Tricky road trips, teams on the bubble highlight this weekend's slate of games
After last week, maybe college basketball needs a bit of a breather for the weekend.
Syracuse’s overtime win over Duke was the game of the year, but Saturday and Sunday also wrecked the top 25 with seven ranked teams losing to unranked foes.
This week, only two games will feature two ranked teams (Michigan-Iowa and Gonzaga-Memphis). On one hand, the weekend will lack a true No. 1 matchup, but the potential for chaos is still high.
Creighton, Texas, North Carolina and Oregon all face critical road trips while teams like Iowa and Gonzaga are getting into desperation mode for season-defining wins.
Navigating this week in basketball won’t be as easy as pointing you to Syracuse and Duke, but there’s plenty here to appreciate as the regular season enters its stretch run.
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Feb. 8-9
Game of the Week:
Michigan at Iowa (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The Big Ten has become a two-team race with Iowa dropping to 6-4 in the league with a Tuesday loss to Ohio State at home. The Hawkeyes have only one RPI top 25 win — over Ohio State in Columbus. Iowa has been tabbed as a potential NCAA sleeper with the Hawkeyes’ standout offense and flawless ability to take a care of business against lesser teams. Fran McCaffery’s team, though, needs to show it can beat an upper-tier Big Ten team if it’s to be taken seriously in the second weekend of the Tourney. Michigan rebounded from its first conference loss of the season last week against Indiana to take care of Nebraska 79-50 in Ann Arbor. Big Ten Player of the Year contender Nik Stauskas, though, has been in a slump, shooting 2 of 9 from the field for 15 points in the last two games.
Great Non-Conference Game:
Gonzaga at Memphis (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
This will be a key game for NCAA seeding, particularly for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs’ at-large resume is lacking a big wins, and this will be the last chance for the Zags to acquire one. Only one West Coast Conference team, BYU, is in the RPI top 40. The two teams in Memphis will be evenly matched, particularly at point guard where Gonzaga’s Kevin Pangos will face the Tigers’ Joe Jackson in a meeting of two underrated veterans.
Creighton at St. John’s (Sunday, 7 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Welcome to Madison Square Garden, Doug McDermott. The National Player of the Year contender will play his first game in New York against a hot St. John’s team with the talent to get on a late-season roll and make a run at the NCAA Tournament. The Red Storm’s only loss in the last five games came by three at Creighton on a McDermott 3-pointer in the closing seconds. Creighton is 8–1 in the Big East and leads the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency in conference games.
Tricky Road Trip:
North Carolina at Notre Dame (Saturday, noon, ACC Network)
The Tar Heels have recovered from a disastrous start in ACC play and once again appear to be a team capable of winning some games in the NCAA Tournament. Notre Dame has struggled to remain relevant in the ACC without Jerian Grant, who was lost for the season due to academics. Mike Brey’s team is very tough to beat at home — the Irish knocked off Duke in South Bend on Jan. 4 — but Carolina has the decided edge in talent.
Bubble Watch (East Coast Edition):
Providence at Xavier (Saturday, 3 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Providence and Xavier are among a pack of teams fighting for third place — behind Creighton and Villanova — in the new-look Big East. Both teams feature star power, with Bryce Cotton leading the way for Providence and Semaj Christon continuing to shine at Xavier. The Musketeers, though, have been in a funk. Xavier has lost three in a row, starting with an 81-72 loss to Providence on the road. The Friars built momentum in January, but they’ve lost two of the last three to NIT-caliber team like Marquette and St. John’s. The loser of this game will be in some trouble.
Bubble Watch (West Coast Edition):
Oregon at Arizona State (Saturday, 5 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
This is a key game between two middle-of-the-pack Pac-12 teams who figure to be fighting for at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. Arizona State rebounded from a slow start in league play and is now 5–4 with a three-game homestand looming. Oregon stopped the bleeding with a win over USC at home on Saturday, but the Ducks have not played well since the end of December. Arizona State’s dynamic point guard Jahii Carson will look to exploit an Oregon team that has struggled to guard anyone since conference play began. Carson is averaging 22.8 points per game in his last five.
Baylor at Oklahoma (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN2)
Baylor has been in a must-win situation for weeks now. The Bears are 2-7 in the Big 12, but they stopped a five-game losing streak with a surprising — and potentially season-saving — win at Oklahoma State last Saturday. This team has enough talent to work its way back into the NCAA Tournament picture. Oklahoma needs a victory in its own way after dropping back-to-back road games to Iowa State and West Virginia. The Sooners return to Norman against a team they defeated 66-64 on Jan. 18.
Best Potential for Fireworks:
Missouri at Ole Miss (Saturday, 5 p.m., SEC Network)
Two of the nation’s most feared 3-point shooters will be on display in Oxford this weekend when Marshall Henderson and the Rebels host Jabari Brown and Mizzou. Henderson’s overall shooting percentage is down from last season, but he’s been more accurate from 3-point range despite attempting more shots per game. Brown, the SEC’s leading scorer (20.1 ppg), is shooting 47.4 percent from beyond the arc.
Other Key Games:
Texas at Kansas State (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Texas went from being a nice story in the Big 12 to garnering national attention last week when the Longhorns smashed Kansas 81-69 in Austin. The Longhorns have defeated Iowa State, Kansas State, Baylor and KU in the last five games. Not bad for a team picked to finish anywhere from eighth to 10th in the Big 12 in the preseason. The Wildcats’ small frontcourt may have trouble with Texas big men Cameron Ridley and Jonathan Holmes.
Cincinnati at SMU (Saturday, 7:30 p.m., ESPNU)
It’s gone largely unnoticed, but Cincinnati is off to a 10–0 start in the new American Athletic Conference. The Bearcats, who already have wins at Memphis and Louisville, will be tested on Saturday at suddenly relevant SMU. The Mustangs, under the guidance of Larry Brown, improved to 6–3 in the American with a resounding win over Memphis last weekend. SMU is closing in on its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993.
Wichita State at Northern Iowa (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN2)
Wichita State’s likelihood of getting to the Missouri Valley Tournament undefeated took another step when the Shockers defeated Indiana State 65-58 in Terre Haute for their toughest road trip of the conference season. Northern Iowa is traditionally a tough opponent in the Valley, but the Panthers are 11-12 and 5-6 in the league. Wichita State likely won’t play a top 100 team in KenPom again unless it catches the Sycamores in the MVC Tournament.
Michigan State at Wisconsin (Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS)
Both teams hope they’re starting to return to form. Michigan State saw big man Adreian Payne return to the lineup Thursday against Penn State. Wisconsin ended its 1-5 stretch with a 75-63 win over Illinois on the road on Tuesday. Even in the win, the Badgers still let an opposing guard as Rayvonte Rice score 24 points in 30 minutes.
Athlon Sports' Mitch Light contributed to this report.