College Basketball Bracket Update: Kansas, Pittsburgh face tests this week

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After home loss, Bill Self and Kansas hit road; Can Pittsburgh win on the road?

<p> After home loss, Bill Self and Kansas hit road; Can Pittsburgh win on the road?</p>

Is it time to start celebrating or time to start worrying?

Those are the questions fans of a handful of teams will start asking over the next month or so of the season. Are NCAA bids or conference contender status being locked up? Or for other teams, are the wheels to a satisfying season starting to fall off?

Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon had much to celebrate after he continued his good fortune against Syracuse, but he has plenty of reasons to avoid getting too comfortable. His team has won six of seven, the exception being a three-point loss to Louisville on the road. With three of the next four on the road, including Saturday at Cincinnati, he’ll have a good idea where his team stands in the next two weeks.

And only at Kansas would the second loss of the season -- in early February, no less -- be cause for concern. Kansas is still a title contender, but the loss to Oklahoma State caught everyone by surprise, including Bill Self. His team will have a warm-up game against TCU before facing Oklahoma on the road.

For this week, there’s no marquee game similar to last week’s Big Ten showdown between Indiana and Michigan, but this could shape up to be a critical week for conference races and the NCAA bubble watch.

All times Eastern.

FEB. 6 NCAA TOURNAMENT BRACKET UPDATE

MOST IMPORTANT GAME:
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)

The Big East standings are a jumble with four teams with in a game of first-place Syracuse at 7-2. That doesn’t include Pittsburgh at 7-4 in the Big East. Both Pitt and Cincinnati are on hot streaks, yet their potential as top-flight Big East teams and top-five seeds in the NCAA Tournament remains in question. Both teams are perimeter-oriented, but Pitt's 7-foot freshman Steven Adams has come on of late with 8.3 points and 10.8 rebounds per game in the last four.

Related: Feb. 5 Power Rankings

ALL EYES ON: New Mexico
Air Force (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ROOT Sports)
at UNLV (Saturday, 9 p.m., NBC Sports Network)

The Lobos are looking more and more like the class of the Mountain West, but this will be a tough week. First, the Lobos catch Air Force, which has worked its way into the NCAA Tournament conversation with three top-100 wins in the last five games (Boise State, Wyoming, San Diego State). Later this week, a road trip to Vegas will be tough against a talented Rebels team. This is a big week for New Mexico, but the same could be said of UNLV: Should we start to worry about the Rebels if they struggle through another week?

UNDER PRESSURE: Kansas
at TCU (Wednesday, 9 p.m., ESPNU)
at Oklahoma (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)

Kansas remains in the Big 12 lead and in the running for a No. 1 seed, but the Jayhawks stumbled a bit last week. First, Kansas slipped past a bad West Virginia team by 5 and then lost to Oklahoma State at home to end a 33-game win streak in Lawrence. TCU (8-12) will be an easy trip, but Oklahoma will not. Kansas needs some answers, especially at point guard where Elijah Johnson has had trouble in recent games.

Related: Key stats from the weekend

RISING: Miami
North Carolina (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The Hurricanes have gone from a surprise team to a possible ACC contender to now threatening for a conference title and a top seed in the Tourney. The Hurricanes have nine wins against the top 50 in the RPI. Only Kansas has more with 10. A win over North Carolina at home wouldn't be a huge resume boost, not that the Hurricanes will let that dampen a chance to sweep the Tar Heels. A win over No. 32 North Carolina on the road is merely the fourth-best win of the year for Miami as far as the RPI is concerned.

SINKING: Colorado
at Oregon (Thursday, 10 p.m., ESPNU)
at Oregon State (Saturday, 9 p.m., Pac-12 Networks)

Colorado still has the RPI (25th) and strength of schedule (16th) to stay in the field, but it may be time to start worrying about the Buffaloes after a 58-55 loss to Utah (RPI No. 159) on Saturday. Colorado is 2-5 on the road heading into a pair of games against the Oregon schools -- Oregon, too, needs a win after being swept by Stanford and Cal last week. Colorado was 10-2 before the controversial finish to regulation against Arizona. The Buffaloes are 4-5 since.

Related: NCAA Tournament Report Card: Villanova

MID-MAJOR TO WATCH:
Belmont at Murray State (Thursday, 8 p.m., ESPNU)

Time to get familiar with Belmont as the NCAA Tournament draws closer. In their first season in the league, the Bruins are running all over the Ohio Valley Conference. Belmont is outscoring league opponents by 18.6 points per game heading into a road trip against last year’s conference champion. Bruins 6-foot-3 junior Ian Clark leads the nation in effective field goal percentage and is the only guard averaging better than 70 percent in that category. Against Murray, he’ll have to contend with Isaiah Canaan.

TIP-INS:
Baylor at Oklahoma State (Wednesday, 7 p.m., ESPN)

Baylor’s rough week (losses to Oklahoma and Iowa State) showed the hot start in Big 12 play may have been a mirage. Meanwhile, Oklahoma State looks a little more dangerous with guards Marcus Smart and Markel Brown leading a win at Phog Allen Fieldhouse.

Minnesota at Michigan State (Wednesday, 7 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Minnesota ended its four-game losing streak with home wins over Nebraska and Iowa. The Gophers will revisit opponents from their signature wins from earlier this season when the face the Spartans and Illinois this week.

NC State at Duke (Thursday, 9 p.m., ACC syndication)
Duke has figured out how to play without Ryan Kelly. The Blue Devils are shooting 54.8 percent from the field in the last three games since the lopsided loss to Miami. Now, a rematch with erratic NC State minus Lorenzo Brown.

Michigan at Wisconsin (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
A bizarre week for Wisconsin started with the Badgers not reaching the free throw line against Ohio State and then going 28 of 42 from the line against Illinois.

Ole Miss at Missouri (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Ole Miss’ time in the spotlight skidded to a halt with losses to Kentucky and Florida where Nerlens Noel, Kyle Wiltjer and Erik Murphy were the stars of the show and not Marshall Henderson. Missouri’s getting stronger with Laurence Bowers healthy, but a loss to LSU last week is embarrassing.

Iowa State at Kansas State (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2)
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has done it again in Ames, but can the Cyclones win on the road? The Cyclones lost their last two road games to Texas Tech and Oklahoma State and now face a tougher test in K-State.

Louisville at Notre Dame (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
The Cardinals are back to winning again after a three-game losing streak, but are they title contenders? Peyton Siva was 6 of 9 from the field with seven assists against Marquette. But he’s still struggling to get to the line, and he’s had more turnovers in a two-game span (10) than he’s had all year.

Indiana at Ohio State (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Ohio State is still having trouble getting production from someone other than Deshaun Thomas against good teams. He can’t do it alone against an offensive juggernaut like Indiana.

St. John’s at Syracuse (Sunday, 1 p.m., ESPN)
Syracuse is down a starter and its third leading scorer, but C.J. Fair had a breakout game against Notre Dame on Monday. St. John’s is 6-4 in the Big East and inching onto the NCAA Tournament bubble. Winning in the Carrier Dome would go a long way for the Red Storm’s Tournament hopes.

CBK Conferences: 

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