A look at the 12 most notable games on this weekend's loaded schedule:
Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
The Irish need more than luck right now, they need a little divine intervention. They've lost four in a row, fallen from a 4 seed down to very, very generous 7 seed in our latest bracket, and most shockingly, they can't even win at home anymore. The Irish dropped their second straight at the Joyce Center on Monday, losing to a Marquette team that had yet to prove itself against any big-time Big East foe. Now, if ND wants to stay in the bracket and not get passed over in favor of surging Providence, they might have to pull off a huge upset and knock off Pitt on the road. The Panthers are coming off a tough loss themselves this week, a double-digit defeat at Villanova that will cost them their 1 seed come Monday. If Pitt is going to bounce back here with a win, DeJuan Blair will have to spend more time out on the floor than he did against 'Nova, where he battled foul trouble throughout. If ND is going to keep its bracket dreams alive, theyll need to have an efficient, productive Kyle McAlarney, something they've been without the past two games.
Georgetown at Marquette
Lost in the struggles of Notre Dame has been the steady decline of Georgetown over the past two weeks. The Hoyas (how are they still ranked??) have lost four in a row overall, and three straight conference games to the likes of West Virginia (at home), at previously-winless Seton Hall, and most recently, at Cincinnati, a team that had yet to win a game against a quality conference opponent. At 3-5, Georgetown is buried in the bottom half of the Big East standings and they face the very realistic prospect of falling further as they visit Marquette today. The Golden Eagles finally showed that their unbeaten conference mark was for real this week by winning on the road against the Irish, and now they have their sights set on a 2 seed (which they might get as early as Monday if Louisville somehow loses at home to West Virginia.) The Hoyas aren't worried about their seed as much as they are worried about stopping the bleeding. If they can't stop it today, they might see a 9 or a 10 next to their name in our next Field of 65.
Providence at Connecticut
The Huskies are two days away from being the new No. 1 team in the country, but first they have to get past Providence at Gampel. It sounds easy enough, but not only are the Friars coming off a huge home win over Syracuse on Wednesday, they've owned UConn over the past few years - no matter where the games have been played. Providence, incredibly, has won its last four games at UConn, and won five of the last seven games overall in this series. Since 2002-2003, the Huskies have only lost 11 games at home, and four have come to a Friars team that in that span has finished no higher than ninth in the final Big East standings. Those stats should be all the motivation the Huskies need, but if they still can't win, Providence will be in the bracket on Monday and another Big East team (sorry, Notre Dame) will be out.
Wisconsin at Northwestern
Wisconsin couldn't stop it's slide at home against Purdue this week, and by Monday - no matter what they do here - they will have officially slid their way right out of the Field of 65. Looking at the bigger picture, the Badgers' struggles (combined with Michigan's recent slump) has the Big Ten looking more and more like a six, and not a seven, bid league. Seven bids from an 11-team conference was always a little bit of a stretch, but through last week, all of those seven teams had earned a spot in the bracket. Now, the conference only has five "locks", with a sixth bid up for grabs between Wisconsin, Michigan, or Penn State. Badger fans are probably in panic mode thinking of that scenario, but if Wisconsin can win this game, their schedule isn't all that hard down the stretch (it's probably the easiest of the Big Ten bubble teams) and there's a decent chance they get to nine wins in conference. Having wins already under their belt against Michigan and Penn State also helps, but those won't mean anything if the Badgers don't turn things around in a hurry. Like, today.
Michigan at Purdue
Michigan's free-fall hasn't been as bad as Wisconsin's, but it's been pretty close. The Wolverines have now dropped 4 of 5 after losing by 18 at Ohio State on Wednesday, and their only win during that stretch is an unimpressive home victory over Northwestern. Michigan's Achilles heel all season has been playing away from Ann Arbor - they are 1-4 on the road this season, and in each of their last three road games they haven't even cracked 60 points. The Wolverines were particularly terrible against the Buckeyes, committing a season-high 21 turnovers (10 by Manny Harris) and shooting 5-of-25 from the field in the first half. They'll have to be a whole lot better than that to upset a Purdue team that is finally starting to play how people thought they would play all season. The Boilermakers have won five in a row, and enter the weekend tied for second in the Big Ten. They'll be a four seed next week with a win here, while Michigan needs a win and losses by Wisconsin and Penn State to stay in next week's field. If they do stay in, they'll almost certainly be Last Four.
Virginia Tech at Boston College
We can't say that Virginia Tech's loss to Clemson this week was an upset, but you had to like their chances at home after coming off their huge previous week. Now the Hokies, who have an impressive 7-4 road/neutral record, travel to Chestnut Hill to take on a BC team fighting to stay alive on the bubble. Even with a loss, the Hokies would probably still be safe for Sunday's bracket since they have a fairly easy ACC schedule the rest of the way (5 of 9 at home and no UNC or Wake). It's almost a must win for the Eagles if they want to reach a winning record in the ACC. They already lost in Blacksburg and a loss here would leave them way behind the Hokies in the ACC pecking order.
