Time: 6:00 PM EST STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Penn State is trying to play its way into any kind of postseason experience. No. 14 Purdue's goals and objectives are much higher. Obviously, there is plenty at stake Tuesday night when the Boilermakers (22-5, 11-3 in the Big Ten) and Nittany Lions (14-13, 6-8) play at Penn State's Bryce Jordan Center in a rematch of a Jan. 21 game that Purdue won 77-52 in West Lafayette, Ind. There's certainly a sense of urgency for a young Penn State team that is 3-6 since beating Minnesota 52-50 on Jan. 14 in State College. The Nittany Lions have had a week off since an 82-66 loss this past Tuesday at Nebraska." The game at Nebraska definitely was another learning lesson for us," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "Hopefully, we can carry that over through what has been seven days off. We want to be more consistent and just that much better down the stretch." We looked tired in the second half at Nebraska, but I don't want to use that as an excuse. Now, we've got Purdue, and they are playing some pretty good basketball. It's going to be fun for us to see what we can do." Purdue is positioned to win at least a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship for the first time since 2010, when the Boilermakers finished in a three-way tie for first place with Michigan State and Ohio State. Purdue has not finished in sole possession of first place in the Big Ten since 1996, when it won a third consecutive unshared league title. No. 16 Wisconsin (22-5, 11-3) currently shares first place with Purdue with two weeks remaining in the regular season. The Boilermakers have three of their final four regular-season games on the road, beginning at Penn State. Wisconsin plays its next two on the road -- at Ohio State on Thursday and at Michigan State on Sunday -- before finishing with home games against Iowa on March 2 and Minnesota on March 5. The Boilermakers play at Michigan on Saturday before hosting Indiana on Feb. 28, then ending the regular season March 4 or 5 at Northwestern. Purdue is trying to win a Big Ten title despite losing league games to Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska -- teams with a collective 20-22 record in conference play." We've kept the confidence and seen some crazy things happen in this league, and we're still here," said Purdue junior forward Vince Edwards, who in Saturday's victory against Michigan State became the 50th player in school history to score 1,000 career points. He now has 1,002. "We're right where we want to be." For us to be right here in first place is huge, but the focus still has to be on winning one game at a time. We know what to do to win a Big Ten championship, and we have to go and do it." The Boilermakers, who have won five consecutive Big Ten games for the first time since the 2010-2011 season and are 8-1 since a Jan. 12 loss at Iowa, are playing their best basketball of the season." We're winning some grind-it-out games, and that is a good thing for our team when we are not shooting the ball particularly well," Purdue coach Matt Painter said. "I also think that from a defensive standpoint, this is the best we have been playing." During Purdue's five-game winning streak, only Maryland (72) has scored more than 64 points against the Boilermakers, and only Michigan State (42.4 percent) has shot better than 39.7 percent against Purdue. Purdue forward Caleb Swanigan, who leads the team in scoring at 18.9 points per game, had 24 points and 15 rebounds in the Boilermakers' 80-63 victory over Michigan State on Saturday. Penn State shot only 31.3 percent (20 of 64) in its Jan. 21 loss in Mackey Arena.
Time: 7:00 PM EST WACO, Texas -- After almost two months of high-stakes Big 12 basketball, No. 9 Baylor will host Oklahoma with pride at stake, but not much more tangible reward or consequence for winning or losing. Baylor's chance to grab at least a share of the Big 12 championship all but left town when Kansas defeated the Bears, 67-65, on Saturday in Waco. With four games left in the regular season, the Jayhawks are a win away from claiming at least a share of their 13th straight Big 12 title, and two wins away from winning the Big 12 by themselves. Baylor (22-5, 9-5 Big 12), which was once in the hunt for a conference championship, is now shifting its focus to the NCAA Tournament when it tips off versus Oklahoma on Tuesday night." You have different goals throughout the season," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "Right now with us, the next goal is to finish this conference as strong as we can for one, to improve our team, but, two, help with an NCAA seed. Hopefully we can finish strong so we get some momentum going into the Big 12 Tournament." Meanwhile, an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament is out of reach for Oklahoma (9-17, 3-11). The Sooners' only chance to make it past the conference tournament is to win it. The Sooners struggled at the end of nonconference play and the beginning of the Big 12 schedule as senior guard Jordan Woodard was out of action with an upper-leg injury. He came back for the middle of the Big 12 season, but an ACL injury ended his campaign following the Sooners' loss to Iowa State on Feb. 11. At best, Oklahoma was counting on Woodard to guide a young team into NCAA Tournament contention. But the way things have turned out, the Sooners have sunk to the bottom of the Big 12 standings a year after reaching the Final Four. However, Oklahoma hasn't completely collapsed. Last week, the Sooners defeated Texas and led Oklahoma State in Stillwater, Okla., for most of the second half before the Cowboys took over in the final two minutes to prevail, 96-92. In the loss at Oklahoma State, Sooners sophomore guard Rashard Odomes scored 29 points, while fellow sophomores guard Christian James and forward Dante Buford each added 13. Woodard is the only senior to play a key role for the Sooners, so they're getting a chance to build toward the future." I think, first of all, they got used to playing without Jordan when they missed him for a couple of games earlier in the year," Drew said. "They started to develop some chemistry and rhythm, so when they did lose him again, they'd already been there before and knew what they were going to do, had confidence." And Coach (Lon) Kruger is a tremendous coach, keeps things very positive. With a young team, knows how to handle them and make sure they stay focused and keep improving." Baylor can build its case for a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament in the remaining weeks of the regular season. But the Bears need to bounce back from losses to Texas Tech and Kansas last week. They also need point guard Manu Lecomte to get healthy as well. Lecomte suffered an ankle injury that limited him in the closing minutes against Kansas. Drew said in his pregame press conference on Monday that Lecomte is doing well in the training room and should be ready to go against the Sooners.
