Sat. 12:30 pm: No. 17 Wisconsin @ Northwestern: There may not be a team in the country that needs a win on Saturday as badly as the Wildcats need this win. This was supposed to be the year for Northwestern. Most of the experts expected the Wildcats to compete for a tournament bid, and while it is far too early in the season to count them out, its been a tough go of things thus far. They have lost just about every meaningful game that they have played — including their first four against the Big Ten’s heavyweights — but at least now they have a healthy John Shurna.
Wisconsin is a good matchup for Northwestern. The Wildcats are not a very good defensive team by any stretch of the imagination, and Wisconsin will surely exploit that. They are the country’s sixth best team in terms of offensive efficiency in very large part due to their offensive execution. It also helps to have talents like Jon Leuer, Jordan Taylor, and Keaton Nankivil executing that offense. Bo Ryan is a great coach, and I have no doubt that he will be able to scheme a way for the Badgers to score.
But Northwestern is pretty good offensively as well, and while the Badgers low scoring games might lead you to believe that they are great defensively, those numbers are more a result of their snail’s pace — they are the third slowest team in all of college basketball — than a stifling defense.
Wisconsin also struggles to defend the three, which just so happens to be Northwestern’s strongest strong suit. The Wildcats run a Princeton-style offense, and with shooters seemingly everywhere on the floor, they are quite successful at spreading the floor and getting good looks. If the threes are falling, the Badgers could be in trouble.
Sat. 2:00 pm: Tennessee @ No. 8 UConn: You can call Tennessee’s win at Georgia the by product of a couple lucky calls, and I probably won’t disagree with you. You can say their 17 point comeback against Vanderbilt was fluky, and you’d have a very good point. But what you cannot argue is that the Vols look like they are regaining some of the confidence and swagger that they had in beating Pitt and Villanova. Tennessee also is a good defensive team when they want to be. Melvin Goins is strong, quick, and athletic, and if you saw what he and Scotty Hopson did to Villanova’s back court defensively, then you wouldn’t be surprised if he was able to slow down Kemba Walker. Brian Williams and John Fields are also both big and strong enough to give Alex Oriakhi fits. Throw in the fact that Bruce Pearl is back for this one, and you should expect Tennessee to come out firing on all cylinders.
Sat. 6:00 pm: No. 12 Kentucky @ South Carolina: Quick, take a guess at who is currently leading the SEC East as the only 3-1 team? Give up? Its South Carolina. The Gamecocks are a scrappy team, led by Sam Muldrow and Bruce Ellington, that has already beaten Florida and Vanderbilt. If you remember back to last season, Devan Downey led the Gamecocks to a memorable win over then-undefeated Kentucky in Columbia. The Wildcats have also struggled in true road games, losing three of four to Georgia, Alabama, and UNC. Ellington may not be Downey, but anyone that saw his performance against Vanderbilt would not be surprised if he rose to the occasion on Saturday.
Sat. 9:00 pm: No. 9 BYU @ Colorado State: It feels almost criminal to say anything bad about the Jimmer Show right now, but this Colorado State team is a lot better than they are getting credit for. They are coming off of a 15 point win in Vegas against UNLV and also beat Southern Miss and Ole Miss down in Cancun during the Christmas holiday. BYU doesn’t have a great front court, meaning it could be tough for them to matchup with Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin, who of the best forwards you have never seen play. Oh, and CSU held Ole Miss’s Chris Warren to 11 points on 3-17 shooting in Cancun. If they can slow down Jimmer — who had his worst game of the season against TCU his last time out — they have enough that they could spring this upset.
Sat. 10:30 pm: No. 25 Arizona @ Washington State: Arizona has not been a great team on the road this season. They already lost this season at Oregon State and are coming off of a pretty thorough beating at the hands of U-Dub on Thursday night. Wazzu may be in the middle of the Pac-10 right now, but they will have Reggie Moore back for this one. They also have one of the best perimeter scoring duos in the country in Klay Thompson and Faisal Aden, although Aden has struggled a bit of late, reaching double figures only three times in his last seven games. If DeAngelo Casto can avoid getting into foul trouble and slow down Derrick Williams, Arizona could very well head back to Tucson having been swept.
Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 1 Ohio State @ No. 22 Illinois: This will be a real test for the Illini. It is the Big Ten’s worst kept secret that Illinois’ front line is far from overpowering, to say the least. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale, while both talented front court players, are not known for their physical play. Should I mention that the Buckeyes have a kid by the name of Jared Sullinger on their roster who just so happens to be the best low post positional scorer in the country? Ohio State plays tremendous defense, but Illinois is a good offensive team when they play like they did against Michigan State for the first 29 minutes, i.e. when their shots are falling. The key for the Buckeyes will be to keep Demetri McCamey from being able to put the ball on the floor, get into the lane, and kick the ball out to shooters. Tisdale may be the key offensively. His ability to score on the perimeter could cause trouble, as OSU doesn’t exactly have the most mobile front court. Expect a lot of pick-and-pops.
Sat. 12:00 pm: No. 7 Villanova @ No. 3 Syracuse: The past few seasons, it hasn’t gotten much better than a Big East showdown, and this game is no different. Hopefully, Jay Wright has tape of Pitt’s win against Syracuse from this week, because they gave a clinic on how to beat the zone — getting the ball to this high post. Now, Nova does not have the kind of versatile big men that Pitt had (namely, Nasir Robinson), but they do have better penetrators at the guard spot. Pitt’s success came when they screened the top of the zone, so expect some of that from the Wildcats. If Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns can get to the foul line area and find the open man, they have a shot at this. Two other notes — Kris Joseph reportedly practiced on Thursday, meaning he should be ready to play on Saturday, as he fights back from a concussion he suffered against Cincinnati. And when Corey Stokes hits four or more threes, Villanova has lost one game his entire career.
Sat. 2:00 pm: No. 24 Kansas State @ No. 10 Texas A&M: This is a huge game for Kansas State, who desperately needs to string together a couple of wins if they want to turn their season around. Texas proved that the Aggies are very beatable, especially when you have a couple of big men inside. Kansas State does, in Curtis Kelly, Jamar Samuels, and Jordan Henriquez-Roberts. The problem? K-State cannot score, and A&M is good at controlling tempo and making things difficult for teams with mediocre offenses. The key for the Aggies will be whether or not their back court of BJ Holmes and Dash Harris can find any kind of offense. They were a combined 3-10 against Texas and didn’t take a single foul shot.
Sat. 2:00 pm: No. 21 St. Mary’s @ Vanderbilt: Apparently this game is not on TV, which is a shame for basketball fans everywhere. St. Mary’s is looking more and more like the best team in the WCC. Mickey McConnell has been sensational this season, playing as efficiently and intelligently as you can as a point guard. He’s great off of the pick-and-roll, and is arguably the best shooter in the country when he gets time. Matthew Dellavedova is underrated on the wing, and Rob Jones showed everyone why the Gaels were excited about his addition with an 18 point, 13 rebound performance against his old team San Diego. It should be fun to see him match up with Jeff Taylor. Where the Gaels could be in trouble in inside. Fetsus Ezeli is as improved inside as anyone in the country, and Steve Tchiengang and Lance Goulbourne are both big, athletic players. This has the makings of a potential 7-10 matchup in the tournament.
Sat. 3:00 pm: Temple @ Xavier: Forgive me, Duquesne fans, but until one of these teams proves otherwise, I’m assuming that these are the two best teams in the A-10. Temple, who has been playing with a beatup Juan Fernandez, did just get dominated by the Dukes on the road, but I still like what they offer. They defend, they have size, and they have a star in the making in Ramone Moore. Xavier has been ravaged by injury this year, crippling their rotation, but they still have Tu Holloway, who we may as well dub Kemba Walker 2.0. If the Owls can slow down Holloway, they have a chance to win in the Cintas Center.
