College Basketball Weekend Watch: Can Baylor Stay on Top in the Big 12?
While much of America's focus will be on Brady-Manning XVII, and those other two teams fighting for a spot in Super Bowl 50, there are plenty of intriguing matchups on the hardwood leading up to the Conference Championships this weekend (weather permitting, East Coasters).
Here are the 10 can't-miss college basketball games this weekend.
You know, before Tom Brady goes to another Super Bowl.
10. Vanderbilt at Kentucky (23)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
Vanderbilt could be a tougher matchup for Kentucky than first meets the eye, according to our nERD-based power rankings (you can learn more about nERD, our team efficiency ratings, in our glossary). Vandy sits at 18th in our rankings, despite an 11-7 record and a mere 13 percent chance of making the NCAA Tournament. The Commodores have no bad losses and are in the top 20 in Defensive Efficiency. What they lack is a big win, and wins don't get much bigger than beating Kentucky at Rupp Arena. After losing at Auburn last week, coach Calipari's crew is in danger of falling out of the top 25 with another loss.
9. Louisville (17) at Georgia Tech
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN2
Louisville is second in our power rankings, first in Defensive Efficiency, and off to a 4-1 start in ACC play. The Cards shouldn't sleep on Georgia Tech, despite the Yellow Jackets' 1-4 start in conference play. Rick Pitino's teams are always superb at bringing the heat defensively, but Georgia Tech allows the second fewest steals per possession in the nation, according to KenPom's efficiency metrics. With Georgia Tech desperate for a big win, this could be one to keep an eye on.
8. Butler (18) at Creighton
Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Despite being nationally ranked, Butler is off to a 2-4 start in the Big East and has yet to beat a quality opponent in conference play. Creighton is off to a 4-2 start in conference play, with wins over Georgetown and Seton Hall, but the Blue Jays are weighed down by a weak non-conference strength of schedule. Points should be easy to come by in a matchup between two defenses outside the top 100 in efficiency rating and two of the better shooting offenses in the country.
7. Texas at Kansas (3)
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
Texas is building the profile of a team that will be playing in March, after adding a huge win at sixth-ranked West Virginia to a resume already featuring wins over North Carolina and Iowa State. Kansas, dethroned from the top spot in the AP rankings after a loss at West Virginia last week, dropped their second game in conference play on Tuesday. The Jayhawks missed 12 of 25 free throws in a 19-point loss at Oklahoma State and will need to get back on track at Allen Fieldhouse on Saturday to keep pace in the loaded Big 12.
6. West Virginia (6) at Texas Tech
Saturday, 1 p.m., ESPNews
Add West Virginia to the growing list of teams that lost their first game after making a notable jump in the top 25. Featured as the top riser in our look at the AP rankings earlier this week, West Virginia lost a low-scoring affair at home to Texas on Wednesday. The Mountaineers should face a tough test on the road against a Texas Tech team that is in need of a big win after losing their last four games against teams in the top 50 of our power rankings.
5. Arizona (12) at California
Saturday, 8:30 p.m., ESPN
Arizona is 12th in the AP and 13th in nERD but has beaten just one team inside our top 50 this season. In Cuonzo Martin's second year in Berkeley, Cal is the best team the country at defending shots inside the perimeter. This looks to be the best shot the Golden Bears have left to snag a signature win for their tournament resume.
4. Purdue (22) at Iowa (9)
Sunday, 1 p.m., Big Ten Network
The Boilermakers have won three straight as they look to avenge a home loss to Iowa on January 2. Purdue's fourth-ranked defense (according to our efficiency metrics) held the Hawkeyes to just 20 first-half points before yielding 50 in the second half. Iowa has averaged 80 points per game in their 6-0 start in Big Ten play, which includes a regular-season sweep of Michigan State.
3. Providence (16) at Villanova (4)
Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX
Pushed to Sunday because of Winter Storm Jonas, this pre-NFL matinee might feature the two best players in the Big East in Providence guard Kris Dunn and Villanova swingman Josh Hart. It's been a calendar year since Villanova last lost a Big East game, racking up 22 consecutive wins in that span. The Wildcats are first in our power rankings and two games up in the conference standings. Providence's star is Dunn, but it may be the performance of emerging sophomore frontcourt duo Ben Bentil and Rodney Bullock that determines whether Providence can steal one in snowy Philadelphia.
2. Maryland (7) at Michigan State (11)
Saturday, 6:30 p.m., ESPN
Michigan State fans have come to trust that, as long as Tom Izzo and the Spartans make it to the Big Dance, they'll find the path to a deep tournament run. But even the most confident Spartan can't feel too good about dropping three straight, especially when this team was undefeated and numero uno just three weeks ago. Maryland, winners of 11 of their last 12, should serve as an interesting style matchup for Michigan State. Maryland is one of the best shooting teams in the nation but commits too many turnovers. Michigan State allows the fifth-lowest Effective Field Goal Percentage in the nation, according to KenPom, but ranks an astonishing 350th (out of 351 teams) in turnovers created per possession.
1. Oklahoma (1) at Baylor (13)
Saturday, 12 p.m., ESPN2
In a conference that features three of the top six teams in the AP poll, it's the 13th-ranked Baylor Bears that lead the Big 12 at 5-1. While they managed to fend off Kansas State in double overtime Wednesday to stay in pole position in the conference, they'll face a much tougher challenge when the Sooners, third in our power rankings, visit to start Saturday's slate of games. Oklahoma, unanimously ranked the nation's top team on Monday, fell just a day later in a tough spot at Iowa State. With Baylor and Oklahoma ranked 11th and 13th, respectively, in Offensive Efficiency, this figures to be a high-scoring affair that could go down to the wire.