GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 23 Iowa at No. 17 Iowa State, Fri. 9:30 p.m. (all times eastern)
It’s been a while since this in-state rivalry game held as much meaning as it does this season. The Cyclones enter the season as one of the nation’s most surprising teams, a group that Fred Hoiberg has kept quite relevant despite the fact that they’ve lost a number of key pieces over the course of the last couple of seasons. This year, it’s been the arrival of Deandre Kane and the impressive play of guy like Georges Niang, Dustin Hogue and Naz Long that have made the difference.
The Hawkeyes are a different story. They’ve been on the brink of a breakthrough for a couple seasons under Fran McCaffery, and it looks like this is the year that it’s finally happened. Iowa is deep, they are balanced, and they are talented. Most importantly, both teams play a fun style of basketball to watch, which can only mean good things for Friday night’s marquee game.
THE OTHER GAME OF THE WEEKEND: No. 11 Kentucky at No. 18 North Carolina, Sat. 5:15 p.m.
Kentucky’s in trouble, right? As many issues as North Carolina has this season, they’ve knocked off both Louisville and Michigan State already. The Heels can’t handle the likes of Belmont or UAB, but if you entered the season as a Final Four favorite, the last thing you want to do is go up against these Heels.
I’m mostly joking, because I think Kentucky’s size actually nullifies a lot of what North Carolina is going to try to do. The Heels picked up those two wins because of the play of their big guys, specifically Kennedy Meeks, on the interior. What happens when Meeks runs into Julius Randle and Willie Cauley-Stein? What will be interesting to keep an eye on, however, is Kentucky’s defense. They’ve struggled with the pick-and-roll and defensive rebounding the last couple of games.
FIVE MORE TO KEEP AN EYE ON:
- No. 1 Arizona at Michigan, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This game had a lot more intrigue before Michigan’s flaws early on this season became so readily apparent. That said, the Wolverines may actually have more individual talent than the Wildcats. Nick Johnson vs. Nik Stauskas will be fun.
- Tennessee at No. 12 Wichita State, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: A football game on a basketball court. The Vols handed the Shockers their first loss last season, and WSU will look to return the favor.
- Notre Dame vs. Indiana, Sat. 3:15 p.m.: Interesting contrast of styles here. Notre Dame has a ton of shooters and guard play but lacks the length and athleticism to be tough defensively. Indiana? Well, they’re the exact opposite.
- St. Mary’s at Boise State, Sat. 6:05 p.m.: Two of the nation’s better under-the-radar teams this season. Both need the win to make a statement and help bolster their league’s non-conference resume. Brad Waldow for St. Mary’s is the truth; he should have a big game.
- No. 2 Syracuse at St. John’s, Sun. 12:00 p.m.: An old school Big East reunion at the Garden! St. John’s has been a bit of a disappointment this season, and they certainly won’t be more athletic than the Orange.
WHO’S ON UPSET ALERT?
- Eastern Kentucky at No. 4 Wisconsin, Sat. 1:00 p.m.: I know how good Wisconsin is this season and I know how good they are at home, but EKU is a good team this season.
- No. 7 Oklahoma State at Louisiana Tech, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: Louisiana Tech likes to pressure, and the knock on Marcus Smart this season is that he has been a bit turnover prone.
- New Mexico at No. 13 Kansas, Sat. 7:00 p.m.: The Lobos might be getting the Jayhawks at the wrong time, as they’re coming off of two losses, but they matchup well with Bill Self’s team. Keep an eye on Alex Kirk and Cameron Bairstow.
- La Salle at No. 10 Villanova, Sun. 2:30 p.m.: Big 5 hoops. Guards on guards on guards. Games like this never seem to disappoint.
FIVE MORE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:
1) West Virginia at Marshall, Sat. 7:30 p.m.: The Friends of Coal rivalry is intense. Last year, five players were ejected after a scuffle late in the game. The basketball isn’t great, but games where a fight could break out at any moment are fun. I’d love to see Bob Huggins and Tom Herrion get into a ring.
2) Cincinnati vs. Xavier, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: The Crosstown Shootout, which is no longer called the Crosstown Shootout. Everything I said about the Friends of Coal game could be said about this rivalry. Remember this?
3) North Dakota State at No. 3 Ohio State, Sat. 8:15 p.m.: North Dakota State is good. They just beat Notre Dame at Notre Dame. Taylor Braun and Marshall Bjorklund are legit. Plus, they calmly slop pigs in the middle of the day.
4) Illinois at No. 15 Oregon, Sat. 9:00 p.m.: Illinois really needs to pick up a marquee victory. For the Ducks, this will be the last time they have to play without Dominic Artis and Ben Carter. It’s also the last chance for Johnathon Loyd to prove he deserves playing time along side — or ahead — of Artis.
5) BYU at Utah, Sat. 10:00 p.m.: More in-state rivalry games. This may be the last time that the Cougars head to Salt Lake for a while.