It’s not goodbye, it’s see ya later.
Folks, we have reached the final weekend of the regular season. It’s the time of year that seemed eons away in mid-November when the late Johnny Orr made his final fist-wielding strut out of the tunnel with Fred Hoiberg… When DeAndre Kane sent Drago from Rocky IV to the locker room with a gouged eye… The 18-point comeback at Wells Fargo Arena… When Hilton Magic placed a spell on Mike Gesell (forgive the rhyme)… Please, someone tell me to stop. I’m inconsolable right now.
Luckily, we have a saving grace every year — relief from the pain of bidding farewell to so many memories: March Madness. It starts next week with conference tournaments (several of which have already begun), then onto Selection Sunday and finally the Big Dance. I’ll be providing additional viewer’s guides and previews for all of the aforementioned events in due time, but for now, enjoy these final regular season gems…
Big 12 Game of the Weekend: Oklahoma State at Iowa State (Saturday, 1:00 p.m., ESPN)
As thrilling as extra extra extra basketball was in the first go-around with the Cowboys, nobody wants to suffer a heart attack before the NCAA Tournament starts. Prior to Oklahoma State’s roller coaster of a season, this was a game everyone probably had circled on their calendars. It was supposed to be a doozie: the season finale, in Ames, and perhaps Oklahoma State would be the new Big 12 team to beat after splitting preseason No. 1 votes with Kansas. As it turns out, that wasn’t exactly the case, but Travis Ford has his team roaring back at just the right time to still make this one a must-watch. It’s still semi-desperation mode for the Cowboys (though their ticket may have been punched with the KU upset), and it’s Senior Day for the Cyclones — to say emotions will be running high will not do this one justice. Storylines abound here: DeAndre Kane vs. Marcus Smart, Part Deux… Melvin Ejim’s Hilton farewell… Conference tournament seeding implications… But none of these are as important as ensuring Iowa State doesn’t face-plant like they did Tuesday in Waco. Ejim and Georges Niang can’t (and likely won’t) suffer the same poor performances they did against Baylor (10 points, 11 rebounds combined) if the Cyclones want to go out on a good note. A three-game losing streak would not be the ideal way to roll into Kansas City next week. For Oklahoma State, a five-game tear may make them the most frightening Big 12 team in the bracket.
Big 12 Upset Special: Kansas at West Virginia (Saturday, 11:00 a.m., ESPN)
I don’t particularly care for Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology but you probably do, so I will cite it right now: West Virginia is not an NCAA Tournament team — and they likely won’t be without ripping off 3-4 straight wins (this one and then perhaps Kansas State and Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament). Essentially, it would mean reaching the conference final. Crazier things have happened in this sport, and as we well know thanks to performances like Wake Forest’s on Wednesday, sometimes it’s just a bear trying to beat a team on its Senior Day — something Kansas will look to do Saturday. The Jayhawks will be without Joel Embiid for the second straight game, and their 35-point thumping of Texas Tech proved that they may not need him, at least not right now. I often deem this lazy college basketball analysis, but I really do think it may be true in this case: watch for a potential hangover for KU — like, the "needing sunglasses to open the refrigerator" kind of hangover. They’re sitting pretty, and a long road trip following a blowout win has proven time and time again to force teams a few steps back — something an emotional and desperate WVU team could easily take advantage of, especially with Embiid riding pine. I like the Mountaineers in this one. And if you’re a betting man or woman, take the over — these offenses can light it up from the parking lot.
Others around the country
(3) Arizona at Oregon (Saturday, 3:00 p.m., CBS): Arizona is my overall No. 1 right now, but they might run into some trouble in Eugene on Saturday. Oregon is "squarely on the bubble" (my least favorite March Madness expression) and they get the big dogs for their season finale — Senior Night, blah blah blah, you know the narrative. It was just a two-point loss for the Ducks in Tucson, and they’ve gone 6-1 since. Joseph Young vs. Nick Johnson was the matchup to watch in that first game and it should be again (Note: Richard Amardi should sound familiar — the Oregon reserve forward was committed to Iowa State before his scholarship went to DeAndre Kane).
(9) Wisconsin at Nebraska (Sunday, 6:30 p.m., Big Ten Network): What is there left to say about Nebrasketball? The Coach of the Year favorite has made its rounds through the Big Ten but may have finally settled on Tim Miles for good. The Huskers are a lock to finish ahead of Ohio State, Indiana and at least five others and can end the season on an improbable 8-1 tear (and perhaps an NCAA Tournament berth) by knocking off the Badgers, who are on an eight-game winning streak of their own. These two haven’t met since Feb. 26 of last year, and Nebraska is 16-1 at home over the last 13 months.
(22) Michigan State at Ohio State (Sunday, 3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network): Squeeze this one in before Nebraska-Wisconsin. The two projected Big Ten powerhouses entering the season currently sit at third and sixth, respectively, but that doesn’t make watching Thad Matta and Tom Izzo in a season-ending battle royale any less of a treat. It was an overtime thriller between two top-five teams back in early January in East Lansing, in which Keith Appling, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne combined for 51 points. Not many implications here but it should be a fun watch nonetheless.