Time: 7:00 PM EST South Carolina folded badly last season and played its way out of an expected NCAA Tournament bid. The current campaign is beginning to look a little bit too familiar to last season's collapse. The Gamecocks have lost three of their last four games to drop out of the Top 25 and will attempt to end their untimely slide when they visit No. 13 Florida in Tuesday's SEC contest at Gainesville, Fla. South Carolina (20-7, 10-4 SEC) won with defense while building its strong record but has suddenly lost the ability to slow opponents. The Gamecocks allowed an average of 78.4 points over the past five games to raise their season mark to 64.1. But South Carolina's offense has sputtered as well, especially when it shot just 59.1 percent from the free-throw line and went 1 of 9 from 3-point range in Saturday's lethargic 71-62 loss to Vanderbilt. Suddenly, the program that hasn't played in the NCAA tourney since 2004 is losing its wiggle room when it comes to its resume." I think it's us," Gamecocks senior guard Sindarius Thornwell said. "We're just not who we've been all year. We're losing some close games. We're not getting blown out. Those are mental mistakes when you lose close ones." Getting well against the Gators could be a tough task. Red-hot Florida (22-5, 12-2) has won eight consecutive games and is tied for first place in the SEC with Kentucky. The Gators have won by 20 or more points four times during the winning streak. They have won with prolific offense (114 points versus Auburn) and by escaping with exactly half of that total (57 against Mississippi State)." We're a diverse team," junior point guard Chris Chiozza said after Saturday's 57-52 win over the Bulldogs. "We can have a game where we score a hundred points and have one where we play defense and hold them to (52). ... That's what we hang our hat on." Florida's depth was also on display in the win over Mississippi State. The Gators lost junior center John Egbunu for the season with a knee injury earlier in the week and sophomore Kevarrius Hayes stepped into the lineup and contributed nine points, a career-best 10 rebounds and four blocked shots. Hayes scored the tiebreaking basket with 1:57 remaining and later protected the two-point lead by swatting away a shot by Mississippi State guard I. J. Ready with 30 seconds left." I tried not to make a big deal out of it," Hayes said of replacing Egbunu. "The only thing that was really different for me -- instead of playing behind John, he's not with us now. I just tried to focus on playing smart, doing the best I can and staying out of foul trouble." Florida leading scorer Canyon Barry, a senior wing, injured an ankle against Mississippi State but is expected to play. Barry averages 13.2 points per game. Thornwell leads South Carolina with a 21.1 average -- which ranks second in the SEC. He has scored 20 or more points in four consecutive games and is averaging 30.0 during the stretch. Thornwell scored 20 points when the Gamecocks posted a 57-53 victory over the Gators on Jan. 18. Florida missed all 17 3-point attempts to break an 850-game streak of at least one that dated to January 1992.
