March Madness is right around the corner, and teams will be looking to lock up the highest possible seed for the tournament in some of the more marquee matchups.
Each team has played almost every regular-season game up to this point before conference tournament play. And the later in the season it is, the more important these games become.
With the last full week of regular-season play coming, here are some of those marquee matchups and their impact on tournament seeding:
No. 14 Ohio State at No. 2 Indiana, Tuesday, March 5, 9 p.m. EST, ESPN
Ohio State is currently 21-7 and in fourth place in the Big Ten with an 11-5 record, but all five conference losses have been against top-20 teams.
Meanwhile, Indiana (25-4, 13-3 Big Ten) is one of the best in the nation, and they will be looking to lock up the top seed in the tournament.
The keys to this game are the two star big men for each team. Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas is a 6’7” athletic freak and is leading the Big Ten with 19.8 points per game to go along with 6.1 rebounds per game. Indiana’s star 7-footer, Cody Zeller, is the undeniable team leader and averages 16.5 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
Both players, as well as Indiana’s Victor Oladipo, are under-the-radar Player of the Year candidates.
As for tournament seeding, Indiana must win big matchups like this to assure they get that top seed. They play at No. 7 Michigan five days later, so a loss to the Buckeyes puts even more pressure on them.
Ohio State has a modest three-game winning streak, including a 68-60 win over then No. 4 Michigan State. They have hung with the best but only have a couple marquee victories, but a win at Indiana immediately catapults them into at least a top 4 seed.
No. 17 Syracuse at No. 5 Georgetown, Saturday, March 9, 12 p.m. EST, ESPN
Are they or aren’t they?
Georgetown (23-4, 13-3 Big East) are first in the Big East, in the midst of an impressive 11-game winning streak and surprise candidates for that coveted No. 1 seed in the tournament.
But Syracuse (22-7, 10-6 Big East) is going in the opposite direction, as they have slipped out of the top 10 courtesy of three straight tough Big East losses to Georgetown, Marquette and Louisville.
Before this key matchup, Georgetown faces a tough test at Villanova, who are a bubble team that will look to upset the Hoyas in their final effort to make the tournament. Syracuse, though, gets an easy matchup at home versus bottom-feeders DePaul. That game should give the Orange the winning confidence that has eluded them recently.
Syracuse will need Brandon Triche to break out of his recent half-court slump. In the last four games, he has averaged only 10 points per game and has an abysmal five more turnovers than field goals.
But the Hoyas have been on a roll. The combination of their well-documented tight defense with the offensive play of Player of the Year candidate Otto Porter Jr has been working wonders. Porter has been on fire of late, and he is averaging 27.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists and 3.3 steals in the last three games. He is also 24-for-29 from the free throw line in that stretch.
Syracuse will look to avenge the 57-46 loss at home to the Hoyas from February 23 and reclaim their status as one of the top teams in the nation and a top 3 seeding. But the Hoyas are on a tear and will look to cement their status as a bona fide No. 1 seed.
No. 3 Duke at North Carolina, Saturday, March 9, 9 p.m. EST, ESPN
Another chapter begins in this historic rivalry.
Duke (25-4, 12-4 ACC) may only be second in the ACC to a red-hot Miami team, but a sweep against bitter rival North Carolina would do wonders for helping them secure a top seed.
North Carolina (21-8, 11-5 ACC) may be unranked, but they are third in a deep ACC conference and are already a lock for a mid-to-high seed in March Madness.
UNC has been heating up at the right time. After a tough 73-68 loss at Duke, they have won five straight ACC games, all by at least nine points. But Duke recently pulled off a statement victory at home against Miami, and they have shown time and again the ability to beat anyone.
Even more, Mason Plumlee may be the Blue Devils’ Player of the Year candidate, but the return of Ryan Kelly will help the team greatly down the stretch. His triumphant 36-point return against Miami eliminated any questions about his form following the foot injury that has kept him out since January.
Duke will be big favorites on paper, but this rivalry is too intense for anyone to believe that the Tar Heels don’t have a good shot at an upset at home.
That upset would likely push the Tar Heels into the top 25, as well as a possible top 5 seed in the tournament. But a bad loss could even put UNC into a tough No. 7 or 8 seed.
As for the Blue Devils, they are a top 3 seed win or lose. But a statement win against the Tar Heels may put the final touch on their No. 1 seed come March Madness.
Stats via ESPN.com