By Jon Rothstein
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HARVARD AT PRINCETON
Can the Crimson go the NCAA Tournament for the second time in as many seasons? Absolutely. Can they finally win a game at Jadwin Gym? That’s to be determined. Harvard hasn’t won a game at Princeton since 1989, and that’s what it will take for Tommy Amaker’s team to all but seal the Ivy League title for the second year in a row. The Crimson have better perimeter scoring than the Tigers, but the triumvirate of Denton Koon, Will Barrett, and Ian Hummer will test Harvard’s ability to guard on the interior. This has the makings of a truly special game, and and there’s nothing that decides big games in March like quality guard play. Harvard freshman point guard Siyani Chambers has been a revelation for Amaker this season, and it says here that his presence will be enough for the Crimson to accomplish something they haven’t done in 24 years.
PREDICTION: HARVARD 62, PRINCETON 58
BUTLER AT VCU
The two new additions to the Atlantic 10 meet in what is easily one of the more highly anticipated games of the season. Butler and VCU met two years ago in 2011 at the Final Four in Houston, and now each of these programs is cemented as one of the stronger brands in college basketball. The Rams have been at their best this season when their defense has accelerated the pace of the game, while the Bulldogs prefer to play a slower, methodical type of style. Butler’s back court depth has been a question all season long, and it says here that VCU’s vintage “HAVOC” defense will be at its best in front of what should be a raucous crowd at the Siegel Center in Richmond.
PREDICTION: VCU 68, BUTLER 61
LOUISVILLE AT SYRACUSE
Dare we say this, but the Cardinals are under the radar. Rick Pitino’s team has won seven of their last eight games with their only blemish during that run coming in a five-overtime defeat at Notre Dame. Louisville was thought by many to be a favorite for the national championship, but an early skid in Big East play quickly cooled those prognostications. Not to worry, thanks to Pitino’s brilliance, the Cardinals are on a complete upward trajectory and will be looking to get even with Syracuse after the Orange won earlier this year at the KFC Yum Center. Jim Boeheim’s team has lost consecutive games, and seems to be lacking a secondary outside shooter next toJames Southerland. We’re taking the Cardinals on the road.
PREDICTION: LOUISVILLE 73, SYRACUSE 67
MIAMI AT DUKE
This is where the territory really gets uncharted for the Hurricanes. Jim Larranaga’s team has been one of the great stories of this college basketball season, but when have they ever gone into Cameron Indoor Stadium ahead of Duke in the ACC Standings? The Blue Devils were thoroughly embarrassed when these two teams met earlier in the season, and you can bet they’ll want to remedy that memory in a hurry. I may be in the minority, but I expect Miami to play well and compete with Duke for 40 minutes. I just don’t think they’ll do enough to win.
PREDICTION: DUKE 66, MIAMI 60
MICHIGAN STATE AT MICHIGAN
It’s officially time to go Colonel Jessup and order a “Code Red” on the Wolverines. If you don’t get that reference and haven’t seen A Few Good Men, then stop reading now! In all seriousness,Michigan is coming off a loss at Penn State and is starting to look extremely vulnerable. The Wolverines don’t have many veterans and aren’t an exceptionally deep team. Sparty, meanwhile is massive on the baseline and has all the requisites to play deep into the NCAA Tournament despite recent losses to Indiana and Ohio State. Michigan State handled Michigan with ease when the two teams met a few weeks ago in East Lansing, and it says here that Tom Izzo’s team will enjoy a season sweep over their in-state rivals.
PREDICTION: MICHIGAN STATE 74, MICHIGAN 66
THIS AND THAT:
- One of the hardest things about preparing to play Saint Louis is there isn’t one specific player that you have to lock in on. The Billikens are an incredibly balanced team that has six different players averaging between 7.3 and 12.3 points per game. Jim Crews’ squad has now won 10 games in a row, and looks like they’ll be an absolute nuisance to play in the NCAA Tournament. Saint Louis closes the Atlantic 10 season with road games at George Washington and Xavier before returning home to host La Salle.
