Four conferences of the Big Six still have their championships up for grabs, with only Kentucky & Kansas coasting home to a regular season trophy. Maryland kept the ACC race in play with a stunning rally against Clemson on Wednesday night, turning a 15-point second half deficit into an 88-79 win. The Terps still have the difficult task of winning at Virginia Tech this weekend to keep within a game of Duke in preparation for their showdown in College Park. The other three conferences--Big East, Big Ten & Pac-10 all are in the spotlight and it's those games that will be the focus of our weekend preview. Let's take them in sequence...
Arizona State at Cal (Sat, 3 PM ET, no national TV): These teams are tied in the loss column, so the winner has clear control of the race going into the final week. This game is a microcosm of the Pac-10 race as a
whole. It's all about Cal. They are much more talented and they're playing at home. But will they show up. The Golden Bears' talent level-with the explosive Jerome Randle and the steady Patrick Christopher in the backcourt, coupled with Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin up front-is light-years ahead of the rest of the Pac-10, so it's rather remarkable that the race has come down to this. Arizona State can't match up, with only Derek Glasser anything resembling an offensive threat, and he'd be the fifth option on Cal's team. The Golden Bears stepped up to the plate last night and smoldered Arizona, 95-71, and I'm thinking they'll complete the home sweep on Saturday. Cal hasn't won an outright Pac-10 championship since 1960, when the legendary Pete Newell strolled the sidelines. Arizona State, if you can believe this, has NEVER won this league's regular season crown, not even a piece of it.
Villanova-Syracuse (Sun, 9 PM ET, ESPN): Rumor has it the
hype in upstate New York is reaching a fever pitch, as the Orange try and all but salt away the conference championship. Syracuse is one game up on Villanova going in. Continuing the historical perspective theme, I was astonished to check the ESPN College Basketball Encylopedia and find out that Syracuse has not finished first outright since 1991. Now there have been co-championships since then. There have been tournament titles at Madison Square Garden, there's been two Final Fours and a national title in 2003. Which makes the 19-year outright championship drought all the more astonishing and firmed up my view that we need to appreciate these achievments more, rather then just seeing them as the means to an end of better tournament seeding. It's going to be tough for Villanova to win this one. They can't keep up with the Orangemen in the frontcourt. And while the 'Cuse has been caught on its homecourt by Pitt and Louisville, I don't see them letting
down in this one. I see them wearing down the Wildcats and to win going away. By the way, Villanova's last outright title? 1982. It's been a long time coming for both schools.
Michigan State-Purdue (Sunday, 4 PM ET, CBS): The spate of key injuries affecting the Big Ten race doesn't stop. A January injury to Wisconsin's Jon Leurer derailed the Badgers. A sprained ankle to Michigan State's Kalin Lucas pulled the frontrunning Spartans down to second place. The worst one yet has now struck Purdue. Leurer and Lucas are both back, but Robbie Hummel isn't going to make it back for the Boilermakers. A torn ACL has him out for the year. This smacks of 1993 when a similar injury to Indiana's Alan Henderson derailed Bob Knight's last great team. It's an article of faith in Indiana that the Hoosiers would have won the '93 title with a healthy Henderson, and Hummel's injury will surely achieve the same standing in Boiler Nation. Because Purdue has dropped
from being one of the best teams in the country to one the caliber of a 4-5 seed without the inside-out potency of their sweet shooting power forward. And they have gone from a prohibitive favorite on their homecourt on Sunday to at best even money.
The question is whether Purdue players recover from the shock and from there, how much emotion can carry them. They are still one game up in the standings and they are still seeking their first league title since 1996. Michigan State isn't as physical down low as previous editions Tom Izzo has produced, so the Boilermakers can still match up on their home floor. The thinking here is that E'Twaun Moore outside and JaJuan Johnson inside will meet the moment and a rabid home crowd will push Purdue to a win. If not, not only does Michigan State pull even, but Ohio State can too if they beat Michigan on Saturday, setting up a wild race to the finish next week.
We'll see you Sunday night for
recaps. And don't forget to stop in at www.baseballnotebook.com , where spring training previews will continue both Saturday and Sunday.