Ranking the Must-See NCAA Basketball Games This Weekend

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistJanuary 2, 2013

Ranking the Must-See NCAA Basketball Games This Weekend

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    With the changing of the calendar from 2012 to 2013, the college basketball world will get its first full weekend of conference play. 

    During the week, conference play got off to a fantastic start with close battles between rivals in the Big Ten and Big East. 

    Those two power conferences along with the rest of the country will take to the court over the weekend looking to get a quick start in conference play.

    However, not all the games this weekend involve two conference rivals; there are still a few nonconference games still on the slate.

    The combination of strong conference matchups and the final remnants of nonconference play make up the 10 best games in college basketball this weekend. 

Criteria

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    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. 

    With conference play entering the fold this weekend, the criteria for making the list changes a bit. 

    Ranked teams will have to make difficult road trips to unruly arenas that belong to unranked teams that are looking to pull off an upset.

    The possibility of an upset, as well as past history between conference rivals, are two very important criteria that play a factor in this week's list. 

    Also playing into this week's list is the high marketability of the few nonconference games still left to be played before full-blown conference play begins on Monday. 

10. Washington at Washington State

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    When: Saturday, 9:30 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPNU

    This week's list of games to watch gets kicked off by a rivalry game between two Pac-12 teams in Pullman, Washington. 

    Washington (8-5) start Pac-12 play with three straight road games, beginning with their trip to Pullman to play rivals Washington State (9-4). 

    The Huskies have played just two true road games this season and have gone 1-1 in those games; the loss came at the hands of UConn last Saturday. 

    Lorenzo Romar's team won both meetings between the two teams last season and will look to extend its winning streak to three games against the Cougars. 

    Washington State possesses one of the most underrated players in the country in senior forward Brock Motum.

    Motum is averaging a team-high 19.7 points per game and seven rebounds per game. 

    The Cougars almost pulled off upsets against Texas A&M and Gonzaga in nonconference play, and they lost by two to the Zags and by one to the Aggies. 

    Motum's talent gives the Cougars the advantage in the paint, but the Huskies possess the better players in backcourt with C.J. Wilcox and Abdul Gaddy. 

    As it is with most rivalry games, anything can happen, but the home team has the slight advantage going into Saturday in this showdown. 

9. No. 24 Pittsburgh at Rutgers

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    When: Saturday, 11 a.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN2 

    The Pittsburgh Panthers (12-2) will look to rebound from their loss to Cincinnati with a win over Rutgers (9-3) in New Brunswick on Saturday. 

    However, this task will not be as easy as it seems as the Louis Brown Athletic Center is one of the most dangerous venues to play at in the Big East. 

    Last season, the Scarlet Knights took down Big East foes UConn, Notre Dame and Cincinnati at home. 

    With a reeling Panthers team entering New Brunswick on Saturday, it could be the perfect time for the hosts to pull off an upset. 

    Losing a second Big East game this early in the season will damage the title hopes of Jamie Dixon's Panthers greatly.

    Pittsburgh also can not look forward to its next conference road trip on Tuesday when it visits Georgetown.

    For the hosts, sophomore guard duo Eli Carter and Myles Mack will have to step up and score above their season averages if the Scarlet Knights have any chance of pulling off the upset. 

8. Texas at Baylor

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    When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPNU

    Texas (8-5) and Baylor (8-4) kick off Big 12 play on Saturday afternoon in Waco in a battle of two teams looking to jump back into the AP Top 25. 

    The Longhorns have won three out of their last four games and seem to finally be clicking without sophomore star Myck Kabongo, who will return from his suspension on February 13. 

    Sophomore guard Sheldon McClellan has taken charge of the Longhorns offense and has become the team's leading scorer in the process. 

    Most of the players on Rick Barnes' roster this season are young and Big 12 play could either be a culture shock for the players or it could surprise a lot of people with strong victories.

    Baylor also has plenty of young talent on its roster, but it also possesses three experienced players in senior Pierre Jackson and juniors Brady Heslip and Cory Jefferson. 

