College Hoops Weekend Watch: Can the Top 3 Survive on the Road?
No matter what time you're reading this, a Super Bowl pre-game show is on somewhere. So, you have an important choice ahead of you.
Talking head, hot-take debate on Peyton Manning's legacy? Or actual sports, in the form of a packed college hoops weekend?
All the way up to kickoff on Sunday, here are 10 games to flip on as we enter February, the month where everyone starts cramming for bracket season.
If you've missed the season so far, here's a good rule of thumb. The rankings change -- a lot. This weekend, the top three teams in the AP poll (Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Villanova) are all on the road, so this could be another weekend of upheaval and mayhem (two of the biggest reasons why we love college basketball, of course).
Remember, the more studying you do now, the more
money you will win pissed off you'll be when you lose one of your Final Four teams on the first weekend of March Madness. But at least you can say you gave it your best and watched some good basketball along the way.
10. South Carolina (25) at Texas A&M (8)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPNU
Despite ranking inside the AP Top 25 and owning a 19-3 record, South Carolina has more to prove before they are solidly in the NCAA Tournament. The Gamecocks are the only team in the top 25 without a win against an RPI top-50 opponent, and their strength of schedule ranks 129th. This trip to College Station represents their best shot at a signature win before the SEC Tournament, against a Texas A&M team that has been all over the place during the last two weeks. The Aggies notched their biggest win of the season last Saturday against Iowa State but have sandwiched that with losses at Arkansas and Vanderbilt, two teams on the outside looking in according to most bracket projections.
9. Arizona (23) at Washington
Saturday, 4:30 p.m., FOX
This is a game Arizona's got to have if they want to stay in the chase to win the Pac 12 regular season title. Two games behind Oregon in the loss column, the Wildcats are just 3-3 away from home in conference play. Washington is on the bubble, as the seventh of seven Pac 12 teams in our bracketology but leads the conference with three top-25 wins. With Utah, Colorado, and California up next on the schedule, this could be the four-game stretch that makes or breaks the Huskies' season.
8. Virginia (9) at Pittsburgh
Saturday, 12 p.m., ESPN3
There is no doubt that Pitt controls their own NCAA Tournament destiny as we head into the last full month of the regular season. The Panthers are 6-3 in the ACC with games left against Miami, UNC, Syracuse, Louisville, and Duke after Saturday's home date with Virginia. The good news: wins against any of those teams will be significant boosts to Pitt's tournament resume, which already features wins at Notre Dame and Florida State. The bad news: Pitt only has one "gimme" left on the schedule (home for Wake Forest), so the Panthers will have to battle their way to .500 or better in conference play. If they get to 10 wins before the conference tournament, they should be in good shape to earn a bid.
7. Utah at Oregon (16)
Sunday, 4 p.m., ESPN
Oregon's rolling right now, as winners of seven of eight who have jumped from unranked to 16th in the country in just three weeks. They'll take on a Utah team that they already beat by 16 in Salt Lake City. These two teams have combined for 23 top-100 wins so far, so they'll both be dancing come March. A win here for the Utes, to add to a neutral court win over Duke in December, would really help them stand out from the Pac 12 crowd in the eyes of the tournament committee.
6. Florida at Kentucky (20)
Saturday, 4 p.m., CBS
Florida is an 8 seed in our latest bracketology and on the rise after a convincing win against West Virginia at home last Saturday. Though not known for their offense, the Gators shot a blistering 12-for-20 from three-point range against one of the nation's best defenses. They'll look to add another big win against Kentucky, who took at bad loss at Tennessee this week after an impressive showing in an overtime loss at Kansas last Saturday. Whoever wins this game could emerge as Texas A&M's biggest threat in the SEC, though these two will meet again a month from now in Gainesville.
5. Michigan State (10) at Michigan
Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS
The Wolverines are looking to bounce back after Indiana's offense torched them at home on Tuesday. In the latest installment of the battle for America's mitten, the matchup of Michigan's offense versus Michigan State's defense should be fascinating, to say the least. Michigan has the fifth-best Effective Field Goal Percentage, according to KenPom, while Michigan State allows the lowest Effective Field Goal Percentage in the country. The Spartans, counter-intuitively, are the third worst team in the country at generating turnovers, while Michigan is one of the top-10 ball control teams in the nation.
4. North Carolina (2) at Notre Dame
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
After taking care of business against the much lighter half of their conference schedule, the Tar Heels fell at Louisville on Monday night. They should have a much easier time scoring against Notre Dame, the 233rd-ranked defense in our Defensive Efficiency ratings. Notre Dame is always tough at home, though, and features the number-one offense in the country, according to KenPom's Adjusted Offensive Efficiency ratings. Fans of seeing the ball go through the hoop will want to check this one out.
3. Baylor (15) at West Virginia (14)
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPN2
This game will be a battle of the AP rankings versus advanced statistic measures. The AP has these teams ranked one right after the other, but our nERD power rankings have 27 spots between West Virginia (4th) and Baylor (31st). West Virginia's got the better tournament resume of the two right now, but Baylor's offense (ranked 15th in Offensive Efficiency) should give the Bears a shot at stealing one against the Mountaineers' 4th-ranked defense.
2. Villanova (3) at Providence (11)
Saturday, 2:30 p.m., FS1
Strictly based on AP rankings and with the higher-seeded team on the road, this came very close to being our top-ranked game of the weekend. But Providence lost this week to DePaul. I'd be the first to admit that this ranking of games ends up being a bit subjective, but if we are going to have one rule, it's this: don't lose to DePaul. Villanova will be out for revenge after being handed their first Big East loss in a year, and a rare loss at home, two weeks ago when they fell to Providence. Friars' forward Ben Bentil was a beast in that game, but he's questionable for Saturday after leaving the DePaul game early. So is Villanova center Daniel Ochefu, after sustaining a concussion in practice last week. If neither plays, expect this to be a tense, low-scoring game as both sides attempt to win a battle of attrition on the offensive end.
1. Purdue (18) at Maryland (4)
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
Our numbers have these Big Ten foes more evenly matched than any of the other pairings we've featured, so if our power rankings have anything to say about it, this should be a close and exciting game. Maryland's 16th overall in our rankings, and 10th in KenPom's rankings. Purdue is 10th in KenPom's overall rankings, and 13th in ours. This is the biggest potential win remaining on Purdue's regular season schedule, while Maryland needs to protect home court with a rematch coming in West Lafayette three weeks from now.