Time: 7:00 PM EST Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York, N. Y., 10001 When the Montreal Canadiens visit the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday night, it could be a preview of a first-round series in this season's playoffs. Despite the teams playing in different divisions and the Rangers having a better record than the Canadiens, the teams are on a collision course with Montreal leading its division and New York in the top wild-card spot. The Rangers can still gain ground in the Metropolitan and the Canadiens have to right their ship but this matchup is looming for mid-April. This will mark new coach Claude Julien's second game behind the bench for the Canadiens after he was hired to replace Michel Therrien last week. Despite the change, Montreal dropped Julien's debut 3-1 to the Winnipeg Jets on home ice." There was a lot of nervousness in the group," Julien said to the Montreal Gazette. "There seemed to be a lack of confidence. They were working with a new system and there were things that need to be cleaned up in between." With a new coach comes a new system that must be learned, but with Julien's hiring occurring during the bye week, there wasn't much time for players to get familiar with it." Four days off and one practice and then an afternoon game without a morning skate is not ideal, but you can't use it as an excuse," defenseman Jeff Petry told the Montreal Gazette. "We're all professionals and we have to show up and play." The Canadiens have lost seven of eight, with their one win coming in overtime against the Arizona Coyotes, the NHL's second-worst team. The one positive to come from the loss to the Jets was the play of Carey Price, who stopped 31 of 33 shots, giving him a save percentage in a game better than .913 for the first time since Jan. 31." Personally, I felt a lot better," Price said to the Montreal Gazette. "It's always good to get some rest and get refocused." This will be the second straight game in which the Rangers will face a team playing its second game after a bye. The Capitals were playing the second half of a back-to-back less than 24 hours after their previous game while the Canadiens will have two days between games. Montreal should be better prepared than in its previous game, but the Rangers' recipe for winning seven of their past eight doesn't change -- just give Henrik Lundqvist some help in net." I think if we are not giving those Grade A looks right in the slot, or with guys in front of him, he's going to see them and he's going to save most of those," Rangers defenseman Marc Staal said. "Just being accountable in our own end, a lot of talk, getting sticks, moving guys out of the way, and listening to (Lundqvist)." With the Rangers cleaning up their play in front of Lundqvist, the goaltender has been enjoying his best streak of the season. His save percentage for the season (.912) is still his lowest since his rookie season, but he is 6-1-0 in his past seven starts with a .941 save percentage. If the Rangers are to climb the standings and get out of a wild-card spot to earn home ice in the first round of the playoffs, they'll need Lundqvist to play at a similar level over the final two months." I think the last few weeks I changed a couple things -- the way I focus and my approach to the game," Lundqvist said. "I try to be a little more aggressive and it's paid off. It's not a big difference, but its small things here and there you try to adjust to the game a little bit. I started to feel pretty good. Also, the way we're playing in front of me is helping me." When we do give up chances I still feel like we're in pretty good position to get to rebounds and stuff like that."
Time: 7:00 PM EST Venue: Prudential Center, Newark, N. J., 07102 When the Ottawa Senators face off with the New Jersey Devils for the second time in less than a week Tuesday night at the Prudential Center, their lineup could have a distinctly different look. Since their 3-0 win in New Jersey on Thursday, the Senators (31-20-6) lost right wing Bobby Ryan to a finger injury that will keep him sidelined for an indefinite period. Then, they had three more forwards injured in Sunday's 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The team's leading goal scorer, Mark Stone, was knocked out of the game when elbowed in the head by Winnipeg's Jacob Trouba, who was suspended two games by the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Monday. The Senators also lost their second-leading goal scorer, Mike Hoffman, to an upper-body injury and center Tommy Wingels left in the third period after being checked hard into the boards by Jets defenseman Dustin Byfuglien. The trio's availability for Tuesday's contest with the Devils (25-24-10) is not known since the Senators did not practice on Monday." Right now, it looks like a disaster," Senators coach Guy Boucher said following the home-ice loss to Winnipeg. "Maybe the disaster is not as bad as we think. Right now, I'd rather be ready for anything." The Senators recalled two forwards, Casey Bailey and Max McCormick, from Binghamton of the American Hockey League before traveling to New Jersey. Both appeared in five games earlier this season with Ottawa, and neither recorded a point. The injuries could not have come at a worse time for the Senators, who surged in the standings and are only two points behind the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Atlantic Division, while holding two games in hand." It's unfortunate that we lost those players like that, some of our best players," Ottawa's Jean-Gabriel Pageau said to the team's website. "So, some guys have to step up now, and we have to stay positive, too." Ottawa comes in to play Tuesday having won four of its last six games, including that victory in New Jersey last week in which Mike Condon stopped all 21 shots he faced for his fifth shutout of the season. The Devils are hoping to generate more offense in Tuesday's rematch." It's an Ottawa team that really outplayed us," the Devils top scorer, Taylor Hall, said to NorthJersey.com. "We played into their hands for most of the night the last game. (Tuesday) has to be a huge bounce-back game." Starting with that outing against Ottawa, the Devils have lost two of their last three. They rebounded to edge the New York Islanders, 3-2, on home ice Saturday before dropping a 6-4 decision to the Islanders the following night in Brooklyn in the back end of a weekend home-and-home set. Hall had a goal and two assists Sunday, while Kyle Palmieri scored his team-high 16th goal and added a helper. Joseph Blandisi chipped in with his first goal of the season in the loss. Cory Schneider is expected back in the net for New Jersey on Tuesday. He started a season-high eight games in a row, capped by an outstanding 40-save effort in Saturday's victory, before watching backup Keith Kinkaid struggle in Sunday's defeat." We gave up some Grade-A chances," Hall said after the game. "We don't blame our goalies at all around here. That's one thing that has been consistent all year, our goaltending." With a day off on Monday, it is not clear whether veterans Michael Cammalleri and/or Kyle Quincey will return to the Devils' lineup against the Senators. Cammalleri, who has one goal in his last 33 games, was a healthy scratch in both games this past weekend, while Quincey missed the previous six contests with an upper-body injury.
