We are down to two weeks of regular season action in the major conferences before conference tournaments begin. For smaller conferences, several are just one week away before starting their own prelude to the one-and-done, win or go home drama of single-elimination March Madness. Every game matters from here on out, and there are easily three dozen teams that still have legitimate designs on capturing about a dozen open spots. Barring anything crazy like a catastrophic injury or suspension, there are about 21 teams that should feel pretty safe.
The ACC has five locks (UNC, UVA, Duke, Miami, Notre Dame), the Big East has two solid (Villanova and Xavier), The Big Twelve has four (Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Iowa State), the Big Ten has five (Maryland, Indiana, Iowa, Purdue, Michigan State), the SEC two (Kentucky, Texas A&M), and the Pac-12 has three (Arizona, Utah, Oregon). That’s 21 bids all but secured. Again, barring insanity.
The next tier would be “should make it but by no means already in” I’d put Dayton, VCU, Syracuse, South Carolina, Wichita State, Cal, USC, Michigan, Seton Hall, Providence, Baylor, and Texas. That brings our total 33 bids. There are 32 auto bids, and 36 at-large. Assuming that the six major conference tournaments are won by one of the above teams and that VCU/Dayton wins their league tourney, as does Wichita State, that leaves just 11 bids remaining.
Here’s some good candidates in varyingly random order of “likely, possible, unlikely, and well, they aren’t quite dead yet): Cincinnati, Temple, UConn, Houston, Tulsa, St. Joe’s, St. Bonaventure, George Washington, Clemson, Pitt, Texas Tech, Creighton, Butler, Marquette, Georgetown (unlikely), Wisconsin, Hawaii, Valpo, Monmouth, San Diego State, LSU, Alabama, Florida, Colorado, Washington, Oregon State, UCLA (long shot), Ole Miss, St. Mary’s, Gonzaga and BYU. That last group was 31 more teams, bringing us 22 over the limit. Granted, several could make things simpler; Valpo, SDSU, Monmouth and Hawaii all will be favored to win their conference tourney, as well as one of WCC teams. But we are still a whopping dozen and a half over the threshold.
So, in short, yes, this week matters. Every game.
Let’s see if we can make these final weeks matter for us as well with some winners.
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Today’s Free Pick:
Virginia Cavaliers at Miami Hurricanes -1.5
Who comes into this game more annoyed? Miami, fresh on the heels of an absolute butt-kicking on national television against North Carolina in what was, at the time, a battle for first place in the league? Or the Virginia Cavaliers, still smarting after losing at Cameron Indoor on a double travel (before shooting motion and after landing before releasing the ball) from Grayson Allen on the Duke buzzer beater. Can you just imagine them seeing highlights of the Louisville game and going “NOW you call something on him? NOW???!?”
The point is, both will be pumped up and ready to slug it out to remain just a single game behind the Tarheels. UVA has a home game Saturday with UNC coming up next, so this game is LITERALLY for a chance to play for an ACC championship. Miami needs help, but with Notre Dame and Louisville anda tricky trip to VA Tech to close out the season, a loss tonight will likely end their hopes – especially given they will have head-to-head 0-3 records against Virginia and UNC.
This is a HUGE game – one of the biggest in Coral Gables since Warren Sapp was cajoling Shane Larkin and company into slapping the floor against Duke three years ago. So will the pull it off?
Sadly for the home crowd, I think UVA is just a bad matchup for them. Miami isn’t a great shooting team and they are going against the stingiest defense in the ACC. In their last meeting, Miami shot under 29% from behind the arc. They should fare a little better at home, but I think they will still find perimeter looks hard to come by in this game. Virginia is allowing a nation-low 59.5 points per game to opponents. Some of that is aided by the tempo and style they employ, but this is a better offensive team, and certainly a more assertive Virginia team than in past years. Perhaps it is the slightly shortened shot clock, but they are scoring and looking to score more quickly than in years past, without sacrificing any of their trademark defense.
This should be a good game, but I’ll take the Cavaliers and their veteran-laden ballclub to win a tough game on the road and set up an absolutely bananas Saturday ACC showdown with the Tarheels.