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Ranking the Must-See NCAA Basketball Games This Weekend

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2013

Ranking the Must-See NCAA Basketball Games This Weekend

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    There is just one month left in conference play, and the urgency of college basketball teams across the nation to win critical games is at its highest level. 

    While some teams have claimed their place at the top of the conference standings, some are still jostling for position and are trying to get off of the bubble and into a guaranteed position in the postseason. 

    The final charge to earn a postseason berth begins across the nation this weekend. 

    This weekend, the focus is on the six power conferences and two mid-major conferences.

    Here is the complete list of the 10 college basketball games that you should keep an eye on this weekend. 

Criteria

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    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. 

    While there are plenty of strong major conference matchups between ranked teams this week, one mid-major battle between two very strong conference foes makes the list as well. 

    As always, this list includes the brutal road trips into hostile environments that are made by the best teams in the nation.

     

10. NC State at Clemson

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    When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN3

    Sunday's ACC clash at Littlejohn Coliseum features a top-notch ACC team that is terrible on the road, and a team looking for a signature win.

    NC State (16-7, 5-5) has lost four of their five road games in conference play in miserable fashion.

    The Wolfpack have lost three of those games by a total of six points, and they will be looking to reverse that trend on Sunday afternoon.

    Mark Gottfried's team has five players that average in double figures, a group that is led by junior forward C.J. Leslie.

    In the first game against Clemson (12-10, 4-6), Leslie only scored six points, which was his second-lowest total of the season. 

    The Tigers have been almost perfect at home in the ACC with the only loss at Littlejohn Coliseum coming against Florida State in the first game of conference play. 

    A win over the Wolfpack would be the best win of the season for Brad Brownell's team who have come close to beating Arizona and Gonzaga in nonconference play. 

    For the Tigers to win, they will need a strong performance from leading scorer Devin Booker, who dominated NC State in the first meeting between the two teams with 27 points in his team's 66-62 loss on January 20. 

    This game will be closer than the experts think because of the horrible road form of the Wolfpack and the solid home form of the Tigers. 

9. North Carolina at No. 8 Miami (FL)

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    When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN

    The ACC title could be won on Saturday at the BankUnited Center as North Carolina (16-6, 6-3) visits No. 8 Miami (FL) (18-3, 9-0).

    After a slow start to conference play, the Tar Heels have rebounded into third place in the ACC. 

    Roy Williams' team has won six of their last seven games but none of those wins have come against the elite programs of the ACC.

    The Tar Heels will get their chance to prove their worth in the next week with a road trip to Duke on the schedule just four days after their visit to Miami. 

    In their win on Tuesday over Wake Forest, the Tar Heels received a boost as P.J. Hairston returned from his injury and scored 11 points. 

    The Hurricanes have not lost since the calendar switched over to 2013, and they have bolted to the top of the ACC standings by winning their first nine conference games. 

    Jim Larranaga's team is already two and a half games ahead of Duke and a win over third-place North Carolina could put the ACC regular season title out of reach for their conference foes.

    After the game against North Carolina, the Hurricanes have a fairly easy schedule and their title could be officially locked up before they visit Duke on March 2. 

    That could all change if the Tar Heels are able to upset the Hurricanes on Saturday afternoon. 

    It will be a tall task to accomplish but the Tar Heels are playing their best basketball of the season and have a good chance of pulling off the upset at the BankUnited Center. 

8. No. 5 Kansas at Oklahoma

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    When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN

    The Kansas Jayhawks (19-3, 7-2) have suffered two shock defeats in the past two games as they fell to Oklahoma State at home and on the road at TCU on Wednesday night. 

    Bill Self's team will look to recover from their worst two games of the season against Oklahoma (14-7, 5-4) at the Lloyd Noble Center. 

    For the Jayhawks to weather the storm and come out of Norman with a win, they will not only need their star duo of Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey to have great performances but they will need role players like Travis Releford and Kevin Young to also star against the Sooners.

    Lon Kruger's Sooners are in the midst of a two-game losing streak and a loss to Kansas could see them drop out of contention for a spot in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. 

    A win over the league-leading Jayhawks would give the Sooners their first win in five attempts against ranked opposition.

