We’re just days away from March Matchups, but some exciting tournament action is under way.
In this edition of the Showstopper, we break down two of the big conference tourney games prior to Selection Sunday. Plus, we take a close look at Zion Williamson and the Pelicans’ clash with the Clippers as the NBA returns from the All-Star break.
Get ready to place some big bets this weekend, cause it’s showtime!
No. 13 Texas Longhorns @ No. 11 Kansas Jayhawks
Friday, March 12 | TV: ESPN2
We tip off our conference tournament preview with a Big 12 blockbuster. Kansas has home-court advantage for this clash with Texas, but the Longhorns have a 2-0 edge in regular-season meetings – one of which was a blowout win in Kansas. Nothing is a given in the ultra-competitive Big 12, though, as evidenced by Texas needing last-second free-throws to oust Texas Tech.
The biggest storyline here is that Kansas will be missing its second-leading scorer, center David McCormack, who was ruled out of this tourney due to COVID-19 protocols. As a result, it’ll be rough defending the paint from the Longhorns’ triple-threat attack of Andrew Jones, Courtney Ramey and Matt Coleman III. The Jayhawks were just able to hold off a rally from Oklahoma in the quarterfinals, thanks to a huge game from guard Ochai Agbaji. Against this more dangerous Texas squad, matching firepower will be difficult without McCormack.
No. 23 Colorado Buffaloes vs. No. 24 USC Trojans
Friday, March 12 | TV: ESPN
Top 25-ranked teams Colorado and USC collide in Las Vegas for one of the Pac-12 Tournament’s most exciting showdowns. The Buffaloes topped the Trojans in their two regular-season matchups, but to do it a third time, they’ll need a bounce-back game from guard McKinley Wright IV after he struggled to find his shot versus Cal. Although Colorado barely pulled off a tourney win over the Golden Bears, it was a similar nail-biter for USC’s victory against Utah. The Trojans required double overtime to advance in the tournament, and the short turnaround will undoubtedly be tough on them.
In their two head-to-head victories, the Buffs held the Trojans to 62 points in each game and kept their 7-foot freshman Evan Mobley to under 14 points. Colorado’s hard-nosed defense and athletic backcourt could once again pose problems for USC, especially after the Trojans logged heavy minutes the night before. We anticipate a close game with the stakes so high, with a slight nod going to Colorado.
Los Angeles Clippers @ New Orleans Pelicans
Sunday, March 14 | TV: ESPN
Falling in the Western Conference standings, Zion Williamson and the Pelicans have struggled mightily on defense this season. Their lapses were especially glaring in recent losses to the Bulls (128 points surrendered) and Timberwolves (135 points). On the flip side, the Clippers aren’t bulletproof against weaker opponents, having lost to the Wizards, Kings and Hawks thus far. Still, the Clippers looked very sharp in their first game back from the All-Star break, with a 130-104 drubbing of the Warriors.
On the injury front, New Orleans guard JJ Redick is sidelined for a week after undergoing a nonsurgical procedure on his right heel. And Clippers guard Patrick Beverley is currently day-to-day with right knee soreness. If Beverley’s out, expect some defensive struggles for L.A. in the backcourt.
With both squads among the top 10 in points per game, this is shaping up to be a close, high-scoring affair that favors the Clippers, who will be coming off two days of rest.