Rematch Week: My, this seems familiar

By Greg Auman, Times Staff Writer
Published March 1, 2008

The best thing about high-profile rematches late in the season is that no matter the outcome, it sets up another meeting with even more on the line in the conference tournament.

So we'll call this Rematch Week, spotlighting four second acts that could set up story lines for conference championship showdowns or, better still, an NCAA rendezvous.

No. 4 Rutgers at No. 1 Connecticut, Monday: This is why they call it Big Monday. Rutgers handed the Huskies their only loss back on Feb. 5, with Epiphanny Prince scoring 33 in a 73-71 win. The game's in Hartford at the XL Center, which is home to the Big East tournament a week later. The real question: If Rutgers can pull off a sweep of the Huskies, will it jump past North Carolina and Tennessee to No. 1 in the polls? The Scarlet Knights, despite four losses, already have eight first-place AP votes, more than the Tar Heels 2 and Vols (1) combined.

No. 12 Duke at No. 2 North Carolina, Sunday: The ACC is sure to get a No. 1 seed, but Duke would have to win here and take the conference tournament to sneak past UNC and Maryland. The Tar Heels won the first meeting 93-76 four weeks ago, and coach Sylvia Hatchell, caught up in the celebration, was issued a warning ticket for littering after "rolling" a tree with toilet paper in Chapel Hill after the win. Just imagine what the Tar Heels might do if they can finish off the season sweep of their closest rivals.

No. 17 Oklahoma State at No. 8 Baylor, Thursday: The Bears have to get past a game at Texas A&M today, but then they'll get another shot at the Cowboys, who ended their 13-game winning streak with a win in Stillwater on Feb. 5. Baylor is a perfect 17-0 at home this season, and Oklahoma State has struggled in the Lone Star State, losing at Texas and TCU and barely winning at Texas Tech.

No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 20 Texas A&M, Thursday: The cross-state rivalry has two Thursday showdowns in Texas, as the Aggies seek to avenge their only loss in the past nine games, a 68-56 setback in Norman. Oklahoma won the first meeting despite 17 first-half turnovers, and Texas is Kryptonite for the Sooners, too, as their last loss was at Baylor.

No. 24 Wyoming at No. 16 Utah, Sunday: How often do you get two ranked Mountain West teams going head-to-head? Utah's Morgan Warburton hit a 3-pointer with three seconds left to win the first meeting, ending Wyoming's 12-game winning streak. Utah has a chance at a perfect conference season and, more remarkably, a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament. Can the mid-majors help each other out?

That's just cruel

We've referenced the struggles of Fordham this season, and it's just mean that the Rams, now 0-28, get their last chance at avoiding an undefeated season ... on the road against the toughest team on their schedule. Fordham finishes up today against No. 15 George Washington (23-5), which is 13-2 at home. The Rams have come close this season, going to overtime once, double overtime once and losing two other games by two points, but their last five losses are all by at least 17 points.

Bubble watch

Barring any late surprises, it's looking more and more like Florida State will make the NCAA Tournament, while Florida will fall just short. ESPN.com and CollegeRPI.com's latest projections have FSU among the final four teams making the cut, with Florida among the last four teams just missing the field of 64. ESPN has the Seminoles as a No. 13 seed, while CollegeRPI.com has them as a No. 11.

Greg Auman can be reached at auman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3346.