Sat. 4:00 pm: No. 11 Texas @ No. 2 Kansas: Its hard to believe that this, the one and only matchup between the two best teams in the Big XII, is not a lock for the best game of the day. The Jayhawks have arguably the best front court duo in the country in the Morrii. Their both talented and versatile scorers that could eventually both go in the first round of the draft. Throw in Thomas Robinson, a potential NBA Draft pick, off the bench, and Tristan Thompson and Gary Johnson will have their hands full up front. That said, I’m not sure Kansas has an answer for Jordan Hamilton, the Longhorn’s star sophomore that has blossomed into one of the best scorer’s in the country. Texas wins because of their defense, but Kansas may actually be a better team on that end of the floor. I could write a thousand words previewing this game, but only two are really needed — just watch.
Sat. 4:00 pm: VCU @ Old Dominion: For my money, these are the two best teams in the CAA, and they couldn’t be anymore different. ODU is a grind-it-out defensive team whose best offense at times is to crash the offensive glass that loves to slow the pace. VCU presses, shoot a lot of threes, and likes to play zone in the half court. The most important player on the floor? VCU’s center Jamie Skeen. They are going to need a big-time rebounding performance out of him Saturday.
Sat. 4:00 pm: UNLV @ New Mexico: There is an argument to be made that this is the most important game of the day. UNLV is currently sitting at 2-3 in the MWC. New Mexico is just 1-3. Safe to say, both are really struggling right now, and both desperately need a win to remain relevant in the conference — and at-large — race. For the loser, it may end up meaning that a miracle run to close out the season, or a win in the conference tournament, is the only way they will be dancing.
Sat. 7:00 pm: Marquette @ No. 16 Notre Dame: Marquette just beat the Irish by 22 points in the Bradley Center, but as we’ve said so many times in this space, Notre Dame is a different team at home and on the road. Marquette is reknowned for their ability to turn every game into a barnburner, and this one should be no different. What makes this game all the more intriguing is how well their personnel matchup. Both are guard heavy teams and both have a bevy of skilled and versatile front court players. The Irish have finally gotten Carleton Scott back from injury, which should be a boost for them.
Sat. 7:00 pm: Boston College @ Florida State: Want to hear something crazy? Boston College and Florida State are currently tied with Duke for first in the ACC. Even crazier? Neither can remotely be considered a lock for the NCAA Tournament. We have been talking for a long time about whether someone will emerge as the second best team in the conference. That team may just be the winner of this game. Reggie Jackson is the key. He’s a terrific talent, but FSU also happens to be one of the best defensive teams in the country.
Sat. 9:00 pm: No. 18 Purdue @ No. 13 Michigan State: Capping off a day loaded with great games is ESPN’s Gameday battle between the Boilermakers and the Spartans. Purdue started out the season strong, but has slumped a bit of late, losing two of three and needing a late JaJuan Johnson jumper to beat Penn State on Wednesday. Michigan State, on the other hand, seems to finally be settling into a rhythm. They pulled out wins against Wisconsin and Northwestern at home in overtime, and while they lost to Illinois on the road, the Spartans started to finally look like the Spartans. A couple of made jumpers down the stretch, and that outcome would have been different. E’Twaun Moore has been struggling the past five games, and Purdue is going to beed him to wake up. For Michigan State, the key is going to be avoiding settling for jumpers against Purdue’s stingy defense. I expect a big game out of Draymond Green, who is a matchup problem for Purdue, but unless Johnson is struggling from the floor, I don’t see the Spartans being able to slow him down, even with Delvon Roe’s improved play on the defensive end.
- 7:00 pm: Belmont @ USC-Upstate: Belmont is beating Atlantic Sun opponents by 28 points a game. USCU is 2-15 on the season. This could get ugly.
- 7:00 pm: Green Bay @ Butler: I mean, its Butler.
