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Key matchups atop SEC, Big East lead this weekend's action
Snow through the Southeast and mid-Atlantic derailed basketball schedules Wednesday and Thursday, pushing the first Duke-North Carolina matchup into the third week of February.
The weekend may make up for missed time.
Quality games highlight both days of the weekend, with key matchups atop the SEC and Big East spread across Saturday and Sunday evenings.
Florida rarely has been tested in SEC play, but even an inconsistent Kentucky team could be the Gators top hurdle in the league, especially with the game in Lexington.
And in the Big East, the first matchup between Creighton and Villanova — a 3-point fest for the Bluejays — suggested the Missouri Valley imports will be just fine in their new league. A Villanova win will put further distance between the Wildcats and Creighton in the standings while a Bluejays could signal a new leader in the league.
Those aren’t the only key road trips, of course. Pittsburgh needs to regroup from Wednesday’s heartbreaker against Syracuse or else risk sliding onto the bubble before the ACC Tournament. And Wichita State will again get another team’s best shot in another MVC road trip.
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Feb. 14-16
All times Eastern.
Saturday’s Top Game:
Florida at Kentucky (9 p.m., ESPN)
Just as John Calipari’s talented young team appeared to be making progress, the Wildcats limped to a 64-56 win over lowly Auburn. James Young, Aaron Harrison and Andrew Harrison combined to shoot 6 of 28 from the field against Auburn, but they did contribute on the defensive end. The stumbles in the offensive end of the court aren’t a great sign against a Florida team that is one of the best defensive teams in the country. Even if this isn’t the Kentucky team most expected to see at the start of the season, Florida needs a strong performance to solidify their national title contender status. The Gators haven’t faced a ranked team since a Dec. 17 win over Memphis.
Related: College Basketball Power Rankings Heading into the Weekend
Sunday’s Top Game:
Villanova at Creighton (5 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Remember what happened the last time these teams met? Led by Ethan Wragge’s school-record nine 3-pointers, Creighton drilled Villanova, ranked No. 4 at the time, 96–68 in one of the most stunning results of the season. The Wildcats, who have not lost since, will be eager to exact some revenge, but that won’t be easy. Creighton has not lost at home since last February. Creighton is one game behind Villanova in the Big East standings. A season sweep would give the Bluejays an excellent chance to be the No. 1 seed in the league tournament.
Pittsburgh at North Carolina (Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Pittsburgh’s 20-5 record is starting to look awfully hollow. Tyler Ennis’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer robbed the Panthers a chance of pulling off one of the biggest wins of the season. Now, the Panthers’ last chance for their top win of the regular season is against the inconsistent Tar Heels. Pitt has only one RPI top 50 win (Stanford) and won’t face another certain NCAA Tournament team until the ACC Tourney. Behind Marcus Paige and James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina has found its stride with five consecutive wins, mostly against the second tier of the conference.
Related: 26 Teams on the NCAA Tournament Bubble
Best Coaching Matchup:
Wisconsin at Michigan (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
A list of the top coaches in college basketball would have Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan and Michigan’s John Beilein near the top. Shocking as it may be, Ryan has a 12-1 record against Beilein since both have been in the Big Ten. Worth watching will be the continued development of Michigan’s freshman point guard, Derrick Walton Jr., The rookie had 13 points, 10 rebounds and six assists against Ohio State, a key development for a Wolverines team looking to find scoring options beyond Nik Stauskas.
Memphis at Connecticut (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
UConn’s lack of size remains a major concern for the Huskies’ ability to advance in March, but it might not be too much of a liability at home against the guard-heavy Tigers. Memphis’ Joe Jackson and UConn’s Shabazz Napier are both productive veterans, but their shots can be streaky.
West Virginia at Texas (Saturday, 8 p.m., Longhorn Network)
West Virginia is making a late push to reach the NCAA Tournament, and Juwan Staten, a transfer from Dayton, has emerged as one of the top players in the league. Texas is still hanging around in the Big 12 race. The Longhorns are one game behind Kansas in the loss column, but they already have a win over the Jayhawks and still have one game remaining with KU.
Wichita State at Evansville (Sunday, 6 p.m., MVC TV)
Evansville is not a great team, but for some reason Wichita State trailed the Purple Aces by 15 at one point when these teams first met on Feb. 1 in Wichita. The Shockers still won 81-67. Wichita State allowed Southern Illinois to stick around for most of a 78-67 win on Wednesday as well. Are the Shockers losing their grip on an undefeated season?
VCU at Saint Louis (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
Saint Louis might be the best team few people are watching closely. That’s certainly the case on the defensive end of the court where the Billikens rank third nationally in defensive efficiency on KenPom. A major component of Saint Louis’ defense is the ability to shut down the 3-point line. Of course, VCU’s bread and butter is the pressure defense that leads the nation in forced turnover rate. VCU is 1.5 games behind Saint Louis for the A-10 lead.
Under-the-Radar Game of the Week:
UMass at George Washington (Saturday, 2 p.m., CSN Mid-Atlantic)
The Minutemen still have a good RPI at No. 21, but UMass did all of its best work against a solid non-conference schedule. UMass is 3-4 in its last seven, including Wednesday’s home loss to a 9-15 George Mason team. The Minutemen are desperate for a big win while George Washington is looking to re-establish itself in the Atlantic 10.
Other Key Games:
Arizona at Arizona State (Friday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
In a rare Friday night game of merit, Arizona State hosts its in-state rival in a key game for its NCAA Tournament hopes. The Sun Devils are on the bubble, but they’ve defeated Colorado, Cal and Oregon in the last five games. One key to the game will be quick Arizona State point guard Jahii Carson against the Wildcats’ standout defense but also big man Jordan Bachynski against the short-handed Arizona frontcourt.
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
All is not well in the basketball version of Bedlam. Oklahoma State’s problems are well-established, and Oklahoma has been in a 1-3 funk itself. The Sooners needed a late rally to make a 68-60 home loss to Texas Tech look more respectable.
NC State at Syracuse (Saturday, 3 p.m., ACC Network)
The Wolfpack started 1-4 in the ACC, but it will enter Saturday’s game in the Carrier Dome at 6-5. NC State is about to embark on a three-game road swing, and, obviously, this is the toughest game. Syracuse will look to limit T.J. Warren’s action near the rim. He’s a high-volume shooter, but he hits 57.7 percent of his shots from 2-point range.
Tennessee at Missouri (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2)
Missouri’s NCAA chances have taken a hit thanks to a three-game losing streak that has left the Tigers with an overall record of 16–7 and a 4–6 mark in the SEC. It’s fair to say this is a must win for Mizzou, which does not play a sure-fire NCAA Tournament team the rest of the way. Tennessee might be on the good side of the bubble at this point, but the Vols sure could use a win or two away from Thompson Boling Arena.
Maryland at Duke (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
This will have little impact on the ACC standings, but it’s a significant game because it’s the last meeting between these two rivals before Maryland heads to the Big Ten next season. Duke has had the upper hand of late, but over the years Maryland has played the Blue Devils as well as any ACC team not named North Carolina. The Cameron Crazies will be ready.
Kansas State at Baylor (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPNU)
Baylor continues to be one the most disappointing teams in the nation. The Bears, loaded with talent, dropped to 15–9 overall and 3–8 in the Big 12 with a loss at Oklahoma on Saturday. Kansas State, on the other hand, has overachieved. The Wildcats, who beat Kansas in overtime on Monday night, are in position to earn an NCAA Tournament invite for the fifth straight season.