Time: 7:00 PM EST Venue: PNC Arena, Raleigh, N. C., 27607 RALEIGH, N. C. -- Either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Carolina Hurricanes will receive a much-needed get-well result Tuesday night when they meet at PNC Arena. Beyond that, there are sizable differences in the situations facing the teams. While the Penguins (36-14-8) have gone a couple of games without winning, they hold the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. The Hurricanes (24-23-8) are in a desperate mode, rapidly tumbling from close to playoff position to owning the fewest points in the conference. It might take a significant winning streak to push the Hurricanes back into the playoff conversation." I don't think you can hope that that's going to happen," Carolina coach Bill Peters said. "You've got to make that happen." The Penguins have been in a particularly busy stretch, so monitoring the energy level has been among coach Mike Sullivan's tasks." We've got a great strength and conditioning staff that advises us on the type of practices we run and how we're trying to prepare these guys to play," Sullivan said. Perhaps with that in mind, the Penguins didn't practice Monday, but they'll have things to address nonetheless. In an overtime loss to Columbus and a setback to Detroit in their last two games, they've been outscored by a combined 7-3. That's a drop-off from the team's normal pace that has produced an NHL-high 202 goals this season. Pittsburgh completed a stretch of four games in six days, so averting slippage is something to be mindful of." We're looking for solutions out there," Sullivan said. "We've got to find ways to be successful through these types of challenges." After this game, the Penguins are off for three days before an outdoor game Saturday against Philadelphia at Heinz Field. That marks the longest layoff for the team for the remainder of the season. The Hurricanes have failed to win in both of their outings since coming off their "bye week" without a game for five days." I don't think we had enough fire," Peters said. The Hurricanes are 0-3-1 in their last four games overall." You want to play and you want to win," Carolina center Jordan Staal said, noting that there have been a strong period or two in some games. "It's not good enough." Pittsburgh is 13-5-1 against other members of the Metropolitan Division, reflecting the best record for any team in the division against the rivals." It will be a good test for us," Staal said. "It will a better challenge for us and (a chance) to make a statement that we're going to work." Nothing is likely to come easy for the Hurricanes. Pittsburgh is 12 of 12 on penalty kills across the last four games. Pittsburgh has won both meetings this season with the Hurricanes. They'll collide again in April. The Penguins should have center Matt Cullen in the lineup against one of his former teams. He was out with a foot injury and missed last month's meeting in Raleigh. This is the middle game of Carolina's five-game homestand. Three of the seven regulation losses at home have come in a span of the past month. Penguins left winger Carl Hagelin will play in his 400th NHL game Tuesday night. His first game with Pittsburgh came in January 2016 against Carolina. Hurricanes defenseman Ron Hainsey is set to appear in his 300th game with the team.
Time: 7:30 PM EST Venue: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, Ont., Canada, M5J 2X2 TORONTO -- Patrik Laine of the Winnipeg Jets and Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs will provide an interesting sub-plot when their teams meet Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre. They are the two top rookie-of-the-year candidates and both are key players on their respective teams. Adding to the intrigue is that Matthews was the first pick overall in the 2016 NHL draft and Laine was the second." I think they'll be writing about that for 20 years, won't they?" Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said after a 4-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Sunday, when asked if the two rookies will make the game that much more exciting." I think it's always good to compete. I think the competitive guys want to compete every night and want to compete against the best. Laine is a heck of a player and Winnipeg has got a real good team. It should be fun." Laine leads rookie scoring with 28 goals and 24 assists in 54 games. Matthews, who scored a spectacular goal on Sunday, is next with 28 goals and 21 assists in 58 contests. After having two assists in the 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators Sunday, Laine was named NHL's First Star of the Week the following day. The 18-year-old scored five goals and added three assists to contribute to three wins and an overtime loss. Toronto's Nazem Kadri was the NHL's Second Star with four goals and two assists. Matthews, 19, scored two goals and had two assists last week." (Matthews is) just going to get better and better and better," Babcock said. "He has a chance to be a dominant player in this league. What I like is his 'drivetrain' is such that he wants to do that and he's a young kid getting better every day in a real hard league. He's an important player for us." This will be the second game of the season between the teams. The Jets came back for a 5-4 overtime victory Oct. 20. The Maple Leafs led 4-0 in the second period when Laine led the comeback with his first NHL hat trick, including the overtime winner, which followed Matthews' miss on a breakaway. Matthews had one assist in the game. The Maple Leafs (27-20-11) are 4-5-2 over their past 11 games. The Jets (28-29-5) are 5-4-1 over their past 10 despite a four-game losing streak Feb. 4-11." We're coming together pretty good here," Jets captain Blake Wheeler said. "We have four lines playing the same way, there seems to be different guys contributing every night and that's what you need to win games." Jets center Mathieu Perreault said: "Two years ago, when we made the playoffs we were a physical team, and that's kind of how we got into the playoffs. If we want to have any chance we have to go back to that, and now it's working." The Jets will be without defenseman Jacob Trouba for two games after the league suspended him Monday for an illegal hit to the head of Senators right winger Mark Stone during the third period. Meanwhile, Maple Leafs rookie Mitch Marner, who has 15 goals and 33 assists in 56 games, is listed as day to day after missing the past two contests with an injured right shoulder. The Jets are on the fringe of the playoffs, one point removed from a wild-card spot." We've got to string as many together as we can. It's not about how, it's about how many you can put together," Wheeler said. "We've found our game here. ...so we've got a huge one coming up in Toronto." Said Matthews: "I think these games now heading into this part of the season are must-win. It's a tight race in our division and our conference. All of these games are very important."
