Ranking the Must-See NCAA Basketball Games This Weekend

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 26, 2012

Ranking the Must-See NCAA Basketball Games This Weekend

0 of 11

    As college basketball enters the final weekend of 2012, the contenders for the national championship have begun to show themselves. 

    The final weekend before conference play begins is not known as a weekend with many marquee games, but there are plenty of great clashes this time around. 

    Of the teams ranked in the AP Top 25, 16 are in action at some point this weekend, with no games involving two ranked teams. 

    Of the 16 teams involved in play this weekend, three will face difficult road tests, and two will take on in-state rivals. 

    Here is the complete list of the 10 games you should watch on the final weekend of 2012. 


1 of 11

    A must-see game in college basketball can be defined by many things. 

    The first and easiest of the factors that play into the determination of the weekly rankings is a game between two teams in the AP Top 25. 

    Other factors that go into determining the list each week are games involving two teams from the same conference, neutral site games and risky road trips by ranked teams. 

    The final criteria used for this week's list was the matchups between two historically strong programs, like Kentucky vs. Louisville and Missouri vs. UCLA. 

    As the calendar turns to 2013, the criteria will change as conference play and the race for March begins to heat up.  

10. Eastern Kentucky at West Virginia

2 of 11

    When: Sunday, 4 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN3

    Going into the season, not many people expected Eastern Kentucky (10-2) to have a better record than West Virginia (6-5).

    That is the case going into Sunday's game at the WVU Coliseum. 

    Sunday will mark the final game in a six-game road trip for Eastern Kentucky, which included its first two losses of the season to Illinois and North Carolina A&T. 

    The Colonels may be the only challenger to Murray State in the Ohio Valley Conference this season, and a win in Morgantown would help their resume if they can not receive the automatic bid out of the OVC.

    For those waiting for the clash of the OVC titans, you will not have to wait long, as the two teams play on January 9 at Murray State.

    West Virginia has had a rough start to the season away from Morgantown, but it is a perfect 4-0 at home. 

    Away from their home court, the Mountaineers have suffered greatly, with losses to Michigan, Gonzaga, Davidson, Oklahoma and Duquense.

    The Mountaineers should win this game against their mid-major opponents, but do not be surprised if the Colonels give them a test throughout the game.  

9. Virginia Tech at Brigham Young

3 of 11

    When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPNU

    Virginia Tech (9-3) has had a rocky past few weeks since falling from the ranks of the unbeatens at West Virginia on December 8. 

    The latest loss suffered by the Hokies came on Sunday night in Las Vegas against Colorado State. 

    Just a day before their loss, the Hokies struggled to defeat Bradley in overtime. 

    Another mid-major is ahead for James Johnson's team on Saturday when they make the trek to Salt Lake City to play BYU (8-4).

    After losing to Florida State and Notre Dame at the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic early in the season, the Cougars have won six of their last eight games. 

    All of the Cougars' four losses this season have come against teams from BCS conferences. 

    A win at home over Virginia Tech of the ACC will give the Cougars plenty of positive momentum heading into their difficult WCC schedule. 

    The player to watch in this game is Virginia Tech's Erick Green, who has scored over 20 points in every game this season. 

8. Dayton at USC

4 of 11

    When: Sunday, 7 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: Pac-12 Network 

    Dayton solidified its status as one of the best mid-major teams in the country last week by taking down Murray State at home.

    Now, the Flyers (9-3) must make the trip to Los Angeles to play USC (4-8) at the Galen Center. 

    Sunday's game will be just the second road game for the Flyers this season; they won their first road test at Alabama on December 5. 

    After winning three of their first four games, the Trojans have won just one game since returning from the Maui Invitational.

    In the Trojans defense, they have played a difficult nonconference schedule including four teams in the AP Top 25. 

    It will be a tough cross-country trip for Dayton to make, but it should be able to take care of a hurting USC team that will most likely finish last in the Pac-12 this season. 

7. Xavier at Tennessee

5 of 11

    When: Saturday, 6.p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPNU

    Xavier (7-4) came into the season as one of the teams to watch in the Atlantic 10, but recent losses to Cincinnati and Wofford have quieted the fans of the Musketeers. 

    Chris Mack leads his team into Knoxville on Saturday in search of the team's first win since December 9.

    The game on Saturday is the first part of a tricky two-game road trip that also includes a visit to Wake Forest on Wednesday to end nonconference play for the Musketeers. 

    Tennessee (7-3) brings a three-game winning streak into the game with Xavier, a streak that started with a win over Wichita State on December 13. 

    Cuonzo Martin's Volunteers are 5-0 at Thompson-Boling Arena this season, and they will look to stay perfect at home while picking up a quality win. 

    When March comes around, the Vols may be one of the teams flying under the radar. They will also not get much national attention until the final few weeks of the season when they play the two powerhouses of the SEC this season, Missouri and Florida. 

    This is a tricky game to predict, but based on recent trends, the Vols should come out of this game with a win. 

6. No. 20 UNLV at North Carolina

6 of 11

    When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN2

    No. 20 UNLV (11-1) will get a chance to show itself off to the East Coast viewing audience on Saturday when it visits Chapel Hill to face North Carolina (9-3).

    The Rebels have played a relatively easy nonconference schedule up to this point, and a road trip to Chapel Hill will be their biggest test of the season so far. 

    The leader of the Rebels is freshman Anthony Bennett, who is averaging 19.5 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. 

