Ranking the Must-See NCAA Basketball Games This Weekend

Joe TanseyFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 30, 2017

Ranking the Must-See NCAA Basketball Games This Weekend

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    Last weekend, college basketball fans were once again treated to a spectacular weekend of play that included two high-profile overtime games. 

    This weekend, yet another slate of strong games awaits us. 

    Yet another Big 10 showdown comes to us over the weekend, while the Big East gives us a matchup that could decide who is a contender and pretender for the conference regular season title. 

    Also added into this week's mix of 10 games are three mid-major showdowns that feature teams looking to secure the regular season title in each of those conferences. 

    With the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament quickly approaching, teams on the bubble are also looking to find their way off of the bubble by winning key games this weekend. 

    Here are the 10 games that you should watch this weekend in college basketball.

Criteria

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

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

    Also included in this week's list are three mid-major battles that will play a role in deciding the regular season champion in their respective conferences.

    While the regular season title barely matters in the major conferences, some mid-major conferences host their tournament final at the home court of the regular-season champion. 

    With just one month left in the season, some teams are looking to play their way into the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, and a win over strong opposition this weekend can help the causes of teams like North Carolina and Oklahoma. 

10. Princeton at Harvard

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    When: Saturday, 7 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: NBC Sports Network 

    The Ivy League title race is heating up, and the two teams that are favored to win the regular-season crown and automatic berth to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament are Princeton (11-8, 4-1) and Harvard (13-7, 5-1).

    The Tigers head into Lavietes Pavilion in the middle of a four-game road trip that starts with Friday's game at Dartmouth. 

    After suffering their first Ivy League loss last weekend to Yale, the Tigers will be looking to get back on track and take over the lead in the standings by beating Harvard. 

    Ian Hummer is the player to watch for Princeton. The senior forward leads the team with 15.7 points per game. 

    Another player to watch is sophomore Denton Koon, who has come alive in conference play, with six consecutive games where he has scored in double figures. 

    As for the Crimson, they will host struggling Penn on Friday before welcoming the Tigers into Cambridge. 

    The Crimson also suffered their first conference loss last weekend as they fell on the road by 15 to Columbia. 

    Tommy Amaker's team possesses two players who average over 13 points per game in leading scorer Wesley Saunders (16.8 PPG) and freshman guard Siyani Chambers (13.5 PPG).

    The two players have not scored below 11 points in any conference game, and they will need that good run of form to continue to defeat Princeton. 

9. Oklahoma at No. 17 Oklahoma State

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

    Where to Watch: ESPN3

    For the second time this season, Bedlam finds its way into the "games to watch" countdown. 

    In the first meeting between Oklahoma (16-7, 7-4) and Oklahoma State (18-5, 8-3), the Sooners came out victorious in Norman by a 77-68 score. 

    The Sooners are flying high at the moment after their defeat of Kansas last Saturday boosted them back in to the bubble conversation.

    The positive momentum for Lon Kruger's team continued on Monday when they took care of TCU in Norman.

    However, there was a negative aspect to the 75-48 win over the Horned Frogs as freshman guard Buddy Hield suffered a fractured foot in the contest, and he will be out for four to six weeks (via Yahoo! Sports).

    Oklahoma State also gained plenty of national attention after their own defeat of Kansas two weeks ago.

    Since beating the Jayhawks, Travis Ford's Cowboys have defeated Baylor, Texas and Texas Tech on their way to a three-way tie atop the Big 12 standings.

    One of the main reasons for the current five-game winning streak that the Cowboys are on at the moment is freshman guard Marcus Smart, who has had three 20-plus point performance during the streak.

    Smart is one of four players who average over double figures in points on the Cowboys roster; Markel Brown, Le'Bryan Nash and Phil Forte are the other three.

    There is no doubt that this rivalry game will be packed with passion and heart, and it will most certainly come down to the wire.

    By the time the final whistle is blown, expect the Cowboys to come out on top but by the smallest of margins.  

8. San Diego State at UNLV

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    When: Saturday, 9 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: NBC Sports Network 

    Another weekend in the Mountain West Conference brings yet another showdown of teams looking to find their way into the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

    San Diego State (18-6, 6-4) can vault themselves back into the regular-season title race with a win at the Thomas and Mack Center. 

    After their trip to Las Vegas, the Aztecs have a fairly easy schedule to close out the season, with their only test after Saturday coming on February 27 when they visit current league leaders New Mexico. 

