Ranking the Must-See NCAA Basketball Games This Weekend

Joe TanseyFeatured ColumnistFebruary 27, 2013

Ranking the Must-See NCAA Basketball Games This Weekend

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    This weekend, the calendar changes over to March, and the madness of the college basketball regular season cranks up. 

    The first and easiest criteria that determine the weekly matchup rankings are games between two teams in the AP Top 25. This weekend presents us with four matchups between ranked opposition, including two top-10 showdowns. 

    As always, this list is also affected brutal road trips into hostile environments, and this week they are made by some of the best teams in the nation. Earlier this week, top-ranked Indiana was upset by Minnesota and Florida fell to Tennessee.

    This week's list also includes two mid-major battles between four of the best mid-major teams to play of the last decade. 

    Finally, with the final month of the season upon us, teams on the bubble for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament face difficult tests this weekend, some against teams that are near locks to make the final 68 and others must face fellow bubble teams.  

    Here is the complete list of the 10 games you need to watch this weekend. 

10. St. John's at Providence

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    When: Saturday, 8 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN3

    The St. John's Red Storm (16-11, 8-7) are hovering around the bubble going into this weekend; but they have to win at the Dunkin Donuts Center against Providence (15-12, 7-8) on Saturday. 

    The Red Storm have not helped their case over the past few weeks, losing three of their last four games, and their schedule does not get any easier. Two ranked schools, Notre Dame and Marquette, are left on the schedule after a road trip to Rhode Island. 

    With a brutal final week ahead of them, Steve Lavin's Red Storm have to secure a victory over a Big East team that they should beat. 

    Providence still has an outside chance of making their way on to the bubble, but they will have to win their final three games, starting with Saturday's clash against St. John's. 

    The Friars can still reach the 10-win mark in Big East play if they win the rest of their games. 

    If any team in the Big East can do that, it is the Friars, who have won five out of their last six games, a streak that includes wins over Notre Dame and Cincinnati. 

    For that to happen, junior guard Bryce Cotton will have to lead the Friars to a victory over the Red Storm. Cotton is averaging 20.1 points per game and has failed to score in double figures just once this season. 

9. Arizona State at USC

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    When: Saturday, 3 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: Fox Sports Network

    The Pac-12 conference has developed into a possible five-bid league over the past few weeks.

    One team vying for that fifth bid is Arizona State (20-9, 9-7).

    The Sun Devils face a crucial stretch of their schedule this week, visiting the two Los Angeles based teams in the Pac-12. 

    Herb Sendek's team lost to UCLA on Wednesday night and they will now look to recover from that loss at USC (13-15, 8-7). 

    In the first meeting between the two teams, the Sun Devils won an overtime battle in Tempe by five points. 

    The player to watch in this game is Sun Devil freshman Jahii Carson, who scored 21 points in the first game against the Trojans. 

    The Trojans hope to play spoiler for the rest of the Pac-12 season, and they have proven that they can play with the top teams in the conference. 

    Another motivating factor for a Trojans victory is that seniors Eric Wise and Jio Fontan will be playing the final home game of their careers. 

    Wise and Fontan have been two key contributions to the Trojans this season. Expect them to leave it all on the court on Saturday night. 

8. No. 11 Arizona at UCLA

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    When: Saturday, 9 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN

    The second Pac-12 clash on the list takes place in Los Angeles on Saturday and comes to us from Pauley Pavilion. 

    The Arizona Wildcats (23-5, 11-5) lost their chance of earning a number one seed in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament by losing to USC on Wednesday. 

    Their road to earn either a number two or three seed continues on Saturday when the Wildcats take on UCLA (21-7. 11-4).

    The Bruins have jumped back into the national conversation and should receive a berth in the NCAA Tournament as long as they do not collapse towards the end of the season. 

    Ben Howland's team already has big wins over Missouri and Indiana State, but a win over Arizona would undoubtedly be their best victory of the season. 

    If the Bruins can come out victorious against Arizona, they should end the regular season with at least 13 wins in the Pac-12.

    This game will be won in the backcourt, as Arizona's Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson will do battle with Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams of UCLA. 

    UCLA needs this game more than Arizona does, and it is sure to come down to the wire, but expect the Bruins to sneak out a hard fought victory. 

