With March approaching, the college basketball regular season is winding down. Here’s a quick look at what you should watch for in the second-to-last weekend.
First tourney berth?
We could potentially have our first automatic bid to the 2012 NCAA tournament as soon as Saturday.
The Ivy League is the only conference that automatically sends its regular season champ dancing, and with just four remaining games, Harvard has an opportunity to clinch the league crown this weekend. The Crimson, who currently lead Penn by 1.5 games atop the Ivy League, will earn at least a share of the Ivy title by beating Princeton and the Quakers this weekend.
Harvard already beat Penn earlier in the season but fell at Princeton — the Crimson are still seeking their first win over the Tigers since losing to them in last year’s epic one-game playoff.
Additional losses by Yale and Penn would clinch full ownership of the championship.
Harvard has not reached the NCAA tournament since 1946.
Vanderbilt at Kentucky
No one outside of Bloomington, Ind. has been able to topple Kentucky. In fact, no team has even come close in the past month — with the exception of Vanderbilt, which lost 69-63 in the teams’ first matchup.
The Commodores have the offensive firepower to run with the Wildcats, but John Calipari’s elite defense and UK’s home court advantage definitely give the edge to Kentucky. But if Festus Ezeli can somehow force Anthony Davis into foul trouble — a tall task against such a disciplined defender — Vanderbilt will have a chance.
Syracuse at UConn
The final score of these teams’ first meeting doesn’t indicate how close UConn was to stealing a win at the Carrier Dome. With 6:28 remaining, the Huskies trailed Syracuse by two points, but Scoop Jardine poured in 11 of the Orange’s final 22 points en route to an 85-67 victory.
3-point shooting, ball control and a forward adept at passing are the keys to beating Syracuse, and UConn is not particularly strong in any of those categories.
Missouri at Kansas
Kansas nearly beat Missouri the first time around, but Marcus Denmon’s 9-0 run and Michael Dixon’s two foul shots in the final two minutes gave the Tigers a win.
Missouri has vastly exceeded expectations this season — rising from a borderline top-25 team to the No. 3 squad in the nation — despite its lack of size. Guards like Denmon and Kim English have helped mitigate their size disadvantage, displaying superb rebounding ability for their height. Because they are so quick, they are able to evade box-outs to snatch boards — the 6-foot-3-inch Denmon grabbed nine rebounds against the Jayhawks last time.
Kansas has the frontcourt to exploit Mizzou’s height issues, featuring National Player of the Year front-runner Thomas Robinson and emerging star Jeff Withey. But they’ll also have to keep Denmon and English off the glass to secure a win.
Wisconsin at Ohio State
In the first tilt between these two teams, Wisconsin limited Ohio State’s offense to 58 points. The Badgers lost on their home floor anyway, 58-52.
The Buckeyes have more weapons offensively — as well as Aaron Craft, who can shut down Jordan Taylor — and Wisconsin will have a hard time winning in Columbus.