Missouri’s win over Kansas earlier this month was right up there with the finish to North Carolina-Duke in Chapel Hill when it comes to college basketball’s regular season. The Tigers rallied from nine down in the final two minutes and stole a win from UK. It should have set up a great winner-take-all battle for the Big 12 crown on Saturday in Lawrence. Unfortunately, Mizzou dropped a home game to Kansas State, so the Tigers can only move into a tie for first. Kansas, on the other hand, can all but sew up another conference championship in front of the home fans at 4 PM ET on CBS.
Both coaches have done great jobs this season. While Missouri’s Frank Haith has a backcourt filled with both depth and star talent, the frontline is very thin, with only Ricardo Ratcliffe able to hold down the fort, and as a power forward he would be better suited to a lineup that had a true center and allowed some flexibility. Kudos to both Haith and Ratcliffe for making it possible for the guards like Kim English and Marcus Denmon to carry the team to elite levels.
And Bill Self has done a great job in piecing together a rotation in Kansas. At the start of the season I thought this was a two-man team in point guard Tyshawn Taylor and post man Thomas Robinson that would be exposed by more talented lineups in the Big 12. As the season winds down I think it’s a two-man team of Taylor and Robinson that hasn’t been exposed because Self has done the best job this side of Greg Popovich when it comes to maximizing use of his roster and getting the most out of everyone. Kansas nearly won on the road at Missouri and at this point, there’s no reason to go against the Jayhawks on their home floor.
Elsewhere in the Big 12, Texas still needs wins to nail down its NCAA bid when they visit Texas Tech, while Iowa State and Kansas State are both safely in and play each other for seeding position.
Looking at the rest of the country…
BIG EAST: Syracuse can sew up a piece of the conference championship with a win at UConn at 9 PM ET on Saturday night, the prime-time ESPN game. Notre Dame is one of two teams, along with idle Marquette giving chase, and the Irish visit St. John’s in a noon tip on ESPN. Georgetown hosts Villanova on Saturday and Louisville welcomes Pitt on Sunday, both 2 PM ET tips on CBS and both cases where the home team is playing only for seeding. Seton Hall got a big win over the Hoyas that probably puts them on the right side of the NCAA bubble, but they need to keep it going against Jersey rival Rutgers. And the biggest game of the weekend is Cincinnati-South Florida, with both teams still needing to win.
ACC: Duke got the win it had to have against Florida State last night in spite of my prediction otherwise (a burden that a surprising number of teams manage to overcome). It’s a two-team race now with Duke and UNC. The Blue Devils host Virginia Tech, while Carolina goes to Virginia (4 PM ET, ESPN). Miami needs to win on Sunday night against Florida State (6 PM ET, ESPNU) and N.C. State absolutely must beat Clemson on the road on Saturday.
BIG TEN: Michigan State will hold the lead in the conference against Nebraska, while Ohio State looks to keep in pursuit when they host Wisconsin at 4 PM ET Sunday, a CBS game. Michigan is also just one back and has a game with Purdue, a desperate team who needs a marquee win. Northwestern still has a shot at its first-ever NCAA bid and goes to Penn State.
PAC-12: I’m utterly disgusted with Colorado, whom I was bucking the tide and predicting to make the NCAA Tournament. Then they turn around and lose by 24 to Stanford last night. The Buffs play co-leader Cal on Saturday, while the other co-leader Washington, has a gimme at Washington State. Arizona is the team that needs to keep winning and they host UCLA in a 2 PM ET tip on Saturday on CBS that the western part of the country will see.
SEC: Kentucky keeps the push for an unbeaten season going and can clinch an outright league championship against Vanderbilt on Saturday (Noon ET, CBS). The biggest game though is Mississippi State-Alabama, two bubble teams that would seem to be leaning in right now, but in situations too close to call. The Bulldogs and Tide tip at 6 PM ET on ESPN.
ATLANTIC 10: I got wrapped up in St. Joe’s push for the NCAA Tournament and was disheartened by their upset loss at Temple this week that means the Hawks won’t get an at-large bid. Unlike Colorado though, I’m not disgusted because St. Joe’s is a rebuilding team that’s made tremendous progress this season. They host Temple in a Philadelphia fight on Saturday (7 PM ET, ESPNU), with the Owls trying to hold off St. Louis for the A-10 title. St. Loo goes to Rhode island. Earlier this week a Temple win over LaSalle took the Explorers off the longshot list, but UMass is still there, and fights for its life at Dayton.
MOUNTAIN WEST: Colorado State’s win over New Mexico on Tuesday gives them a shot at the Big Dance, and I wouldn’t put San Diego State in as a lock too quickly. The Aztecs are starting to slip and they host CSU in a big game on Saturday. This game won’t actually be televised, because it’s apparently federal law that every Big East game make it onto national television, but Rams-Aztecs is as significant as any game in the country this week.