    Bennett has stepped up in the absence of the injured Mike Moser, who was poised for a breakout season in his junior year. 

    Since being smacked around by two Indiana teams, Butler and Indiana, the young Tar Heels have begun to gel. 

    In the month of December, Roy Williams and company have gone 4-1, with a loss on the road to Texas being the only slip-up.

    Both teams will be looking to come away from Saturday with a signature win. Expect this one to come down to the wire, but Bennett may be too much for the Tar Heels in the end. 

5. Northern Iowa at Wichita State

7 of 11

    When: Sunday, 6 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN3

    Missouri Valley Conference play kicks off on Sunday with a matchup between two of the conference's best teams.

    Northern Iowa (7-5) played a difficult nonconference schedule and was unable to come up with any marquee wins against teams from BCS conferences. 

    The Panthers were able to beat fellow mid-majors George Mason and St. Mary's, two accomplishments that could help them greatly in March. 

    Ben Jacobson's team will be looking to avenge their two losses at the hands of Wichita State (11-1) last season. 

    Wichita State cruised through nonconference play with just one loss, which came on December 13 to Tennessee. 

    The Shockers are expected to be the main challengers to Creighton for the conference crown, and they can not afford to lose at home to Northern Iowa. 

    Wichita State is the better team going into Sunday's game, and it should defeat its conference foes at home.

4. No. 18 Butler at Vanderbilt

8 of 11

    When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPNU

    Butler (9-2) is still on a high after beating Indiana two weeks ago in Indianapolis.

    The Bulldogs will have to be fully focused on Saturday as they make the trip to Nashville to visit Vanderbilt (5-5).

    This matchup has all the right ingredients for an upset in the making. 

    Vanderbilt is looking for a big win to turn around its season, and Butler will be going into the game as heavy favorites. 

    There is no doubt that Brad Stevens' Bulldogs will face a tougher task than they expect going into Nashville. 

    The key to the game will be if Butler can regain its composure in a difficult road environment if it does fall behind early. 

3. No. 7 Missouri at UCLA

9 of 11

    When: Friday, 10 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN2

    Missouri (10-1) defeated rivals Illinois on Saturday, and it now faces a tough task on the West Coast Friday night. 

    The Tigers will visit Pauley Pavilion to face UCLA (9-3) in a very intriguing game. 

    Missouri is one of the most well-rounded teams in the nation, with star point guard Phil Pressey being complemented by star big man Alex Oriakhi.

    Also in the strong Tigers lineup are leading scorer Laurence Bowers and the newly-eligible Jabari Brown. 

    The Bruins had a turbulent start to the season, but they have righted the ship and won their last four games. 

    Shabazz Muhammad has finally found his groove and is averaging 18.8 points per game.

    The supporting cast around Muhammad is also beginning to mesh well together. 

    The key players on Friday night for the Bruins will be the role players surrounding the star freshman.

    Larry Drew II, Jordan Adams and the Wear brothers, David and Travis, will have to step up to give the Bruins a fighting chance. 

    Missouri comes into Friday night's showdown as the favorite, and it should come out of Pauley Pavilion with the victory. 

2. Baylor at No. 13 Gonzaga

10 of 11

    When: Friday, 8 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN2

    The appetizer to Friday night's clash in Westwood comes to us from Spokane as Gonzaga (11-1) welcomes Baylor (8-3) to the McCarthey Athletic Center. 

    The Bears will only be playing their second true road game of the season on Friday.

    Their first road trip went quite well, as they went into Rupp Arena and defeated Kentucky 64-55. 

    Scott Drew's team contains one of the best point guards in the nation, Pierre Jackson, and one of the best freshmen in the nation, Isaiah Austin. 

    If Baylor is going to win in Spokane, it will need to follow the blueprint that Illinois used to win on December 8, by having strong guard play. 

    Gonzaga has recovered from its loss to Illinois with wins over Kansas State and Campbell in the past two weeks.

    Now, it faces the toughest four-day stretch of its season, as it hosts Baylor and then visits Oklahoma State on Monday in Stillwater. 

    Mark Few's team can not afford to look ahead to the Oklahoma State game. If it does, it will be caught off-guard by a deceptively strong Baylor team. 

    This is Gonzaga's game to lose, but do not be surprised if the Bears pull off an upset in Spokane.

1. Kentucky at No. 4 Louisville

11 of 11

    When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: CBS

    Just because the rivalry game between the two Kentucky powerhouses is not a game between two ranked teams does not mean that this game will not be exciting.

    Kentucky (8-3) has pulled off four straight wins after losing to Notre Dame and Baylor in back-to-back games at the end of November.

    The outstanding freshman class that the Wildcats possess will get a chance to show the nation that their early-season losses were just a fluke.

    With a win, the Wildcats are sure to be back in the AP Top 25 after being absent from the list since the beginning of December.

    Louisville (11-1) takes a six-game winning streak into Saturday's home game at the KFC Yum! Center.

    The only loss that the Cardinals suffered this season came in the Battle 4 Atlantis final against Duke.

    In the absence of injured center Gorgui Dieng, the Cardinals have relied on the trio of Montrezl Harrell, Stephan van Treese and Chane Behanan.  

    This will be the biggest test since the Duke game for the trio, as they will go against Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress in the paint. 

    However, the game will be won in the backcourt, where Louisville has the advantage with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, who form one of the best guard combinations in the nation. 

    What do you think is the biggest game of the weekend?

    Comment below or leave me a comment on Twitter, @JTansey90