College Basketball Matchups to Watch, Plus a Bubble Update as March Approaches
With three weeks to go before Selection Sunday, I’ll be including a bubble watch in addition to our game previews. At the bottom, you’ll find a breakdown of teams with work to do before Selection Sunday.
5 Tennessee (24-2, 12-1 SEC) vs. 13 LSU (21-5, 11-2 SEC)
Tennessee bounced back from its first conference loss of the season last Saturday with a 12 point home win over Vanderbilt on Tuesday. Meanwhile, LSU fell to Florida by five in overtime this week, snapping a four game winning streak.
I’ve said previously that Tennessee’s biggest weakness is shooting the basketball, particular from the outside. In the loss to Kentucky last week, the Vols shot just 40.7% from the field, including 7 for 25 from three. Even in victory over Vanderbilt, Tennessee’s shooting struggles continued; the Vols shot 41.1% from the field and 6 for 21 from three.
Rick Barnes’s club has to start making outside shots if they want to make a deep run in the tournament.
On the other side, LSU has been one of the surprises of college basketball this season. People knew LSU was going to be good, but who knew they were going to be this good in Will Wade’s second season as head coach. Wade took over a program that failed to make the NCAA Tournament despite having Ben Simmons, and moved them up to a three or four seed.
If you haven’t gotten a chance to see him play, LSU point guard Tremont Waters is fun to watch. The 5’11 New Haven, Connecticut native plays with boundless energy, plus his short shorts are a funny visual.
Prediction: The matchup that decides this game will be on the glass between Tennessee’s Grant Williams and LSU’s Naz Reid. Williams is having another SEC Player of the Year caliber season, averaging 19 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. While Reid is posting 13 points and 6.6 rebounds per contest. In the end I like Tennessee’s depth and star power. The Vols pick up a key road win and put some distance between themselves and LSU in the standings.
16 Florida State (21-5, 9-4 ACC) vs. 8 North Carolina (21-5, 11-2 ACC)
If you were wondering how good North Carolina is, Wednesday’s 16 point win over Duke gave you a resounding answer.
While the sports world was busy debating whether Zion Williamson should sit out the rest of the season, people forgot what the Tar Heels accomplished on the court this week.
Even without Zion, Duke still had three elite players in the lineup: RJ Barrett, Cam Reddish, and Tre Jones. Although UNC’s two best young players, Colby White and Nassir Little, combined for just 11 points, the Tar Heels still won by double digits in one of the toughest stadiums in sports.
This weekend North Carolina hosts a Florida State team that’s won eight straight games after losing four of its first five in conference.
Led by 6’10 forward Mifondu Kabengele, the Seminoles have held opponents to under 70 points in seven of their last eight games.
Prediction: North Carolina will need a bigger contribution from Little and White and will have to shoot better than the 2 for 20 it posted against the Blue Devils in order to win this weekend. I like Florida State’s defense and size inside. I’m taking the Seminoles to score a road upset.
Ohio State (17-9, 7-8 Big Ten) vs. 24 Maryland (20-7, 11-5 Big Ten)
At one point ranked in the top 20, Ohio State is now fighting just to make the tournament. The Buckeyes have been woeful of late offensively, scoring an average of 51 points over their last four games.
OSU big man Kaleb Wesson broke out of a slump in the Buckeyes last game against Northwestern, scoring 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Wesson will need another performance of at least 20 points for Ohio State to have a chance on the road at Maryland.
Prediction: Maryland has quietly snuck into the Top 25 in recent weeks. The Terrapins biggest win in years came this week at 21st ranked Iowa. It was Maryland’s first road win against a ranked opponent since 2008. The Ohio State-Maryland matchup will come down to Kaleb Wesson against Bruno Fernando. Fernando is averaging 14 points and more than 10 rebounds per contest. If Ohio State keeps Fernando off the glass, the Buckeyes can score a much-needed road win. If not, Maryland picks up the W. I’ll take the hotter team right now, Maryland.
North Carolina State (19-8, 7-7 ACC)
Net Ranking: 32
Best Win: Auburn, ranked 7th at the time.
Worst Loss: At Wake Forest by four.
With the toughest part of the schedule behind them, NC State gets ACC bottom feeders Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Boston College as three of its final four games. Barring a loss to one of those teams and a disaster in the ACC tournament, Kevin Keatts’ club should be in the tournament.
Texas (15-11, 7-6 Big 12)
Net Ranking: 35
Best Win: North Carolina at a neutral site
Worst Loss: Radford
In addition to its win over UNC, Texas also has home wins over Kansas and Purdue. But the Longhorns just suspended their leading scorer Kerwin Roach and have two tough road matchups against bubble-hungry Baylor and Oklahoma. Not to mention, Texas also needs to play against ranked Iowa State and Texas Tech. With a difficult schedule remaining, Texas will likely struggle down the stretch and miss the tournament.
St. John’s (19-8, 7-7 Big East)
Net Ranking: 49
Best Win: Marquette (2x)
Worst Loss: Providence by 19
Every year there’s a team sitting right on the bubble and this year it’s St. John’s. The Red Storm went 3-1 against the Big East’s two best teams, Marquette and Villanova. But Chris Mullin’s club was swept by Providence. St. John’s has a favorable schedule to close the season, getting Xavier (6-8 in the Big East) twice, and Depaul (5-9 in conference). Barring a slip up against a bad team, St. John’s should make the tournament.
Ohio State (17-9, 7-8 Big Ten)
Net Ranking: 43
Best Win: The Buckeyes don’t have a good win. For the most part OSU has beaten the Big Ten teams below them, but they don’t have a good win to hang their hat on.
Worst Loss: To 12-14 Rutgers
The Buckeyes have a brutal schedule to finish the regular season. Four of OSU’s final five games are against ranked opponents. While the difficult schedule presents plenty of opportunities for Ohio State to pick up quality wins, I don’t see them getting through the stretch without at least two losses. OSU will need a strong showing in the Big Ten Tournament to avoid sweating out Selection Sunday.
Arizona State (18-8, 9-5 Pac 12)
Net Ranking: 66
Best Win: At home against Kansas when the Jayhawks were the top ranked team in the country.
Worst Loss: By 16 to Vanderbilt and Princeton
Likely the Pac 12’s only hope to avoid being a one bid league, Arizona State is a tough case to crack. The Sun Devils have good wins, including over Kansas, and would make the tournament better if they were included. But ASU also has bad losses to Vandy and Princeton. The Sun Devils’ final four games won’t help their resume, but could hurt it with a loss. They’ll need to reach at least the Pac 12 Tournament semi finals for serious consideration by the selection committee.
Graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism. Fan of all sports and a long-suffering Jets fan who will defend Sam Darnold at all times. Also, an above average golfer.