The College Basketball Notebook

March 5, 2010 2:01 PM

Four Conference Races Up For Grabs

The Pac-10 race remained at least partially open last night. An Arizona State loss would have clinched the championship outright for Cal. As it was, the Golden Bears will have to take care of their own business Saturday at Stanford, because the Sun Devils stepped it up and got a tough 59-54 win over Southern Cal. Arizona State did it from downtown, burying 11 treys. Six of them were from Rihards Kuksiks, who scored 24 points to strengthen his team's NCAA resume and keep hopes of a co-championship alive for two more days. Cal shouldn't have a problem with Stanford on Saturday. The Cardinal has power forward Landry Fields, who will look to make his case for Player of the Year, a battle to be won by either him of Washington's Quincy Pondexter. But they don't have the depth of talent Cal has, especially in the backcourt. Ironic that Mike Montgomery can win his

first league championship in Berkely in the very building of the school he took the Final Four in 1998 and national prominence for several years thereafter. Should Cal somehow stumble, Arizona State still has to hold serve at home against UCLA (4 ET, CBS).

Three other races remain open and six games affect the outcome. Here's a look at those games. Unless noted otherwise, the games are scheduled for Saturday...

North Carolina-Duke (9 ET, ESPN): Don't look now, but the Tar Heels are starting to play some decent basketball and delivered blows to Florida State, Miami and Georgia Tech over the last two weeks. Think they won't be motivated to show a national audience how their recovery's progressing, and spoil their rivals' title chances in the process? As it has been all year for UNC, the key is Larry Drew at the point. He can't have turnover problems and he can't turn in a 30 percent shooting night. For Duke, as it has been all year, they

need to rebound the ball, at least fight to a draw on the frontcourt and let the guards of Scheyer and Smith win the game for them. I look for a good game for about 30 minutes, but Carolina's not back far enough to win on the road against a team playing for at least a share of first place. Duke pulls away late.

Florida-Kentucky (Sunday, Noon ET, CBS): The Wildcats are playing for an outright title. Florida desperately needs a win of this magnitude to play their way off the bubble. The Gators are reasonably close to Kentucky talent-wise, so this isn't a huge mismatch. But I expect DeMarcus Couisins to come out with a vengenance inside, after a poor outing against Georgia this week. In the final game of the year at Rupp, can't see Kentucky having the emotional letdown it would take for an upset to happen.

South Carolina-Vanderbilt (2 ET, ESPN2): Vandy needs to win this one to make sure Kentucky-Florida matters on Sunday. South Carolina's

fallen apart lately and just lost to Alabama earlier in the week. Devan Downey will get his points as usual, but the question will be how many shots he has to take to get them. Vanderbilt's at home, they're well-coached and they have a variety of options to get offense from. Maybe the Gamecocks hang around early, but the Commodores systematically pull away.

Maryland-Virginia: The Terps are tied with Duke, and this one goes Saturday afternoon and will end several hours before Duke-Carolina. It's a classic letdown spot for Maryland after the emotional win over the Blue Devils, and they are playing on the road. I expect them to be sluggish. If Sylvan Landesberg was healty, I might like the Cavs for an upset. But without him, Virginia doesn't have the personnel to match up with Maryland, who scrapes out an ugly win and a piece of the conference title. Then they hunker down and pull for Carolina at night.

Purdue-Penn State: The Boilemakers

pick up a piece of their first Big Ten trophy since 1996 with a win. At Seniors Night on Wednesday, Chris Kramer told the crowd to be sure and be ready for them at the airport. Winning the regular season title is a big deal in the Big Ten, and something Matt Painter still hasn't done. A win here is big for the program and the Boilers won't let up on the road. I see JaJuan Johnson dominating the paint on both ends of the floor and leading his team to a win. If he doesn't play well though, watch out. Purdue will be vulnerable inside, Penn State's Talor Battle is a great player and the home crowd could get into the game and make a difference.

Michigan-Michigan State: The Spartans can join Purdue & Ohio State in the Big Ten winner's circle. Michigan's coming off a blowout win of Minnesota, showing what they should have been capable off all year. In Ann Arbor, I might like this as an upset play. But not in East Lansing, especially with Michigan

State having recovered a bit of its mojo with that tough win in West Lafayette last Sunday and having had a week to rest and prepare.

Syracuse and Kansas have locked up conference titles. We'll find out how many others join them by Sunday night when we recap the weekend. And don't forget that Louisville's Freedom Hall sees its final game when Syracuse comes to town, a game the Cards need as they try and eliminate all doubt on their NCAA status. See you Sunday evening to bring down the curtain on the regular season.

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