SportsPulse: We are just over a week away from Selection Sunday and for these teams a tournament berth is anything but guaranteed.
For all the major conferences, college basketball’s regular season concludes this weekend with league titles and seeding in the conference tournaments on the line. Meanwhile, smaller leagues are deciding their champions and handing out tickets to the NCAA tournament.
And bubble teams will also have significant stakes to play for as they to make their cases to the tournament selection committee with Selection Sunday now just a week away.
It’s all part of the March Madness experience college basketball fans have learned to enjoy through the years.
Here are the top five games to watch as the contenders jockey for final positions.
No. 4 Duke at No. 3 North Carolina
Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
The highly anticipated first meeting between these neighborhood rivals never materialized. Unfortunately, the aftermath might prevent the rematch from doing so as well with Zion Williamson still unlikely to be ready to return for Duke. The good news is that this time the Blue Devils will have had time to develop a game plan without their star big man. The bad news, however, is there still might not be an answer for the Tar Heels’ interior scorers, especially if UNC is able to do what it does best and create easy opportunities in transition. Duke might have to rely on its three-point shooting more than coach Mike Krzyzewski would prefer, but a hot streak is always possible.
No. 7 Michigan at No. 11 Michigan State
Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
The winner of this rematch in East Lansing claims at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. This would be a remarkable achievement for the injury-plagued Spartans, who picked up a huge win in Ann Arbor a couple of weeks ago. The Wolverines, of course, are more than capable of returning the favor on MSU’s home court. The Spartans would make that considerably more difficult if Kenny Goins has another strong offensive performance to complement his usual solid work on the glass.
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No. 8 Texas Tech at No. 25 Iowa State
Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, ESPN News
With the Kansas streak now officially over, the Big 12 regular-season race is down to Texas Tech and Kansas State, who are tied for the lead heading into their finales. The Red Raiders would appear to have the more difficult assignment as K-State finishes at home against Oklahoma. The Cyclones, however, have dropped four of their last five. They did manage a win in Lubbock back in January, thanks to a 20-point outing from Marial Shayok. But he missed Wednesday night’s loss at West Virginia with a foot injury and might not be available for this rematch with the Red Raiders. Texas Tech sharpshooter Davide Moretti will need his accuracy in the hostile environs of Hilton Coliseum.
No. 4 Tennessee at Auburn
Saturday, noon ET, ESPN
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A No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament hardly provides a guaranteed path to the Final Four, but it can mean more favorable matchups in the early rounds. The Vols will strengthen their case for a top spot if they can finish with another quality road win. The Tigers figure to have other ideas, however, as they attempt to improve their own position. Auburn is almost certainly safe but is projected to fall into that middle half of the bracket that makes a long stay challenging. The Tigers have won their last three, helped by some increased inside productivity from Chuma Okeke. But he figures to have his hands full with UT’s Grant Williams.
No. 12 Houston at No. 19 Cincinnati
Sunday, noon ET, CBS
The highlight of the Sunday slate is this top-20 American Athletic Conference showdown. A win by Cincinnati would leave both teams tied for the league’s regular-season title. The Cougars took the first encounter back in Houston, using its usual scoring balance to overcome a huge 27-point effort from Bearcats guard Jerron Cumberland. Cincinnati’s stingy defense makes it difficult for a single opponent to take over a game, but UC must find more options on the offensive end to gain the split.