Games You Need To See
(2) Villanova vs. (8) Georgetown, Noon Saturday on ESPN
Eventually someone is going to exploit Villanova's inability to play defense. In Big East play, the Wildcats allow 1.04 points per possession, which is tied for eighth in the league. Georgetown's deadly efficient offense is predicated on forcing opponents to guard for 35 seconds and play smart defense, and it should be a prime candidate to rip through Nova's somewhat porous defense.
While it seems the Hoyas should be the perfect fit to expose Villanova, that actually may not be the case.
The first time around, Jay Wright's guard laden lineup forced Georgetown to speed up the tempo of the game, and the Hoyas played their second fastest game of the season (78 possessions). Their offensive efficiency dropped below a point per possession, and Villanova won the game in Philadelphia.
Georgetown is also coming off a home loss to sudden Big East up and comer South Florida.
This game provides Villanova an opportunity to improve on the defensive end of the floor. For most of the season, 'Nova ranked around 90th in defensive efficiency but are now skirting the top 60. This rank is significant because since 2004, not one Final Four team finished outside the top 25 in defensive efficiency.
That doesn't mean Villanova can't reach the NCAA's final weekend, but it's a strong indicator this team isn't built for March success.
As for this game, Georgetown's offensive attack is deadly, but Villanova's depth should wear the Hoyas down. There are two givens to this matchup. First, the Wildcats will force the tempo and tire Georgetown's six-man rotation. Second, Jay Wright's club is one of the best in the nation at getting to the free throw line because of his variety of attacking guards. Georgetown's six-man rotation will once again be tested, as any bit of foul trouble means the Hoyas will either have to play foul-plagued players or suffer the drop-off of playing Hollis Thompson and Henry Sims.
Those two factors should swing this game in Villanova's favor despite this contest taking place in Washington, D.C.
My pick: Villanova 80, Georgetown 75
Tulsa at UTEP, 10:00PM Saturday on ESPN2
This game should prove to be an elimination game in terms of the NCAA Tournament. Neither team has a great resume, but both are 7-1 in Conference USA. If one could win out and lose in the conference championship, there is a slight chance that it could make the tournament.
If that scenario plays out, UTEP would finish the season with just six losses but with few quality wins. The Miners' best out of league win is against Oklahoma.
Tulsa has a better shot at this point to receive an at-large bid. With a non-conference game against Duke, the Golden Hurricane could knock off the Blue Devils to notch the quality win needed. A win against Duke and two conference losses, in addition to a loss in the conference tournament, might just be enough to get Tulsa in the dance, depending on the strength of the bubble.
My pick: UTEP 71, Tulsa 62
Mid-Major Battle of the Weekend
Iona at Siena, 7:00 PM Friday
Like last week's top mid-major game (Cornell-Harvard), this week's must-see mid-major contest will not be seen on television unless you live in the Albany area. This game does hold national importance.
Siena is sneaking back into at-large consideration, even though the Saints failed their non-conference tests. An undefeated run through the MAAC but a loss in the conference tournament might not keep Siena from dancing.
Fran McCaffery's biggest test likely won't come from the other preseason favorites, Rider and Niagara, but from Iona. Yes, the same Iona club picked to finish ninth in the league. But this Iona team isn't going to finish second to last; the Gaels likely won't even finish out of the top four.
Instead, Kevin Willard's club is in second place and has almost secured at least an NIT bid with a victory in Albany. Iona has shown it can compete with some of the nation's best. The Gaels already knocked off Creighton of the Missouri Valley, took Baylor to overtime, and challenged Florida State all the way down to the last minute in the Old Spice Classic in November.
The incredibly scrappy Gaels use pressure to knock opponents out of their offensive rhythm with much success. Iona forces teams into bad shots but also turns teams over on one out of every four possessions.
Siena had little issue with Iona's defensive intensity the first time around; couple that with Siena's homecourt advantage, and Siena's toughest remaining league game should result in a victory.
My pick: Siena 70, Iona 58
This Upset Shouldn't Surprise You
(17) Temple at Richmond, 2:00PM on ESPNU
This game should be agonizingly slow paced. Both teams will be forced to operate through their offenses to perfection if they want to score. Both squads play at a snail's pace (each ranks 300th or lower in tempo), and both teams play physical defense.
There's little chance someone breaks 65 in this game, and it shouldn't be surprising if neither team breaks 50. Remember, Temple did play a 46-45 game against Georgetown.
Richmond's homecourt advantage and desire to win (a victory should put the Spiders on the right side of the bubble) should be enough to push coach Chris Mooney's senior and junior laden Richmond squad to the victory.
What Else You Need to Know
- Cornell has two more home games against two of the worst Ivy League teams, Yale and Brown. Should the Big Red win (as they should convincingly), Steve Donahue's team would move to 20-3 and 6-0 in the Ivy League. Cornell has moved up to 37th in Ken Pomeroy's efficiency rankings. The Big Red's recent improvement on the defensive end of the floor has spurred their jump from the mid 70s to the 30s.
- Brigham Young can show that it's among the nation's elite with a win in Las Vegas against UNLV. The Cougars have a variety of solid wins but no great wins. They missed their chance last week in New Mexico but could redeem themselves by knocking off a UNLV team that is close to a lock to make the NCAA Tournament.
- Another western mid-major, Gonzaga, heads east for a non-conference road game. The Zags can once again prove they are a legitimate Final Four contender with a win against Memphis. A win for the Tigers keeps their slim at-large hopes alive, but even with a victory, things don't look good for Memphis, who already have six losses.
- Baylor can back up its impressive victory against Texas and blowout win against Iowa State on the road with another road win against Texas A&M. The Aggies haven't quite been the same team since Derrick Roland went down, but they are still tough to beat on their home floor. Should the Bears win, Scott Drew and his team's incredible length have to be considered solid bets to reach the Sweet 16.
- Virginia starts a brutal five-game stretch that includes home games against Wake Forest and Florida State, as well as road trips to Maryland, Virginia Tech, and Clemson. Wake Forest is up first, and if the Cavaliers can pick up three wins in those five games, it will be very hard to keep Virginia out of the dance.
- GameDay heads to Illinois this week, and there is a reason this "important game" is buried this far into the article. If Kalin Lucas doesn't play, this game will lose even more luster since Illinois isn't quite the team the Illini were projected to be in the preseason. Safe to say ESPN picked a dud for this week.
- The Red River Rivalry heads to the hardwood this weekend. Texas needs another victory to show its recent struggles are behind the Longhorns.
- Big bubble game Sunday: Notre Dame hosts South Florida. Don't spit out your drink over that one. The Bulls and the Irish are playing an elimination game. Both cannot afford to lose this game, and considering how hot the Bulls are, it is hard to pick against Dominique Jones and his 35 point per game average over the last two weeks.
- Maryland can officially end North Carolina's tournament hopes on Sunday. UNC would drop to 2-6 in the league and have 10 losses overall if the Terps can take down the Tar Heels.
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