Viewer's Guide: Two Top 25 matchups highlight schedule

Austin Nichols played just 11 minutes against Cincinnati in the first meeting. (USATSI)
Austin Nichols played just 11 minutes against Cincinnati in the first meeting. (USATSI)

Latest in hoops: Top 25 (and one) | Bracketology | Bubble Watch

Wednesday saw another top-seed candidate fall to a mediocre team, while several bubble teams really helped their cause. Thursday has two top-25 matchups to highlight the schedule, plus another bubble team looking to solidify its standing in the NCAA tournament. Conference-USA is up for grabs, and five conference tournaments are in action.

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

Best game: No. 20 Memphis at No. 15 Cincinnati (7 p.m., ESPN). Cincinnati needs to keep pace with Louisville in the AAC standings, and a win here would accomplish that. The key matchup will be between Memphis’ aggressive, driving guards and Cincinnati’s ability to defend penetration and force teams to take perimeter shots. The Bearcats love to switch ball-screens, which won’t let Memphis turn the corner and get downhill. Cincinnati won the first meeting by 16, as Memphis went 2-for-17 from 3-point range. The Tigers will have to improve on that, while also keeping Cincinnati off the offensive glass. 

Second-best game: No. 24 Iowa at No. 22 Michigan State (9 p.m., ESPN). Two Big Ten teams looking to get some more momentum heading down the stretch. Michigan State is really struggling lately, losing six of its last 10 games – including Saturday’s home loss to Illinois in which the Spartans scored 46 points. Meanwhile, Iowa snapped its three-game losing streak with a home win over Purdue on Sunday, but the Hawkeyes still need to figure out their defensive issues. The first meeting between the two teams was terrific, with Michigan State coming out with a two-point overtime win. The main thing to watch is Keith Appling’s health. His wrist has been bothering him, and it’s impacting the entire team. Will he recover? 

Another one to watch: No. 6 Villanova at Xavier (7 p.m., Fox Sports 1). The final chance for Xavier to prove it is at-large worthy before the Big East tournament. The Musketeers lost to Seton Hall on Monday, but they had beaten St. John’s and Creighton last week, which built up some breathing room. Meanwhile, Villanova can clinch the outright regular-season Big East championship with a win. The Wildcats have won four in a row. They beat Xavier by 23 in the first meeting between the two teams, and will look to again get hot from behind the arc. The Musketeers could really solidify their at-large status with a win.

Guaranteed win: Prairie View A&M at Southern (9 p.m.). Southern wrapped up the SWAC regular-season championship, but the Jaguars won’t have a letdown on Thursday. Prairie View has lost five straight games, while Southern has won four straight and 15 of its last 17 games. It will be interesting to see if the Jaguars win the SWAC tournament championship – since they’re not eligible for the NCAA Tournament.

Potential upset: LSU at Vanderbilt (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Tigers likely saw their bubble hopes go up in flames by losing four of their last six games, including Saturday’s 18-point loss at Florida. If that didn’t put them out of the mix, I think Thursday will. Vanderbilt is always a tough place to play, and it’s senior night for the Commodores. If they can keep LSU off the offensive glass, I think the Commodores get a victory.

Three things to keep an eye on:

  1. Stephen F. Austin looks to run its unbeaten streak to 25 games against Oral Roberts (9 p.m.).
  2. The Conference-USA title race is coming down to its final day. Louisiana Tech (at Rice, 8 p.m.), Middle Tennessee (at UAB, 8 p.m.), Tulsa (at North Texas, 8 p.m.), and Southern Miss (at Tulane, 8 p.m.) are all tied at 12-3.
  3. Weber State can clinch the Big Sky regular-season championship at Portland State (10:05 p.m.).

Conference tournaments:

Ohio Valley: There are two quarterfinal matchups on Thursday, with Tennessee Tech taking on Morehead State, and Eastern Kentucky facing Southeast Missouri State.

Atlantic Sun: It’s semifinal time in the A-Sun, as top-seeded Florida Gulf Coast faces East Tennessee State, and Mercer plays USC-Upstate.

Missouri Valley: Six teams get a bye in the Valley, but there are two games on Thursday. Drake plays Evansville for the right to face Wichita State, while Bradley takes on Loyola-Chicago.

MAAC: Three games on Thursday: Rider-Monmouth, St. Peter’s-Fairfield, Marist-Niagara.

West Coast: A couple of play-in games take place: Portland vs. Loyola Marymount and Pacific vs. Santa Clara.

Other games to watch:

  • VCU at Richmond (9 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
  • UCLA at Washington (9 p.m., ESPN2)
  • Grand Canyon at New Mexico State (9 p.m., ESPN3)
  • Hawaii at UC Santa Barbara (9 p.m., ESPNU)
  • UC Irvine at Cal State Fullerton (10 p.m.)
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