Time: 7:30 PM EST Venue: Amalie Arena, Tampa, FL, 33602 TAMPA, Fla. -- The Edmonton Oilers and Tampa Bay Lightning meet up Tuesday night with both clubs on hot streaks, but in far different positions as the playoffs are concerned. Edmonton (32-19-8) has won three straight, scoring a combined 14 goals along the way, and is poised to end the NHL's longest playoff drought dating back to the 2005-06 season. The Lightning (26-24-8) are trying to avoid starting a playoff drought of their own with 24 games remaining in the season. Tampa Bay has recorded points in a season-high six straight games with a 4-0-2 record after going 3-9-2 in the previous 14 contests. The latest victory saw the Lightning lose a two-goal lead in the final period, but salvage a win in overtime at Colorado thanks to a goal from Jonathan Drouin." We needed to win one of those," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the win Sunday night. "Regardless of who we were going to get to 3-2, we needed it. (Drouin) is a gifted, gifted player. you get him close to the net with the puck and a little bit of time and space, he can do some pretty magical things." The Lightning open a four-game homestand against three teams that would be in the current playoff field in Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa. Tampa Bay has scored at least three goals in five of its last six games, making life easier for alternating goalies Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy. Cam Talbot is at the other extreme having played 10 straight games for the Oilers, his last contest off coming exactly a month before Tuesday's showdown. He's 6-3-1 in those games, with Edmonton bouncing back nicely in its last three after earning just one win in the previous five. The Oilers got a home win against the Lightning in a shootout in December. They'll be carried again Tuesday by 20-year-old phenom Connor McDavid, who leads the NHL in points (67) and assists (40) in his second NHL season. The Oilers are doing nearly everything well, with the exception of faceoffs, where they rank last in the league. The 48.6 win percentage is a continuing source of frustration for coach Todd McLellan." It's an ongoing process for our group," McLellan said Monday. "We're at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to faceoffs. We climbed to the mid-20s, low 20s, and then fell back down again. Will we get to (being ranked No.) 1? No. We won't get to 10, we likely won't get to 15. If we can crawl up a few spots and gain some confidence, it's something we'll challenge our guys to do."
Time: 7:30 PM EST Venue: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI, 48226 Two big wins on the weekend against two of the NHL's top teams have the Detroit Red Wings in a much better frame of mind as they head into Tuesday's crucial home date with the New York Islanders. On Sunday, the Red Wings whipped defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh 5-2, handing the Penguins just their fourth regulation loss at home this season. That came on the heels of Saturday's 3-2, home-ice shootout win over the Washington Capitals, the top team in the NHL standings." It certainly feels good," Detroit forward Thomas Vanek said. "Like I've said before, the big picture is not pretty, so I think the message is just play game by game." The big picture that Vanek speaks of still sees the Red Wings seven points out of the final wild card playoff position in the Eastern Conference, but there was an upbeat buzz in the Detroit dressing room following the weekend success story." I think there's a sense of confidence that's risen in the last little bit," said Detroit defenseman Mike Green, who missed the weekend wins due to illness but is good to go Tuesday. "We're really playing a patient game and it's cause for some chaos and confusion in the other team's zone and we've gotten a lot of chances." If we continue that, we'll be good." Many of the components required for long-term success have been present in Detroit's recent games. The Red Wings are getting the lead, they are putting the puck in the net, their special teams are delivering the goods and between the pipes, Petr Mrazek is playing his best in about a year's time." You talk about confidence, it seems like his confidence is up," Green said. "When he's rolling, he's an incredible goaltender. We need him to continue." The Red Wings will require that the entire package continue to come together to keep their long-shot playoff hopes alive." I think confidence matters," Detroit coach Jeff Blashill said. "There's no question about it. You can do things right for a long period of time and if you don't get wins, it's hard to gain that same level of confidence." This weekend we found our way to two points. We need to do that on an extremely consistent basis, find a way to those points. Every day's a new challenge. We've got a big game against the Islanders." There are six teams situated between Toronto and Detroit, including the Isles, who are just one point behind the Maple Leafs. The Islanders, who have lost both meetings to the Red Wings this season, begin a nine-game road trip Tuesday after dropping New Jersey 6-4 at home Sunday. New York is a dismal 7-13-4 away from home this season, tied with Carolina and Dallas for the fewest road wins in the NHL." There's not a good feeling, not a good vibe on the road right now," Islanders coach Doug Weight told Newsday. "We're built to be a good road team. We've been here (at home) a lot and we've been great here, so it's been a bit of a crutch." Hopefully we get out on the road and get together as a team."
