This is, without a doubt, the best weekend to date of the college basketball season. We have five games featuring two ranked teams, including one that pits two that found themselves on the top line when the Selection Committee revealed its top-16 teams last weekend. What’s more, for the first time in 2018, the action starts on Friday and carries all the way through Sunday afternoon. No matter what time you turn on your TV this weekend, you’ll find at least one college hoops game with significant NCAA tournament implications. Get ready for a fun 48 hours.
No. 16 Rhode Island at St. Bonaventure
Friday, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2
It is not a stretch to say this game could make or break St. Bonaventure’s season. If the Bonnies win, they’ll pick up a fourth Quadrant 1 victory that happens to be against a team ticketed for a high seed. If they lose, they’ll head into the Atlantic 10 tournament without a win against a team likely to get an at-large bid to the dance. It’s shaping up to be a strong bubble this year—with teams like St. Bonaventure, Houston, Washington, Kansas State and others, all of which have strong profiles—looking like they’ll land just barely on the right or wrong side of it. All those other teams, however, have wins against certain tournament squads. The Bonnies need this one to join that group, but it’s going to be awfully hard to get. If it happens, it’ll likely be on the backs of Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley.
St. Bonaventure 77, Rhode Island 75
Texas at No. 23 Oklahoma
Saturday, noon ET, ESPN
One of Saturday’s first games we have our eye on features two teams desperate for a win. Texas has lost three straight and four of five, including home games with fellow bubble teams Kansas State and Baylor. The Longhorns have five Q1 wins, so they’re still safe for now, but a couple more losses could change that. The Sooners, meanwhile, are reeling, losing four straight, five of six and seven of nine. They won’t be in any real danger of dropping out of the tournament field, but it is beyond time to significantly recalibrate their postseason expectations. Texas won the first meeting between these teams two weeks ago, forcing Trae Young to miss 12 of his 14 three-point attempts and exposing the reality of Oklahoma’s flawed offense. Young or bust isn’t going to get it done. In Oklahoma’s defense, six of their seven recent losses have come on the road. They should be able to figure this one out in Norman.
Oklahoma 81, Texas 72
Syracuse at Miami
Saturday, noon ET, CBS
Alright Syracuse, you want to prove you’re one of the 36 best at-large candidates in the country? Here’s an opportunity to get a road win against a likely tournament team that is without its most dynamic player. The Hurricanes are 3-2 since losing Bruce Brown, but two of those wins came against Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, while one of the losses was to Boston College. This is going to be a slow, plodding affair, though Miami would be wise to try to speed up a Syracuse team that struggles to get good looks and needs a predictable pace to get its 2-3 zone set. The Orange’s best offense this season has been a missed shot, but the Hurricanes are third in ACC play in defensive-rebounding rate. Even without Brown, this is a bad matchup for the punch-less Orange.
Miami 67, Syracuse 59
Providence at Butler
Saturday, noon ET, FOX
We could forgive Butler for near losses to Xavier and Villanova. Dropping a home game to lowly Georgetown is another story. Bouncing back against a solid Providence team at home on Saturday is critical. The Bulldogs played one of their worst games of the season the first time these teams played, a 70-60 Providence win. Kamar Baldwin fired up 22 shots in that game, while Kelan Martin was 3-for-14 from the floor. Providence is coming off a huge home win over Villanova and making a trip to Indianapolis to take on a strong, semi-desperate Butler team three days later is a lot to ask. The Bulldogs should get back on track.
Butler 78, Providence 69
Alabama at Kentucky
Saturday, 2 p.m. ET, CBS
The NIT is, without question, a possible outcome for the Wildcats. They’ve lost four straight games and have a nightmarish schedule ahead, with matchups against Arkansas, Missouri and Florida looming after Alabama. Quite simply, the Wildcats just don’t generate consistent offense, all too often looking totally out of sync and seemingly without a plan to take advantage of their strengths. They can often rely on having the best athlete, if not the best player, on the floor, but that won’t be the case with Collin Sexton in town on Saturday. The Wildcats have more than enough size and athleticism to give him fits, but they aren’t likely to shut him down entirely. Their one significant advantage in this game is on the boards, where the Crimson Tide struggle on both ends of the floor.
