Early Symptoms of March Madness


The best college basketball matchups this weekend. All times PST.

1. ) No. 3 Duke at No. 19 North Carolina Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN

• About the Blue Devils (27-3, 14-3): Duke looked much more like a No. 1 seed in a Feb. 28 rout of Syracuse and a March 4 blowout against Wake Forest than it did in a narrow Feb. 25 overtime victory against Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils’ offense — which ranks fourth nationally in scoring (81.2 ppg) and third in field percentage (50.4%) has overshadowed a mediocre defense. Duke center Jahlil Okafor — 30 points vs. Virginia Tech — is a strong candidate for player of the year, and fellow freshmen Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones are have been excellent.

• About the Tar Heels (21-9, 11-6): North Carolina isn’t exactly peaking — losing five of their last nine, but the Tar Heels have fallen victim to a tougher portion of the ACC schedule. Marcus Paige hasn’t had the All-American season he was predicted to have, but he’s starting to come along — scoring 17 points in UNC’s Feb. 28 against win-hungry bubble team Miami (Fla.). When Paige plays well, the Tar Heels typically win. The Tar Heels rank seventh nationally with an 8.6 rebounding margin, and they lead the nation in assists (17.7).

• Star watch: Duke forward Okafor (17.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg) and guard Quinn Cook (15.8 ppg). North Carolina guard Marcus Paige (13.2 ppg, 4.4 apg) and forward Brice Johnson (12.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg).

• The pick: North Carolina. In the last meeting, the Blue Devils escaped with a 92-90 overtime thriller. That was at Cameron Indoor Stadium, though, and home-court atmosphere drastically changes things in this rivalry.

2.) No. 10 Kansas at No. 15 Oklahoma | Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN

• About the Jayhawks (24-6, 13-4): Kansas has clinched its 11th consecutive Big 12 regular-season championship, but a strong finish is necessary for NCAA tournament seeding purposes. That task got tougher with the news of an injury to Perry Ellis (28 points and 13 rebounds in a Feb. 28 win against Texas), who will miss the regular-season finale but is expected back for the Big 12 tournament. Freshmen Kelly Oubre Jr. and Devonte Graham havebeen inconsistent, but they’re key pieces to Kansas’ success.

• About the Sooners (20-9, 11-6): Oklahoma lost a close one on March 2 at Iowa State, but the Sooners have won eight of their last 10 and have what it takes to win the Big 12 tournament and perhaps notch a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. Oklahoma guards well, ranking eighth nationally in field goal percentage defense (38.1%). Buddy Hield has been playing like the best player in the Big 12, finishing with 21 points and 13 rebounds in a Feb. 28 victory against TCU.

• Star watch: Kansas guard Frank Mason III (12.4 ppg, 4.2 apg) and guard Wayne Selden Jr. (9.4 ppg, 3.0 apg). Oklahoma guard Hield (17.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg) and guard Isaiah Cousins (12.0 ppg, 4.9 rpg).

• The pick: Oklahoma. In the first matchup, Kansas took its foot off the gas pedal by letting a 20-point lead evaporate in the second half.

3.) Kansas State at Texas | Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPN2

• About the Wildcats (15-15, 8-9 Big 12): Back-to-back victories against Big 12 kingpins Kansas and Iowa State have rejuvenated the Wildcats’ postseason hopes. Kansas State struggles to keep pace with most teams because it’s not a great three-point shooting team, ranking 316th nationally with 4.6 made treys a game. Sophomore guard Nigel Johnson has come up big, scoring 20 points in the Kansas win (Feb. 23) and finishing with 17 points and nine rebounds in the victory against Iowa State (Feb. 28).

• About the Longhorns (18-12, 7-10): The Longhorns have gone from a top-10 team in November to a bubble team here in March. They finally snapped a four-game losing streak against No. 19 Baylor in overtime on March 2. Still, Texas needs to win or the NIT will be its postseason tournament. The Longhorns are at their best in the paint — leading the nation in blocked shots a game (7.7), ranking ninth in rebounding margin (8.3) and ranking fourth in field goal percentage defense (36.4).