Time: 8:00 PM EST A 10-game win streak in the Missouri Valley Conference has Wichita State back into the Top 25 basketball poll at No. 25 after more than a year out of the rankings. The Shockers, who host Evansville on Tuesday, were previously in the poll, also at No. 25, on Feb. 5, 2016." It means that enough writers or coaches, whoever, think we're a pretty good basketball team, and that's good," Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said of the ranking. "That's a positive. I don't see any way that can be construed as a negative. Hopefully, we can continue winning and keep moving on." Wichita State (25-4, 15-1 MVC) plays its final regular-season home game against the Aces, who lost to the Shockers 82-65 a month ago. In that game, Evansville's David Howard played only six minutes without scoring while Christian Benzon had only one point in 11 minutes. The Aces (14-15, 5-11) are utilizing Howard and Benson much more since the last meeting. They were two key players as Evansville won four consecutive games before losing 84-72 at Bradley last Saturday. Howard, a 6-foot-8 center, is averaging 12.6 points and 6.3 rebounds over his past eight games, a stretch in which he posted a career-high 21 points against Drake. In his first 20 games, he scored in double figures only once. Benzon, a 6-4 guard, started the past five games and played 32 or more minutes in each. He averaged 7.4 points in those games." (Howard's) been really aggressive," Evansville coach Marty Simmons said. "He's done a nice job of getting the ball in (good) positions. He's a really skilled post player who can score over either shoulder." The newfound scoring of Howard and Benzon complements Jaylon Brown (20.3 points a game) and Ryan Taylor (14.9). Junior guard Boo Gibson also scored a career-high 27 points in a win at Southern Illinois. Wichita State defeated Northern Iowa 73-44 on Saturday in its most recent outing. Landry Shamet and Darral Willis Jr. tied for the team lead with 14 points in the win, with Shamet making four 3-pointers to go along with four assists. Willis went 4 of 8 from the field and 6 of 7 from the line to go along with 11 rebounds in just 19 minutes. Markis McDuffie, who leads the Shockers with an average of 11.8 points and 5.9 rebounds a game, added 12 points and seven rebounds in the rout of the Panthers. Wichita State is scoring 81.5 points per game on 47.6 percent shooting from the field, including 39.9 percent from 3-point range. The Shockers' defense is a reason for their winning streak. Wichita State is holding opponents to just 62.2 points per game, the 11th-lowest total in the country, while boasting the nation's third-lowest field-goal percentage against, holding opposition to just 37.4 percent from beyond the arc this season." You have to guard them," Marshall said of Evansville, which averages 68.6 points a game but managed 74 points a game in its recent four-game win streak. "You have to respect their motion offense. If you're not in tune and ready to guard for 30 seconds every possession, you're going to get screened and they're going to get a good look." You've got to anticipate how tough they are and how hard they play. They're well-coached." Marshall is cautiously optimistic that J. R. Simon, one of two senior walk-ons, can play on Senior Night. Smith has been sidelined since Feb. 12 with a foot injury. The other senior walk-on is Zach Bush." Hopefully we can get (the two of them) some quality minutes, and they can have their final home game be a positive one," Marshall said. Since the NCAA cut its scholarship limit to 13 in 1993, Simon and Bush are only the third and fourth Shocker walk-ons to play all four seasons.
