The showdowns for first place aren't until the weekend, but there's plenty of bubble action these next two nights, highlighted by the following four nationally televised games...
West Virginia-UConn (Mon, 7 ET, ESPN): If the Huskies can win this one, they have to be given a real shot at a push for the NCAA field and the matchup is right for them to do it. Kemba Walker and Jerome Dyson can exploit the Mountaineers' lack of a backcourt and a true point guard, and I look for them to create action off the dribble. Key will be whether Dyson can avoid his usual five turnovers or so. WVA has the frontline personnel, so it will be incumbent on Stanley Robinson to hold his own and come up with a big game. If De'Sean Butler gets in the flow of the offense, West Virginia is more than capable of winning up in Storrs. But UConn has played better basketball of late,
winning at Villanova in this TV slot last week. That the improvement has come with the return of Jim Calhoun can't be considered a coincidence. This should be a very good game, but the right matchup, homecourt and the improving, yet hungry team are enough for the Huskies to pull it out.
Illinois-Michigan (7 ET, ESPN): This is the one game under review here where the bubble team is on the road. Illinois has to bounce back quickly from its tough Saturday loss at Purdue. They were subjected to some home cookin' officiating, as they lost the free-throw scoring battle 24-3 in that one. That's the way it is in conference play, especially at this time of year and they catch a Jekyll-and-Hyde team in Ann Arbor tonight. If only Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims show for Michigan, then the Illini will get a big road win. But if Stu Douglass and Zack Novak step and give some support by hitting a few threes, then Illinois will be in danger. If Mike Davis plays
like he did in West Lafayette and fights hard in the paint, Bruce Weber's team could still win in any case.
Tennessee-Florida (Tue, 9 ET, ESPN): Gainesville should be rocking for this one, as Florida absolutely HAS to have this game. Sitting squarely on the bubble, they need a quality win and Tennessee is that. But on the other side of the coin, the Vols aren't so good that you can justify losing to them at home in a must-win spot. Florida has played good, if not great, in recent weeks and the same goes for Tennessee. The Vols barely survived when the two teams met in Knoxville earlier in the season. UT has to be given a decent chance to get the road win--Wayne Chism has the capacity to dominate the inside and take over the game by himself. But a decent chance is not the same as predicting in. Just as with UConn, the home crowd will push Florida over the top in a great game between schools more renowned for their football rivalry.
Georgetown-Louisville (Tue, 7 ET, ESPN2): Now this is one I'd pay to see. Well, maybe not, since I've already paid the DirecTV bill. But you get the point. Samardo Samuels and Greg Monroe will be a big matchup down low, and Samuels will need to hit some 10-to-15 footers to get the Hoya big man away from the basket, where he can be a disruptive shotblocking force. Georgetown has the best guard on the floor in Austin Freeman, but the Cards can counter with Jerry Smith and Edgar Sosa. I really like the Hoyas' overall talent, but they have yet to rise above being a good team and into Final Four-caliber. On the road, against a team that can put a chokehold on an NCAA bid with a win is not the place I'm looking to pick them to start.
Be back Wednesday to take a look at the rest of the weeknight games.