Another Duke vs. UNC Battle, Louisville Seeks Share of Conference Title
It’s the second weekend of March and that means many teams are concluding their regular seasons before conference tournament play begins next week. Some are lobbying for NCAA seeds while others are on the bubble. Here’s a look at some of the weekend’s top games.
Let’s start with the obvious: No. 14 North Carolina at No. 4 Duke (9 p.m. ET).
You can’t ask for a better ending for the ACC than this matchup but in years past, there’s been more on the line. This year, No. 5 Virginia (25-5, 16-1) already owns the conference crown while No. 7 Syracuse (26-4, 13-4) continues to implode even though it remains in the second spot.
Earlier this week, Duke (23-7, 12-5) lost to Wake Forest (16-14,6-11) 82-72 and saw its No.1 seed go to the way side. A third seed is possible for the ACC tournament. Playing on its home court bodes well as Duke is 16-0 this season; the team has won 32 straight games here.
In their earlier meeting this season, the Tar Heels defeated Duke, 74-66 on Feb. 20 and in addition to avenging this loss, the Blue Devils will try to avoid a second straight loss.
North Carolina will enter the court with a 12-game winning streak and with win No. 13, could raise its seed for the Big Dance as well as a possible No. 2 seed for next week’s tournament. This team has a lot of momentum but Duke will advance its home court record (-8).
No. 19 Connecticut at No. 11 Louisville (2 p.m. ET)
Once again, fans will get to enjoy two of college hoop’s top guards: Shabazz Napier and Russ Smith. But there’s more to the game than this.
In the team’s first matchup, Louisville (25-5, 14-3) won on the road, 74-64. UConn (24-6, 12-5) will be looking for revenge but they’ll need Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels to step up in this game. Napier can’t get it done alone.
Louisville has depth with Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell along with the two freshman, Mnagkok Mathiang and Terry Rozier. This helps the senior Smith, who will leave Louisville with at least 1,700 points (No. 8 at 1,776) with 300 assists and 200 steals.
The player has an 18.0 point average with 4.5 assists, a 46.8 field goal percentage and a 1.7 assist-to-turnover ratio. Staying an extra year instead of heading to the NBA has really helped Smith improve his game. In the first meeting with UConn, Smith scored 23 points.
With a Louisville win, it can take a share of the American Athletic Conference as its tied with Cincinnati (25-5, 14-3) at the top. For UConn, it is tied for the third spot with SMU but the Mustangs won the tiebreaker.
Louisville gets the win (-9.5, 135.5 o/u).
No. 21 New Mexico at No. 10 San Diego State (Sat. 10:00 p.m.)
In this Mountain West battle, Saturday’s winner will own the conference crown.
The Aztecs (26-3, 15-2) are viewed as the team to beat and this season, its road victory over Kansas was a big one. New Mexico (24-5, 15-2) has put their earlier struggles behind and in this second matchup for the two teams, this should be a good one.
In their first game, an unranked Lobos won 58-44 against a then No. 6 SDSU. This came on the efforts of Cameron Bairstow and Alex Kirk, who combined scored 32 points (Bairstow contributed 26 points), 18 rebounds and six blocks. They also helped limit SDSU’s Xavier Thames to only seven points–one of his lowest games for this season.
But this time, San Diego will playing on its home court, looking for revenge with a loud home crowd supporting them. Thames should feed off of this and have a better game this time.
These teams have a history of going back and forth for the conference title along with the Lobos defeating the Aztecs in the last two tournament final games. On Saturday, San Diego State gets the win (-5) and the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament.