Today's Specials: Oregon, Cal look to continue winning ways

By Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer
David Kravish (left) and Damyean Dotson have both stepped up their scoring during recent winning streaks. (USATSI)

There aren't any truly marquee games on Thursday, meaning no Oklahoma State vs. Kansas or Indiana vs. Michigan State. But there are several games between at-large candidates that could be meaningful in a couple of weeks. Moreover, we could have our first outright conference champion.

Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP poll.

Best game: Cincinnati at Connecticut (7 p.m., ESPN). Connecticut hasn't been getting the attention it deserves this season, primarily because it can't make the NCAA tournament. But the Huskies would be a sure-fire at-large team if they were eligible, and therefore would be a nice win for Cincinnati on Thursday. Surprisingly, the Bearcats are in 10th place in the Big East, and need to finish strong. After Thursday, they still have to go to Notre Dame and Louisville, and host the Huskies next weekend. Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright need to find consistency in their jumpers.

Second-best game: California at No. 23 Oregon (9 p.m., ESPN2). Both teams seem to have righted the ship in recent weeks, with Oregon winning three in a row after a three-game losing streak and California also stringing three wins together after an inconsistent start to Pac-12 play. Oregon is atop the Pac-12 standings despite Dominic Artis still sitting out with an injury, and the Ducks have three straight home games before finishing with two on the road. California is playing itself into the at-large field, and a win here would further that goal. Oregon has to slow down Allen Crabbe, while Cal has to keep the Ducks off the glass.

Another one to watch: La Salle at Temple (7 p.m., CBS Sports). A battle between Atlantic 10 teams looking to solidify their at-large standing. La Salle is in better position right now, currently sitting on a four-game winning streak to move only one game out of first place in the league. Meanwhile, Temple has had five consecutive one-point games -- but a home defeat to Duquesne last week was bad. This one should feature plenty of exciting guard play, with Temple's Khalif Wyatt taking on Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills and Tyrone Garland.

Guaranteed win: Considering Penn State threw a scare into Michigan over the weekend, this is not the most obvious pick. But given the way Illinois is playing, I think it's safe to say the Fighting Illini will find a way to beat Penn State at home on Thursday (8:15 p.m., Big Ten Network). They have won four in a row, and could get back to .500 in the league with a win over the Nittany Lions. Penn State doesn't guard the arc well, which could spell doom against Illinois.

Potential upset: With Bryant struggling, LIU Brooklyn and Robert Morris have emerged in a tie at the top of the Northeast Conference standings. The Blackbirds have won 10 of their last 11, with the lone loss coming to Robert Morris. On Thursday, LIU Brooklyn has to go to Mount St. Mary's (7 p.m.), which has won five of six -- including a 14-point win over Bryant. LIU Brooklyn will have to take care of the ball and guard the perimeter.

Three things to keep an eye on:

  1. Both BYU and Saint Mary's have work to do to get back in at-large consideration, but Matthew Dellavedova vs. Tyler Haws should be a high-scoring battle (11 p.m., ESPN2).
  2. Duke's loss over the weekend put the Blue Devils in peril of losing a No. 1 seed, so they can't afford to lose at Virginia Tech (9 p.m., ESPN).
  3. Middle Tennessee is up three games in the Sun Belt with four left. Second-place South Alabama visits on Thursday (8 p.m., ESPN3). A win for Middle Tennessee would guarantee a postseason berth.

Other games to watch:

-- At-large implications

-- Conference races

For more college basketball news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnCBB on Twitter, subscribe to our RSS Feed and subscribe to our College Basketball Newsletter. You can follow Jeff Borzello on Twitter here: @jeffborzello

 
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