Thursday's slate is highlighted by two of the best defensive teams in the country going at it, but there are also a slew of bubble teams looking to stay on the right side of the cutline.
Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP poll.
Best game: No. 15 Wisconsin at No. 7 Michigan State (7 p.m., ESPN). A battle in the Big Ten. Michigan State won the first meeting between the two teams, but that was back on January 3, and things are drastically different nowadays. Michigan State is coming off a win at Ohio State over the weekend, and is now getting Final Four hype. Wisconsin has won seven of its last eight after a three-game losing streak. Don’t expect a ton of points in this one, as both teams rank in the top-three nationally in defensive efficiency. Can the Spartans stifle Jordan Taylor? Can Wisconsin stop Draymond Green?
Second-best game: North Carolina State at No. 5 Duke (9 p.m., ESPN3). If this game was in Raleigh, the Wolfpack would have a better chance, but don’t count them out just yet. They are desperately chasing a profile-making victory, and beating the Blue Devils would vault NC State into every projected field heading down the stretch. Duke is right in the thick of things at the top of the ACC standings. For NC State to pull the upset, it needs to avoid fouling and also get offensive boards. Not letting the shooters get hot would help too.
Another one to watch: West Virginia at Pittsburgh (9 p.m., ESPN). A rivalry game between a couple of teams badly in need of a win. West Virginia has lost five of its last six games to drop to 6-7 in the Big East, and the Mountaineers are now squarely on the bubble. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh has fallen off the bubble after its loss at Seton Hall over the weekend. In this one, the offensive rebounding battle should be tremendous. Both teams rank in the top 10 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage, and Kevin Jones is one of the best in the country.
Guaranteed win: There are a couple of easy-looking wins out West. Washington hosts Arizona State (11 p.m., FOX Sports Affiliates) in a game the Huskies need to win in order to keep pace with California at the top of the standings. Meanwhile, after back-to-back losses by Saint Mary’s, the door is open for No. 24 Gonzaga to gain at least a share of the regular-season title. The Bulldogs head to Santa Clara tonight (11 p.m., ESPN2).
Potential upset: It seems strange that Ole Miss is a four-point underdog at home against Vanderbilt (9 p.m, ESPN2), but that makes the Rebels a prime candidate to pull an upset. They need a marquee win to boost their at-large profile, and beating the Commodores would certainly help. To get the win, Ole Miss needs to crash the offensive glass and get to the free-throw line. Defensively, they can’t let John Jenkins beat them.
Three things to keep an eye on:
- The Pac-12 is always fun on Thursdays. In addition to the Washington game above, we have Oregon at California (10:30 p.m., Comcast Sports Affiliates) in a big bubble game, and Arizona at Washington State (9 p.m., FOX Sports Affiliates) in a game the Wildcats can’t lose.
- By continuing to avoid bad losses, BYU’s at-large profile has looked better and better in recent weeks. The Cougars need to keep winning tonight, at San Francisco (10 p.m., ESPNU).
- Bucknell puts its undefeated Patriot League record on the line, against C.J. McCollum and Lehigh (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network).
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