7. Kentucky at Arkansas

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    When: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: CBS

    Two SEC bubble teams will clash on Saturday at the Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville, as Kentucky (20-8, 11-4) visits Arkansas (17-11, 8-7).

    Kentucky has now played without Nerlens Noel for four games, and after being blown out by Tennessee on February 16, the Wildcats have rebounded with three consecutive victories. 

    John Calipari's team took down Missouri at home in overtime last weekend to improve its NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament hopes.

    However, the Wildcats still need to do more to solidify their spot in the final 68. 

    Arkansas has jumped into the bubble conversation after home victories over Florida and Missouri in recent weeks. 

    Mike Anderson's Razorbacks are 14-1 at home this season; their only loss in Fayetteville was to Syracuse in December. 

    For the Razorbacks to have any chance of making the final 68, they will have to take down Kentucky at Walton Arena. 

    A win over Kentucky would give Arkansas three quality SEC wins going into their vital conference clash with Missouri on March 5. 

    If the Razorbacks duo of Marshawn Powell and Coty Clarke can contain the two big men of Kentucky, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress, then they should be secure home win No. 15 of the season.

6. No. 21 Notre Dame at No. 22 Marquette

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    When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN

    Two of the top five teams in the Big East will square off at the Bradley Center, both chasing a high seed in both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments.

    No. 21 Notre Dame (22-6, 10-5) turned things around in the month of February and have put themselves in position to earn a top-four seed in the Big East tournament. 

    One player who has stepped up over the last month has been Jerian Grant, who burst into the national spotlight on February 9 when he scored 12 straight points to send the game against Louisville in overtime.

    That game eventually went five overtimes and saw the Fighting Irish come out on top. That game was the turning point in their season, and they now looked poised to make a run in March.

    No. 22 Marquette (20-7, 11-4) defeated Syracuse at home on Monday to cut the number of teams in contention for the Big East regular season title to two. 

    The Golden Eagles are battling with Georgetown for the regular season title and must win the rest of their games to have a chance of beating out the Hoyas. 

    If Buzz Williams' team is able to defeat the Irish, they should finish up Big East play at 14-4 and clinch the second seed for the Big East tournament at least. 

    For Marquette to clinch the top seed in the Big East Tournament, they will need Georgetown to lose at least once. 

5. No. 20 Butler at VCU

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    When: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN2

    The Atlantic 10 clash that we have all been waiting for finally arrives on Saturday afternoon.

    Two of the most successful mid-major programs of the past decade will square off at the Siegel Center with an outside chance at the A-10 title on the line.

    No. 20 Butler (22-6, 9-4) lost at home to Saint Louis last Friday and they have had eight days to prepare for VCU (22-6, 10-3). 

    For the Bulldogs to go into Richmond and win, they will need sharp shooter Rotnei Clarke and forward Andrew Smith to have big games.

    Clarke is one of the best three-point shooters in the nation and is also the Bulldogs leading scorer with 17 points per game, while Smith is the powerful inside presence on the roster.

    VCU has the best chance of denying Saint Louis of the A-10 regular season crown, but for the Rams to have any chance of doing that, they must beat Butler. 

    Shaka Smart's team also fell to Saint Louis last week, before rebounding with a difficult victory over Xavier. 

    The Rams have not been in the national spotlight as much as Butler has this season, but on Saturday, they will get a chance to show off their talented roster that includes four players that average over double digits points per game. 

    This should be quite the clash in the A-10, and expect the matchup to live up to the hype. 

4. Wichita State at Creighton

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    When: Saturday, 2 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN2

    Another big mid-major matchup takes place in Omaha this weekend, as Wichita State (24-6, 12-5) takes on Creighton (23-7, 12-5) in the final game of Missouri Valley Conference regular season play.

    The Shockers lost to Evansville on Wednesday night and if they lose in Omaha, they will lose the regular season conference title to Creighton. 

    Gregg Marshall's team is a battle-tested group that has rebounded well from a three-game losing streak in the middle of the MVC season. 

    Since then, the Shockers have won five of their last six games as they look to solidify a high seed in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. 

    Armstead's play is a welcome addition to the already dynamic duo of Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall that has wreaked havoc on opposing defenses all season.