    The battle between Jackson and McClellan in the backcourt will be one to keep an eye on, but this game will be determined in the paint.

    The Bears have a strong frontcourt led by Jefferson and freshman Isaiah Austin, while the Longhorns' freshmen in the paint, Ioannis Papapetrou and Cameron Ridley, are still finding their feet in the college game. 

    Baylor is the favorite going into Saturday's game at the Ferrell Center and should come out on top at the end of the game. 

7. Lehigh at VCU

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    When: Saturday, 5 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: NBC Sports Network 

    One of the few nonconference games being played this weekend sees two of the best mid-major programs in the nation square off in Richmond. 

    Lehigh (9-3) are coming off a shock loss to Bryant University on Tuesday, which snapped the Mountain Hawks eight-game winning streak. 

    The defending Patriot League champions boast two of the nation's best mid-major players in seniors C.J. McCollum and Gabe Knutson.

    McCollum currently leads the nation in scoring with 25.7 points per game. 

    Shaka Smart's VCU Rams (10-3) have played a strong nonconference schedule that has included wins over Alabama, Memphis and Belmont. 

    A win over Lehigh on Saturday at the Siegel Center would add to the Rams' already impressive resume heading into March. 

    In its final nonconference game, VCU will be looking to win its ninth straight game before heading into its first season of Atlantic 10 play. 

    The Rams have lost just one game at home this season and Saturday's game will be their toughest home test yet. 

    It will be a difficult battle between the two of the best mid-major programs in the nation, but look for Lehigh to come out of Richmond with a win thanks to the sharp shooting of McCollum. 

6. No. 22 Oklahoma State at No. 25 Kansas State

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    When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN3

    The best game in the Big 12 this weekend takes place in Manhattan, Kansas.

    Oklahoma State (10-2) is coming off a one-point loss at home to Gonzaga on Monday.

    The Cowboys have only made one true road trip this season, when they lost in Blacksburg to Virginia Tech on December 1. 

    Now, the Cowboys begin Big 12 play with a trip to Bramlage Coliseum to play Kansas State (11-2).

    Freshman Marcus Smart has become one of the nation's top newcomers and is a strong complement to sophomore Le'Bryan Nash in the backcourt. 

    The young guard duo will go up against an experienced group of guards that plays for Bruce Weber's Wildcats. 

    Seniors Rodney McGruder and Will Spradling anchor a strong backcourt that have led the Wildcats to their impressive start in Weber's first season.

    However, there is one flaw on the Wildcats resume this season, which are two losses to ranked teams, Michigan and Gonzaga, in nonconference play. 

    Both teams have plenty to prove to the nation and will be looking for a statement to begin Big 12 play. 

    Kansas State's experience and home-court advantage should be the deciding factors to determine the winner of Saturday's game. 

5. No. 10 Gonzaga at Santa Clara

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    When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ROOT Sports

    Fresh off its win at Oklahoma State on Monday, Gonzaga (13-1) will play in its second West Coast Conference game at Santa Clara (11-3) on Saturday night. 

    The Zags are the favorites to win the WCC and one of their first tests will come against a resilient Santa Clara team at the Leavey Center. 

    Mark Few's team is becoming even more dangerous as sophomore guard Kevin Pangos has finally begun to shoot the ball well over the past few games. 

    Santa Clara has rebounded from a 8-22 season last year, where it went without a win in conference play, and looks to be a contender in the WCC this season. 

    Santa Clara will be no easy victory for the Zags as the Broncos went into Cameron Indoor Stadium last Saturday and gave No. 1 Duke a test for the full 40 minutes. 

    Senior Kevin Foster is the star player on the Broncos roster, and he will have to replicate his 29-point performance that he had against Duke to give his team any chance of pulling off an upset. 

    Gonzaga will be given a challenge on Saturday, but do not expect it to lose to the upstart Broncos.

