The first of the conference tournament action gets under way Tuesday (Horizon and Ohio Valley conferences, take a bow!).
But some of the "power" conferences have regular-season championships on the line this week, including the ACC (North Carolina at Duke on Saturday!), Pacific 10 (Stanford at UCLA on Thursday!) and Big East (Louisville on Georgetown on Saturday!).
Take a deep breath and get ready for an adrenalin rush that is going to be rolling until very late night on April 7 in San Antonio.
You've got to love it . . .
A look at some of the early-week games:
Frank Says: The Panthers picked up a huge Big East win in Syracuse Saturday. Although they're both 9-7, the Mountaineers need this one much more than does Pitt for NCAA Tournament at-large consideration. A Ronald Ramon jumper at the buzzer gave the Panthers a 55-54 win in Pittsburgh on Feb. 7.
Texas Tech at Kansas
Frank Says: The Red Raiders are 7-7 after a bizarre (a 44-point loss to Texas A&M followed by a stunner over Texas) set of Big 12 games. An even bigger shocker in Lawrence would add a lot of bite to at-large suggestions in Lubbock.
Frank Says: This is as "bubbly" as games can be a week before conference tournament action gets under way. Three consecutive ACC wins by the Demon Deacons (including one over Duke) created at-large aspirations that have since deflated by three consecutive losses that leaves them 6-8 with this one and a home tilt Saturday against North Carolina State yet to play. The Hokies are 8-6 and 17-11 overall. Should they beat Wake Forest and win at Clemson Sunday, it's hard to imagine Seth Greenberg's team not getting an NCAA bid, even without a signature win outside of conference.
Frank Says: There is plenty at stake in this one. It's (staying in the hunt for) a conference title. For the Buckeyes, it's keeping their bordering-on-flickering NCAA at-large hopes from getting closer to being extinguished.
Colorado at Kansas State
Frank Says: Sure, Michael Beasley continues to post monster numbers, with averages of 33.3 points and 12.3 rebounds over the KSU Wildcats' past four games. There is just one issue: His team has dropped each of those games to fall to 8-6 in conference. The Wildcats are still (relatively) sure of getting into the NCAA Tournament, unless they stumble in this one or at Iowa State on Saturday. Then the palms will start getting a bit moist in Manhattan.
UNLV at New Mexico
Frank Says: The Lobos have worked their way into the at-large conversation. If they knock off the Rebels, they're 10-5 in the Mountain West and 23-7 overall. That would put them at the level of serious conversation.
Arkansas at Mississippi
Frank Says: The Hogs picked up a huge win (vs. Vanderbilt) Saturday to go 8-6 in conference and 19-9 overall. The Rebels were 14-0 in non conference but, at 5-9 in conference, their "margin for error" is something considerably less than "tissue thin". They need to win this one and win at Georgia Saturday and pick up at least one, and perhaps two, SEC Tourney wins for a sense of relative comfort on March 16.
Frank Says: Does an 8-8 conference record give a team cause for serious at-large consideration when none of those wins have come against the four best teams in the conference? Doubtful. But a 10-8 Big Ten mark for Minnesota, which would include a victory in this one and than in another road game against Illinois on Saturday, plus at least one Big Ten tourney win (for 21 overall) might do the trick. Consecutive wins for the Hoosiers against the Gophers and then at Penn State Sunday makes them no worse than a strong third-place finisher at 15-3.
Frank Says: The OSU Cowboys have won five in a row to move to 7-7 and face another 7-7 that is minus its best players (Blake Griffin). All in all, it's a remarkable turnaround by Sean Sutton's team. The Aggies have dropped four of their past five games to drop to 7-7 are playing a hot (three in a row) Baylor team and close conference action at home to Kansas Saturday. Guys, you're cutting things awfully close.
Frank Says: The Vols are playing for a conference title and one of the four NCAA No. 1 seeds. The two-time national champion Gators are playing just to earn one of those 34 precious at-large invitations. MSU is still in play (at a game behind the Vols) for at least a share of the overall regular-season SEC crown. Both the Bulldogs and Commodores are also trying to enhance their March 16 seeding.
