As hard as it is to believe (trust us, it is hard), we are entering the final few days of college basketball's regular season. And with just over two weeks until Selection Sunday, there is still plenty to play for — for so many programs across the country.
Entering the weekend, what do you need to know? Here are 5 things:
Casey SapioUSA TODAY Sports
Game of the weekend: UCLA at Arizona
When these two played at Pauley Pavilion in late January, Arizona picked up what was considered — at least at the time — one of the most surprising victories of the season. Then everyone realized that Arizona is really good (it has won 20 of its past 21), and the scary part is it seemingly has gotten better the past few weeks. A win over UCLA on Saturday would put the stamp on the Wildcats' season and clinch at least a share of the Pac-12 regular-season title.
The stakes are different for UCLA, but equally as high. The Bruins are a No. 4 seed in FOX’s latest Bracket Watch, and a loss would make it virtually impossible for them to move any higher (their only remaining games are against Washington and Washington State at home). It would also set up a less-than-ideal situation where UCLA would be get paired with a No. 1 seed in the Sweet 16 — almost certainly in that No. 1 seed’s backyard. The Bruins could still make a run to the Final Four, but they’d be upping their degree of difficulty with a loss.
However, this game is about more than just seeding; it’s about pride. The Bruins were embarrassed on their home court by the Wildcats and are looking for revenge. It will be interesting to see if they can get it in one of the nation’s toughest road venues — a place where Arizona has won 21 straight games.
How the SEC was won?
Speaking of getting embarrassed, few teams have suffered a more embarrassing loss this season than Kentucky did when it got smoked 88-66 at Florida earlier this month. That defeat was the Wildcats' third in four games at the time, and was made even worse when Malik Monk was caught by TV cameras smiling on the bench in the final seconds of the blowout.
But while that was an unquestioned low point, it also was a crucial turning point in Kentucky's season. After all the consternation about the Wildcats following that loss, they have won five in a row. They can take control of the SEC regular-season race with a win Saturday.
Can Kentucky beat a club that is not only its toughest opponent in the conference, but also a stylistic nightmare for it? The one thing Kentucky doesn’t do well is shoot threes (just 35 percent as a team), and Florida ranks in the Top 10 nationally in three-point percentage defense. If the Wildcats want to take control of the SEC, they will have to earn it.
For Syracuse, this game is about as must-win as it gets. The Orange have a bizarre tournament resume that includes some monster wins (Duke, Florida State, Virginia) but also some truly weird losses (UConn, St. John’s, at Boston College). Another big win – this one on the road – might be enough to put the Orange in the field for good. A loss would likely leave them scrambling as they head into the ACC Tournament.
Other bubble teams that could notch big wins
Several other bubble teams also have matchups with high-profile teams and could pick up the key victory that pushes them into the field.
Let’s start with TCU. Jamie Dixon’s club is in a free-fall with four straight losses and is just barely clinging to a tournament bid. A win over No. 12 West Virginia on Saturday could change that. Meanwhile, both Michigan and Miami are in the projected field right now (though not by much), and each could enhance its resume against a Top 15 team (the Wolverines host No. 14 Purdue, and Miami welcomes No. 10 Duke).
And Pittsburgh, which appeared to gasp its last bubble breath with a loss Wednesday to Wake Forest, could come back to life this weekend. The Panthers face ACC leader North Carolina, a team that beat them by just two points back on Jan. 31 in Chapel Hill.
Bubble teams that need to avoid a bad loss
Sometimes it’s not just about picking up a big win, but avoiding a bad loss. That’s certainly the case for several bubble teams.
Cal had its heart broken on Wednesday against Oregon (thanks to a Dillon Brooks buzzer-beater) and can’t afford to lose to Oregon State on Friday night on FS1. Same with Seton Hall, which faces Big East bottom-dweller DePaul on Saturday.