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Conference frontrunner status is on the line in the Big 12, Big East, Mountain West and more
A wild college basketball season has an eventful week ahead of it.
Entering Tuesday, 11 conferences had ties atop their leagues -- either outright ties or teams tied in the wins or losses column. And these aren’t obscure conferences either: The Atlantic 10, Big 12, Big East, Big Ten and Mountain West are all crowded at the top.
Indiana taking the top spot in the Big Ten with Tuesday's win over Michigan State was just the start. Determining conference frontrunners will be the theme of the week.
In the Big 12, Kansas State took sole ownership of first place Monday, but the Wildcats will be in a tie for first by the end of the day Wednesday when Kansas, led by Jeff Withey, and Oklahoma State meet in Stillwater.
Three teams are tied for the Big East lead, with two of those teams -- Georgetown and Syracuse -- facing each other on Saturday. And the wild Mountain West could have a new bell cow -- or Ram -- by the end of the week, as well.
All times Eastern.
COLLEGE BASKETBALL BRACKET UPDATE - FEB. 20
MOST IMPORTANT GAME:
Kansas at Oklahoma State (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPN2)
With Kansas’ three-game swoon two weeks ago and Oklahoma State’s seven-game win streak, this game will be for a share of the Big 12 lead -- Kansas State was alone in first place after defeating West Virginia on Monday. The Jayhawks rebounded from their losing streak to beat Kansas State thanks to 30 points from Ben McLemore and then stifling a hapless Texas team. Kansas will revisit Oklahoma State, who won in Lawrence on Feb. 2. Marcus Smart scored 25 points in that game and has shown no signs of slowing down. Kansas may have played itself out of No. 1 seed contention, but a road win against a conference title contender should help the Jayhawks curry favor. For Oklahoma State, a regular season sweep of Kansas could give the Cowboys an edge in seeding and playing closer to home in the NCAA Tournament.
ALL EYES ON: Colorado State
at UNLV (Wednesday, 10 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
New Mexico (Saturday, 4 p.m., NBC Sports Network)
The Rams are moving up from lovable mid-major to a legitimate contender for a Mountain West title and team likely to advance in the NCAA Tournament. The Rams, who lead the nation in rebound rate despite a small lineup, will face the most talented team in the league (UNLV) and the team with a half game lead in the standings (New Mexico). Colorado State will either pick up or shed some believers this week.
UNDER PRESSURE: Ohio State
Minnesota (Wednesday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Michigan State (Sunday, 4 p.m., CBS)
With three losses in the last four games, Ohio State slid into fifth in the Big Ten, a position that's not bad considering the strength of the conference. But since taking Michigan to overtime on the road, the Buckeyes have lost to Indiana by 13 and Wisconsin by 22. The Buckeyes will be tough to beat at home, but they must shoot better than 26.1 percent from three-point range, as they’ve done the last three games.
DePaul (Wednesday, 7 p.m.)
at Syracuse (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
Lampooned for its low scoring games early in the season, Georgetown is averaging 67.2 points per game its last five. That’s not overly impressive, but it's not the sub-50-point games the Hoyas had earlier this season, either. The Hoyas’ style has led to efficiency -- Georgetown leads the Big East in both field goal percentage and field goal percentage defense in conference games. And now that efficiency might lead to a regular season Big East title. The Hoyas are one of three teams tied for the Big East lead at 9-3. One of those is Saturday’s opponent Syracuse, which has a 37-game winning streak at home.
at Connecticut (Thursday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
at Notre Dame (Sunday, 2 p.m., CBS)
Cincinnati has been in a team-wide scoring slump. The Bearcats have failed to score 60 points in each of its last four losses, including three since Feb. 6. In the last four games, Louisville is shooting 34.8 percent from the field and 26.4 percent from three-point range. After falling to 7-6 in the Big East, the Bearcats will need to reclaim some credibility on the road, not an easy proposition.
MID-MAJOR TO WATCH:
Creighton at Saint Mary’s (Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN)
BracketBuster games largely don’t impact NCAA Tournament selection, but this one might. Saint Mary’s has a lackluster at-large resume despite its 22-5 record and 11-2 mark in the West Coast Conference. The Gaels lack a top-50 win this year. A win over Creighton would be a key resume-builder. Creighton’s profile is a little stronger, but the Bluejays have struggled recently. They needed a late surge to defeat Evansville 71-68 to end a three-game losing streak in the Missouri Valley.
La Salle at Temple (Thursday, 7 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
This is the rare Big 5 matchup withe Temple where La Salle may hold the upper hand. Temple has played three consecutive games decided by one point, winning two of them.
Cal at Oregon (Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPNU)
Cal is putting together a nice NCAA Tournament resume. The Bears hope to add a season sweep of Pac-12 leader Oregon to wins over Arizona and UCLA.
NC State at North Carolina (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
The ACC is out of reach, but NC State can go for its first regular season sweep of North Carolina since 2003.
Marquette at Villanova (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
With a win at Connecticut on Saturday, Villanova is back in the NCAA Tournament conversation. Can the Wildcats handle prosperity this time around?
Arkansas at Florida (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Arkansas can’t defeat anyone (but Auburn) on the road, but the Razorbacks have defeated three sure NCAA teams at home (Oklahoma, Missouri, Florida). Florida’s closest home game was a 14-point win over Ole Miss.
Missouri at Kentucky (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Missouri has Laurence Bowers back. Kentucky doesn’t have Nerlens Noel. The Wildcats’ hopes to prove they’re still a Tournament team continue with a tough home test.
Illinois at Michigan (Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN)
What’s that? Illinois has won four in a row? The Illini have their longest win streak since early December, and two of those wins (Indiana, at Minnesota) didn’t come cheap.