'Nova vs. 'Cuse highlights weekend

'Nova vs. 'Cuse highlights weekend

Published Feb. 26, 2010 5:21 p.m. ET

Believe it or not, many of the conference tournaments get going next week.

That’s the time when teams can atone for their poor performances during the 3½-month regular season and make up for it by playing well over a three-day period.

It’s actually ridiculous when you come to think of it that three days is worth everything to these teams.

Take Siena, for example. The Saints are hardly a lock to make the NCAA tournament, but Fran McCaffery’s team has steamrolled through the MAAC this season – winning 15 of 16 conference contests.

But if they don’t win the MAAC tournament, the consolation prize?

An NIT bid.

Big deal.

What kid grows up dreaming of playing in the NIT?

That hasn’t been the case in decades.

I mean, how did Florida A&M warrant inclusion into the world’s greatest sporting event back in 1999? The Rattlers were 12-19 overall and 8-11 in the MEAC, but rolled through the conference tourney and got an automatic bid while South Carolina State and Coppin State – each with 14-4 league records – watched from home.

It makes no sense.

Not quite anyone can get hot for a three-day period, but the long and grueling regular season for many of the 300-plus Division 1 teams throughout the country doesn’t carry enough weight.

It should.

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

CAN’T MISS: Villanova at Syracuse, Saturday at 9 p.m. ET – The largest on-campus crowd in history – 34,616 people – is expected at the Carrier Dome when No. 4 Syracuse hosts No. 7 Villanova in a matchup of the two top teams in the Big East. The ‘Cuse comes in with a one-game advantage.

CAN’T MISS II: Kentucky at Tennessee, Saturday at noon ET – There are a lot of coaching feuds with John Calipari in the mix, but none are to the extent of the Kentucky coach and Tennessee head man Bruce Pearl. The Vols pulled the upset over No. 1 Kansas in Knoxville earlier in the season. Can they also knock off the second-ranked team in the land?

HARDLY AN UNDERCARD: New Mexico at BYU, Saturday at 4 p.m. ET – This might actually be the most intriguing game of the entire weekend. The Lobos can lock up a No. 1 seed in the Mountain West tourney with a win, but they have lost nine straight in Provo. New Mexico enters with a half-game lead over BYU. If you are looking for it, the game is on Versus.

REAL DEAL?: Kansas at Oklahoma State, Saturday at 4 p.m. ET – The top-ranked Jayhawks travel to Stillwater and Travis Ford’s team will get an opportunity to show it is NCAA tournament worthy if it can pull off the upset.

UPSET SPECIAL: Loyola Marymount at Saint Mary’s, Saturday at 9 p.m. ET – Max Good’s team knocked off Gonzaga earlier this month, but that one was on the Lions home court. I’m going out on a limb that LMU gets a big road win against the Gaels.

NON-BCS MATCHUP: Richmond at Xavier, Sunday at 1 p.m. ET – There’s a three-way tie atop the Atlantic-10 and these are two of the teams in the mix. Chris Mooney’s Spiders have had a terrific season, but the Musketeers have owned the league of late.

MUST-WIN: Louisville at UConn, Sunday at 2 p.m. ET – Both teams would likely be in the Big Dance if the season ended today, but the loser will face some pressure down the stretch. Rick Pitino vs. Jim Calhoun is always entertaining. Louisville enters in the three-way tie for fifth in the Big East while the Huskies are locked in a four-way tie for eighth.

RESPONSE: It’ll be interesting to see how Purdue responds in its first game since learning that Robbie Hummel will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. The Boilermakers will host Michigan State at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon in a game that clearly has Big Ten regular-season title implications.

IMPORTANT: Texas at Texas A&M, Saturday at 2 p.m. ET – Now is the time that the Longhorns have to try to turn it around – on the road against an NCAA tournament-bound Texas A&M squad. Texas will have to do it without its starting point guard, Dogus Balbay, who is done for the season with a torn ACL.

UNDER-THE-RADAR: Maryland at Virginia Tech, Saturday at 4 p.m. ET – Believe it or not, this is a matchup of two of the top teams in the ACC. The Terps are just a game back from Duke for first place in the league and Virginia Tech is in a three-way tie for third with Florida State and Wake Forest.

GATOR BAIT: Florida has won nine of its last 11 SEC contests and Billy Donovan has his team in position to get back to the NCAA tournament for the first time in three seasons. The Gators have already won 20 games and have wins against Michigan State and Tennessee – a pair of ranked teams. However, Florida could use a road win against an overachieving Georgia team on Saturday afternoon.