4. Bucknell at No. 12 Missouri

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    When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN3

    One of the most intriguing games of the weekend takes place in Columbia, Missouri as SEC power Missouri (10-2) hosts Patriot League opponent Bucknell (12-2). 

    The Tigers lost their last game to UCLA on the road and are looking to rebound from that setback by winning their final nonconference game of the season. 

    Against UCLA, junior guard Phil Pressey came close to breaking the NCAA single-game assist record with 19 assists. 

    Bucknell come into Mizzou Arena on Saturday looking to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the season.

    The Bison are no stranger to pulling off upsets; they defeated Arizona in last season's NIT and defeated Kansas in the 2005 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. 

    This season, the Patriot League power has taken down Purdue, George Mason and Cornell in nonconference play.

    If the Bison have any chance of winning on the road, senior center Mike Muscala, who has scored in double digits in every game all season, will have to step up and have a career performance. 

3. Temple at No. 6 Kansas

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    When: Sunday, 4:30 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: CBS

    After CBS is done showing the Colts-Ravens NFL playoff game on Sunday, Temple (10-2) and Kansas (11-1) will square off in a nonconference tilt at Allen Fieldhouse. 

    Temple has already upset one team in the AP Top 10 this season when it took down Syracuse at Madison Square Garden on December 22. 

    The trip to Lawrence will be a bit more difficult for the Owls as they look for one more quality win before Atlantic 10 play begins on Thursday against Xavier. 

    Kansas have been riding high since its early season slip up against Michigan State on November 13, as it has pulled off 10 straight wins.

    During their 10-game winning streak, the Jayhawks have beaten a bevy of mid-major teams and Ohio State. 

    Temple's senior guard combination of Khalif Wyatt and Scootie Randall will give the Kansas senior pair of Elijah Johnson and Travis Releford plenty of trouble in the backcourt.

    The third member of the Jayhawks backcourt could be the main reason why the sixth-ranked team comes out on top on Saturday.

    Freshman Ben McLemore has scored averaged 15.8 points per game this season, with the St. Louis native scoring over 20 points in four games. 

2. No. 15 Georgetown at Marquette

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    When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN3

    Georgetown (10-1) kicks off their Big East campaign in Milwaukee on Saturday when they take on Marquette (10-3) at the Bradley Center. 

    The Hoyas played a relatively easy nonconference schedule that included two big wins over UCLA and Texas. 

    Sophomore Otto Porter has emerged as the star player on a team that was in need of a star.

    Porter's 13.2 points per game is nothing spectacular, but his leadership on the court more than make up for his lack of scoring. 

    Marquette opened up their Big East campaign in style on Monday with a 82-76 overtime victory over UConn.

    In that game, Junior Cadougan played the role of hero for the Golden Eagles as his three-pointer at the end of regulation sent the game into an extra period. 

    The Golden Eagles are unbeaten at home this season and they will face a tough test from the Hoyas to retain their perfect record at the Bradley Center. 

1. No. 8 Ohio State at No. 11 Illinois

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    When: Saturday, 2:15 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: Big Ten Network

    The Big Ten conference is the best in college basketball this season and the first marquee matchup of the Big Ten schedule takes place in Champaign, Illinois on Saturday.

    Ohio State (12-2) were last in the national spotlight on December 22 when they fell to Kansas, 74-66, at home. 

    Since their loss to the Jayhawks, the Buckeyes defeated Chicago State and then Nebraska in their conference opener. 

    Illinois (13-2) suffered a shocking loss on the road at Purdue on Wednesday night in its first Big Ten game.  

    The Fighting Illini will rely on senior guard Brandon Paul to lead them into the clash of the Big Ten titans at Assembly Hall.

    Both teams will be looking to gain an advantage in the early part of Big Ten play and the game will come down to the defending of Buckeyes' guard Aaron Craft on Paul. 

    Craft has been one of the nation's best defenders since his arrival in Columbus, and if he will be able to control Paul in the backcourt, the Buckeyes should come out on top.

    What game do you think is the one to watch this weekend?

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