Do you realize that the First Four in Dayton will conclude just two weeks from tonight? Season has flown by. ESPN Bracketology expert Joe Lunardi claims that "realistically" 59 of the NCAA Tournament field's 68 spots are gone and there are 24 teams competing for the final nine. If Louisville and SMU were eligible for the Big Dance, that would leave just seven spots. Kansas is the new No. 1 team in the polls and is now the +600 favorite at BetOnline to cut down the nets in April.
No. 7 Miami at Notre Dame (-1)
ACC game at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2. North Carolina coaches surely will be watching this one as the Heels would at worst clinch a share of the ACC regular-season title if Miami (23-5, 12-4) loses. But the Canes might be in good shape to win the outright title if they can pull this out because they finish with a very winnable game at Virginia Tech, while UNC closes at Duke. UM closed its home schedule unbeaten in ACC play with a 73-65 win over No. 11 Louisville on Saturday to improve to 5-2 this season against ranked teams. The Cardinals missed nine consecutive shots as their 62-58 lead turned into a 70-62 deficit. The Hurricanes were without sixth man Ja'Quan Newton, who began a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules. He averages 10.9 points per game.
Notre Dame (19-9, 10-6) still has a shot at Top 4 seed for next week's ACC Tournament -- it would earn one by winning out (closes at home vs. NC State). But the Irish played maybe their worst game of the season Saturday, getting routed 77-56 at Florida State to fall out of the Top 25. The 56 points were a season low as was the Irish's 35.7 percent shooting. The Irish have not lost back-to-back games since the end of the 2013-14 season and have set the school record of 68 consecutive games without suffering back-to-back defeats. Notre Dame is 3-3 vs. ranked teams this season. It lost 79-70 at No. 17 Miami on Feb. 3.
Key trends: Miami is 2-5 against the spread in its past seven road games. The Irish are 4-0 ATS in their past four at home. The home team is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings.
I'm leaning: Notre Dame.
No. 2 Michigan State at Rutgers (+23)
Big Ten game at 7 p.m. ET on the Big Ten Network. This clearly looks to be the mismatch of the night. MSU (24-5, 11-5) will know by Tuesday night if it can still share the Big Ten regular-season title. Sparty needs Indiana to lose at Iowa, which I think happens, to still have a shot this weekend. MSU is in a group of teams two games back of the Hoosiers. Michigan State closes the season Saturday at home against Ohio State. The Spartans are peaking right now, having won four straight by at least 12 points. Their only loss in the past nine was in overtime at Purdue. Michigan State star and Big Ten Player of the Year favorite Denzel Valentine has a chance to become the first player in at least 30 years to average 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists in a season. He's at 19.6 ppg, 7.6 rpg and 7.2 apg. He was only considered a second-round pick entering this season but has worked his way into the first round of the NBA draft.
Rutgers (6-23, 0-16) is comically bad. It was destroyed at Northwestern 98-59 on Saturday. Jonathan Laurent scored 17 for Rutgers, which lost its 31st consecutive Big Ten game and 16th straight game overall. No team has gone winless in the Big Ten since Northwestern was 0-16 in 1999-2000. There was a bright spot from that latest loss as freshman Ibrahima Diallo played for the first time since Dec. 12 due to injury. And Rutgers is supposed to get back freshman and leading scorer Corey Sanders from a four-game suspension here. He's averaging 16.2 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.7 steals per game. Sanders scored 17 points in the first matchup between the two teams, a 96-62 home MSU win on Jan. 31. The Spartans set a school record by making 17 3-pointers.
Key trends: MSU is 1-4 ATS in its past five on Wednesday. Rutgers is 6-23 ATS in its past 29 Big Ten games.
I'm leaning: Upset of the century? Sorry, can't see that. I think I might take the points, though. MSU probably will be looking ahead to its home finale.
Oregon State at USC (-5)
Pac-12 game is one of the latest-starting of the night at 11 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. It's a must-have for Oregon State (17-10, 8-8), which is currently listed among ESPN's "Last Four In" and playing Florida in a First Four game. The Beavers close the regular season at struggling UCLA. OSU star Gary Payton II did something cool on Sunday in a 69-49 win over Washington State on Senior Day in Corvallis. His Hall of Fame father was in attendance for his son's final home game, and Payton II wore dad's retired No. 20 Oregon State jersey for it. He had 13 points, seven rebounds and eight assists. Oregon State has at least 17 wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1989 and 1990.
USC (19-10, 8-8) is projected as a No. 8 seed in the Big Dance. That seems generous. The Trojans lost their third straight game and fifth in the past six on Sunday, 87-65 at California. No shame in losing at Cal, which is unbeaten at home. But it was the third double-digit loss in a row for USC. Reserve forward Darion Clark, a good rebounder, missed his seventh straight game with a separated shoulder. The Trojans remain one victory shy of their first 20-win season since 2009. They better win this because they host No. 9 Oregon on Saturday, and a loss there too probably knocks USC out of the NCAA field. Southern Cal lost at Oregon State 85-70 on Jan. 24. Payton II had 22 points, 15 rebounds, eight assists and four steals. The Trojans led 40-36 at the break.
Key trends: OSU is 5-15 ATS in its past 20 road games. It has failed to cover nine straight on Wednesday. USC is 13-4-1 ATS in its past 18 at home.
I'm leaning: USC, which has just one home loss.
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