No. 5 Arizona at No. 13 Oregon, Sat. 4:00 p.m.: First place in the Pac-12 is on the line on Saturday afternoon as Arizona, who currently sits at 10-0 in the league, a game ahead of the Ducks, makes the trek up to Eugene to square off with Oregon. The Wildcats have quietly turned into one of the nation’s best and most dangerous teams. They vaulted their way among the elite when Allonzo Trier returned, which just so happened to coincide with Arizona’s 96-85 win in Pauley Pavilion.
But Trier has turned into the best guard on the Wildcats, which is saying quite a bit considering how well Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins have played at times this season. Coming off the bench, Trier is averaging 14.8 points and 3.8 assists after his 18-point outburst on Thursday night, a season-high, and the key for Sean Miller moving forward is going to be how he manages egos and playing time. Because Trier needs to be on the floor. But Simmons and Alkins have become accustomed to playing 29 minutes a night, and not only is Trier cutting into their minutes but Parker Jackson-Cartwright, who missed time with an ankle injury early in league play, is healthy and playing well, too.
And that’s before you factor in Kadeem Allen, who has turned into the defensive stopper and glue guy this group needed. Throw in Lauri Markannen – who, by the way, is having an all-american season – and Dusan Ristic, and this Arizona team that had depth and experience issues entering the year suddenly has a wealth of weapons.
They’ll pay a visit to an Oregon team that is coming off a strenuous, one-point win over Arizona State. The Sun Devil guards ripped the Ducks apart on Thursday, which isn’t a good sign considering that Arizona’s back court is, well, better. The Wildcats, however, are going to have to figure out a way to deal with Dillon Brooks, who went off for 27 points on Thursday night – including the final 12 for the Ducks – as he continues to prove just how good he is when he’s healthy.
Sitting a game out of first place in the conference, Oregon more or less has to win this if they want a shot at the conference regular season title. There is no return trip to the McKale Center, and not only does Oregon have to make a trip to Pauley Pavilion next week, but the Wildcats get UCLA at home later this year. If Arizona is good enough to win in Eugene, they’re probably good enough that they won’t blow a two-game lead with seven games left.
And if Arizona is able to get this win, the battle for the No. 1 seed in the west with Gonzaga is going to get awful interesting.
- PREDICTION: I actually think that Arizona will go in and win this outright, so I’ll take Arizona (+2).
No. 23 Purdue at No. 17 Maryland, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: There are Big Ten title implications in this game. Maryland sits tied with Wisconsin for first place, a full two games ahead of both Purdue and and Northwestern. If the Boilermakers lose this, any chance they had of winning a Big Ten regular season title is all-but out the window. You don’t make up three games on two teams in the span of a month. It doesn’t work that way.
But the far more interesting angle here is in regard to Maryland. The Terps are 20-2 this season. They’re ranked No. 17 in the country. They’re 8-1 in the Big Ten. And they have yet to play a single team that is currently ranked in the top 25 or that was ranked in the top 25 at the time that they played them. Purdue will be the first.
RELATED: What should we make of Maryland?
It’s that lack of elite competition, and the fact that the Terps seem to play everyone close, regardless of how good they are, that has people wondering whether or not Maryland is the real deal. This will be their chance to prove it.
- PREDICTION: I expect this game to be close. KenPom expects this game to be close. Melo Trimble, in his career, is 29-6 in games decided by six points or less, including 9-1 this season. If you can get Maryland (+3), take it.
No. 8 Kentucky at No. 24 Florida, Sat. 8:15 p.m.: For those of you that want to see Kentucky lose out on the SEC regular season title, this game could not have come at a more perfect moment in time. The Gators after playing some of their best basketball of the season at the moment while Kentucky is doing exactly the opposite. The Wildcats lost at Tennessee last week and followed that up with a home loss to Kansas over the weekend. On Tuesday night, Malik Monk’s 37-point outburst is the only thing that kept the Wildcats from dropping a game to Georgia at home, and all this is going on while De’Aaron Fox and, seemingly, half the Kentucky roster battles some sort of stomach bug.
The way the SEC standings currently breakdown, Kentucky is tied for first in the conference with South Carolina at 8-1 while Florida sits a game back of them at 7-2. This is Florida’s chance.
- PREDICTION: KenPom is currently projecting a two-point Florida win, but KenPom’s ratings of Florida might be skewed a little bit because the Gators were unable to play in the O-Dome until Dec. 21st. Still, I think I’d take Florida (-2).
FIVE MORE GAMES TO WATCH
- No. 20 Notre Dame at No. 12 North Carolina, Sat. 6:00 p.m.: The Game of the Weekend in the ACC. The Irish enter this one having lost three straight and four of their last five games. Righting that ship is not going to be an easy thing to do in the Dean Dome. PREDICTION: North Carolina (-9)
- No. 9 Virginia at Syracuse, Sat. 12:00 p.m.: This game is more or less a must-win for a Syracuse team that badly needs marquee wins to make up for some of the horrendous losses they took earlier this season. The Orange have won three straight. PREDICTION: Syracuse (+7)
- Xavier at No. 22 Creighton, Sat. 3:00 p.m.: Two teams learning to play without their star point guards. Xavier barely survived Seton Hall at home on Wednesday, and now they have to head to play a Creighton team in Omaha coming off of a win at Butler. PREDICTION: Creighton (-6)
- Illinois State at Wichita State, Sat. 8:00 p.m.: This is Illinois State’s chance to essentially lock up the MVC regular season title; they sit a game in front of the Shockers in the standings. And Illinois State win here and a Wichita State conference tournament title is also probably the only way the MVC will get two bids into the NCAA tournament. PREDICTION: Wichita State (-7)
- Iowa State at No. 3 Kansas, Sat. 2:00 p.m.: It always seems to be a thriller when these two programs get together, and while the Cyclones seemed destined to spend the next month on the bubble, it is worth noting that the Jayhawks can’t seem to keep themselves out of the headlines for off-the-court stuff. Can Iowa State strike while the iron is … distracted? PREDICTION: Kansas (-10)