    For the Sooners to shock the nation and upset the Jayhawks, they will need seniors Romero Osby and Steven Pledger to step up and have big games. 

    Along with the two seniors, freshman guard Buddy Hield and junior forward Amath M'Biaye will both have to score well over their season averages to give the Sooners a chance. 

    While Oklahoma has a chance to pull off the upset, expect Kansas to be well-prepared as they come into Norman and leave with a victory. 

7. No. 3 Michigan at Wisconsin

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    When: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN

    One of the first games to tipoff this weekend is one that presents a perfect recipe for an upset.

    No. 3 Michigan (21-2, 8-2) will visit the Kohl Center to play Wisconsin (16-7, 7-3) in what is a trap game on the Wolverines schedule. 

    The Wolverines took down Ohio State in one of the best games of the season on Tuesday night at the Crisler Center.

    Before they visit Michigan State on Tuesday, the Wolverines have to make the tricky trip up to Madison.

    Throughout the Big 10 season, the Badgers have had a knack for defeating ranked opposition with wins over Illinois, Indiana and Minnesota. 

    Bo Ryan's team is once again flying under the national radar, and a win over Michigan would not only put them back in the national conversation but it will put them back in contention for the Big 10 title. 

    This game has all the potential to become yet another strong Big 10 battle, and as we all have learned from this season, an upset is always a possibility. 

6. Ole Miss at No. 21 Missouri

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    When: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: CBS

    Saturday's SEC matchup between the Ole Miss Rebels (18-4, 7-2) and the No. 21 Missouri Tigers (16-5, 5-4) features two teams that are very hard to figure out.

    After starting off conference play with six straight victories, the Rebels failed to impress in losses to Kentucky and Florida last week. 

    Now, the Rebels will be looking to replicate their January 12 victory over the Tigers by going into the Mizzou Arena and stealing a victory. 

    The player to watch for the Rebels is junior guard Marshall Henderson, who averages 20 points per game.

    Henderson struggled against Missouri in the first meeting between the two teams as he put up his second lowest point total of the season with 11. 

    The Tigers have been a team who have done well at home but when they go on the road they turn into a completely different team.

    Luckily for Frank Haith and company, they are playing at home, where they have a remarkable 12-0 record.

    The star player in the Tigers' lineup is senior forward Laurence Bowers, who missed the first game against Ole Miss because of an injury.

    With Bowers back in the lineup, Haith now has a full compliment of star players to call on during big games.

    Another player to watch for Missouri is junior guard Phil Pressey, who has struggled in recent games after having an excellent start to the season.

    While Ole Miss presents a difficult challenge, Missouri has plenty of experience playing in big games, and they should come out on top when the final whistle blows. 

5. No. 15 New Mexico at UNLV

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    When: Saturday, 9 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: NBC Sports Network

    The most tumultuous conference in America this season has been the Mountain West. 

    No one team has emerged as the favorite to win the conference.

    Instead, there are a group of five teams that are contention to win the regular season title.

    The current leader of the Mountain West is No. 15 New Mexico (20-3, 7-1), who will go into the Thomas & Mack Center to visit UNLV (17-6, 4-4).

    The last time that these two teams met was on January 9 in Albuquerque when Lobos center Alex Kirk stole the show with a 23-point performance. 

    Kirk will have a battle in the paint with UNLV's Anthony Bennett, who only managed to score 12 points when two teams met earlier this season. 

    Other players to watch in this MWC showdown are Kendall Williams and Tony Snell of New Mexico and Anthony Marshall of UNLV. 

    As for the outcome of this game, it could go either way but expect the Lobos to cement their place at the top of the MWC standings with a victory in Las Vegas. 

4. No. 23 Pittsburgh at No. 17 Cincinnati

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    When: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN

    Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati hosts an intriguing matchup between two Big East teams that have been on the rise in the polls. 

    No. 23 Pittsburgh (19-5, 7-4) broke into the AP Top 25 this week after they took down Syracuse at home last weekend.

    The Panthers validated their status amongst the nation's best teams with a win over Seton Hall on Monday night. 

    The recent success of Jamie Dixon's team has come about because of the success of an experienced guard and a towering freshman. 

    Senior guard Tray Woodall has scored in double figures in his last three games while freshman center Steven Adams has become a force in the paint by recording over seven rebounds in his last four games.

