College Basketball Weekend Primer – Best Games, Best Bets for March 3-5

Duke at North Carolina highlights a weekend slate that features important games for bubble teams and four automatic NCAA Tournament bids being handed out. 

And here it is – the last weekend primer of the college basketball season. Next week, conference tournaments will be in full swing leading up to Selection Sunday and, finally, the NCAA Tournament. It’s the time of year every college basketball junkie hungers for.

The final weekend of the regular season – and the beginning of some mid-major conference tournaments – is pretty packed, but one matchup stands out above the rest as it often does. No. 17 Duke makes the trip to Chapel Hill to take on No. 5 North Carolina as the Blue Devils look to sweep the season series and potentially improve its NCAA Tournament seeding in the process.

The Tar Heels, who have clinched the regular-season ACC title and top seed in the conference tournament, will be trying to bounce back from a dismal 53-43 loss at Virginia, during which they shot an awful 35.4 percent from the floor.

Duke snapped a two-game skid with Tuesday’s 75-70 home win over Florida State as freshman Frank Jackson scored a season-high 22 points in his first start in over three weeks as Grayson Allen came off the bench. Allen had 25 points in the first meeting with the Tar Heels, and he’ll look put up a similar effort against the Blue Devils’ bitter rivals.

Here’s a look at what else is happening around the country over the weekend.

Bubbling Over

Plenty of NCAA Tournament bubble teams get a final chance to make their cases prior to conference tournament time. Oklahoma State can solidify its spot in the Big Dance with a home win over No. 1 Kansas on Saturday night, while fellow Big 12 member Kansas State needs a victory over Texas Tech just to stay on the bubble.

Credit: Jason Getz – USA Today

The ultimate bubble matchup in the ACC is Saturday’s contest between Georgia Tech and Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Neither team can afford a loss at this point, although the Yellow Jackets probably need a win even more. The same goes for Wake Forest in its matchup at Virginia Tech.

In the Big East, Seton Hall would be on the right side of the bubble if it can win at No. 13 Butler and Marquette beat Creighton would give the Golden Eagles a better shot at an at-large berth as well. And don’t forget about Providence or Xavier. The Friars and Musketeers need to survive road games against St. John’s and DePaul, respectively.

The biggest drama in the Pac-12 is whether or not any other teams will join Arizona, Oregon and UCLA in the NCAA Tournament. Cal and USC have the best shots. The Golden Bears visiting Colorado and the Trojans hosting Washington on Saturday.

Mid-Major Invitations

The Missouri Valley, Atlantic Sun, Ohio Valley and Big South will play their conference championship games this weekend as the first automatic Tournament bids are handed out.

Can Illinois State win the Valley to take the decision out of the committee’s hands? Florida Gulf Coast – sans Dunk City lore from years past – is the favorite in the A-Sun, Winthrop has won six straight games heading into the Big South tournament and Belmont is expected to come out of the Ohio Valley.

The Other ACC Battles

Duke-UNC isn’t the only ACC game to watch. Notre Dame will be shooting for a seventh straight victory and the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament when it travels to face Louisville, which dropped the first meeting 77-70 on Jan. 4. The Cardinals are coming off an 88-81 loss at Wake Forest on Wednesday.

Florida State is at home, which means its road struggles are taken off the table when it faces the Hurricanes. The Seminoles lost 75-70 at Duke on Tuesday, but one of their few road wins came at Miami on Feb. 1. The Hurricanes had their four-game winning streak snapped with Monday’s 66-61 loss at Virginia Tech.

Best Bets

Each week I picked five games against the spread that I’d put smart money on. I kept a running record throughout the season and need to go at least 4-1 this week to exceed the .500 mark and make me seem like a somewhat decent gambler for getting close to even money.

Here’s a look at what I have this week:

Season record: 30-32-3
Last week: 2-3

  • Arizona (-2) over UCLA (L)
  • Purdue (+1) over Michigan (L)
  • Duke (-1.5) over Miami (L)
  • Illinois State (-2) over Northern Iowa (W)
  • SMU (-5.5) over UConn (W)

This week:

  • Illinois (-4) over Rutgers
  • Notre Dame (+8) over Louisville
  • Kansas (+1) over Oklahoma State
  • Xavier (-6.5) over DePaul
  • Villanova (-7) over Georgetown

MORE: Most Important Conference Tournaments For Dangerous Mid-Majors