Xavier at Saint Joseph's
Frank Says: The conference's overwhelmingly best team travels to play the squad that, on many nights, has looked like the second-best team in the conference. But the Hawks find themselves in a four-way tie for third at 8-6. Their at-large hopes need the heft of a win in this one behind them.
UC Santa Barbara at Cal State Northridge
Frank Says: The regular-season title is in play, as are byes into the conference tourney semifinals.
Frank Says: A Stanford sweep in Southern California (the Cardinal play at USC Saturday afternoon) would clinch no worse than a share of the conference title for a team that is a game behind the Bruins. With 11 wins in its past 12 games (an overtime loss at Arizona State is the only blemish in that stretch), Stanford couldn't be playing much better. Robin Lopez will probably start out defending the Bruin' dominant freshman low post presence, Kevin Love. Of course, he could always give way to another 7-footer who take a turn on Love: twin brother Brook Lopez. Things will be physical down low, boys and girls. A sweep in Oregon this week would leave the ASU Sun Devils at 10-8 in conference and feeling mighty good about the news it will hear on March 16. The Ducks have to sweep the Sun Devils and Arizona (Saturday) to be 9-9 and feeling like they might be able to get into the NCAA Tournament without having to win the conference tournament next week.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK HONORS
(For games of Feb. 25-March 2)
Kevin Love (6-9, Fr., UCLA)
What he did: He kept the Pac 10-leading Bruins one game ahead of Stanford, scoring 18 points and grabbing 12 rebounds in 28 minutes during a 70-49 victory at Arizona State on Thursday night, and then had 24 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots as his team held off host Arizona Sunday afternoon, 68-66.
For the season: 17.3 points/11.1 rebounds/1.7 assists and 1.0 blocked shots per game/.582 FG
Jeff Adrien (6-7, Jr., Connecticut)
What he did: The soon-to-be first-team All-Big East selection scored 27 points to go with 11 rebounds and two assists in a 79-61 win at Rutgers, and came through with 17 points and 10 rebounds when the Huskies beat West Virginia, 79-71.
For the season: 15.0 points/9.3 rebounds/1.3 assists and 1.3 blocked shots per game/.508 FG
Michael Beasley (6-9, Fr., Kansas State)
What he did: This might be the first time I've ever included a player on this list whose team lost both of its games the previous week. But 30 points and 15 rebounds (during the 74-65 loss at home to Texas) and 39 points and 11 rebounds (during the 88-74 defeat at Kansas) can't be brushed aside onto the also-ran pile.
For the season: 26.7 points/12.6 rebounds/1.3 assists/1.4 steals and 1.6 blocked shots per game/.540 FG
What he did: The Bulldogs clinched no worse than a share of the WCC's regular-season title as they beat Portland (73-51) with Pargo accounting for 13 points, six rebounds and six assists, and Saint Mary's (88-76) with Pargo going for 18 points (all in the second half) and three assists.
For the season: 11.9 points/3.6 rebounds/6.2 assists and 1.4 steals per game/.493 FG
Charles Rhodes (6-8, Sr., Mississippi State)
What he did: The Bulldogs improved to 11-3 in the SEC, in large part because Rhodes went for 30 points and nine rebounds in an 89-78 win against visiting Auburn, and 15 and eight during a 68-59 victory at Florida.
For the season: 16.2 points/7.4 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game/.560 FG
What he did: The Indiana transfer helped the Blazers continue to enhance their NCAA Tournament at-large possibilities, with 41 points, six rebounds and three assists in the 88-81 win at UTEP, and 30 points and four rebounds while cruising past Tulane, 69-44, in another Conference USA game.
