Saturday has a loaded slate of college basketball for all you hoops fans. So before you drool over the matchup between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in the AFC Championship game on Sunday afternoon, check out the best college basketball Saturday of the season thus far.
#22 Pittsburgh @ #2 Syracuse – 4 PM ESPN (Saturday)
These two Big East ACC foes have been carving it up since their new arrival to the conference and have a combined conference record of 8-0. Syracuse has proved to be one of the best teams in the country, taking out Baylor and Villanova on their way to an unblemished 17-0 record. On the other hand, despite only having one loss, Pittsburgh has yet to prove their true worth. Their best wins are against Stanford on a neutral court and at NC State. Pittsburgh will have to deal with Syracuse’s patented 2-3 zone and will have to do so without sophomore forward Durand Johnson, who is out for the season with a torn ACL. His presence will be sorely missed since he has attempted and made the second most three pointers on the tam.
#9 Oklahoma State @ #15 Kansas – 4 PM CBS (Saturday)
Despite being ranked 15th, Kansas is a consensus top 5 team in terms of talent. Their four losses have come to teams with a combined record of 58-8 and they are coming off convincing wins against Kansas State and at Iowa State. Oklahoma State is coming off a nail-biting win against West Virginia, and has not played as well since the loss of Michael Cobbins, who tore his Achilles on Dec. 29. Without Cobbins, the Cowboys will have a tough time matching up with freshman Joel Embiid, who was dominant in their win against the Cyclones on Monday. With Marcus Smart on your team, you always have a shot. But playing a Kansas team performing at a high level in Phog Allen Fieldhouse? Good luck.
The Bronze Medal
#25 Oklahoma @ #12 Baylor – 2 PM ESPN (Saturday)
This game signifies a battle for the best second tier team in the Big 12. Both teams are coming off losses earlier in the week. Oklahoma lost at Kansas State while Baylor suffered a head shaking loss at Texas Tech, who was 0-3 in the Big 12 prior to their game against the Bears. Expect this to be a track meet, with both teams being in the top 20 in offensive efficiency and average in defensive efficiency, per kenpom.com. Baylor has been solid at home this season and Oklahoma has struggled. This fact alone gives the edge to the Bears.
#8 Iowa State @ Texas – 4 PM ESPN3 (Saturday)
After starting the season undefeated, the Cyclones have lost two straight to Oklahoma and Kansas. Iowa State needs a healthy DeAndre Kane to be successful against a Texas team that is much improved this season. Rick Barnes has worked with what he was given, giving the Longhorns a shot to get back to the NCAA Tournament. This has the potential to be an upset, but I don’t think it will happen. I can’t see Iowa State dropping their third straight and think the Cyclones will overpower the Longhorns with their high-powered offense.
Pick: Iowa State
#18 Louisville @ Connecticut – 9 PM ESPN (Saturday)
Connecticut started the conference slate with two losses, but has since won two straight, including a win at Memphis earlier this week. Winning against Memphis is something that Louisville failed to do, falling to the Tigers 73-67 at home on Jan. 9. The Cardinals do not have one good win this season, causing me to believe the only reason they are ranked is because of last year’s team that cut down the nets. I believe this will come down to guard play. Connecticut has Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright while Louisville has Russ Smith and Chris Jones. In Storrs, I give the edge to Shabazz and Co.
Best Game Between Non-Ranked Teams
Florida State @ Virginia – Noon ESPN3 (Saturday)
Much like Oklahoma and Baylor, these two teams are fighting for second tier supremacy in the ACC. After getting blown out by Tennessee on Dec. 30, the Cavaliers are have been playing very well. If it weren’t for a couple lucky bounces, they would have knocked off Duke in Cameron earlier in the week. In their first meeting, Virgina defeated Florida State 62-50. Since then, the Seminoles have won three straight, all in convincing fashion. Ian Miller and Aaron Thomas have been fantastic off the bench for Leonard Hamilton. I believe they will have big games to lead Florida State to a victory.
Pick: Florida State
Best Mid-Major Matchup
Indiana State @ Wichita State – 4 PM ESPN2 (Saturday)
Wichita State comes in at 18-0 and because of the conference they play in, has the best chance at finishing the regular season undefeated. However, when asked about where the Shockers might drop a game, many pointed to their two games against Indiana State. The Sycamores have wins over Notre Dame and Belmont, and have an established senior leader in Jake Odum. Both have 5-0 records in the Missouri Valley, so someone has to suffer their first conference loss. After seeing Wichita State overcome an 18 point second half deficit at Missouri State and with the game being played in Wichita, I believe the Shockers and their undefeated record will live to see another game.
Pick: Wichita State
Other Games to Keep an Eye On
Tennessee @ #13 Kentucky – Noon CBS (Saturday)
NC State @ #23 Duke – 2PM CBS (Saturday)
Fordham @ #24 Saint Louis – 2:30 PM NBCSN (Saturday)
Depaul @ #6 Villanova – 4 PM FSN (Saturday)
#7 Florida @ Auburn – 4 PM ESPN3 (Saturday)
#25 UCLA @ Utah – 4 PM Fox Sports (Saturday)
#19 Cincinnati @ South Florida – 5PM ESPNU (Saturday)
Michigan @ #3 Wisconsin – 6 PM ESPN (Saturday)
UNLV @ #10 San Diego State – 6:05 PM CBSSN (Saturday)
#16 Massachusetts @ Elon – 7 PM (Saturday)
#4 Michigan State @ Illinois – 8 PM BTN (Saturday)
#20 Creighton @ Providence – 8PM Fox Sports (Saturday)
Final Thought For the Weekend Ahead
When first looking through this slate of games, I saw a full day of fantastic hoops action. However, looking further, it appeared to me that the four o’clock time slot is stacked. You have games like Pitt/Cuse, OkSt/KU, Wichita St/Indiana St, Iowa St/Texas, as well as Villanova, Florida, and UCLA playing unranked foes. This would be like having all of your favorite meals laid out in front of you, but only being allowed to eat one of two. Thank god for DVR, because that time slot has way too many juicy games that deserve full attention.