Baylor at Missouri
This Big XII matchup between two of the second-tier conference teams is the only time the two will meet. The Bears have had a rough go of it lately, dropping 4 of 7, and we have a hard time figuring out why so many bracketologists still think they are worthy of a 6 or 7 seed. They need a win here to avoid falling below .500 in conference play and also to stay off a double-digit seed line in the next bracket. It won't be easy for them because Missouri is undefeated at home so far this season. The Tigers have had an easy Big XII schedule so far and probably have the easiest conference schedule possible (Oklahoma, Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma St, and Texas A&M once). This is the type of game that the Tigers need to win to show the country they are a tournament team, especially after getting blown out at Kansas State this week.
Florida at Tennessee
With two home games on its schedule, Tennessee looked poised to make a move up the bracket this week. Instead, the Vols trailed big for most of the game against LSU before eventually losing 79-73, and now they might have to beat the Gators today just to stay in the Field of 65 come Monday. Florida beat Georgia at home on Wednesday to run their SEC record to 5-1, and if they win this game, they might be on the same seed line as current SEC front-runner Kentucky in our next bracket, or ahead of Kentucky if the Wildcats lose at home to South Carolina. Tennessee probably wishes this game was being played in Gainesville; the Vols have lost four of their last five home games, a dubious streak that they better stop soon if they plan on making the NCAA tourney.
Arkansas at LSU
The SEC West-leading Tigers made us look pretty good on Wednesday by winning at Tennessee, and now they get a chance to solidify their seed with a home game against Arkansas. The Razorbacks finally won a conference game this week by beating the Mark Gottfried-less Crimson Tide on Thursday. That snapped their four-game skid, and for the moment, kept them on the Last Eight Out list. Even with their terrible start, Arkansas is far from out of the running in the SEC, and a win here would have them knocking pretty loudly on the door for a bid. An argument could even be made that Arkansas should be in next week over LSU if they win this game, given their soft remaining schedule and much better OOC resume. First things first, though, the Razorbacks need to win this one, which, given their 1-3 road record, isn't the safest of bets.
Washington at Arizona State
Is UCLA the best team in the Pac-10 after all? As recently as last week, the answer to that question was 'no,' but that was before Washington gave up to 106 points to Arizona and Arizona State inexplicably lost at home to Washington State. These two upset victims now face each other in the desert with a lot on the line in terms of seeding and conference standing. Washington is in the midst of a four-game road trip, and can't afford to start that trip 0-2 with tough games at Cal and at Stanford coming up. An Arizona State loss would drop the Sun Devils into a tie for fourth in the Pac-10, and make them a likely 7 seed in Monday's bracket (they came into the week as the top 4 seed). Washington has won its last five games at Arizona State, and had won 11 in a row before the Sun Devils beat them last February.
California at USC
This is a matchup between two teams moving in opposite directions in the past few weeks. The Bears had been all the way up to a 3 seed a few weeks ago after their triple OT win at Washington. Since then, they have dropped 3 of 4, and they were never really even in the game at UCLA on Thursday. Now, with a loss, they risk falling behind USC in the Pac-10 standings and down towards double-digit seed territory. The Trojans snuck into the bracket two weeks ago with their wins over ASU and Arizona. They won a big game on Thursday night when Stanford missed a shot at the buzzer and they can now solidify themselves in the bracket with another win here.
Penn State at Michigan State
If Pennsylvania sports fans aren't interested in six hours of pre-game coverage Sunday, they can spend two of their afternoon hours rooting on the Nittany Lions as they try to pull off a huge upset in East Lansing. We've already discussed at length how Penn State has put itself in position for a bid, but before they can sneak past Michigan or Wisconsin and into our Field of 65, they still need to beat a good team on the road. Beating the 2nd-seeded Spartans in their own backyard is as big a road win as you can get in the Big Ten, and a victory here by Penn State would launch them into the field as a 10 or 11 seed next week. That's the good news (potentially). The bad news is that this game is just the start of a killer seven-game stretch for the Nittany Lions that will ultimately determine their postseason fate. There are plenty of opportunities in those seven games to get that elusive road win (at Michigan, at Purdue, at Illinois, at Ohio State), but there are plenty of potential losses staring them in the face as well. Is Penn State for real? We're about to find out real soon.
Super Bowl XLIII
Craig's Pick - Cardinals 24, Steelers 20
Chris' Pick - Cardinals 20, Steelers 17
Also receiving votes: Stanford at UCLA, North Carolina at North Carolina State, Miami (FL) at Maryland, West Virginia at Louisville, Cincinnati at Villanova, Oklahoma State at Texas A&M, South Carolina at Kentucky, New Mexico at Utah, St. Joseph's at Dayton, St. Mary's at Portland