    Creighton has lost four of their last seven games and they are in need of a big win to turn around their momentum going into the postseason. 

    There is no doubt that the Bluejays will make the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, but no team wants to go into the tournament on a losing streak.

    For the Bluejays to defeat the Shockers, Doug McDermott will have to overpower Hall in the paint.

    McDermott is averaging 22.4 points per game, and a strong performance against Wichita State could put the junior forward's name back into the National Player of the Year conversation. 

3. No. 9 Michigan State at No. 4 Michigan

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    When: Sunday, 4 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: CBS

    It would not be a weekend in college basketball without a showdown between two ranked opponents in the Big 10.

    No. 9 Michigan State (22-6, 11-4) continues their brutal stretch of games when they visit the Crisler Center to take on in-state rival No. 4 Michigan (23-5,10-5).

    The Spartans lost twice last week to Indiana and Ohio State, but they have had a full week off to prepare for the Wolverines, a team they beat by 23 in East Lansing on February 12.

    Tom Izzo's team desperately needs a win, and what better way to get back on track than to come out of Ann Arbor with a victory.

    John Beilein's Michigan team suffered their worst loss of the season on Wednesday by falling to Penn State in State College. 

    The Wolverines would love nothing more to get back on track and avenge their loss to the Spartans at home, and in the process get back into the fight for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

    While this game is full of intriguing matchups, the one to watch will be in the paint, as Derrick Nix, Adreian Payne and Matt Costello of Michigan State will go up against Mitch McGary, Jon Horford and Jordan Morgan of Michigan. If the game does come down to that battle in the paint, then Spartans will have the clear advantage.

    But if the game comes down to the guard play, then Michigan has the advantage, possessing the probable National Player of the Year Trey Burke in their backcourt. 

2. No. 10 Louisville at No. 12 Syracuse

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    When: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: CBS

    The last time that No. 10 Louisville (23-5, 11-4) and No. 12 Syracuse (22-6, 10-5) played each other, the game came down to the final seconds.

    Much of the same thrilling play is expected when the two Big East and future ACC titans clash at the Carrier Dome.

    The Cardinals have won seven of their last eight games, with the only loss coming in their five-overtime thriller with Notre Dame.

    During that run, the Cardinals have come within reach of the Big East regular season title, currently sitting one game behind Georgetown.

    For Rick Pitino's team to have a slight chance of chasing down the Big East crown, it will have to go into Syracuse and defeat the Orange.

    Jim Boeheim's Syracuse team has dropped its last two games to Georgetown and Marquette respectively; they need a win to reverse their recent misfortunes.

    For the Orange to come out victorious on Saturday, they will need strong performances from their four star players, a group led by Brandon Triche.

    Another key for an Orange victory is the play of forward James Southerland against Louisville's Gorgui Dieng.

    Southerland missed the first game against Louisville because of suspension. Since returning from suspension, the senior forward has scored in double figures in his last six games.  

1. No. 5 Miami (FL) at No. 3 Duke

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    When: Saturday, 6 p.m. ET

    Where to Watch: ESPN

    The one game everyone will be watching this weekend takes place at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina.

    The last time the No. 5 Miami (FL) Hurricanes (23-4, 14-1) and the No. 3 Duke Blue Devils (24-4, 11-4) played, the Hurricanes shocked the nation by blowing out Duke at home, 90-63.

    On Saturday, the Hurricanes will look to replicate their success against Duke, this time facing a hostile crowd at Cameron Indoor. 

    The Hurricanes suffered their first ACC loss last Saturday against Wake Forest, and they are looking to prove to the nation that the loss was just a fluke. 

    Jim Larranaga's team is one of the most experienced teams in the nation, with five seniors that contribute on a regular basis. 

    For the Canes to win on Saturday, they will need sophomore guard Shane Larkin to direct their offense to perfection against the stingy Duke defense.

    Duke will be out for revenge on their home court, a court they have not lost on this season. 

    The performance of the powerful Blue Devil inside-outside duo of Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee will decide the result of the game on Saturday.

    While Miami has an excellent team, there is reason to believe that Duke will avenge their worst loss of the season at home in front of the Cameron Crazies.

     

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

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