Winners, Losers, and What to Watch
Here’s a look at this week’s winners and losers and Saturday’s premier match-up.
Winner: Michigan Wolverines
The Michigan Wolverines (23-7, 12-5 Big Ten) are winners of four consecutive games. Most recently, Michigan defeated their arch rival, #8 Ohio State, 74-62 and held the Buckeyes best player and potential All-American forward Keita Bates-Diop to 5-of-17 shooting. The Wolverines followed that up with a win at Penn State, 72-63. Mo Wagner is leading Michigan in both scoring and rebounding, averaging 14.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. The Wolverines are ranked 17th in the nation and are in fourth place in the Big Ten. Due to the earlier than normal conference tournament, Michigan wraps up their regular season when they travel to College Park, MD to take on the Terps at noon on Saturday. A win at Maryland combined with a strong showing at Madison Square Garden in the Big Ten Tournament could land the Wolverines amongst the top four seed lines come March. A four seed could allow Michigan to play in Detroit during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament—setting them up for a deep run in the “Big Dance.”
Loser: Florida Gators
The Florida Gators (17-11, 8-7 SEC) were a top ten team at this season’s inception, but has slid out of the top 25 and onto the bubble. Florida has now lost three straight games, including bad losses to Georgia and Vanderbilt before falling 62-57 to #19 Tennessee on the road. The road does not get any easier for the Gators as their final three games of the regular season feature games against teams that should be headed toward the NCAA Tournament: Saturday at 8:30pm home versus #12 Auburn, at Alabama, and home against Kentucky. If Florida continues their recent slide into the SEC Tournament, the Gators could be on the outside looking in come March. With four players averaging double figures in scoring, (Jalen Hudson, Egor Koulechov, Chris Chiozza, and KeVaughn Allen) Florida has a balanced offensive attack and, has held opponent to 69.9 points per game, defensively. I still think that Florida is a tournament team, but they will need to prove they are worthy of a bid down the stretch.
Premier Match-Up: #8 Kansas at #6 Texas Tech (4:15pm ESPN)
Kansas and Texas Tech enter Saturday’s showdown with an eye on the Big 12 title. The Jayhawks hold a one game lead in the standings, but the Red Raiders won the first meeting between the two teams. Texas Tech will look to tie the standings with a win to give them the chance to snag the program’s first conference regular season title since it won the Southwest Conference title in 1996. If the Red Raiders were to do so outright, they would prevent Kansas from winning their 14th consecutive Big 12 Regular Season Championship. Texas Tech will need a big performance from Keenan Evans, who was playing at an All-American level prior to suffering a toe injury in last Saturday’s loss to Baylor. Evans was just 1-of-7 from the field for just 2 points in Wednesday’s loss to Oklahoma State. Texas Tech will look to protect home court and go a perfect 17-0 at home with a win on Saturday.
Kansas enters the contest winners of their last three games over Iowa State, #20 West Virginia, and, most recently, a 104-74 drubbing of Trae Young and Oklahoma on Monday. A Jayhawks win over the Red Raiders would clinch at least a share of the Big 12 Regular Season crown for the 14th straight season—which would give them the record for most consecutive conference championships. They are currently tied with UCLA (1967-1979). Senior guard Devonte’ Graham is making his push into the conversation for National Player of the Year honors as he is averaging 17.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game. Kansas will look to continue their impressive play late, add another Big 12 title, and make their case for a tenth straight season as a one or two seed in the NCAA Tournament. Look for history to repeat itself and for Kansas to win both the game and the conference championship.