM CST
Penn State at Indiana - Wednesday 6:00 PM CST
Texas at Kansas State - Wednesday 7:00 PM CST
Colorado at Nebraska - Wednesday 7:00 PM CST
LSU at Vanderbilt - Wednesday 7:00 PM CST
Mississippi at Kentucky - Wednesday 7:00 PM CST
Bradley at Northern Iowa - Wednesday 7:35 PM CST
Maryland at Florida State - Wednesday 8:00 PM CST
George Mason at Hofstra - Thursday 6:00 PM CST
South Carolina at Georgia - Thursday 6:00 PM CST
UNC-Wilmington at VCU - Thursday 6:30 PM CST
California at Washington State - Thursday 7:30 PM CST
Wisconsin at Northwestern - Thursday 8:00 PM CST
Stanford at Washington - Thursday 9:30 PM CST