***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2012
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Ole Miss @ Mississippi State — 9:00 pm on ESPN (***)
This game between in-state rivals could have a big impact on who will be dancing in March. These teams are in the middle of the SEC standings, but both are within a game of SEC West leader Arkansas. Their records (17-6 for Ole Miss, 16-7 for MSU) are pretty average, but if one of these teams wins their division it could have a big impact on the selection committee. Despite their similar records, these two teams could not be much more different. Mississippi State, who averages less than 73 PPG, ranks 90th in offensive efficiency and but ranks 17th in defense, and second in the country with 8.1 steals per game. The Rebels average over 80 points per contest, but rank 86th in defensive efficiency. Four of UM’s top scorers are guards, and Mississippi State may look to take advantage of their small lineup, as the Bulldogs are eighth in the country at over 38 rebounds a game. The Bulldogs are also playing at home, where they are 10-1 on the year, so look for the Jarvis Varnado (11.3 RPG) to hit the boards hard as usual. MSU won the first matchup in Oxford, and we expect them to beat a smaller Ole Miss club here.
Washington @ California — 9:00 pm on ESPN 2 (***)
The Pac-10 is a mess at the top of the conference where Cal sits a game ahead of five other teams. Washington was near the bottom of the conference a few weeks ago, but four straight wins now have the Huskies at the top of the five-loss teams. All of UW’s wins during the streak came at home, but they will now have to travel to Berkeley, and the Huskies are 0-5 on the road this year. With the exception of the losses at Texas Tech and UCLA, the games have not even been close. Cal averages 77.7 PPG and they rank sixth in the nation in offensive efficiency, but their defense is suspect with a defensive ranking of 63. The Bears have not allowed an opponent to score 75 points in their last seven games, but they will have their hands full with Washington’s offense. Led by Quincy Pondexter‘s 20.6 PPG, the Huskies have averaged 93.8 PPG during their winning streak. In the last meeting between the two teams, it was downright ugly (16-48 shooting for Cal, 30-74 shooting for UW). Jerome Randle, Cal’s leading scorer, only had five points in that game, and he should have a much better night at the Haas Pavilion.
St. Mary’s @ #11 Gonzaga — 11:00 pm on ESPN 2 (*****)
To get a feel for how good these teams are, they have combined for a 15-2 record in the WCC (one of the losses came during their previous matchup) and they have won over 85% of their games this season. Both teams have won 11 of their last 12, and given the way these two clubs have played, this game will decide the WCC title. People have been getting on the Zags about their lackluster defense, but they have played solid defense since the game against Loyola Marymount on January 23. The Gaels, on the other hand, are 105th in defensive efficiency, and gave up 89 points to the Bulldogs in their first matchup. Although Gonzaga’s Robert Sacre is a bona-fide seven-footer, Omar Samhan exploited the Zags in the post for 31 points. Elias Harris, who matched Samhan with 31 points of his own in that game, has slowed down since his hot streak at the start of WCC play, but Matt Bouldin has picked up right where Harris left off. With Bouldin’s ability to snipe three-pointers on fast breaks, both teams rank in the nation’s top 10 in field goal percentage. St. Mary’s is also third in the country in free throw percentage, while the Zags are having their worst year at the line of the Mark Few era. With 0.007 points separating these two teams in Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, it should go down to the wire. The key difference in their records? St. Mary’s schedule is ranked 155th according to Jeff Sagarin, and the Zags have played Michigan State, Wisconsin, Duke, and Wake Forest. Look for Gonzaga to take this at home.