Time: 8:00 PM EST Venue: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, MN, 55102 SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- The Chicago Blackhawks are clearly the playoff nemesis for the Minnesota Wild. In three of the last four campaigns -- 2013, 2014 and 2015 -- the Blackhawks have ended Minnesota's season with a playoff series win. In the regular season, at least lately, it's the opposite as the Wild own an 8-0-1 mark versus the Blackhawks in the teams' last nine meetings. With Minnesota currently seven points ahead of Chicago (with a game in hand) in the race for the best record in the Western Conference, there is plenty at stake when the teams meet at Xcel Energy Center on Tuesday." They've had an amazing run. Give them credit. Tough building to go into," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville on Sunday, after his team won 5-1 in Buffalo. Less than two weeks ago, during the Blackhawks' most recent trip to Minnesota, Chicago won in overtime on a power play goal." I know we played pretty well last time and we're going to have to be even better going into this game," Quenneville said. "We'd like to be in the same area code going into the stretch run, so hopefully we can try to close the gap." If closing the gap includes adding some newcomers to the roster, with the NHL's March 1 trade deadline barely a week away, the coach knows Chicago general manager Stan Bowman faces a real challenge in terms of salaries and team chemistry." I think Stan's done a great job this time of year trying to do everything he can to make us better in a tight situation," Quenneville said. "Knowing there's a lot of obstacles and hurdles to try to stay under the cap and try to make us better at the same time." Minnesota has avoided a midseason swoon, and has gotten at least a point in 18 of 22 games since New Year's Day. That puts the Wild solidly in the Western Conference lead on Feb. 21. Previously, the latest the team had led the conference was on Dec. 17, 2011, so things are quite different under first-year coach Bruce Boudreau. One thing that's different is the line chart, which changes often as Boudreau likes to inject some variety into his team's offensive makeup -- a tactic he believes will pay off come playoff time." It allows you to know you can put guys into different spots when needed and you're still not going to worry about it," Boudreau said on Monday, after the Wild practiced on the University of Minnesota campus." The other thing is guys get to learn how to play with each guy and it's not a shock to them all of a sudden. ... We're pretty good with the versatility all over the place. I think that will help." As for the immediate future, Boudreau said he's not concerned that his team, which has five days off after the Blackhawks' game, will be mentally checked out on Tuesday." We're playing Chicago, the team that's trying to catch us," he said. "Anything less than playing your hardest will not be successful."
Time: 8:00 PM EST Venue: Bridgestone Arena, Nashville, TN, 37203 The current Western Conference wild cards meet Tuesday night in Nashville, each aspiring to be something more than what they are by the time the playoffs start in mid-April. It's the first of two critical late-season matchups for the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators, separated by two points in the standings and a lot more than that back in October. While not much was expected from Calgary before the season started, Nashville was seen as a potential Stanley Cup contender following its blockbuster summer trade of captain Shea Weber to Montreal for P. K. Subban in a straight-up swap of perennial All-Star defensemen. Instead, the Predators (28-22-8) have struggled to consistently string together wins, hampered by inconsistent play throughout the roster and injuries that's left their nightly lineup in flux at times. All they have done is hint at their vast potential, as exhibited by a 4-3 win Sunday night in Columbus that completed a season sweep of one of the NHL's top teams." I liked the way we stayed with it and got better as the game went on," Nashville coach Peter Laviolette said. "After the break, and a difficult night last night with the travel and getting in when we did and early start today, we played better hockey as the game went on. Just resilient." Playing less than 24 hours after a 5-2 loss in Minnesota, the Predators received 35 saves from Juuse Saros and a tiebreaking goal from Mattias Ekholm just before the third period's mid-point. They'll start a crucial four-game homestand against the Flames (29-26-4), who have been outscored by 14 goals on the season but have propelled themselves into contention behind balanced, if not spectacular, scoring. They have seven players with double-digit goals, led by 19 from Sean Monahan, whose next tally will give him 100 in less than four full seasons. While their big offseason acquisition, former St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott, has struggled with a save percentage of .898, Chad Johnson has offered a big boost with some of the best play of his career. Calgary opened a big five-game road trip with a bitter 2-1 overtime loss against Vancouver Saturday night. After tying the game with six seconds left in regulation via captain Mark Giordano's eighth goal of the season, the Flames conceded Christopher Tanev's first goal 34 seconds into the extra period." At this point in the season, you will take points wherever you can get them," forward Troy Brouwer said. "But throughout the entire game, we had opportunities to put ourselves in a better position to get two points." Calgary made a move Monday to solidify a defense corps that has been of concern to its coaching staff and management, acquiring Michael Stone from Arizona for a third-round pick in this year's draft and a conditional fifth-rounder in 2018. Stone has a goal and eight assists in 45 games, averaging 20:13 of ice time, and is a pending unrestricted free agent. Reports have the Coyotes paying half his salary for the season's remainder. Nashville won the teams' only previous meeting this season, surviving a late three-goal outburst in the final four minutes to take a 4-3 victory Jan. 19 in the Saddledome.
