Yes, it's college basketball's postseason time, but it's also firing season around the country. For example, Drexel has dumped Bruiser Flint and Santa Clara has done the same with Kerry Keating. There are a few schools playing their conference tournament openers below who also might be making changes on the bench.
Syracuse vs. Pittsburgh (-1.5)
ACC Tournament game at noon ET on ESPN from Washington, D.C. The winner plays regular-season champion North Carolina on Thursday. This is the most "bubbly" game, so to speak, of the day. Ninth-seeded Syracuse (19-12) is listed among ESPN's "Last Four In," although I tend to think the Orange will get the benefit of the doubt just because of who they are. Will the committee take into account the team's struggles when Coach Jim Boeheim was suspended nine games earlier this season? SU isn't playing very well right now, either, having dropped two straight and four of five. The Orange are led by senior Michael Gbinije, who was named second-team All-ACC and a member of the conference's All-Defensive Team. He leads the club in scoring (17.6), assists (4.5), steals (2.0), 3-pointers made (2.6) and minutes played (37.8) per game. His 31-game streak of double-digit scoring ranks sixth on Syracuse's single-season list.
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Pittsburgh (20-10) is the No. 8 seed and listed among the "Last Four Byes" for the Big Dance. The Panthers are also slumping at the wrong time, having lost at unranked Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech to close the regular season. The Panthers are 4-3 this season in games decided by five points or fewer. They have lost eight straight games in the month of March under Coach Jamie Dixon. Pitt has won four straight vs. Syracuse. It won 72-61 at home on Dec. 30 when Boeheim was out. The Panthers closed the game on a 14-2 run. On Feb. 20 at Syracuse, Pitt won 66-52. Jamel Artis had 21 points and 11 rebounds.
Key trends: The Orange are 2-5 against the spread in their past seven vs. teams with a winning record. Pitt is 10-2 ATS in its past 12 following at ATS loss.
I'm leaning: Pittsburgh.
Minnesota vs. Illinois (-7)
Big Ten Tournament game at 4:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2 from Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The winner loses to Iowa on Thursday. Maybe there will be no Pitinos in college basketball next season. It's still not clear if Rick will be back at Louisville, and I don't see how son Richard keeps his job with No. 13 seed Minnesota (8-22) such a train wreck. The Gophers had the audacity to lose at historically bad Rutgers 75-52 to finish the regular season. That ended Rutgers' 32-game Big Ten losing streak. The Gophers remain without three suspended players in Kevin Dorsey, Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer. They won't play again this season. Neither will forward Joey King as he recently broke his foot. Against Rutgers, Minnesota had just eight players, including three walk-ons.
No. 12 Illinois (13-18) I think will definitely make a coaching change after this season. The new athletic director just fired the school's football coach and replaced him with Lovie Smith, and I'm sure he will do the same here to John Groce. Illinois had five conference wins, and two of those were against Minnesota. It was 76-71 in overtime on Jan. 23 in Minneapolis behind 28 points and 10 rebounds from Malcolm Hill. Illinois also won at home 84-71 on Feb. 28 -- the team's only victory in its final five games. Hill had 22 points with seven rebounds and five assists. Illinois shot 73.9 percent from the field in the second half, using a 29-8 run to open up a big lead.
Key trends: Minnesota is 1-5 ATS in its past six vs. teams with a losing record. Illinois has covered 12 of its past 16 vs. teams below .500. The favorite is 18-8 ATS in the past 26 meetings.
I'm leaning: Illini will win by double-digits.
UCLA vs. USC (-2.5)
Pac-12 Tournament game at 9 p.m. ET on the Pac-12 Network from Las Vegas, with the winner facing Utah. Could this be the finale for Steve Alford with the 10th-seeded Bruins (15-16)? My guess is gets one more year with such a prohibitive buyout. It's impossible this team was 6-12 in the conference with all that talent. UCLA closed on a four-game losing streak. And the Bruins might not have one of their best players here in guard Bryce Alford, Steve's son. He was hit in the jaw late in UCLA's home loss to Oregon State on Saturday. He doesn't have a facial fracture, so that's good news in terms of him playing. Alford is the Bruins' second-leading scorer at 16.3 points per game.
No. 7 USC (20-11) probably has done enough for the Big Dance but is currently listed among the "Last Four Byes." But the Trojans are not trending the right way as they lost six of their final eight games. Junior guard Julian Jacobs was named to the Pac-12 All-Conference First Team on Monday, the first Trojan first-teamer since current Orlando Magic center Nikola Vucevic. Jacobs is averaging 11.6 points, 5.4 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game. USC swept UCLA during the regular season. It was 89-75 at Pauley Pavilion on Jan. 13 and 80-61 at the Galen Center on Feb. 4. Last March, UCLA beat USC 96-70 in a quarterfinal matchup at the Pac-12 Tournament after having won both regular-season meetings against its rival.
Key trends: UCLA is 0-4 ATS in its past four games. USC is 5-1 ATS in its past six on Wednesday. The favorite is 6-2 ATS in the past eight meetings.
I'm leaning: USC.
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