    For No. 17 Cincinnati (18-5, 6-4), it is all about Sean Kilpatrick, who is averaging 18.3 points per game.

    Kilpatrick has put up point totals of 36, 32, 25 and 21 in his team's biggest games this season.

    Accompanying the dark horse candidate for Big East Player of the Year in the backcourt is Cashmere Wright, who is averaging 14.2 points per game this season. 

    This game will be won in the backcourt and if the Panthers defense can shut down Kilpatrick and Wright, they will be able to come out of Cincinnati with a win. 

3. No. 11 Louisville at No. 25 Notre Dame

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    When: Saturday, 9 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN

    The national spotlight will be solely focused on South Bend as ESPN's travelling roadshow has made the game between No. 11 Louisville (19-4, 7-3) and No. 25 Notre Dame (18-5, 6-4) their game of the week. 

    The Cardinals gained the number one ranking three weeks ago and then went on a three-game losing streak.

    Rick Pitino's team has recovered from that brutal stretch of losses with three consecutive victories over Pittsburgh,Marquette and Rutgers. 

    Now, the Cardinals will head back out on the road and make a visit to the Joyce Center to take on the Fighting Irish. 

    Mike Brey's team could find themselves back in the Big East title conversation with a win over Louisville. 

    For that to happen, Jack Cooley will have to dominate the battle in the paint against Gorgui Dieng while the guard combination of Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins will have to outscore Russ Smith and Peyton Siva.

    The Irish will have a solid fight on their hands but the advantage of the home crowd could be the deciding factor. 

    Louisville has been awful on the road as of late and if Siva does not step up once again in a big game, the fate of the Cardinals could be decided early on in the game. 

2. Memphis at Southern Miss

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    When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: CBS Sports Network

    The race for the Conference USA regular season title is heating up as two teams have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. 

    Memphis (19-3, 8-0) will visit Hattiesburg to take on Southern Miss (18-5, 7-1) in a battle of Conference USA titans.

    Josh Pastner and company will face their first big test of conference play on Saturday afternoon as they look to hold on to their C-USA dominance. 

    The Tigers have not lost since December 15 when they fell to Louisville but they have also not played anyone of significance during their 13-game winning streak. 

    The key to winning on the road for the Tigers will be the performance of junior guard Joe Jackson, who is averaging 14.1 points per game and has scored over 20 points in four games this season. 

    Larry Eustachy has turned Southern Miss into an elite C-USA program, and a win over Memphis at home would solidify their status as the team to the beat in the conference.

    The Golden Eagles' 10-game winning streak was broken by Central Florida on Wednesday night and they will be looking to get back on track at home against the conference leaders. 

    This game will most certainly be a hotly-contested matchup that should result in Memphis winning thanks to their experience. 

1. No. 1 Indiana at No. 10 Ohio State

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    When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: CBS

    The latest matchup between ranked opposition in the Big 10 will take place at the Value City Arena in Columbus on Sunday.

    No. 1 Indiana (20-3, 8-2) became the latest victim of the number one curse on Thursday night as they fell to Illinois on buzzer beating layup. 

    The Hoosiers are now in a three-way tie for first place in the conference and they will be looking to pick up a key road win in Columbus. 

    The Hoosiers have two National Player of the Year candidates on their roster in Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, who has been a revelation this season for Tom Crean's team.

    The key to an Indiana win will be the performance of  the role players like Jordan Hulls, Will Sheehey, Yogi Ferrell and Christian Watford.

    The No. 10 Ohio State Buckeyes (17-5, 7-3) lost in overtime to Michigan in Ann Arbor on Tuesday, and they need a win to stay in the Big 10 title race.

    The Buckeyes showed on Tuesday night that their 1-5 record against ranked opposition does not represent their level of talent.

    Thad Matta knows what he will get out of Deshaun Thomas and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. but what is not guaranteed is what the rest of the players on the roster will do on the big stage. 

    For the Buckeyes to finally break their losing streak against ranked opposition, Aaron Craft will once again have to play great defense on whoever he is matched up against, and LaQuinton Ross will have to deliver a performance like the one he had against Michigan. 

    What do you think is the game to watch this weekend in college basketball?

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

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