This weekend will feature only two games between ranked teams, but one of them is a doozy.
After Michigan defeated Iowa on Wednesday and Michigan State dodged Indiana on Wednesday, the top two teams in the Big Ten standings will meet in East Lansing.
Especially in this league, staying undefeated in conference play in late January is a major feat. Just ask Ohio State and Wisconsin. Certainly the two coaches meeting Saturday at the Breslin Center are feeling a bit lucky to be playing for the Big Ten lead.
Michigan has played nine games this season without forward Mitch McGary, and John Beilein is adapting to playing without him for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Michigan State has had ongoing injuries issues that at some point or another have claimed Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson and Gary Harris.
The matchup between the Michigan schools isn’t the only key game this week. The story of the month seems to be slumping teams — Wisconsin, Iowa State, Baylor and others are facing critical games this week to show if any of them can pull out of recent funks.
College Basketball Weekend Preview
All times Eastern
Game of the Week:
Michigan at Michigan State (Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN)
No one would dare say that the basketball matchup between the Wolverines and Spartans is bigger than the football game, but this is pretty close. Both teams are in Big Ten contention despite major injuries. Michigan has weathered the season-ending injury to Mitch McGary with wins over Wisconsin and Iowa in the last week. Thanks to the hot hand of Nik Stauskas (20-plus points in three consecutive games), Michigan leads the Big Ten in points per possession at 118 points per 100 possessions in conference games. Meanwhile, Tom Izzo only wishes he had injury concerns so simple. Adreian Payne is not likely to play with an ongoing foot injury, and Branden Dawson is out four to five weeks after sustaining a broken hand when he slammed his hand in frustration while watching game film. With those combined injuries, expect a backcourt battle in East Lansing.
Tricky Road Trip:
Xavier at Providence (Saturday, noon, Fox Sports 1)
Providence isn’t quite on the NCAA Tournament bubble yet, but the Friars are riding a four-game winning streak that includes a 81-68 defeat of Creighton at home. Providence’s Bryce Cotton and Xavier’s Semaj Christon should be able to match each other shot for shot in what could be one of the best individual matchups of the weekend.
Kansas State at Iowa State (Saturday, 1:45 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Iowa State, which has lost three straight games following a 14–0 start, desperately needs a win to remain relevant in the Big 12 title chase. Kansas State has been one of the league’s early surprises; the Cats are 4–1 in the Big 12, with the only loss coming on the road at Kansas. Bruce Weber’s team has been terrific on the defensive end, so defending Iowa State’s many set plays will be key in this game. After a last-second loss to Texas on Tuesday, Kansas State also needs a win for its psyche.
Streaking vs. Slumping:
Texas at Baylor (Saturday, 1:30 p.m., Big 12 Network)
Texas has suffered major personnel losses in recent years, but Rick Barnes has the Longhorns in the hunt for an NCAA Tournament berth. Jonathan Holmes’ buzzer-beater against Kansas State on Tuesday has given Texas a four-game winning streak. Baylor, on the other hand, has too much talent to be 1–4 in the Big 12. With non-conference wins over Colorado, Dayton and Kentucky, Baylor’s NCAA résumé is solid, but at some point this team needs to start winning games in league play.
BYU at Gonzaga (Saturday, 11 p.m., ESPN2)
The West Coast Conference is looking more and more like a one-bid league, especially after BYU added a triple overtime loss to Portland on Thursday to defeats to Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount. Gonzaga also lost to the Pilots earlier this season, but the Bulldogs have found their stride. On Saturday, they'll look to contain guard Tyler Haws, who scored 48 points in 50 minutes of play Thursday.
Others to Watch
Florida State at Duke (Saturday, noon, ESPN)
This is an intriguing matchup between one of the nation’s top defensive teams in Florida State and a Duke team that is loaded with offensive weapons. Florida State is holding its opponents to 40.5 percent shooting on 2-point field goals, a figure that ranks sixth in the nation. Duke, which shoots 41.4 percent from three and 52.7 percent from two, ranks second nationally in offensive efficiency (123 points per 100 possession).
Tennessee at Florida (Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN)
Florida, off to a 4–0 start in the league, has emerged as the team to beat in the SEC. The Gators do just about everything well except shoot free throws, where they shoot 66.6 percent from the line. Tennessee features one of the most talented rosters in the league, but the Vols have some troubling losses — vs. UTEP on a neutral court and against NC State and Texas A&M at home. This team is searching for a quality win to pad its NCAA Tournament résumé.
Wisconsin at Purdue (Saturday 5 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Wisconsin has suddenly forgot how to defend the perimeter, as the Badgers have allowed all three opponents to top 50 percent shooting in three losses. The Badgers are entering must-win territory, especially against a lackluster Purdue team that has struggled to score at times this season. The Boilermakers are coming off a lost to Northwestern, but they had won three in a row before Tuesday.
Villanova at Marquette (Saturday, 2 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Villanova must regroup after its stunning 28-point loss at home to Creighton on Monday night. Defending the 3-point line will obviously be a focus in practice for Jay Wright. Good thing Marquette is one of the worst teams in the country from the 3-point line (30.4 percent).
Georgetown at Creighton (Saturday, 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1)
Both teams had eventful games Monday night. Creighton set a bunch of shooting records at Villanova en route to a 96–68 stunner over the Wildcats. The Bluejays are 6–1 in league play in their first season in the Big East. Georgetown blew a seven-point lead in the final three minutes on its way to an 80–72 overtime loss at home to Marquette. The Hoyas, who have lost three straight games, dropped to 11–7 overall and 3–4 in the Big East.
Illinois at Indiana (Sunday, 3 p.m., Big Ten Network)
Just a few weeks ago, Illinois was 13–2 overall and 2–0 in the Big Ten. Now, the Illini are 13–6 and 2–4 in the Big Ten. Barring a quick turnaround, John Groce’s team will have a tough time earning a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Indiana regrouped from its embarrassing loss to Northwestern by giving Michigan State a fight on Tuesday in East Lansing, but it wasn’t enough for a win. The Hoosiers cannot afford to lose another home game to a team in the bottom half of the Big Ten.
Clemson at North Carolina (Sunday, 6 p.m., ESPNU)
At some point, North Carolina has to turn a corner if the Tar Heels aren’t going to see their wins over Michigan State, Louisville and Kentucky wasted on an NIT bid. The Heels have lost three of their last four, and the inconsistent offense faces one of the better defensive teams in the ACC in Clemson.
California at UCLA (Sunday, 8 p.m., ESPNU)
At one point Cal looked like it would be a viable No. 2 team in the league thanks to Oregon’s slump and Spencer Dinwiddie’s injury at Colorado. Then the Bears lost to USC 77-69 on Wednesday. UCLA is coming off a deflating loss of its own on the road to Utah.
Athlon Sports’ Mitch Light contributed to this report.
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