Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Five Pack For Wednesday

A look at the five most notable games on Wednesday's schedule:

Duke at Wake Forest
This game isn't the 1 vs. 2 match-up it looked like it might be early last week, but it still has huge implications in terms of future bracket seeding. If the Demon Deacons win this game, the ACC might have two 1 seeds again next week, knocking Pitt off the 1 line. If Duke wins, Carolina could very well creep up to the top 2 seed and be just one upset away from reclaiming the 1 seed that everyone assumed they would hold all season. There's obviously a lot of basketball to be played, but the head-to-head results between the Big Three in the ACC (sorry, Clemson) is going to go a long way in determining who ends up where on Selection Sunday. Considering they're at home, the game is especially huge long-term for Wake, which still has to make a trip to Durham on Feb. 22. If the Demon Deacons are going to hold serve tonight, they'll have to find a way to stop the red-hot Gerald Henderson. If it's possible for a Duke player to be underrated, Henderson has been just that this season - and especially of late. He's averaged 20 points per game over his last five, a streak that has not-so-accidentally coincided with Duke's ascension to the No. 1 ranking and the top overall seed in our Field of 65.

North Carolina at Florida State
Florida State made it all the way up to a seven seed in last week's bracket, but their loss at Miami (FL) Wednesday knocked them back down to the bottom of the eight line. The 'Noles recovered with a win at Virginia on Saturday to stay just ahead of the Hurricanes in what has turned into a season-long battle for the fifth ACC bid. They can lock up that fifth spot for the forseeable future if they can win this game against the streaking Tar Heels. After its infamous 0-2 ACC start, Carolina has won its last three conference games by an average of 21 points, and is coming off a 24-point beatdown of Clemson at home last Wednesday. FSU has a knack for beating ranked teams in Tallahassee, and their seed would jump up at least two lines if they could pull off an upset here. Given their tough remaining road schedule, this could be the 'Noles best shot at a marquee conference win from here on out.

Michigan at Ohio State
The game comes at a critical time for both teams. The Buckeyes are coming off a two-loss week that sent them plummetting from a 4 seed all the way down to an 8, and the Wolverines are looking for answers after a 15-point loss at Penn State last week dropped them from a 7 to a 10. It's the start of a huge week for Michigan, which has another tough road game (at Purdue) looming on Saturday. The Wolverines face the prospect of falling 4-6 in conference - and maybe falling out of the bracket altogether - if they can't manage a split this week. Ohio State, meanwhile, begins a key stretch of four out of five home games, all of which are against the teams they are chasing in the Big Ten standings. A good run through those five games could have the Buckeyes approaching their seed line of a week ago; a bad run and they might be down where Michigan is right now - dangerously close to the bubble.

Pittsburgh at Villanova
One of the great mysteries of this college basketball season is how Villanova, with its ridiculously unimpressive resume, is still ranked. The Wildcats "best" win is against Temple, and they have lost to both quality Big East opponents they have played so far (Louisville and UConn). They're down to a season-low 11 seed in our latest bracket, and they'll need a 1-1 week to guarantee a spot in next week's field. Their toughest test of the week - and their biggest chance to leap up a few seed lines - comes tonight at top-seeded Pitt pays a visit. The Panthers responded to their loss to Louisville by picking up two huge wins last week - at home against Syracuse and on the road against West Virginia. A Villanova loss here is good news for Notre Dame fans, who don't want the Irish flirting with the last Big East bid, and even better news for Providence fans. If Pitt wins and the Friars beat Syracuse tonight, Providence would be two games up on 'Nova in the Big East standings and would likely replace the Wildcats in Monday's bracket.

LSU at Tennessee
Despite a pretty ugly resume, LSU still found a way to sneak into the bracket this week. Having a bunch of other bubble teams lose last week helped, but the Tigers ultimately made the field because of their extremely soft remaining schedule and because they are the frontrunners right now to win the SEC West. LSU has been dominant in its last three conference games (winning by an average of 24 points per game), and it's hard to see them not getting to 11 or 12 conference wins. One of the more difficult games they have left is this one, on the road against the Vols. Tennessee missed out on a golden opportunity to improve its seed last week by playing awful offensively in a home loss to Memphis. With only one big win (Marquette) to speak of, the Memphis loss made this week even bigger for Tennessee. They host LSU tonight and then host Florida on Saturday night. A two-loss week will have them Last Four In at best come Monday.

Also receiving votes: Connecticut at DePaul, Syracuse at Providence, Georgetown at Cincinnati, Georgia at Florida, Vanderbilt at South Carolina, Kansas at Nebraska, Texas Tech at Texas A&M, Missouri at Kansas State, TCU at San Diego State, Illinois State at Northern Iowa


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