Time: 9:00 PM EST No. 11 Kentucky is on a collision course this Saturday with No. 13 Florida in a battle for first place in the Southeastern Conference. But first, the Wildcats must win at lowly Missouri on Tuesday night at Columbia, Mo. Kentucky is 22-5, 12-2 in the SEC while Missouri is 7-19, 2-12. But Wildcats coach John Calipari is the spinning the Tigers' cup as being half-full." I always want to look and watch what coaches are doing if their team is struggling a little bit," Calipari said. "Do you keep them together? Do they keep growing? Do they keep trying? Do they stay positive? That's what he's (Missouri coach Kim Anderson) doing. What I'm seeing is Missouri is playing their best basketball of the season." I know what their record is so I expected to see something different when I started watching tape," Calipari said. "But I fully expect that they're going to come and play. You know what they do, they shoot the ball better than you give them credit for. They're dangerous because they can make perimeter shots." For his part, Anderson countered that, "We have to play a near-perfect game," to beat Kentucky. Missouri opened with nine straight SEC losses, but is 2-3 over the last few weeks. Most notable, both conference wins came in Columbia -- an 83-78 victory over Arkansas and a shocking 72-52 rout of Vanderbilt." I imagine we're going to walk into an arena that's going to have a ton of people in it, and a blackout or whatever they're doing," Calipari said. "It's another game for us to figure out who we are." In Missouri's two league wins, the Tigers shot 51 percent against Arkansas and 41 percent against Vanderbilt. Their season average is 39.7. One big key was free-throwing shooting. In the two wins, the Tigers were 40-for-51 (78.4 percent). Take away those games and Missouri is shooting 66.9 percent. Junior forward Jordan Barnett scored 40 points in both wins and averages 12.5 on the season. Sophomore forward Kevin Puryear averaged 14 points and eight rebounds in the wins, both a notch above his season averages. Kentucky, meantime, is trying to steer its own ship back on course. After losing three of four games, the Wildcats have won four in a row but only one by a comfortable margin. On Saturday, Kentucky needed to make 17 straight free throws to hold off Georgia 82-77." You better be ready to play harder than they play, and you better be ready to take things personal, because they are," Calipari said. "We gotta worry about us. Let's be at our best, let's understand what we're trying to do. We're still trying different things. The reboot moves on." Kentucky is led by freshman guard Malik Monk at 21.4 points per game. Next comes freshman guard De'Aaron Fox at, 15.6, sophomore guard Isaiah Briscoe (13.6) and freshman forward Bam Adebayo (12.7)." We're consistently trying to figure things out," Calipari said. "We're watching tape this morning with the team and showed them some things that were good and some of the stuff that wasn't good, and where we have to improve. We're using every day to get better." There are times I think we've figured it out, and then there are other times I look and I'm like, 'We haven't,'" Calipari said. "But we're one of those teams with an enormous upside, even now."
Time: 9:00 PM EST Venue: Pepsi Center, Denver, Colo., 80204 The last time the Los Angeles Kings were in Denver, the Colorado Avalanche had a promising season going. They beat the Kings 4-1 on Nov. 15 to improve to 7-8-0, and then won two of the next three to even their record. Then the bottom fell out. Since that win, Colorado is 7-29-3, endured a 10-game losing streak at one point and lost 10 of 11 during another stretch. The playoffs are off the table for the Avalanche, but when the struggling Kings come back to town on Tuesday night, they hope to start an upward trend for the last 25 games. They have something to build on after going 1-0-1 the last two games, including an overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday. Colorado (16-38-3) rallied from a two-goal deficit in the third period to earn a point." We didn't quit, we kept fighting in the third period," Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. The Kings (28-26-4) are trying to stay in the playoff hunt in the Western Conference but have struggled lately. They have lost three in a row, including a tough 1-0 setback at Anaheim on Sunday night. Peter Budaj played well after taking over as the primary goaltender when starter Jonathan Quick went down in the first game of the season, but he has struggled lately. Budaj won 25 of his first 45 games and had seven shutouts before sputtering in February. He allowed 19 goals in the five games before playing the Ducks and stopped 29 of 30 shots in the hard-luck loss." The team's as good as the goalie behind them and the goalie's as good as the team in front of him," coach Darryl Sutter told The Los Angeles Times. "We need better goaltending to be a better team. Very simple." Los Angeles sits two points behind Calgary for the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference and has a game in hand on the Flames. The Kings, more than any team, know just getting into the playoffs is what matters. In 2012, they were the eighth seed and won the Stanley Cup. But they have to start playing better to at least get into the postseason tournament. They have dropped five of eight in February and have allowed nearly four goals a game over the last six contests. The players aren't putting the blame on the goaltending." The majority of (the goals) are coming off our mistakes, pretty significant mistakes," captain Anze Kopitar told The Los Angeles Times. "That's what's killing us right now." The Avalanche have been on a season-long struggle but there have been some bright spots. Notably, rookie Mikko Rantanen has started scoring and has shown why general manager Joe Sakic has said he will not trade him. Rantanen has five goals and three assists in the last nine games and is looking more comfortable in the NHL." I feel comfortable after every game," he said after Sunday's loss. "Trying to put pucks more to the net and trying to shoot more, go to the net more. That's how you play well in this league." Colorado will be without another young player who has started to play well of late. Defenseman Nikita Zadorov sustained a fractured ankle when he collided with Rantanen late in Monday's practice and had to be helped off the ice.