- Indiana’s loss on Tuesday night at Minnesota exposed the Hoosiers’ lack of ability to effectively guard opponents deep in the paint. Trevor Mbakwe looked like his vintage self for the Gophers, tallying 21 points and 12 rebounds while Elliott Eliason came off the bench and made a big impact (seven points, five rebounds) in the early portion of the second half. Indiana still looks like pound for pound the best team in college basketball, but Minnesota proved that you can give the Hoosiers trouble if you have personnel that can score the ball in the low post.
- UNLV coach Dave Rice said on Thursday that Runnin Rebels forward Anthony Bennett is probable for Saturday’s game at Nevada despite a shoulder injury. UNLV has won three straight games and is playing their best basketball of the season. “We just need to do a better job of valuing the basketball,” Rice said on Thursday. “I know we’re going to turn the ball over somewhat because we push it so much, but we just have to be more careful with each possession.” The Runnin Rebels are 21-7 overall and 8-5 in Mountain West play.
- UCLA can make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament if they avoid a team that has a dominant low post player. Ben Howland doesn’t have a traditional five-man on his roster, but the Bruins’ freshmen trio of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson, and Jordan Adams has been terrific. The talented triumvirate combined for 64 points and 28 rebounds in UCLA’s overtime win over Arizona State on Thursday night, and seem to get a little better each time they take the floor.
- One of the most stressful things you will see over the next few weeks is coaches in mid-major leagues coaching in their respective conference tournaments. One-bid leagues present a whole new type of pressure because a great season can dissipate if your team doesn’t play their best game over a 40-minute period. “It’s one of the most extraordinary things in terms of intensity that we have in coaching,” Davidson coach Bob McKillop said on Thursday. “Everything is so different about mid-major tournaments because there’s likely going to only be one bid available for that particular conference.” McKillop has lived that situation, and will live it again in the next weeks. The Wildcats are 22-7 and in first-place in the Southern Conference, but need to win their league tournament to reach the field of 68.
- Fairleigh Dickinson will fire head coach Greg Vetrone at the conclusion of the season, multiple sources confirmed this week. Vetrone had a 26-93 record in four years as head coach. Potential replacements could be Rutgers assistant Van Macon, Iona associate head coach Jared Grasso, and former Monmouth head coach Dave Calloway.
- USC has won five of their last seven games and is starting to resemble the team that many thought they’d be prior to the season. The Trojans are now 8-7 in PAC-12 play and should get bouncy forward Ari Stewart back from injury next week. You won’t want to play this team if you’re on the bubble.
- Keep an eye on Marquette freshman Steve Taylor. The 6-7 power forward has a great feel and is extremely skilled inside the paint. Taylor played 16 minutes in the Golden Eagles’ win over Syracuse this week (four points, four rebounds), and looks more and more comfortable each time he takes the floor. This might be the best high school player Buzz Williams has signed since he’s been at the Milwaukee school.
- Akron could be this year’s version of Drexel. The Zips now have the nation’s longest winning streak at 19 games, but will be hard pressed to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament if they don’t win the MAC Conference Tournament. Akron beat Ohio on Wednesday night in overtime to sweep the season series with the Bobcats, but will likely have to face them again in their conference tournament if they hope to earn a bid to the field of 68. A year ago, Drexel won 27 games and the CAA regular season title, but lost in the finals of their conference tournament and didn’t receive an at-large bid.
- Towson is one win away from having the biggest single season turnaround in college basketball history. The Tigers only won one game last season now sit at 17-13 heading into Saturday’s season finale against Hofstra. Towson is unable to play in the postseason due to low APR scores, but second-year coach Pat Skerry has still made a major statement after winning only one game in 2011-12. This could be the CAA favorite at the start of next season.
What’s your prediction for Butler-VCU? Louisville-SU? Let Jon know in the comments!