By: Willie Bee | Friday, February 10, 2012 The term 'madness' should really apply to Saturday college basketball schedules instead of the NCAA Tournament. The entire first week of this year's big tourney will feature about 50 games spread over five days, or roughly one-third of this Saturday's 144-game card.
Seventeen of the upcoming games will feature ranked teams, including four that pit top 25 squads against one another. You could pick just about any of the 144 contests and find something crucial about the matchup, from crews fighting for a win to catch the selection committee's eye to seeding for upcoming conference tournaments.
Here are three on a maddening Saturday involving teams that should all be part of the madness in March.
No. 19 Virginia at No. 5 North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC – 1:00 p.m. (ET) ESPN3
This game would be intriguing enough from the standpoint of Virginia's strong defense meeting UNC's prolific offense. What makes it crucial, however, is the loser could eventually miss out on a first-round bye in the ACC Tournament. North Carolina starts the weekend in a three-way tie with Duke and Florida State for the conference lead, each at 7-2, while Virginia is just a game behind at 6-3 in fourth alongside North Carolina State.
Adding to the game's allure is the mystery of just how the Tar Heels will bounce back from Wednesday's defeat to archrival Duke. North Carolina rebounded very nicely a few weeks ago after being manhandled 90-57 by Florida State, but the loss to the Blue Devils was a different animal. The rout by FSU came on the road and the Heels were prepared for that loss well before the final second ticked off; dropping one at the buzzer on their home court to the hated Blue Devils might take longer to get past.
The outright loss was also North Carolina's fourth consecutive spread defeat. The Tar Heels are just 2-3 against the spread at home on the ACC schedule.
Virginia, meanwhile, comes in with a 3-1 mark both straight up and ATS in its last four games, and is a perfect 4-0 ATS in conference road tilts. The Cavaliers have also kept all four away games on the league schedule 'under' the closing totals.
You can't find a game on Saturday with a bigger disparity in styles and tempos between the teams. Tony Bennett and the Cavs are allowing just 52.1 points per game on the ACC slate, fewest in the conference, and will look to slow the game to a crawl. Roy Williams and the Tar Heels are averaging 77.4 PPG in league play, most in the ACC, and will speed things up at every opportunity.
Virginia dictated the tempo at home last season in the only meeting between the two, just covering the 6½-point spread in North Carolina's 62-56 victory. The Cavaliers grabbed the outright win and upset a season before that in their last trip to Chapel Hill, 75-60. This is the first of two meetings between the two in this campaign, the second coming about two weeks from now when UNC visits the Cavaliers on Feb. 25.
No. 6 Baylor at No. 4 Missouri
Columbia, MO – 1:30 p.m. (ET) ESPN3
Scott Drew has already led the Baylor program back from oblivion; now he faces bringing this season's squad back from a second poor performance against Kansas in an attempt to at least regain some measure of respect before the Big 12 Tournament.
The Bears know this is their last real chance to prove they aren't just the third wheel in the Big 12 behind KU and Mizzou. Doing so will mean handing the Tigers their first loss at home this season and regaining the level of play that Baylor exhibited in running out to an 18-0 mark on the campaign. Since that point, the Bears have been solid fade material with just one cover in their last seven games.
Missouri just barely escaped a trip to Oklahoma on Monday, pulling off a 71-68 win that the Sooner could've easily won if they hadn't shot so poorly from the free-throw line (9-of-23). That was a prime letdown spot for the Tigers following last Saturday's big victory here in Columbia over Kansas.
The Tigers were 4-point underdogs in Waco when they met the Bears on Jan. 21, and a 22-9 scoring advantage at the charity stripe played a key role in Mizzou coming away with the 89-88 triumph. Baylor was simply outhustled in that loss, and has to win the rebound battle to gain revenge in this matchup.
Wichita State at No. 17 Creighton
Omaha, NE – 5:00 p.m. (ET) ESPN2
The Bluejays appeared to be cruising towards the Missouri Valley regular season title a week ago. That was before the offense went cold in a couple of road setbacks and Creighton now needs a win to just regain a share of the lead with the Shockers who have a revenge angle for this contest.
Creighton is averaging 80 PPG on the season, but could muster just 62 and 57 in defeats at Northern Iowa and Evansville. A Doug McDermott layup with 5:25 left in the loss to Evansville was the Bluejays' last bucket in that game, their only other point coming from the free-throw line the rest of the way. The 'Jays were 45-for-109 from the field in the two defeats, and just 9-for-38 from 3-point range.
Wichita State enters with 11 wins in 12 trips to the floor since dropping a 68-61 decision at Creighton on New Year's Eve. The Shockers' only loss in that span was a triple-overtime setback at Drake, and they have outscored everyone in MVC action with a 76.7 PPG average (Creighton second at 75.2). Seven of their last eight contests have skipped 'over' the total.
The Shockers were laying seven at home when the Bluejays pulled off the upset. Wichita State was limited to just 22 points in the second half of that game after taking an 8-point lead to the locker room, and shot a season low 33.3 percent from the field (19-of-57).