Our Boilermakers do not play tonight, but that doesn't mean it is not a good night of college basketball. Some of the best wins we have this season take the floor tonight in games that can have a great impact on our NCAA profile. As it stands, we have five top 50 wins, but four of those can easily backslide out of the top 50 because they are at 42 or lower. That means we have to cheer for some other teams while taking care of our own business.
Tonight presents the rare opportunity to channel surf and scoreboard watch. Two of the teams that defeated us in the non-conference season play big games, while two of the teams we have doubled-up in the conference take the court in games where both absolutely need wins. Let's look at tonight's slate after the Jump:
Illinois at Ohio State, 7pm ESPN
Rooting Interest: Illinois
Mostly because of the whining from Ohio State fans concerning Jared Sullinger actually getting defended in the last two games, I really can't stand the Buckeyes anymore. The Fighting Illini are a team we have beaten twice, so if they could secure a season sweep of a good Ohio State team that would be even better. Of course, this is probably their last chance to save Bruce Weber's job and they have likely quit already, but strange things happen in this sport.
To have any chance at the NCAAs the Illini must win their last four conference games, starting tonight. Should that miracle happen it will deliver us two more top 50 wins. Don't count on it, however. The only reason they beat Ohio State in Champaign was Brandon Paul going completely apeshit.
Michigan at Northwestern, 8pm Big Ten Network
Rooting Interest: Northwestern
I am going to go ahead and call it. This is the biggest game ever in the history of Northwestern basketball. The Wildcats are 16-10, 6-8 in the B1G, but their RPI is above 50, thus keeping them alive in the NCAA Tournament discussion. Like Northwestern from each of the last three years, they have agonizing close losses that would have already secured the NCAA bid if they were wins. They lost at home by a point to Illinois, by two at home to Purdue, by two in overtime at Michigan, and by five at Indiana in a game they led late.
Win this, and they only need to beat Penn State and Iowa to reach 9-9 in the Big Ten, which might be enough. They also have a home game against Ohio State coming up. Playing the Wolverines at home after taking them to overtime in Ann Arbor is too good of a chance. Northwestern absolutely needs this, and since they are two of our top 50 wins, we need them to get it.
Miami (FL) at Maryland, 8pm ESPN3
Rooting Interest: Miami
The Hurricanes have four games left and are right on the Bubble of the NCAA Tournament. They are also a top 50 win for us at the moment too. They beat the Terrapins 90-86 in double overtime in Coral Gables, but they need this road victory as well as a Saturday home win over Florida State to greatly improve their profile. Get both, and they are probably in the tourney with a win over Boston College on March 3.
My wife's allegiances aside, the Canes really need this game for us as well. Top 50 non-conference wins are gold, and we need Miami and Iona to stay there.
Illinois-Chicago at Butler, 7pm
Rooting Interest: Butler
We can't do anything to reverse the Butler result, but the Bulldogs can do us a favor by staying hot and climbing into the top 100, erasing the "bad loss" stigma of that game at Conseco. Beating Illinois-Chicago (8-18, 3-12 Horizon League) gets the Bulldogs to 18-12 overall and closer to the 100 line. They can also get some league help.
Cleveland State at Green Bay, 8pm
Rooting Interest: Green Bay
You may wonder what a random Horizon League game has to do with us, but a Cleveland State loss puts Butler in position for a second place finish in the Horizon League. That gains them a bye to the semifinals in the Horizon League tourney, which will be played at Valparaiso if the Crusaders beat last place Loyola (IL) tonight. Butler two games from an NCAA bid is a very good thing for our profile, especially since anything other than a Butler-Valpo final would be played at Hinkle Fieldhouse in that regard.
Xavier at Massachusetts, 7pm
Rooting Interest: Xavier
Xavier needs to be solidly in the field and not on the Bubble, where their win can be used as a sort of tiebreaker when evaluating similar profiles.