A look at the 12 most notable games on this weekend's schedule:
Kansas at Michigan State
This game got a lot juicier thanks to the Jayhawks’ upset of Tennessee last weekend. Cole Aldrich (the most improved player in the country?) scored 22 points in that game and then followed that up with a 24-point effort against Siena on Tuesday. He’s the key if Kansas is going to knock off the red-hot Spartans on Saturday – he’ll need to score on the offensive end and keep Goran Suton and Raymar Morgan away from the rim on the defensive end. Even if Kansas plays well, though, it's hard to see Michigan State losing this one - the Spartans have a lot more options offensively than the Aldrich and Sherron Collins-reliant Jayhawks, and they are facing a team that has only one win away from home all season.
West Virginia at Marquette
The Big East is so loaded that both of these teams - despite being ranked - have been a little overlooked so far this season. Marquette has won six in row, thanks in large part to the unheralded play of senior guard Wesley Matthews, who was a perfect 10-for-10 from the field in the Golden Eagles’ win over Rutgers on Wednesday. West Virginia had won five in a row before losing a classic Big East slugfest against UConn on Tuesday. In our latest bracket, WVU is on the four line and Marquette is on the five; if Marquette wins (and we think they will at home), these two teams might very well swap places come Monday.
Louisville at Villanova
There isn't much separating these two teams in terms of ranking, seeding, or personnel, and on Saturday, there's a very good chance there won't be much separating them in terms of the final score either. 'Nova escaped with an OT win against Seton Hall on Tuesday thanks to a 40-point performance from Scottie Reynolds, and Louisville enters after a win at South Florida in their Big East opener. This game seeding-wise is very similar to the West Virginia-Marquette game; if 'Nova wins, they'll swap places with Louisville and move onto the six line (maybe even the five line) and if the Cardinals win, they'll probably jump up a seed line.
Duke at Florida State
The young Seminoles are hanging on to a spot in the Field of 65 on the strength of wins over Cal and Florida, and now they get a chance to stay there for a while as the second-ranked Blue Devils pay a visit in FSU's ACC opener. After watching Kyle Singler and Co. destroy Davidson Wednesday night, though, it's hard to believe the inexperienced Seminoles will be able to compete with Duke for 40 minutes. They won't be out-toughed like they were in portions of the Pittsburgh game, but they will ultimately be out-finessed and out-shot by the Blue Devils highly-efficient, high-powered offense. (Sorry, Bryan...)
Miami (FL) at Boston College
It might be impossible to find a better dictionary-quality example of a letdown game than what happened in Chestnut Hill on Wednesday night. BC was down double-digits for most of the game against a so-so at best Harvard team before losing by a dozen. That loss should be all the motivation the Eagles need as they prep for the Hurricanes, who didn’t look so great themselves against Clemson (at home) in their ACC opener a couple weeks back. A loss here would knock BC out of the bracket after a one-week cameo, and a loss by Miami could knock them out too – their lone quality win (at Kentucky) doesn’t look that great anymore and there are some other big conference teams that have a chance to leap over them this weekend.
Texas A&M at Oklahoma State
The Aggies have a nice looking record, but their two "big" wins - LSU and Arizona - are looking less and less impressive every day. They face a dangerous bubble team in Oklahoma State, winners of six straight, on the road Saturday. The Cowboys haven't lost at home this season, they use a four-guard lineup that has given a lot of opponents fits, and sophomore James Anderson is on fire of late, averaging 25 points per game over his last four. Depending what else happens over the weekend, A&M could be on the wrong side of the bubble with a loss here. Oklahoma State could would be Last Four Out at worst with a win.
Tennessee at Georgia
Are the Vols still the best team in the SEC? There are a few Razorback fans that would beg to differ. One thing's for sure; after Tennessee's home loss to Gonzaga, Arkansas will almost certainly be the highest seeded SEC team in out next bracket. Tennessee won't be far behind them, but they want to avoid a slip-up here on the road against a Georgia team that comes into the game with the worst record of anyone in the conference. A loss here would knock the Vols into the 7-8 range.