- 11:00 am: George Mason @ James Madison: There are five teams at the top of the CAA. These are two of them.
- 12:00 pm: Richmond @ UMass: Would you be surprised if I told you UMass was tied for second in the A-10 with Richmond?
- 1:30 pm: Colorado @ Oklahoma: If Colorado is remotely for real, they have to win this game.
- 2:00 pm: Stanford @ UCLA: It wasn’t too long ago that this was annually a huge game.
- 2:00 pm: Wright State @ Cleveland State: Huge game in the Horizon.
- 2:00 pm: Charlotte @ Duquesne: Duquesne looks like they could really be the best team in the A-10.
- 2:00 pm: Hofstra @ William & Mary: Charles Jenkins has put this Pride team on his back. It would be a great story if he could carry them to the CAA title.
- 2:30 pm: Clemson @ Maryland: Maryland passes the eye test, but they haven’t been able to get a big win this season.
- 4:00 pm: No. 4 Pitt @ DePaul: I don’t think that Pitt will lose their first Big East game this weekend.
- 4:00 pm: No. 5 Duke @ Wake Forest: Wake Forest lost to Georgia Tech 74-39. What’s the spread on this game going to be?
- 4:00 pm: Arizona State @ No. 20 Washington: The Huskies proved themselves to be the best team in the Pac-10 when they beat Arizona. Will there be a letdown? Can Arizona State turn their season around?
- 4:00 pm: Mississippi State @ Georgia: Renardo Sidney, Dee Bost, and Ravern Johnson vs. Trey Thompkins, Gerald Robinson, and Travis Leslie? That will be fun.
- 4:00 pm: Appalachian State @ Charleston: Donald Lee vs. Andrew Goudelock? Yes please.
- 4:00 pm: St. John’s @ Cincinnati: Games like this will help weed out the pretenders and the contenders for an at-large bid from the middle of the Big East.
- 4:30 pm: Chattanooga @ Furman: Can the Mocs rebound from an embarrassing loss to Wofford?
- 4:30 pm: Hampton @ Bethune-Cookman: Big game at the top of the MEAC.
- 4:30 pm: Morgan State @ Delaware State: Ditto.
- 5:00 pm: No. 15 Louisville @ Providence: Two pressing teams that jack up threes? If they are both hot, this could reach the 90’s.
- 5:00 pm: Creighton @ Missouri State: This is almost a must-win for Creighton if they want to remain in the hunt for the MVC title.
- 7:00 pm: No. 19 Minnesota @ Michigan: Darius Morris, Michigan’s point guard, is one of the best players you have never seen.
- 7:00 pm: Memphis @ UAB: Memphis will likely be without Wesley Witherspoon again. Can they continue their two game winning streak against another C-USA contender?
- 8:00 pm: Arkansas @ Florida: I think we all want to erase the image of Florida’s 45-40 win over Auburn from our memory banks.
- 8:00 pm: Gonzaga @ San Francisco: Gonzaga’s success has made the WCC better, but it has also made the conference tougher. The Dons are tied with the Zags at 3-1 in the league.
- 8:05 pm: Indiana State @ Wichita State: Another huge game at the top of the MVC. Its also ISU’s first real road test in league play.
- 9:00 pm: Iowa State @ No. 14 Missouri: The Cyclones are better than we expected, but they’ve come up short a couple of times in Big XII play. Their threes will need to fall if they want to win.
- 9:05 pm: Montana State @ Montana: Second place in the Big Sky is on the line.
- 11:00 pm: New Mexico State @ Utah State: I think we all expected these to be the two best teams in the WAC. If you haven’t seen Troy Gillenwater play, he’s worth the two hours.
- 2:00 pm: South Florida @ West Virginia: One day soon we are going to find out who the real West Virginia is. If we do on Sunday, its bad news for the Mountaineers.
- 4:00 pm: Belmont @ East Tennessee State: The biggest game of the Atlantic Sun schedule to date.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.