Weekend preview: Tough stretch for Gators

Billy Donovan was on top of the world three years ago when his

Florida Gators won back-to-back national titles.

Now there’s a chance that his team could be headed to

its third consecutive NIT berth.

Florida does have a pair of quality non-conference wins to

hang its hat on – a home victory over Florida State and more

importantly, a neutral-site win against Michigan State – but

the Gators need to finish strong in order to get back to the Big

Dance.

Florida, which is 18-8 overall and 7-4 in SEC play, has a

difficult five-game stretch to end the season, beginning with a

road game at Ole Miss on Saturday.

The Gators have home games against a pair of ranked teams,

Tennessee and Vanderbilt, and road contests at Georgia and No. 2

Kentucky.

Here’s a preview of this weekend’s action:

CAN’T MISS: Kentucky at Vanderbilt, Saturday

at 6 p.m. ET – The Wildcats pulled out a road win down in

Starkville against Mississippi State earlier this week and Kevin

Stallings’ team is coming off a road victory of its own

against Ole Miss. This will be Kentucky’s first crack at

beating a Top 25 team in a true road contest.

UNDERCARD: Ohio State at Michigan State, Sunday at

12 p.m. ET – Evan Turner and the Buckeyes can remain in the

hunt for the Big Ten title if they can pull out a road game in East

Lansing against the Spartans. It’s also a matchup of two of

the nation’s top point guards: Turner and Michigan

State’s Kalin Lucas.

REAL DEAL? Virginia Tech at Duke, Sunday at 7:45

p.m. ET – It’s a battle of the two top teams in the ACC

standings, but the Hokies are still somewhat of a mystery due to

their semi-soft non-conference schedule. Seth Greenberg’s

team has won five straight and a victory in Cameron would almost

certainly result in inclusion into the Top 25.

IVY LEAGUE SPECIAL: Let’s hope the

Cornell-Harvard rematch is more competitive than Round 1 in Ithaca.

The Big Red pounded Tommy Amaker’s team by 36 points three

weeks ago and Cornell has a one-game lead over the Crimson after

Steve Donohue’s team was shocked by Penn on Feb. 12. It may

be different since this one is at Harvard, but Crimson star guard

Jeremy Lin needs to make sure he takes care of the ball this time

around.

UPSET SPECIAL: Tulsa to knock off a UTEP team that

has reeled off nine straight victories. Doug Wojcik’s team is

struggling of late, having lost three of its last four, but I

expect Ben Uzoh to have a big game against the Miners – who

are 10-1 in C-USA play.

NON-BCS MATCHUP: I am a fan of the BracketBuster

because it gives us games such as Siena at Butler. Two of the elite

mid-major teams in the nation will go at it Saturday at 11 a.m. ET

at Hinkle. The Bulldogs should be in decent shape regardless of the

outcome of this game, but Siena needs this one to move closer to an

at-large berth in case the Saints don’t win the MAAC tourney.

MUST-WIN: The UConn Huskies can’t lose

Saturday afternoon at Rutgers if Jim Calhoun’s team has any

shot of getting into the Big Dance. UConn is 15-11 overall and 5-8

in league play with five regular-season games left.

SLIPPING: Northwestern was in decent position to

earn its first-ever NCAA tournament bid, but the injuries seem to

have caught up to Bill Carmody and the Wildcats. A loss to Iowa

earlier in the week hurt badly and now Northwestern may need a road

win Saturday afternoon in Madison against Wisconsin to

realistically get back in position.

IMPORTANT: Old Dominion at Northern Iowa, Friday

at 7 p.m. ET – Ben Jacobson’s Panthers will be without

big man Jordan Egleseder for the second consecutive game due to a

suspension for DWI. Northern Iowa can’t afford a loss in

order to stay in the hunt for an at-large berth in case the

Panthers don’t win the Missouri Valley tournament.

UNDER-THE-RADAR: Xavier at Charlotte, Saturday at

2 p.m. ET – Both teams enter the game with an 18-7 overall

mark. Chris Mack’s Musketeers are 9-2 in A-10 play, just 1/2

game behind Richmond – while Charlotte is 8-3 in league

action and has lost two straight – including a setback at

home to Duquesne.