Kentucky 64, Alabama 62
No. 21 Texas A&M at Arkansas
Saturday, 4 p.m., ESPN
The Aggies got their season back on track with four straight wins, including a huge one at Auburn, so we can forgive their loss at Missouri earlier this week. This is a big game for the Razorbacks, who are on the right side of the bubble for now, but have a brutal remaining schedule. After hosting A&M this weekend, they’ll play Kentucky, Alabama, Auburn and Missouri to wrap up the regular season, with the games against the Crimson Tide and Tigers on the road. A 1-4 or 0-5 stretch is absolutely in play and could knock them out of the tournament field. Arkansas doesn’t have the offense to consistently win in the half court against the Aggies defense, which is ranked fourth in kenpom.com’s adjusted efficiency. But if the Razorbacks can get stops, their offense—which is dangerous in transition—can get out and run and get easy buckets before the Aggies can get set. That’s the path to victory for the Razorbacks. I’m not so sure they’ll be able to traverse it.
Texas A&M 70, Arkansas 67
No. 3 Villanova at No. 4 Xavier
Saturday, 4:30 p.m. ET, FOX
Villanova looked unbeatable as recently as two weeks ago, but the Wildcats are suddenly reeling after losing two of three in advance of their toughest test of the season. Xavier hasn’t lost since falling at Villanova more than a month ago, ripping off nine straight wins since then. The Musketeers are undefeated at home this season, with wins over Cincinnati and Baylor, as well as every meaningful team in the Big East other than Villanova. Phil Booth torched the Musketeers for 21 points the first time these teams met, but he won’t be out there for the rematch. Trevon Bluiett and J.P. Macura, meanwhile, combined to shoot just 6-for-21 from the floor, including 2-for-10 from distance. This is the game of the weekend and it’s a pretty strong weekend. You don’t want to miss it.
Xavier 87, Villanova 85
No. 20 West Virginia at No. 13 Kansas
Saturday, 6 p.m. ET, ESPN
Both of these teams look capable of going on Final Four runs and losing in the first weekend of the tournament. The Jayhawks won the first meeting between the two in Morgantown behind 17 points from Svi Mykhailiuk and 16 from Devonte’ Graham. What’s most troubling for the Mountaineers is that the Jayhawks were perfectly capable of playing at the former’s desired pace, winning a game in which they scored just 1.03 points per possession, in part by holding their opponents to 0.96 points per possession. The Mountaineers did almost everything they would want to do to a team like Kansas, most notably forcing turnovers on 18.8% of possessions, and they still couldn’t win. At home. That does not bode well for them this weekend.
Kansas 78, West Virginia 69
No. 7 Texas Tech at Baylor
Saturday, 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU
Don’t lose this game in the sea of great matchups this weekend. Both Texas Tech and Baylor are surging of late, though that means different things to each, given where they started and their respective ceilings. The Red Raiders have won seven straight games and could threaten the top line depending on how they end the season. The Bears were left for dead three weeks ago, but have won four straight, including victories over Kansas and Texas, and are now firmly in the at-large picture, even earning one of the final spots in our field of 68 in the latest Bracket Watch. A win on Saturday would likely vault the Bears higher up the seed list, but they’ll have to find a way to slow down Keenan Evans. Baylor is a much different team than the first time these two met back in December, but, for what it’s worth, Texas Tech coasted to a 24-point victory in that game. This one will be closer, but the Red Raiders are simply too tough on the defensive end for a limited Bears offense.
Texas Tech 64, Baylor 58
No. 14 North Carolina at Louisville
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET, ESPN
This is a huge game for Louisville’s tournament chances. The Cardinals haven’t defeated a likely tournament team since January 10 when they won at Florida State, although their win three days later over Virginia Tech looks better now than it did then. Still, Louisville is at least one good win away from the dance and even that might not get the job done. The Tar Heels have kicked their offense into high gear, winning their last four games while averaging 89.3 points per game and scoring no fewer than 1.22 points per possession in any of the four. The Cardinals must find a way to slow the Tar Heels down, at least in some respect. Put simply, they can’t keep up with a team scoring 1.2 points per possession.
