The final week of the regular season, prior to going full-bore “conference tournament mode”, offers some keen matchups in terms of impacting regular-season conference winners and – more importantly – tourney bracket seedings.

Among those conferences with critical games this week is the Atlantic Coast Conference, where No. 3-ranked Virginia will take its two-game lead into road games against Syracuse (Monday) and Louisville (Saturday).

No. 10 Notre Dame is in Louisville Wednesday night and No. 2 Duke has its return match with North Carolina in Chapel Hill Saturday night.

The Big 12 has a bundle of games that will determine its regular-season champion.

Monday night West Virginia is at No. 12 Kansas (atop the conference standings at 12-4) and the Jayhawks will be in Norman to face second-place Oklahoma on Saturday.

Rank (Last week’s rank)
1. Kentucky (1)
With each game the notion that someone is going to beat this team this season seems more and more like a pipe dream.
2. Duke (3)
Defense remains somewhat of a concern (86 points were surrendered in an OT win against Virginia Tech) but the freshmen trio of Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow is a much bigger concern to opponents.
3. Virginia (4)
How much will the absence of Justin Anderson impact the Cavaliers as they close the ACC regular season at Syracuse and Louisville this week?
4. Villanova (6)
The Cavaliers’ last three victories have come by a collective margin of 10 points.
5. Wisconsin (5)
The loss at Maryland was just a slight hiccup on the way to the inevitable outright Badgers’ Big Ten championship.
6. Arizona (7)
The win in Salt Lake City almost assuredly locks the Wildcats into the West Regional and keeps them in the hunt for a No. 1 seed, as well.
7. Gonzaga (2)
The Bulldogs’ road to a No. 1 seed in the West Regional took a monstrous hit Saturday night in Spokane.
8. Wichita State (12)
The rubber match with Northern Iowa is almost certainly going to be played in St. Louis on Sunday afternoon.
9. Northern Iowa (11)
This is a team that has demonstrated succinctly that it is capable of getting into the second week of the NCAA Tournament.
10. Notre Dame (8)
This is the third of the ACC squads with something approaching “reasonable” opportunity to get to Elite Eight – at least – portion of the NCAA Tournament.
11. Maryland (16)
Wisconsin will get a lot of the Big Ten post-season hardware but the Terps’ Mark Turgeon will be the conference’s Coach of the Year.
12. Kansas (10)
The eligibility issue with freshman Cliff Alexander could prove significant of not resolved favorably for the power forward and Jayhawks.
13. Utah (9)
The Utes couldn’t quite get over that Wildcats’ hump in the final two minutes in Salt Lake City Saturday night.
14. Arkansas (13)
As was demonstrated so forcefully Saturday in Lexington, there is a big gap between “best” and “second best” in the SEC this season.
15. Oklahoma (16)
The Cyclones will need a road sweep this week to stay within Big 12 striking distance of Kansas.
16. Baylor (NR)
This is the hottest (four wins in a row) team in the Big 12 and the club most likely to be a “surprise” winner of the conference tournament.

ON THE CUSP: Boise State 22-7, Butler 21-8, Dayton 22-6, Iowa State 20-8, Iona 24-7, Iowa 19-10, Louisiana Tech 23-7, Louisville 23-6, Michigan State 19-10, Murray State 26-4, North Carolina 20-9, Ohio State 21-8, Oregon 22-8, Purdue 19-10, SMU 23-6 and West Virginia 22-7.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK (Feb. 23-March 1)

*Kyle Collingsworth (BYU): The 23-year-old junior averaged 17.5 points, 7.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 2.5 steals as the Cougars recorded a WCC road sweep – including a stunner at Gonzaga Saturday night.

*Trey Lyles (Kentucky): The 6-8 freshman, perhaps the most under-appreciated (at least nationally) of the Wildcats, hit 15 of 22 shots from the field while averaging 18.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.5 assists as his team pummeled Mississippi State and Arkansas by an average margin of 17.5 points.

*Jahlil Okafor (Duke): The 270-pound center continued to make strong cases for national Freshman and Player of the Year honors while averaging 21.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists as the Blue Devils knocked off Virginia Tech (in OT) and Syracuse in ACC action.

*Dez Wells (Maryland): The 6-5 senior — who seems to have been in college basketball for about 10 years – averaged 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists as the Terps collected Big Ten wins over Wisconsin and Michigan.

*Joseph Young (Oregon): The senior guard makes this list for the second week in a row after averaging 23.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists – without a turnover – while helping the Ducks sweep a Bay Area road trip.

Frank Burlison has been covering hoops for 30+ years for a variety of publications.

Follow Frank on twitter @FrankieBur. Also make sure to follow his website at College coaching staffs interested in Burlison’s scouting service should contact him at [email protected]


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