Believe it or not, Saturday is the last full day of college basketball action this season. That's because most of the mid-major conferences conclude their regular seasons Saturday. The first conference tournament to tip-off is the Atlantic Sun on Monday. All those games are on campus sites of the higher-ranked team. The two schools to beat there are Florida Gulf Coast, a former NCAA Tournament darling, and Lipscomb - those two finished 1-2 and then there's quite a drop-off. There are crucial games all over the country in those small conferences Saturday to determine tiebreakers. Let March Madness begin!
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No. 18 Virginia at NC State (+8)
Noon ET game on ESPN. What has happened to the Wahoos? After a 71-48 blowout of Virginia Tech on Feb. 1, the Cavs were battling for the ACC lead and were ninth in the country. However, UVA has lost five of six since and is on the school's first four-game skid since Tony Bennett first season (2009-10) in Charlottesville. Losses to Duke and North Carolina you can understand, but those were both by double digits. UVA really had no right losing at Virginia Tech just 11 days after crushing the Hokies, and it should not be losing at home to a short-handed Miami team. That's what happened Monday as the Canes pulled off a 54-48 OT upset. Virginia's offense has been in the dumps during the skid, and the team's best player, senior guard London Perrantes, has made only 16 of 58 shots (27.6 percent) from the floor in those four games. Virginia will fall out of the Top 25 Monday with a loss here and might even with a close win. A Top-4 seed and double-bye in the ACC Tournament is gone.
The Wolfpack faithful can say goodbye to already-fired head coach Mark Gottfried and superstar freshman point guard Dennis Smith Jr. at this game as it's NC State's home finale. NC State fans are all giddy because recently on Twitter Dayton coach Archie Miller's wife tweeted a photo of herself with her nephew and both were holding up what looked like the Wolfpack hand sign. Archie Miller and his wife met at NC State. Still say he's not going there. Smith has been fantastic as he leads the team in scoring (18.9 ppg), assists (6.4), steals (2.0) and minutes (34.6) while ranking fourth in rebounding (4.3). Smith had 18 points, three rebounds, three steals and two assists as the Wolfpack ended a seven-game losing streak with a 71-69 win at Georgia Tech on Tuesday - a crusher for the Yellow Jackets' NCAA hopes. UVA and NC State haven't met this season.
Key trends: The Cavs are 0-4 against the spread in their past four games. The Wolfpack are 0-5 ATS in their past five at home. Virginia is 2-5 ATS in the past seven meetings.
I'm leaning: NC State.
No. 13 Florida at No. 11 Kentucky (-3)
SEC game at 2 p.m. ET on CBS. Probably the most important Power 5 conference game of the day, all due respect to No. 5 UCLA at No. 4 Arizona as the Bruins aren't going to win the Pac-12 even with a victory. The Gators and Cats are tied atop the SEC. If Florida wins this game, it will be the top seed in the conference tournament as it routed Kentucky 88-66 in Gainesville on Feb. 4. UF outrebounded the Wildcats 54-29 in ending a five-game losing streak in the series. Florida improved to 2-10 against ranked teams under Coach Mike White. The Gators enter this one on a nine-game winning streak following an impressive 81-66 victory over formerly ranked South Carolina on Tuesday. KeVaughn Allen had 26 points; he was held to one point in an earlier loss at USC.
Kentucky enters on a five-game winning streak since that loss to Florida. It won rather ugly at terrible Missouri on Tuesday in a potential look-ahead game, 72-62. It was tied with 7:45 to play. Kentucky's 17 turnovers tied its season high. Freshman Bam Adebayo had 22 points and a career-high 15 rebounds. UK shot 46.2 percent from the field and is 23-1 this season when shooting at least 42 percent. The Cats really could use a quality win. They are 1-4 against teams currently ranked in the Top 25 -- a win over now No. 8 North Carolina; losses to No. 3 Kansas, No. 5 UCLA, No. 7 Louisville and the 13th-ranked Gators.
Key trends: The Gators are 7-2 ATS in their past nine games. The Cats are 2-7 ATS in their past nine. The favorite is 5-0 ATS in the past five meetings.
I'm leaning: Kentucky.
Illinois State at Northern Iowa (+1.5)
Missouri Valley Conference game at 2 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network. ISU is tied atop the MVC with Wichita State. The Shockers should win Saturday at Missouri State in their finale. Wichita is going to make the NCAA Tournament regardless of what happens in the conference tourney. ISU is currently listed among Joe Lunardi's "last four in" for the Big Dance so the Redbirds need this. If they and Wichita both win (or lose), Illinois State will take the top seed because of a better RPI. As of this writing, ISU is 34th and WSU 41st and Illinois State is playing a better opponent to close the regular season.
One key to getting the top seed would be avoiding a very dangerous third-place Northern Iowa side in the conference semifinals. The Panthers should get that No. 3 spot even with a loss. They had won eight of 10 but have since dropped two straight. On Wednesday, UNI was upset 69-59 at Indiana State. Northern Iowa made just 8 of 26 from 3-point range. This team is what it always is: great on defense (allowing 64.2 ppg, 29th nationally) and not good offensively (62.4 ppg, 340 th). Illinois State beat Northern Iowa 57-41 on Feb. 1. The Panthers shot only 33.3 percent and had 19 first-half points. ISU didn't have third-leading scorer MiKyle McIntosh (12.7 ppg) due to injury, but he's back now.
Key trends: The Redbirds are 0-4 ATS in their past four. The Panthers are 4-1 ATS in their past five vs. teams with a winning record. ISU is 1-6 ATS in the past seven meetings.
I'm leaning: Northern Iowa.
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