    For the Aztecs to avenge their loss from January 16, they will need more than three players to have an impact on the game.

    In their first meeting with UNLV (18-7, 5-5), only Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and Winston Shepard scored in double figures, with the other five players that played that night scoring a combined 14 points.

    Since their defeat of the Aztecs in mid-January, the Rebels have struggled to get a string of consistent results. 

    The Rebels are 3-4 since their conquering of the dangerous Viejas Arena with a loss on Wednesday to Air Force being the most recent result for Dave Rice's team. 

    For UNLV to come out on top and to cement their status as a tournament quality team, leading scorer Anthony Bennett will have to do much better than the eight-point performance he had in the first meeting between the two teams. 

7. Vermont at Stony Brook

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    When: Friday, 7 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN3

    The America East regular-season title race takes center stage on Friday night as the Vermont Catamounts (16-8, 9-3) visit the Stony Brook Seawolves (18-6, 9-2). 

    The Catamounts had their four-game winning streak broken on Tuesday night when they fell to Boston University at home. 

    Nothing would cure the losing taste in their mouth better than a win in Stony Brook that would help them reclaim the top spot in the conference standings. 

    With just three conference games left for the Catamounts in America East play, a road win on Friday night is crucial if they want to take home the regular-season crown and the coveted top seed in the conference tournament. 

    Stony Brook comes in to the game at the USB Sports Complex looking to avenge their 81-73 loss to Vermont on January 18. 

    Since their loss to Vermont, the Seawolves have gone 5-1, and they come into the game with a full head of steam and plenty of positive momentum. 

    For the Seawolves to win on Friday night, they will need to shut down the Vermont duo of Candon Rusin and Clancy Rugg, who both had dominant performances in the previous meeting between the two teams.

6 . Texas at No. 14 Kansas

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    When: Saturday 9 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN

    The ESPN travelling roadshow, otherwise known as College GameDay, makes its way to Lawrence, Kan. this weekend to see the Texas Longhorns (11-13, 3-8) visit the Kansas Jayhawks (20-4, 8-3).

    On paper, this game may seem like a lock for Kansas, but the Longhorns are finally getting star sophomore Myck Kabongo back this week.

    In Kabongo's first game of the season on Wednesday, the Longhorns defeated Iowa State in double overtime with the sophomore guard contributing 13 points. 

    Kabongo will be a solid complement to the players who have been on the court all season for Rick Barnes' team, like Sheldon McClellan and Julien Lewis. 

    While the Longhorns will not qualify any postseason tournament this season, a win over Kansas in Lawrence would make their suffering this season hurt a bit less.

    After struggling through a three-game losing streak, Kansas made a statement on Monday night when they defeated Kansas State by 21 points.

    In that game, Naadir Tharpe emerged as a potent point guard that can provide the likes of Ben McLemore and Jeff Withey with plenty of assists throughout the game. 

    The Jayhawks are the strong favorite to win this game, but Texas are looking to make a splash on the national stage, and they could come out of Lawrence with a win if all the stars align correctly. 

5. Virginia at North Carolina

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    When: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN3

    If you have not been paying attention to the Virginia Cavaliers (18-6, 8-3), you might want to start. 

    The Cavaliers have quietly moved up to third place in the ACC standings, and they are well on their way to qualifying for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. 

    Tony Bennett's team face a crucial four-game stretch that will define them as either a contender or pretender in March, starting with their trip to Chapel Hill on Saturday afternoon.

    The one knock against the Cavaliers is that they have lost all three of their ACC games on the road to lesser opposition this season. 

    Luckily for the Cavaliers, they can change that in the next week if they beat the Tar Heels and Miami (FL) on Tuesday. 

    The North Carolina Tar Heels (16-8, 6-5) are coming off of a hard-fought loss to their biggest rival, Duke, on Wednesday and they will have to rebound from the defeat quickly and put their full focus on Virginia.

    The Tar Heels fell short against Miami (FL) last Saturday as they were beaten by 26 points on Saturday. 

    If Roy Williams and company can avenge their January 6 loss to Virginia, they have a good chance of going on a run and finding themselves in the final 68 when Selection Sunday comes around as the weaker part of their schedule comes about after this weekend.

4. Missouri at Arkansas

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    When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN

    Saturday's SEC clash at the Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, Ark. will see the two most inconsistent teams in the conference square off against each other. 

    Missouri (18-6, 7-4) have had a rough time on their travels in the SEC this season, as all four of their conference losses have come on the road. 

