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College Basketball Weekend Preview

Naadir Tharpe

Naadir Tharpe

Basketball fans, clear your schedule for Saturday around 4 p.m. Eastern.

Certainly, there’s other action this weekend, but the 4 p.m. time slot will pack the most action. Rather than going up against the NFL playoffs, college basketball all but vacated Sunday except for one key game. As a result, Saturday afternoon is a little crowded.

The late afternoon Saturday will feature Oklahoma State at Kansas, Pittsburgh at Syracuse and Indiana State and Wichita State. In other words, two undefeated teams and the biggest star power in the Big 12.

The main storyline of the weekend — especially with so many top teams playing at home — will be teams looking to rebound from disappointment in recent weeks. Wisconsin and Iowa State suffered their first losses since last Sunday. Baylor needs to prove its loss to Texas Tech was a fluke. And Duke needs to prove it can guard someone, anyone.

Related: College Basketball Pre-Weekend Power Rankings

College Basketball Weekend Preview: Jan. 18-19

Game of the Week
Oklahoma State at Kansas (Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS)
The Cowboys’ Big 12 title hopes took a hit with the injury to big man Michael Cobbins. Still, any team with the core of Marcus Smart, Le’Bryan Nash and Markel Brown is going to win a lot of games. Kansas’ freshmen are starting to play to their potential. Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden are averaging a combined 44 points per game in Big 12 play compared to 35.1 during the non-conference schedule. Embiid may be able to take advantage of the absence of a key big guy for Oklahoma State.

Statement Game
Pittsburgh at Syracuse (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
These two long-time rivals have made the move from the Big East to the ACC, but not much else has changed. They are both winning a bunch of games. Syracuse has been stingy on defense of late, having allowed no more than 59 points in their last five games. Pittsburgh feasted on a soft non-conference schedule before opening up league play with wins over NC State, Maryland and Wake Forest. The Panthers are shooting 51.6 percent from the field and 41.5 percent from 3 in ACC games.

Must-win Game
Marquette at Butler (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS Sports Network)
Marquette’s NCAA Tournament hopes are on life support. The Eagles have not defeated a top 50 team in the RPI since beating George Washington on Nov. 29. Butler is off to an 0-5 start in the Big East, though the run included overtime losses to Villanova, DePaul and Georgetown. The Bulldogs are about to start a stretch of five consecutive games against the lesser teams in the league, which includes matchups with Marquette. Butler expected to have a down season in the first year without Brad Stevens, but it’s time to show that moving up from the Horizon to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East wasn’t a mistake.

Lighting Up the Scoreboard
NC State at Duke (Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS)
Duke is having one of the worst defensive seasons in recent memory for Mike Krzyzewski. The Blue Devils are allowing 101 points per 100 possessions, a figure that ranks 12th in the ACC and 125th nationally. NC State is even worse at 102 points per 100 possessions. The Wolfpack’s T.J. Warren is averaging 22.2 points per game this season, but Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood is averaging a league-best 22 points per game in ACC games.

Needs a Bounce Back
Oklahoma at Baylor (Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN)
The Big 12 won’t have many sure-fire road wins in the league this season, but Texas Tech is supposed to be one of the easier matchups in the conference. Not for Baylor, apparently. The Bears lost 82-72 in Lubbock in a game that wasn’t competitive from the get-go. The Red Raiders shot 23 of 38 (60.5 percent) from 2-point range against Baylor. Surprising Oklahoma is also looking to bounce back from a road loss to Kansas State on Jan. 14.

Tricky Road Trip
UCLA at Utah (Saturday, 4 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
The Bruins have flourished under new coach Steve Alford, especially in terms of finding a handful of go-to players from Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson to Zach LaVine and Norman Powell. Utah has some playmakers, too, in Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge. The Utes defeated Oregon State and USC easily in Salt Lake City and took Oregon to overtime at home two weeks ago.

Under-the-radar Game of the Week
Indiana State at Wichita State (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
Not that anyone should overlook an undefeated team, but the Shockers are in the crowded 4 p.m. Eastern time slot on Saturday. The Sycamores, who won in Wichita by 13 last season, may be Wichita State’s toughest opponent in the Missouri Valley this season. With Manny Arop, a Gonzaga transfer two years ago, and veteran Jake Odum, Indiana State may be able to keep up with Wichita State again.

Others to watch:

Tennessee at Kentucky (Saturday, noon, CBS)
These two SEC rivals only play once this season — and it’s a huge game for a Tennessee program searching for quality wins. With victories over Virginia (by 35) and at LSU (by 18), the Volunteers had seemingly played their way out of an early season slump, but their momentum was derailed with a shocking loss at home to Texas A&M on Saturday night. Kentucky’s young big men will be tested by UT’s Jarnell Stokes and Jeronne Maymon. The Wildcats’ ability to bounce back from an overtime loss at Arkansas also will be tested.

Florida State at Virginia (Saturday, noon, ACC Network)
This will be the second meeting between these two teams in the first three weeks of the ACC season. Florida State lost the first matchup, 62–50 at home, but bounced back to beat Clemson on the road and Maryland at home by 24 points. Virginia saw its three-game winning streak end on Monday with a 69–65 loss at Duke, but the Cavs had been playing their best ball of the season in recent weeks. Both teams are in the top 30 of the RPI, but a season sweep of Florida State could be a key statement for the Cavaliers.

Michigan at Wisconsin (Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN)
The loss of big man Mitch McGary to season-ending back surgery has weakened the Wolverines’ roster, but this is still a team with quality offensive weapons and one of the game’s elite coaches in John Beilein. This, however, a tough test for Derrick Walton Jr., Michigan’s freshman point guard. Wisconsin plays good defense, and despite a late-game scoring slump in the loss to Indiana, the Badgers rarely take bad shots.

Michigan State at Illinois (Saturday, 8 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Illinois’ NCAA Tournament profile — shaky at best to this point of the season — is falling apart with three consecutive Big Ten losses, including Northwestern and Purdue. Beating Michigan State, obviously, would be huge for John Groce’s young team. The Spartans have been winning games despite not playing their best basketball. They blew a huge lead against Ohio State last week before winning in overtime and then had to go to OT to beat Minnesota on Saturday.

Louisville at Connecticut (Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN)
Losses to Houston and SMU on the road to start American play were a concern for UConn, but the Huskies have since rebounded with wins over Harvard and Memphis, the latter on the road. Louisville’s roster isn’t quite what we thought it would be, but Rick Pitino still has enough talent to do some damage in March. The re-emergence of Luke Hancock as an offensive weapon of late has been a big boost.

Minnesota at Iowa (Sunday, 1 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Under 31-year-old coach Richard Pitino, the Gophers are off to an impressive start in Big Ten play. Iowa is hoping to keep its own hot streak rolling rolling after Sunday’s big win at Ohio State. The Hawkeyes don’t have a ton of star power, but they are as deep as any team in the Big Ten.

Athlon Sports’ Mitch Light contributed to this report.

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