Four of the six conference races are within one game as we head into the season's final week. The Big Ten is running to a wild finish with three teams tied and another a game out. But no game will be bigger than Wednesday night right here in my backyard of the Baltimore-D.C. area. Duke is coming to Maryland and the locals are juiced. The Blue Devils lead this race by a game and clinch the ACC crown with a win. Maryland puts itself in position for a co-championship if they defend their home floor. The Comcast Center in College Park will be rocking and ESPN will be in the house at 9 EST. How does the Notebook see this one playing out?
On a personal level this is a tough one for me. I love both coaches, Coach K and Gary Williams. My in-laws are mostly diehard Terp fans, with the exception of my sister-in-law...who loves Duke. Any prediction is guaranteed
to get me in trouble one way or another. And from a basketball standpoint not a lot stands out. Overall, Duke's probably a little bit better and definitely more battle-tested in games like these. But Maryland's going to have a huge home-crowd advantage on their side. Duke has the best player on the floor in Kyle Singler, but Greivis Vazquez isn't far behind. The Blue Devils' backcourt of Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith is one of the best in the country, but Maryland is better balanced throughout the lineup. From the Terps' standpoint, they have a tendency over the past few years to go into meltdowns. Their recent visit to Duke was a good example. They have to avoid turnovers and if they game starts poorly, they can't start forcing shots. This is especially a concern with Vazquez. He nailed 41 at Virginia Tech on Saturday night, but has also never met a shot he didn't like. He has to get everyone involved, from Eric Hayes and Sean Moseley in the backcourt to
Landon Milbourne up front to make full use of Maryland's edges. From Duke's standpoint, they've looked more and more like a real Final Four team as center Brian Zoubek has stepped up the rebounding. If he doesn't do this, the Terps' toughness will prevail. If he does, you have to like Coach K's chances of winning another big game in a career that's seen so many.
As I look at all this, actually one thing does stand out--this is going to be a heckuva basketball game and I'm not even going to hazard a pick. This is one to watch and enjoy and represents all the reasons why conference championships matter.
Around the rest of the country from Monday-Thursday...
BIG EAST: Syracuse can lock it up at home against St. John's on Tuesday and I would expect them to do that. The Red Storm have been the spoiler though, beating Louisville, Marquette and Notre Dame when all three were pushing for NCAA bids. But stopping a bubble team at home and
stopping a national power at home are two very different things. Even allowing for the letdown factor, the Orange win this one. And the letdown factor works two ways--Villanova could suffer from it at Cincinnati that same night (7 ET, ESPN2) and if they lose, Syracuse clinches anyway.
BIG TEN: Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State are tied. The Spartans have a fairly easy game at Penn State on Thursday (7 ET, ESPN). Purdue has what should be an easy game against Indiana at home on Wednesday. But this rivalry is never easy, and the Boilers can't take anything for granted now that Hummel is out. Ohio State has the tough test, with a big home date against Illinois on Tuesday (9 ET, ESPN). I look for the Buckeyes to survive and the other two to hold serve. Wisconsin is watching and hoping for all three to lose at least once apiece, between here and the weekend, and for a miracle finish. The Badgers host Iowa on Wednesday night.
may have to win out to secure an outright title. They can clinch a tie on Wednesday at Georgia, a game where the Bulldogs' Trey Thompkins has a chance to show he deserves mention along with DeMarcus Couisins as the top inside player in the SEC. The 'Cats still have Florida awaiting them on the weekend. But the Gators may make the race moot by that point. Vanderbilt is one game out and must go to Gainesville on Tuesday night (7 PM ET, ESPN). I'm looking for a motivated Florida to win its way into the NCAAs on Tuesday and Kentucky to lock it up the following night.
BIG 12: Kansas joins Syracuse in coasting to the finish line, but they have to finish up business with a big Wednesday night home game against Kansas State. The Wildcats are gaining steam down the stretch, as they get better and better inside play from Dominique Sutton to go with the outstanding backcourt of Denis Clement and Jacob Pullen. But Kansas can match up in the backcourt, they
have much more than Sutton underneath, they have the home crowd, they have a championship in the balance and they want to get back on track after losing to Oklahoma State. Look for a celebration in Lawrence on Wednesday night.
PAC-10: Cal all but has this one wrapped up. They have off on Thursday (The Pac-10 plays only Thursday, Saturday and an occassional Sunday night game) and have a co-championship locked up. We'll look at their game with Stanford in the weekend preview on Friday.
Everyone enjoy Big Monday tonight with Georgetown-West Virginia and Texas-Oklahoma. The first matchup could've been bigger if not for some underachievement, and the other would be a better football game. The biggest games get going on Tuesday. And I'll see you here Wednesday for a look at the bubble in each major conference.