Beyond the Scoreboard: College basketball readying for March Madness

Image: MGN

With college basketball’s regular season winding down, teams are battling for league titles and readying for conference tournaments that can propel them into the NCAA tournament.

While schools like Duke, North Carolina and Clemson have clinched berths in the Big Dance with their consistent play, teams like UNC Asheville and Western Carolina that play in one-bid leagues need to get hot and win their conference tournaments in order to get an invite.

There’s a chance Asheville could host two of the March Madness invitationals that put teams into the 68-team field.

The Southern Conference Tournament for men and women will be held at the U.S. Cellular Center on March 1-5.

And UNC Asheville has a chance at hosting the men’s Big South Conference Tournament at Kimmel Arena that same weekend. After first-round play-in games at the site of the higher seeds, the BSC men’s tourney will play at the home of the regular-season champion.

The Bulldogs (18-10, 11-4) are tied for first place in the BSC with Winthrop (17-9, 11-4) with three games left in the regular season. These two meet in a first-place shown Thursday at Kimmel.

Asheville had a one-game lead but lost it Thursday night when Liberty claimed an 82-69 overtime decision at Kimmel, snapping the nation’s third longest home winning streak at 21 consecutive games.

The Bulldogs have a pair of road games sandwiched around the Winthrop game - Sunday at Charleston Southern (12-14, 7-8) and the regular-season finale Feb. 24 at Gardner-Webb (12-16, 7-8).

Asheville beat Charleston Southern, 83-73, at home earlier this season. Asheville by 4.

Saturday’s games

No. 14 North Carolina (20-7, 9-5) at Louisville (18-8, 8-5), 8 p.m. on ESPN – The Tar Heels have bounced back impressively from a three-game losing streak, winning four straight and setting themselves up for a strong finish to the regular season heading into postseason play.

Ditto the Cardinals, who have won back-to-back games after a three-game slide. Having quietly played through the controversy of the Rick Pitino firing, coach David Padgett has done a great job in his first season. North Carolina by 1.

N.C. State (17-9, 7-6) at Wake Forest (10-16, 3-11), 4 p.m. on WLOS 13 - Barring a complete late-season collapse, the Wolfpack have done enough (wins against Arizona, Duke and North Carolina) under first-year coach Kevin Keatts to earn an NCAA tourney bid.

A N.C. State fan pointed out this week that the new “Coach K” on Tobacco Road beat hall of fame coaches Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim in his first ACC game against them. Well done.

After a promising season that included an NCAA berth last season, Wake Forest is back to being among the worst teams in the league under coach Danny Manning. N.C. State by 5.

Sunday’s game

No. 12 Duke (21-5, 9-4) at No. 11 Clemson (20-5, 9-4), 1 p.m. on WLOS 13 - A battle for second place in the ACC, several games behind unexpected front runner Virginia (24-2, 13-1), No. 1 in the league and the country.

The surprising Tigers have been getting great play from unsung heroes like perimeter shooter Gabe DeVoe, who recently made at least five 3-pointers in in four straight games.

Unlike upstart Clemson, Duke has now won at least 20 games for 22 consecutive years. But the inconsistent Blue Devils have dropped three of their last six and continue to struggle to play top-flight defense. Duke by 1.

Last week 5-1 overall and against the spread. For the season 28-7 overall, 23-12 against the spread.

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