    Those four losses have sunk the Tigers down into fifth place in the conference standings, and another loss could kill off the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament hopes of Frank Haith's team. 

    The Tigers have plenty of talent on their roster, with six players averaging double figures in points, but somehow their talent level has dropped since they left Columbia. 

    Leading scorer Laurence Bowers has struggled since returning from injury on January 30, and if he can not perform up to his abilities, Alex Oriakhi will be forced to step up once again; he scored 22 in the win over Ole Miss last weekend. 

    Arkansas (15-9, 6-5) has plenty of potential, but in conference play, they have only been able to live up to that potential at home. 

    The Razorbacks have earned five of their six conference wins in Fayetteville, including their upset of Florida on February 5. 

    Another motivating factor for the Razorbacks to win against the Tigers is that head coach Mike Anderson is going against his former team. 

    Anderson had plenty of success with Missouri, and he would love to knock the Tigers off at home and vault the Razorbacks back on to the bubble. 

3. Detroit at Valparaiso

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    When: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN2 

    The last time that Horizon League rivals Detroit (17-9, 9-4) and Valparaiso (20-6, 10-2) met, the Crusaders went into Detroit and escaped with a one-point victory.

    The Titans would love to do the same exact thing on Saturday night in Valparaiso. 

    Detroit need a win to have any chance of taking home the regular-season crown in the Horizon League, as they currently sit two games behind Valpo. 

    A win over Valpo would also bolster the Titans resume that can be massively improved over the next two weeks, with road trips to Wichita State and Temple still on the schedule. 

    The Crusaders are currently on a four-game winning streak, and they seem bound to take both the regular-season and conference tournament titles this season in the Horizon League. 

    For Valpo to essentially lock up the regular-season title on Saturday night, they will need senior forwards Ryan Broekhoff and Kevin Van Wijk to step up and have strong performances just like they have all season. 

    There is plenty on the line in this Horizon League showdown and do not expect Detroit to go down without a fight.

    Valpo has been the class of the league all season and that should continue this weekend. 

2. No. 16 Pittsburgh at No. 18 Marquette

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    When: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: CBS

    Pittsburgh (20-5, 8-4) and Marquette (17-6, 8-3) are just two of the six teams that are vying for the Big East regular-season title. 

    The Panthers are slowly beginning to get recognized by the rest of the nation as they have pulled off wins in seven of their last eight games. 

    The development of freshman center Steven Adams has been a key reason why Jamie Dixon's Panthers are in prime position to snag the conference title away from Syracuse. 

    For the Panthers to have any chance of catching Syracuse at the top of the conference standings, they will have to go into the Bradley Center and take down the Golden Eagles.

    Buzz Williams' team are just 1-3 against ranked opposition this season, including losses to Georgetown and Louisville in Big East play. 

    The Golden Eagles do have plenty of chances to turn that record around as their remaining three home games come against ranked opposition, beginning with the Pittsburgh game. 

    The last time that these two teams met on January 12, the Golden Eagles came out of the Petersen Events Center with an overtime victory. 

    Expect yet another Big East thriller in Milwaukee, and although it may not be a five-overtime game like we saw last week, there will be plenty of fireworks on Saturday between these two Big East rivals. 

1. No. 13 Ohio State at No. 20 Wisconsin

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    When: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: CBS

    It would not be a weekend in college basketball this season if there was not a matchup between two ranked teams in the Big 10. 

    This weekend's showcase of the nation's best conference comes from the Kohl Center in Madison as Ohio State (18-6, 8-4) visits Wisconsin (17-8, 8-4).

    The Buckeyes are desperate for a win at the moment after losing two of their last three games to Michigan and Indiana. 

    With those two losses, the Buckeyes record against ranked opposition dropped to 1-6, a record that needs to be improved before March hits. 

    Bo Ryan's Badgers pulled off a massive upset against Michigan last weekend, thanks to some late-game heroics courtesy of Ben Brust. 

    Since losing to the Buckeyes in Columbus on January 29, the Badgers have won three of their last four games, two of which have come in overtime. 

    The one thing that is unique about this Wisconsin team is that they do not have one true superstar, like Ohio State does with Deshaun Thomas, but they do play excellent as a team. 

    Just like most of the Big 10 games this season, this one will be close, but given Wisconsin's hot streak and Ohio State's failure to win against ranked teams, the Badgers are the slight favorite in this game. 

     

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

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