For the season: 22.0 points/3.6 rebounds/2.4 assists and 1.0 steals per game/.425 FG
Updated Burlison's Top 25
(Includes results of March 2; previous rating in parentheses)
1. (1) North Carolina 27-2
Frank Says: The Heels dug themselves out of an 18-point hole at Boston College Saturday after Tyrese Rice had all but buried them in 3-pointers.
2. (2) Tennessee 26-3
Frank Says: Hopes of a No. 1 seed would have taken a major hit if Vols had not hung on vs. Kentucky in Knoxville Sunday.
3. (3) Memphis 28-1
Frank Says: That .591 team free throw percentage is sure an eye-catcher – or, if you will, an eyesore.
4. (4) UCLA 26-3
Frank Says: There is a big game on tap for Pauley Pavilion Thursday night.
5. (6) Kansas 26-3
Frank Says: After Monday night game vs. Texas Tech, the Jayhawks will have plenty of prep time for Big 12 Tournament.
6. (7) Duke 25-3
Frank Says: The power of hitting 13 3's – Blue Devils rallied to win at North Carolina State despite hitting .386 overall from the field.
7. (5) Texas 24-5
Frank Says: The loss in Lubbock probably cost the Longhorns the outright Big 12 regular-season crown.
8. (9) Stanford 24-4
Frank Says: Trent Johnson's team hopes to leave Southern California Saturday night with at least a piece of a Pac-10 regular-season title.
9. (10) Xavier 25-4
10. (12) Butler 27-3
Frank Says: Guard Mike Green is among the truly underrated players in the country.
11. (13) Purdue 23-6
Frank Says: If the Boilermakers are going to win at least a piece of the Big Ten's regular-season crown, they're going to have to be Road Warriors (at Ohio State and Michigan).
12. (14) Wisconsin 24-4
Frank Says: The Badgers, deadlocked at 14-2 with Purdue, definitely have a clearer path to a Big Ten banner (home to Penn State and at one-conference win Northwestern).
13. (15) Connecticut 23-6
14. (11) Drake 25-4
Frank Says: Willie McCarter and Willie Wise were the standouts on the team that went to the Final Four in 1969, losing to then-Lew Alcindor and UCLA, 85-82, in a semifinal. Just a little Bulldogs' trivia for you!
15. (8) Indiana 24-5
Frank Says: In a word, what took place in East Lansing Sunday was ugly from a Hoosiers' perspective.
16. (17) Georgetown 24-4
Frank Says: The Hoyas beat a hot Marquette club in Milwaukee Saturday – impressive, indeed.
17. (19) Louisville 24-6
Frank Says: Big East bragging rights (at least the regular-season variety) get settled Saturday ini Washington, D.C.
18. (16) Notre Dame 22-6
Frank Says: Mike Brey's team in solid position to finish in at least a tie for second in Big East regular season.
19. (21) Marquette 21-7
Frank Says: Just one of a half-dozen Big East teams capable of winning at least two NCAA Tournament games.
20. (20) Vanderbilt 24-5
Frank Says: Should the SEC engrave its Player of the Year hardware with "Shane Foster" right now and save the time later?
21. (18) Michigan State 23-6
Frank Says: There was a 61-point swing in production across the Spartans' most recent two games. Go figure.
22. (22) Washington State 22-7
Frank Says: Cougars wrap up regular-season in Pullman Saturday vs. Huskies and as a probable No. 3 seed in Pac-10 Tourney in Los Angeles next week.
23. (25) Davidson 23-6
Frank Says: "20-0 in the Southern Conference has a nice ring to it, doesn't it Coach McKillop?"
24. (ur) Gonzaga 23-6
Frank Says: Regular-season WCC title means Bulldogs will avoid host San Diego in semifinals of conference tournament Sunday.
25. (ur) Clemson 21-7
Frank Says: The Tigers dashed any doubt Sunday night as to the identity of the ACC's third-best team.
DROPPED OUT: Kent State 23, Saint Mary's 24.
Inducted into the USBWA Hall of
Fame in April, 2005, Frank Burlison is Scout.com's national basketball expert and is
also a columnist for the