(CBS Local Sports) — Conference Tournaments are drawing closer by the day, with Selection Sunday and the NCAA Tournament following soon after. But there’s still time for teams to prove themselves on the court and improve their standing heading into March.
This week’s college basketball action on CBS Sports Network features five ranked teams. Last night, eighth-ranked Villanova stormed past St. Johns. DePaul visits #13 Creighton tonight. Santa Clara heads to top-ranked Gonzaga tomorrow evening. Southern Illinois matches up with #21 Loyola Chicago Friday night. And Boise State takes on 22-ranked San Diego State on Saturday.
CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein looks at the full slate of games.
DePaul @ #13 Creighton
Wednesday, February 24, 9:00 p.m. ET
Their last time out, the Creighton knocked off Villanova, the one team above them in the Big East standings. Marcus Zegarowski put up 25 points; Mitchell Ballock added 20. The Blue Jays have four games to catch the Wildcats, including a rematch next week. They’ll start that run with a winnable matchup against the last-place Blue Demons from DePaul tonight.
“The difference right now in Creighton is you’re seeing, obviously, a little bit more pop in Marcus Zegarowski,” according to Rothstein. “The guy who has really taken a step forward for Creighton is Christian Bishop. He went from being an ancillary piece of the puzzle to somebody who looks like an All-Conference player. So if they can kind of keep up this type of production, and have guys at all five spots on the floor who are a serious threat, then I think you’re looking at a potential second-weekend team in the NCAA Tournament.”
Santa Clara @ #1 Gonzaga
Thursday, February 25, 7:00 p.m. ET
Gonzaga have dominated opponents all season long, and sat atop the rankings as a result. They haven’t won a game by less than 20 points since beating BYU, 86-69, back in early January. The Bulldogs will host Santa Clara on Thursday. It will be their first matchup of the season, after multiple schedule changes and a cancellation. Santa Clara is a team that’s struggled through its West Coast Conference schedule. Gonzaga, of course, has not, though they may have to deal with a different issue.
“The big thing we need to look at is Gonzaga has not played a single-digit game since the Jimmy V Classic in December against West Virginia,” notes Rothstein. “It’s the only single-digit game that they’ve had this season. So the question is: are they bored? It’s been so long since they’ve been pushed. I know that they obviously had a competitive half against Pacific. But we haven’t seen this team play a possession game now in getting close to three months. So I’m curious how that affects them going into the NCAA Tournament. Let’s face it, they’ve been having to deal with that for years. They’re a team that just has so many different answers. You have to have answers to win a lot of games in the NCAA Tournament, and Gonzaga has so many of them.”
Southern Illinois @ #21 Loyola-Chicago
Friday, February 26, 9:00 p.m. ET
Everybody remembers Loyola-Chicago’s magical Final Four run a few years ago. Starting center Cameron Krutwig remains, but the Ramblers otherwise look very different. However, this team, 14-2 in the Missouri Valley Conference and 19-4 overall, might actually be better than that Cinderella team in 2018. They’ll be meeting Southern Illinois in the first of back-to-back games between the teams.
“This team is significantly better defensively,” says Rothstein. “They seem to have really come to the forefront over the last month. This is a much better defensive team than that team. When you look at the two teams, one of the main things that we’re going to see here, when Loyola Chicago goes into Arch Madness, is that they’ve put themselves in position to be an at-large team in the NCAA Tournament. And not just an at-large team, but also a team that has a pretty good seed in the field. So I think you could have a scenario where you could have Loyola-Chicago team be in really, really good shape, not just to make the Tournament, but to have a really good seed, regardless of what happens at Arch Madness.”
Boise State @ #22 San Diego State
Saturday, February 27, 4:00 p.m. ET
Boise State and San Diego State may come into Saturday’s matchup with the Mountain West on the line. Each team has three games left, two of which are against each other. The first is tomorrow. Boise State currently sits at 14-3 in the conference, 18-4 overall. San Diego State is 11-3 in the conference, 17-4 overall. One matchup is key.
“How San Diego State is going to defend Derrick Alston,” says Rothstein. The 6’9″ senior guard is averaging 17.7 points per game and shooting 46.7 percent from the field.
“San Diego State has won a number of games in a row by double-figures. But this is the game, I think, that everybody pointed to all season, this series, between these two teams. The Mountain West has had a bounce-back-caliber year as a conference. But I also think that we haven’t seen the best of this conference, and we’re due to get it over these next few games this week.”