Previewing the 10 College Basketball Games You Need to Watch This Weekend
"Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative."
That quote of Oscar Wilde's was referenced by Bill Walton during Thursday night's Oregon-Arizona broadcast. While the quip was used to insult the game's referees, it doubles as a positive way to promote this season's increasingly unpredictable and wide-open landscape.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention that, minutes before his literary reference, Walton took dirt out of a can that he brought to the game, and rubbed some on his face and arms to "help him get ready" to call the second half.
You read that right.
In fact, for anyone who's watched Walton call Pac 12 games on ESPN, that's probably much more believable than seeing the top five in the AP poll start the week 1-3, all but guaranteeing yet another shake up in next week's rankings.
To close the week, the Big 12-SEC Challenge gives us an intriguing set of marquee matchups as we settle into conference play. For the teams involved, this weekend should serve as a telling barometer, as it's rare to see this many non-conference contests this late in the season, just as teams are increasingly forming the identities they'll portray during March Madness. Five of those inter-conference battles make our list for this weekend's top 10 games to watch.
If the last few weeks are any indication, this college basketball season should inspire even the most unimaginative among us.
10. Oklahoma (1) at LSU
Saturday, 5 p.m., ESPN
The nation's number-one team squaring off with the guy many would consider the nation's number-one player is a nice way to start our list. Despite the presence of super freshman Ben Simmons, LSU is ranked outside the top 50 in our power rankings, RPI, ESPN's BPI, and KenPom's efficiency ratings. Simmons is a one-of-a-kind talent, but he's in serious danger of heading to the NBA without first experiencing the NCAA Tournament. We estimate that LSU has just a six percent chance of making the bracket, despite a 6-2 start in the SEC. This game will be must-see TV if the matchup with John R. Wooden Award front-runner Buddy Hield brings out the best in Simmons.
9. Providence (10) at Georgetown
Saturday, 8 p.m., Fox Sports 1
Georgetown is another team on the ropes, with just 12 percent tournament odds according to our power rankings. Although they've started 6-2 in the Big East, the Hoyas have just one win against a top-50 team. Providence, meanwhile, struggled to justify its leap into the top 10 this week after dropping its third home Big East contest this season in Tuesday's loss to Xavier. Given the current disconnect between Providence's AP ranking and its other resume metrics, profiled earlier this week, these are two Big East teams with something to prove.
8. Vanderbilt at Texas
Saturday, 12 p.m., ESPN2
The computers continue to love Vanderbilt. The Commodores are 22nd in our power rankings and 27th in ESPN BPI. They're top-20 in KenPom's measures of strength of schedule and Defensive Efficiency. Now, Vandy just needs to, you know, win games. They finally picked up their first top-50 win of the season this week (Florida), and will need to rack up a few more good wins to avoid being our highest-rated team left out of the NCAA brackets. They'll face a tough challenge against a Texas squad that's 5-3 in the Big 12 and has held three of its last four opponents to under 70 points.
7. Georgia Tech at Syracuse
Saturday, 12 p.m., ESPNU
For two ACC squads very much on the bubble, this should be a pivotal game. Our bracketology has both the Yellow Jackets and the Orange in the field of 68, but The Bracket Project's aggregate seedings leave both teams out of the Big Dance. Syracuse picked up an important win against 25th-ranked Notre Dame on Thursday, and need to seize the opportunity to defend its home court again on Saturday to avoid a critical step backwards.
6. Wichita State (22) at Evansville
Sunday, 4 p.m., ESPNU
The biggest thing standing in between Wichita State and another perfect run through its Missouri Valley Conference schedule could be Saturday's game at Evansville. The Shockers escaped with a three-point win against Evansville in Wichita four weeks ago. Since then, Wichita State has beaten all of its opponents by 16 points or more. Evansville, in addition to being the MVC's only team other than Wichita State with a top-100 RPI, has a mascot that looks like Burt Reynolds, complete with an over-sized hat for all you "Celebrity Jeopardy!" fans.
5. California at Colorado
Saturday, 5 p.m., Fox Sports 1
California and Colorado are two of the eight Pac 12 teams in our bracketology's field of 68, and each will look to use Saturday's game as an opportunity to climb the ranks in a crowded conference. Cal topped Colorado by 14 the first time these teams played, as Colorado hit just three of its 11 attempts from beyond the arc. Some regression to the mean could help the Buffaloes even up the series, as they've been one of the best outside shooting teams in the country this season, while Cal does a much better job of defending attempts inside the arc.
4. West Virginia (9) at Florida
Saturday, 12 p.m., ESPN
Florida is another team that gets a big boost in the computer ratings thanks to strength of schedule (11th by our measure), but lacks big wins. Despite only one top-50 victory, the Gators are a 9 seed in our latest bracketology, but only have a few more chances to pick up signature wins. Saturday's out-of-conference home date with West Virginia and a two-game set with Kentucky will be Florida's best-remaining chances to make it safely off the bubble.
3. Kentucky (20) at Kansas (4)
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
It doesn't get much more blue-blood, establishment, and elite than Kentucky-Kansas, but these two squads are coasting a bit on reputation at the moment. Kansas has lost three of its last five (all on the road), while Kentucky has lost twice inside the SEC to teams outside the top 50 in RPI. Even if these two teams are a bit diminished, this should still be a compelling and pivotal game. Who needs it more? Kansas has already lost once this week, and Kentucky only has two top-50 wins to date.
2. Virginia (11) at Louisville (16)
Saturday, 1 p.m., CBS
While the Big 12-SEC Challenge dominates our list, this is by far the best conference matchup of the week. Louisville sports one of the most interesting resumes in the country right now. The Cards are second in our power rankings, and third in both KenPom and BPI, but have no top-25 wins and only two top-50 wins. They've lost to three of the best four teams they've played, and have, up until now, been facing the easy part of their ACC schedule. Virginia has built an impressive resume, tied for the national lead in top-100 wins with 10. However, the Cavaliers are just 4-3 in their last seven, and needed nine points in 15 seconds to beat the buzzer and avoid a bad loss at Wake Forest.
1. Iowa State (14) at Texas A&M (5)
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
The week's top game will serve as an interesting litmus test for two teams who started their weeks going in opposite directions, and play opposite styles. Iowa State surged past fourth-ranked Kansas on Monday night, while Texas A&M lost to a below-.500 Arkansas team just days after being promoted to the AP's top five. Texas A&M, much like Providence, has to do a bit more to justify its lofty ranking, with just three wins against the top 50. Iowa State, meanwhile, boasts one of the best resumes in the country (8th in RPI, eight top-50 wins), and could make a run at the AP's top 10 with a win. With Texas A&M inside our top 20 in Defensive Efficiency, and Iowa State inside our top 20 in Offensive Efficiency, this battle of two top-15 teams could be the week's most entertaining game.