A look at the six most notable games on Wednesday's schedule:
North Carolina at Duke
The winner of the ACC regular season title is going to get a 1 seed come Selection Sunday, and this game could go a long way in determining who that team is. The Tar Heels come in riding a seven-game winning streak, and are shooting for (incredibly) their fourth straight win at Cameron. Carolina has played only one tight game over the last seven - a three-point win over FSU two weeks ago - and over the last two games, the inconsistent Wayne Ellington has begun to heat up. Ellington scored 54 points in Carolina's two wins last week, including a 34-point, nine rebound performance against Maryland. Stopping him will be the key for the Blue Devils, who have played well defensively but pretty poorly offensively over their last few games. Duke has gotten no production from their big men of late and they got especially abused in the paint against Clemson in a loss last week. That's certainly not good news for a team that has to deal with stopping Ellington, and also Tyler Hansbrough down low. If Carolina continues its recent dominance in Durham and wins this game (and then wins at Miami this weekend) they'll be solid on the 1 line for a while. If Duke wins, they'll likely replace the Tar Heels on the 1 line next week.
Penn State at Purdue
We admit it - we were all aboard the Nittany Lion bandwagon a week ago. We thought they had a great chance to get to 10 wins in conference, and we didn't think it was out of the realm of possibility that they could make a run at the second or third bid out of the Big Ten. Those dreams all came crashing down this past week, as Penn State got torched at Michigan and lost a resume-killer at home to Wisconsin on Sunday. The Nittany Lions scored a grand total of 95 points in those two games and Talor Battle, who had been the driving force behind Penn State's win streak, finished the week an ugly 7-for-31 from the field. Penn State's losses - especially the one to the Badgers (who have now beaten them twice) - knocked them out of our Field of 65, but didn't knock them out for good. If Penn State can win two of its next four games, they will have picked up two more quality conference wins, and with some help, they might be back in the bracket before long (Michigan's loss Tuesday night to Michigan State certainly helps). The Nittany Lions have a great chance to get one of those wins tonight as they play at Purdue, a team that is struggling mightily without Robbie Hummel. The Boilermakers have lost two straight and have seen their seed slip from a 3 down to a 6. If Hummel doesn't come back soon, that seed will fall even further, perhaps down to the 8/9 range. A Penn State win tonight would be especially huge because it would complete a season sweep of Purdue and it would bring the Nittany Lions to within a half game of second place in the Big Ten.
Syracuse at Connecticut
The top-ranked Huskies picked up two more huge wins this week, dominating Louisville on the road and fighting off a pesky Michigan team at Gampel to extend their win streak to 11 games. On both ends of the floor, the Huskies are playing better than anyone in the country right now, but it's been the defensive dominance of Hasheeem Thabeet and the underrated efforts of Jeff Adrien down low that have UConn playing at an elite level. That's bad news for the visiting Orange, who have lost five of seven and seen their seed slip from a 4 down to a pretty generous 7. Their OOC resume is solid, but in conference, they've beaten only one tourney-caliber team (West Virginia) and their best road win has been at South Florida. They'll need to go 1-1 this week to avoid seeing their seed fall to the 9 line and to avoid getting lost in the jumbled middle of the Big East standings. A UConn win would almost certainly ensure a 2-0 week (they play at Seton Hall Saturday) and it would give the streaking Huskies even more momentum heading into Monday's home showdown with Pitt.
Xavier at Dayton
Both of these teams have been looking forward to this one - probably a little too much. It was supposed to be a matchup for first place between two teams on long winning streaks. Then Xavier went out and dropped a game at Duquesne, and the next day Dayton got upset at Charlotte. Now Xavier needs a win just to stay ahead of St. Joe's, while Dayton wants to avoid matching Temple and Duquesne in the loss column. The Musketeers have absolutely owned the Flyers lately, having beaten them three times in each of the last two seasons. Dayton has a solid resume with a marquee win over Marquette, and a win here would really solidify their spot in the bracket. Xavier dropped off the 4 line with their loss last week but there may be an opening for them next week if they can get another big road win. The Musketeers have a great chance for a 3 seed, and possibly a 2 seed with their OOC resume that includes wins over Cincinnati, Missouri, Virginia Tech, and Memphis. They will just need to take care of business in the A-10 to get there.
Texas Tech at Kansas State
The Big XII bubble picture finally cleared up a little bit last week. Baylor and Texas A&M finally played their way out of the bracket and Kansas State, thanks in large part to its road win over the Aggies on Saturday, played their way in. The Wildcats have come from out of nowhere to win five in a row, and at 5-4 in conference, they have built a two-game lead over A&M and Baylor, and are now tied with Texas for fourth place. Their remaining Big XII schedule is pretty easy, and they should have little problem getting to 10 conference wins - a number they'll need to reach considering their complete lack on an OOC resume. One of the conference games they have to win is this one tonight against the lowly Red Raiders, who have yet to win a road game this season. After they take case of business here, they can turn their attention to Saturday's showdown against the rival Jayhawks in Manhattan. If Kansas State wins that one too and completes another 2-0 week, they'll move up to a single-digit seed, and maybe up as high as an 8, in next week's bracket.
San Diego State at Utah
This one is looking like the Mountain West game of the year. These two are tied for first at 7-2 in conference and the winner would be in great shape for the conference title. The Aztecs only have two more road games left after this one, against TCU and New Mexico, and they haven't lost at home since dropping their opener to ASU. The Aztecs have played well lately despite being banged up. Starting forward Tim Shelton has missed a few games due to injury and team leader Lorenzo Wade has been battling to flu and sat out the weekend's game against Air Force. The Aztecs are probably the deepest team in the MWC but will need Wade to be close to 100% if they want to pull off another road upset and establish themselves as the top MWC team. Utah climbed up to a 9 seed after two solid road wins last week. Another two win week for the Utes would mean at least an 8 seed for next week.
Also receiving votes: Wake Forest at North Carolina State, Georgia Tech at Virginia Tech, St. John's at Cincinnati, LSU at Mississippi State, Georgia at Tennessee, Iowa at Wisconsin, Tulsa at Memphis, Boston University at Vermont