North Carolina 83, Louisville 75
Marquette at Creighton
Saturday, 10 p.m. ET
Marquette’s fate is not yet sealed but it needs resumé-building wins, and it needs them now. Saturday night’s game would absolutely qualify, with Creighton all but a lock for the big dance. The good news for the Golden Eagles is that they should be comfortable with the pace and style of this game, with both of these teams heavily tilted to the offensive side of the floor. The bad news is that they’re going to have to figure out a way to outscore the pairing of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas, because it’s safe to say a defense as woeful as Marquette’s isn’t going to slow them down. Creighton isn’t necessarily known for its defense, either, but it does do a decent job against three-point shooters, which could make things tricky for Markus Howard and Andrew Rowsey.
Creighton 92, Marquette 82
No. 12 Duke at No. 11 Clemson
Sunday, 1 p.m., ACC Network
Clemson is 4-2 since losing Donte Grantham, an achievement that absolutely deserves recognition. Having said that, three of the wins came against Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh, while the losses were at Virginia and Florida State. The Tigers did beat North Carolina at home, thanks in large part to making 15 of their 30 attempts from behind the arc. They’ll likely need to follow a similar script to beat Duke, but it’s hard to see that unfolding. What’s more, the Blue Devils are more equipped to attack the Tigers undermanned frontcourt than the Tar Heels were, with Marvin Bagley and Wendell Carter as the most efficient 1-2 interior punch in the country. That Clemson remains dangerous without its best player is impressive, but Duke is an entirely new beast for the Grantham-less Tigers.
Duke 82, Clemson 74
No. 8 Ohio State at No. 22 Michigan
Sunday, 1 p.m., CBS
Forget about football, we’ve got a huge basketball game between these two bitter rivals on Sunday. These teams met way back on Dec. 4, with the Buckeyes scoring a 71-62 win in Columbus. Keita Bates-Diop has gone on to make himself the favorite for the Big Ten Player of the Year since then and his individual matchup with Charles Matthews will be worth whatever it takes to get yourself in front of a TV for this game. The two are both lethal interior scorers for wing players, and it was Bates-Diop who won the first clash, scoring 18 points while leading the effort to hold Matthews to four on 2-for-9 shooting. A win in Ann Arbor put the regular season Big Ten championship firmly within Ohio State’s sights, with their two remaining regular season games against Rutgers and Indiana. Michigan, however, has the right personnel to make that difficult, with Mo Wagner a particularly tough cover for Ohio State’s bigs.
Michigan 71, Ohio State 70
Houston at Temple
Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network
The weekend ends with a couple of big games in the AAC. Up first is a pair of bubble teams, both of which would bolster their resumés with a win on Sunday. Houston moved itself into the group of teams likely to make the tournament after beating Cincinnati at home on Thursday. We can’t yet call the Cougars a lock, but as they avoid disaster, we’re confident they’ll be in in the dance. Temple, meanwhile, lost a close game to Wichita State on Thursday, and is in need of at least one more win over a tournament-quality team. This is their last chance for one in the regular season. The first meeting between these teams was a doozy, with Houston holding on for a 76-73 win.
Houston 70, Temple 66
No. 19 Wichita State at No. 5 Cincinnati
Sunday, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN
The loss to Houston was Cincinnati’s first since Dec. 9, and now it has to turn right around and play host to a Wichita State team that finally seems to be finding its stride on offense. It will be interesting to see how Mick Cronin and the Bearcats handle Landry Shamet. The teams primary point guards, Justin Jenifer and Cane Broome, give up six and four inches, respectively, to Shamet. Cronin could use Jarron Cumberland as a point guard, but he hasn’t shown a ton of willingness to not have one of Jenifer or Broome on the floor. That’s one of the games within this game that will help determine the outcome. The other is how Wichita State’s front court trio of Rashard Kelly, Shaq Morris and Markis McDuffie handles Gary Clark. This is the first time these teams have played this season, with the return matchup looming in two weeks in Wichita.
Cincinnati 75, Wichita State 70