Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
As we enter the final week of the NCAA regular season we already know a fair amount about the teams we’ll be cheering for as March creeps closer to April. For example: We know Kentucky is very very good. That isn’t going to change regardless of what happens this final week of the season, especially considering that they probably won’t lose. However, there are some matchups that are as salacious as we could ask for and they could make a huge impact on the NCAA Tournament. With the tournament right around the corner, here are five games this week that are sure please anyone looking for an appetizer to the madness that is coming later in March.
1. (4) Duke @ (15) North Carolina – Saturday, March 7, 9 p.m.
The 240th iteration of the Hatfield’s vs. McCoy’s of the college basketball universe is sure to be a gem if the 239th version was any indication. In case you somehow forgot, Duke pulled off a spectacular comeback at home against the Tar Heels to not only defeat their rivals, but to give their legendary coach Mike Krzyzewsky his 1,000th career win. Both teams will surely be hungry for a victory before heading into the ACC tournament and both would love nothing more than to take their arch-rival to the woodshed as a cherry on top of two respectable seasons for two revered schools.
2. (9) Notre Dame @ (17) Louisville – Wednesday, March 4, 7 p.m.
Notre Dame and Louisville are two teams hoping to make some noise in the NCAA tournament this year and there’s no better way to alert the world to their presence than by beating up on the other. Louisville may finally be finding their footing again after the shocking news surrounding guard Chris Jones and his dismissal from the team after an impressive romp of Florida State on the road. Meanwhile Notre Dame will be looking to prevent a late-season slide after unceremoniously losing to Syracuse at home this past week. A two-game losing streak could spell trouble for the Irish, a winning streak for Louisville could make them a dangerous team in the ACC tournament and beyond.
3. (2) Virginia @ Syracuse – Monday, March 2, 7 p.m.
While Syracuse may be sitting on the sidelines on their own accord for this year’s tourney they have still taken kindly to the task of slaying some giants as the season has gone on. With a win over Louisville at home and one on the road over Notre Dame within five days of each other they will surely be able to give Virginia all they can handle when they show up at the Carrier Dome this weekend. Without Justin Anderson, Malcolm Brogdon has led the charge for the Cavaliers and he’ll have to do so if Virginia want to avoid the same fate as the Cardinals and Irish.
4. (2) Virginia @ (17) Louisville – Saturday, March 7, 6:30 p.m.
Both these teams have been mentioned above and clearly have a huge week ahead. Seeding position is at stake and so is confidence heading into the NCAA Tournament. If Virginia can go on the road and come out with a win that would make them 2-0 against Louisville on the season and give them a big edge of the Cardinals should the two teams meet in the ACC tournament. For a slightly rattled Louisville program, this would be their signature win this season and the timing couldn’t be better.
5. (8) Kansas @ (16) Oklahoma – Saturday, March 7, 4 p.m.
For Kansas and Oklahoma it’s a Big 12-filled finale. Kansas’s week consists of games against West Virginia and Oklahoma on the horizon as they set their sights on a Big 12 tournament victory. They have been an up-and-down team for most of the year but a run through the Big 12, especially through West Virginia and Oklahoma this coming week can set them on a nice path for the NCAA Tournament. The Sooners will be looking to avenge a loss to Kansas earlier in the season and stake their claim as a team to be aware of coming into the Big 12 tournament. If they can beat Kansas and Iowa State they’ll certainly have the rest of the Big 12 looking at Oklahoma as a serious contender this March.
While we all can’t wait for Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament there’s plenty to look forward this coming week. Nobody wants to limp into their conference tournaments or the Big Dance so these teams will be out looking to win these critical matchups at all costs.