California at Washington
There's a very good chance the Pac-10 will be back to a four-bid league come Monday thanks to Washington's last-second win over Stanford on Thursday night. If the Huskies (winners of 10 straight now) can make it a weekend sweep by beating the Bears (winners of eight straight themselves), they'll not only be in the field - they might be worthy of a single-digit seed. Even with a loss here, Washington may still sneak in the bracket with some help; we don't think they'll need the help, though. It's a long-standing tradition that Pac-10 teams don't win big games on the road, and given that trend plus the advantage the Huskies have inside with Jon Brockman, we like Washington to win a close one.
Utah at San Diego State
We hate to be partial, but nothing has pained us more over the last couple of weeks more than Utah's success. It's not the Utes' fault; it's Joe Lunardi's. We criticized Lunardi (appropriately) a few weeks back when he included a 6-5 Utah team in his bracket simply because they were 1-0 (and in "first place") in the MWC. He's kept them in his bracket ever since because of that ridiculous policy, and now, they are shockingly one road win over the Aztecs away from potentially earning a spot in our Field of 65 on Monday. The Utes destroyed LSU on Tuesday (bye, bye Tigers) to run their current win streak to four and add to a suddenly nice-looking resume that includes wins over Mississippi and Gonzaga. Even as well as they've played lately, though, winning at SDSU won't be easy for Utah. The Aztecs are tough to beat at home, they are a more athletic team than the Utes, and they've shown they can play some defense (they allow 55.1 points per game). A win probably won't get the still resume-challenged Aztecs in the field just yet, but it'll get their name on the Last Four or Next Four Out list.
Also receiving votes: Connecticut at Cincinnati, Providence at Georgetown, Seton Hall at Notre Dame, Syracuse at Rutgers, Georgia Tech at Maryland, North Carolina State at Clemson, Oklahoma at Kansas State, Missouri at Nebraska, Stanford at Washington State, Oregon at Arizona State, Oregon State at Arizona, Vanderbilt at Kentucky, Mississippi at Florida, Mississippi State at Arkansas, UNLV at TCU, Dayton at Massachusetts, Illinois State at Indiana State, Creighton at Bradley, UAB at Houston
North Carolina at Wake Forest
The Tar Heels won't start off 0-2 in the ACC....right? If they're going to avoid that mark (they haven't started 0-2 since the '96-'97 season), they're going to have to play a lot better than they did against Boston College a week ago. They'll also have to get off to much better start than they did in the BC game to take what's going to be a rowdy Wake crowd out of the game, and they'll have to find an answer on the defensive end for super soph Jeff Teague, who has already shown a tendency in his short career to play big in big games. He had 30 points in the Demon Deacons' win at BYU and he had 44 points combined as Wake split with Duke and UNC last season. Carolina fans should be a little worried going into this one, but we think the Heels will come with a win for a few reasons - they're out to prove the BC game was a fluke, they've won 15 sraight on the road, and they have a big veteran leadership edge (Hansbrough and Lawson) in a game that's going to be emotional, fast-paced, and close right down to the wire.
UCLA at USC
The Bruins are definitely the least talked about 2/3 seed in the country right. Their fans will cry "East Coast bias" but in reality, much of that lack of noteriety has to do with the underwhelming conference they play in. The Pac-10 is way down this year, and talent-wise it pales in comparison to the stacked Big East and ACC, which feature a combined eight teams on the 1 through 3 lines in our most recent bracket. That doesn't mean the Bruins aren't good - they're very good - and they get another chance to prove that on the road Sunday against the disappointing Trojans. UCLA has a clear backcourt edge in the game and Darren Collison is coming off a great weekend series in which the Bruins swept the Oregon schools. Those strengths should be enough to overcome USC's home-court edge and should help UCLA run its current win streak to nine.
Wisconsin at Purdue
The Boilermakers didn't fare too well last time out without Robbie Hummel and Chris Kramer, losing at Penn State to fall to 0-2 in the Big Ten. Kramer says he'll be back Sunday (Hummel is still very questionable with a bad back) and Purdue will need the reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year to be at his best against a Wisconsin team that has looked great in its first three conference games. An 0-3 start in conference would send Purdue's seed in our next bracket tumbling at least a couple of lines. It might continue to fall too, as after this one, the Boilers hit the road for three of their next four.
Also receiving votes: Penn State at Minnesota, Iowa at Michigan, LSU at Alabama, St, John's at Pittsburgh