• Star watch: Kansas State guard Marcus Foster (12.9 ppg) and forward Nino Williams (11.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg). Texas guard Isaiah Taylor (13.3 ppg, 4.4 apg) and forward Myles Turner (11.0 ppg, 6.6 rpg).

• The pick: Texas. This matchup is as pivotal as any bubble clash will get this season. Whichever team loses will likely be playing in the NIT.

4.) Tulsa at No. 22 Southern Methodist | Sunday, 12 Noon., ESPNU

• About the Golden Hurricane (21-8, 14-3): Tulsa remains on the NCAA tournament bubble but is inching closer to being safely in the field, however a March 4 loss to fellow bubble team Cincinnati didn’t do the Golden Hurricane any favors. Tulsa’s offense isn’t the most potent — ranking 232nd nationally in field goal percentage (42.3%) and 227th in scoring (65.3 ppg). Tulsa wins on the defensive end: 33rd in field goal percentage defense (39.3%) and 32nd in scoring defense (60.3 ppg). The backcourt of James Woodard and Shaquille Harrison combine for more than 27 points a game.

• About the Mustangs (23-6, 14-3): A March 1 loss to Connecticut ended a five-game winning streak, but the AAC title is still within reach for a team that has played well despite preseason and early season adversities. The Mustangs do a lot of things well, ranking 11th in field goal percentage (48.6%), 20th in rebounding margin (6.4) and 25th in scoring defense (allowing 59.7 ppg). Nic Moore has been playing like the AAC player of the year but he has to shoot the ball well (he went 3-for-13 from the floor in the loss to UConn).

• Star watch: Tulsa guard Woodard (14.4 ppg, 4.5 rpg) and guard Harrison (13.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.6 apg). SMU guard Moore (14.4 ppg, 5.3 apg) and forward Yanick Moreira (11.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg)

• The pick: SMU. The AAC title is likely on the line. In the last matchup, Moore keyed a 15-0 second half run that put away Tulsa.

5.) St. John’s at No. 4 Villanova | Saturday, 11 am, Fox

• About the Red Storm (21-9, 10-7): St. John’s has subtly pushed itself into the projected NCAA tournament field thanks to four consecutive Big East wins. The Red Storm are great at protecting the paint, ranking fifth in blocked shots a game (6.7) led by guard Sir’Dominic Pointer (2.5 bpg) and center Chris Obekpa (3.2 bpg). Explosive scorer D’Angelo Harrison has been the offensive leader, but St. John’s proved it could win without him scoring big, beating Georgetown Feb. 28 despite just one point from Harrison.

• About the Wildcats (28-2, 15-2): Villanova has won 11 in a row and is in great position to notch a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. Villanova takes great care of the ball (ranking 13th nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio-1.41) and share well (ranking 20th nationally with 15.6 apg), led by veteran point guard Ryan Arcidiacono. Darrun Hilliard paces a potent offense that features six players averaging close to nine points a game.

• Star watch: St. John’s guard Harrison (17.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and forward Pointer (13.9 ppg, 7.7 rpg). Villanova guard Hilliard (14.2 ppg) and Arcidiacono (10.9 ppg).

• The pick: Villanova. In the last matchup, the Red Storm led 35-34 at halftime before the Wildcats shifted gears in the second half to win by 18 points. Villanova outrebounded St. John’s 41-21.

Off the bench Eastern Times

— 6. Michigan State at Indiana | Saturday, noon, ESPN

— 7. No. 5 Wisconsin at No. 25 Ohio State | Sunday, 4:30 p.m., CBS

— 8. No. 2 Virginia at No. 14 Louisville | Saturday, 6:30 p.m., ESPN

— 9. Stanford at No. 6 Arizona | Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS

— 10. Florida at No. 1 Kentucky | Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS


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